Brevity Sixteen

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Things that will make you cry in the first six weeks of your son’s life

By Katherine Ozment

The shape of his mouth when he cries—like a thick rubber band stretched to breaking.

The arc of his back as he stiffens away from you, his belly filled with gas.

Your hunger for him to be soft and be held.

Exhaustion so deep you sleep through a feeding and wake in a pool of your own milk.

The raw appearance of your nipples as they are pulled like taffy into the clear plastic funnels of your breast pump.

The look in his eyes at night—a mix of fear and wonder—as the Peter Pan collar of his hand-me-down outfit flies up to block his suckling mouth.

The plastic nipple guard the lactation consultant tells you to wear and how it feels like an unnatural barrier between the two of you. How you worry that using it will scar him in some terrible way—like he’ll grow up with a sexual fetish involving vinyl and women with four-inch-long nipples.

The suddenness with which the half-cup of milk he has just sucked from your breasts streams out of his mouth, between coughs and cries.

The ache in the middle of your back from holding him through the hours of colic each night.

The tiny purple veins tangled across his moth-wing eyelids.

The smell of his skin in the morning, like apples and soap and rain.

The feel of his shoulder blade—like a small, delicate chicken wing—in your hand as he takes an unexpected nap against your chest.

Hearing your favorite song from the 80s on a rare solo excursion in the car—and all that it reminds you of: sneaking your mother’s Jack Daniels out of the house in a mayonnaise jar, the sound of crickets at the end of your street, smoking your first cigarette beneath a warm night sky.

The realization of how buoyant and untethered every moment in your life has been until now. How years have passed like reckless winds without your even noticing.

Your jealousy of your husband’s seemingly unchanged life—how he can leave for work each morning, drink a Scotch or two each night, and continue to live with his nipples perfectly intact.

The ease with which other mothers hold their babies. The way they look at you when your baby pulls back from your embrace, his head slamming from side to side like a lead weight, his tiny fists punching the air, his feet kicking through an imaginary storm.

The thought of children—anywhere, anytime—dying.

The thought of those children’s parents’ grief.

Understanding for the first time what your brother’s suicide meant to your parents. How their manic-depressive 26-year-old son was once bald and naked and crying at 3:00 AM., and how they held him against their sleep-deprived bodies until the sky glowed with morning.

The sound of your best friend’s voice on the phone, especially when it cracks with soft, breathy cries as she tries to tell you how to survive these days.

The care with which the yoga instructor presses strong hands into your hip and shoulder as she twists you on the floor.

Finding your mother, who’s visiting for a week, asleep on the sofa, your baby’s kidney bean body curled tight on her chest, three empty milk bottles lined up like soldiers on the coffee table before them.

Watching your husband transfer him—impossibly small and asleep in his burping position (head forward, legs curled back like a frog’s)—to his crib.

Knowing that one day his tiny body will have grown to fill the space left by an opened front door. That he will walk through that space with the strong, tall legs of a man—and no way of knowing how hard you fought to love him.


Katherine Ozment is a senior editor at Boston magazine. Her nonfiction has been published in Salon, The Chicago Tribune, Boston magazine, and National Geographic, and her poetry has been published in Lifeboat: A Journal of Memoir and Poetry East. Work is forthcoming in the Winter 2005 issue of Brain, Child. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son.

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photo by Dinty W. Moore