So it’s the middle of the night and I hear screaming. It’s the baby, trapped in E’s watermelon belly, and she’s not happy. Ear pressed to this taut flesh-bubble, I can’t tell if the little squib’s yelping “let me out” or “who fucking stuck me in here?”
I wake up gnawing my own fist and stagger to the window, gasping for air in the muggy mosquito farm that is Austin in springtime… “It’s just a dream,” E mumbles. “Right, right,” I say, rubbing my skin. But my relief is short-lived. Once my brain defogs, I instantly flash to our earlier OB/GYN visit, where once again, we bought our popcorn and plunked down in front of the ultrasound monitor.
This time, our camera-shy little girl decided to block the camera like Madonna dodging the paparazzi, covering her face with her elbow. Only according to the doctor, she wasn’t being coy—she was sucking her arm.
“Sucking her arm. Lots of babies do it. It’s sort of like practice-suckling. Though I have to warn you, she might show up with a hickey.”
E raised her head on the table, dizzy from doctor-probing. “Wh-what? A hickey?”
“On her arm, obviously,” the doctor chuckled. “It may take a while to break her of the habit.”
Naturally, I bite my lip. If I don’t I’m going to blurt out my paranoid fantasy. “What the fuck, is she going to show up with a stump?”
I know, I know. I’m not proud. It’s just—how to explain?—there’s a particular species of paranoia particular to looming childbirth. And thanks to the wonders of our friend the Internet—half party-sewer, half enlightenment-engine—it’s impossible not to feed it. Add to this the specifically bizarro circumstances of our current situation, waiting for the penny to drop—no, waiting for it to drop the rest of the way—advised by medical professionals to stay close, not do much, lay low… Well, Christ, how not to go online? Or—if you happen to be wired like my high-IQ, hardcore life-experience girlfriend—how not to instantly start trolling through Worst Case Scenario pregnancy videos?
I’ll skip the opening act. But let me just say, without embellishment, that the Anal Cauliflower has to take the Oscar for all-time Worst Shit That Can Happen Short of Death or Life-Threatening Problems video. What am I talking about? Well, deep in the bowels of cyberspace, there is a mother who felt compelled to go before a camera and share her epic pregnancy-induced sphincter’n’skin-tag trauma. There I said it.
What happened see, is that—for lack of a more tactful description—this mommy’s anus exploded into a festival of skin tags. I am not talking about a few. We all have a few. I’m talking hundreds. Maybe thousands. Onscreen, all I can tell you, is that something resembling a cauliflower protruded out of her nether-cheeks, rendering (according to her own testimony) basic bodily functions a daily horror, driving her husband out of the room when she undressed for bed, and last, but hardly least, making the act of childbirth what can only be described as a colossally painful, unspeakably shameful hell-fest.
(On a personal note, it is a beloved family story how my own mother, God bless her, made no secret of how much she resented me for giving her hemorrhoids when she squeegeed my tiny guilt-ridden bottom into the world, half a century ago. Family!)
Which takes us back to the anal cauliflower. Poor E, projecting all her (understandable) dread of the unknown on this unlikely malady, makes me promise I’ll hang in with her, even if she sprouts some heinous, between-the-cheeks skin-tag bouquet of her own.
“Of course!” “I say. “But it’s not going to happen. I promise. If it does, I’ll handle it.”
I almost say, We’ll sell tickets! But, as I’ve discovered, borderline dickish humor doesn’t really work with a pregnant woman. At least not this pregnant woman. (And really, when does it ever pay to be a borderline dick? Unless you’re Mitt Romney?) Instead, what I say is, “why don’t we head out to Walgreens, lay in some liquid nitrogen and scissors, just in case?”
“Talk about a dream date,” she snaps, and I know things are back on keel.
Okay then. Having cleared the anal cauliflower hurdle, made it through the whole baby-sucking-her-arm syndrome and survived my stroll down maternal hemorrhoid memory lane, E and I are finally free to kick back and do what we now do best – stress about when the fuck the little object of our affection is going to get off the dime and hi-tail it down the birth canal.
“I swear, I don’t think she’s ever coming,” E says, shrinking into the couch with her basenji, Alvin, sprawled lewdly on her lap, as he is wont to sprawl, legs up and splayed in some X-rated opposition to the elegant Asta of Thin Man fame. Alvin’s as louche as Asta was cute. But great company when you’re going out of your skull from late term pregnancy, or, in my case, incipient, itchy leprosy. (I know leprosy doesn’t itch—your shit just falls off.) But something in this bug-drippy Austin humidity does not agree with me, and for days now my face looks like something dermatology students would sneak pictures of and pass around at parties.
Still, reaching over and stroking the barkless dog’s spotted belly, I try to rise above, and think of something reassuring to say.
“Listen,” I begin, trying in my ham-fisted way to put a chipper spin on the situation. “Horrible analogy, okay, but it reminds me when I was freshly relapsed, out of rehab, and living with a lady mechanic in Phoenix.”
“A lady mechanic? Really?”
“No longer with us,” I say, only a little defensively. “Or maybe she is. I don’t know. The point is, I used to spend every day waiting for the FedEx guy to arrive with the heroin I had mailed in from LA. After a month, I’d self-Pavloved to the point where I could make out the axle squeak of the Federal Express van from five blocks away. I mean, I’d be jonesing, I’d be dying—my dealer only got it together to mail shit once every few days—but suddenly, when I’d pretty much given up hope, when I was, like, totally bottomed out—ske-REEEEEE—here comes FedEx!”
“So what you’re saying is… ?”
Jesus, what am I saying? “Well,” I faloomph, “I guess… what I’m saying is, you know… Oh, fuck it, I don’t know what I’m saying, let’s just fucking roll with it, okay? You’re nine months pregnant, the baby’s not going to sneak off under cover of darkness, you’re seeing the doctor every few days, and there’s really no way out but the way she came in…”
“So let’s see what’s on TV. I think Colbert’s on.”
And then—cue kettle drums—she feels something big.
Rumpus original art by Jason Novak.