Into the Land of the Dead

How childbirth forces the confrontation of mortality, and the place of mothers in the world.

Image Credit: 
Public Domain

When Odysseus sailed to the land of the dead,
as the fog enveloped his ships, and silence fell,
he must have been scared.

When the surgeon delivered my son,
and I heard his first cry,
I prepared to go—
biology doesn’t know about modern medicine.
My body felt we were crossing over, so
I asked the midwife to hold my hand.
I wish she hadn’t looked at me like
my distress was make-up;
I was stone-faced and shaking,
but I was ready.

We call it ‘having a baby’ like it’s sweet;
you write about birth, there’s bound to be
some man who describes it as sentimental.
For eons
it was the primary killer of women.
The pain, the blood, and the shit.
He’ll write: it’s not serious,
like politics,
or money, or war.

We dismiss it
as a women’s issue, and women’s baggage.
We don’t talk about birth
because up close its truths are too brutal to take.
It all mixes, sleepless,
your tears and the baby’s,
the milk and the blood—
it’s the flood of life,
not some dirty secret.
Don’t ask us to cover it up discreetly;
none of us are built to survive in the dark.

We’ve walked in the shadows for such a long time
that when Odysseus, on the edge of hell,
poured his sacrifice, and the ghosts came—
if in that moment he wondered how
he could ever go back—
he wouldn’t have thought about asking his mum.
Even though her soul was there.
Even though once
she had carried him
through the silence and fog
into life.

And I don’t think it’s too much
to want a new archetype.
So when we see her,
wide-eyed and tired,
clutching her child to her chest,
we see Odysseus, Persephone, or Orpheus.
And instead of telling her what to do,
let her remind us that life isn’t cheap.
That underneath our veneer,
human beings are made of grit,
and love, and pure will.

Nina Telegina is a writer, performer, and poet. She is a storyteller with an eye for drama, absurd adventures, and unusual characters.

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