Breathby Lena Gluck
I almost died at birth
with my own umbilical cord
as my noose.
The doctor had teased my mother
for coming in an hour before his work day began,
for going into labor so quickly.
So when he asked her to wait, seeing me there,
pulling latex gloves over his large hands,
My mother has never needed a pregnancy test
which I learned in high school after I took three,
one for each month,
smuggled under sweatshirts,
fingers trembling like trapped moths.
My theoretical pro-choice background,
swallowed like spoonfuls of baby food,
kicked the insides of my stomach.
I now know that faced with a baby,
I begin counting out money, planning rides,
the surgery already decided
before I look at the tiny pink line
which on all three
My grandmother worked at Planned Parenthood
and at one point had a job squeezing fingers
of girls not yet legal age, of loving mothers,
of religious women, of strong workers,
many of them crying
or kneading their knuckles into the bed
as if they could press their lives
into the sheets, as if holding blankets
would keep them safe from boogiemen,
as if their mothers could hold them
and their only responsibilities
were those of an infant— to keep a heavy head up,
All of them saying why they needed this,
why they couldn’t do it, won’t you please,
please, God, understand why this is my
She told them to keep their reasons,
to remember them if they ever doubted.
So they held their words
in their hands like tiny fingers
and took them home.
When my grandmother learned she was pregnant
with her fifth child
she didn’t tell anyone right away.
She sat alone in the basement
every shirt and pair of pants another layer
of heaviness over her chest, her breath,
until she crumpled into the pile,
dug her fingers into it,
But she had the baby boy.
A life taken quickly is a strange thing.
When I learned I was mortal
as a young girl, I sat on my floor,
stared at my baby doll—
open lips, limp arms,
glassy, blue eyes
staring into nothing forever
— and was angry.
I would have had less pain,
less fear, if I was never born.
I didn’t want to live
with the constant pull of death like tidal currents
and panic attacks like mouthfuls of water.
I vowed to never have a child,
to never do that to someone.
Though, now, I’m glad for my birth,
and wonder if it’s only because I have more memories,
more love, am more tied to this world.
I have breathed so much fresh air.
And maybe death is always terrifying,
but easier, more familiar to ease back into infinity
when you haven’t yet grown into yourself.
My grandmother has held a dead baby
who died by strangulation
of the umbilical cord
The mother, drugged to prevent pain,
remained unconscious, mind drifting in liquid
as her body strained through labor.
The doctors asked the father
if she would want to see the baby,
and he said, no.
The image of his daughter’s slack mouth
and glassy eyes would find him in his dreams.
Her small, crumpled hands, slick with blood,
would climb up his throat until he woke gasping.
But the mother was unable to picture her daughter
who was inside her, moving, alive,
then, simply gone.
The widest emptiness, her belly a black hole.
She knew entire worlds could cave in
and it would never, ever fill.
So my grandmother was sent to find her,
discarded like a doll.
She wrapped her in a blanket,
On the elevator, a man smiled
at the blankets in her arms,
said, it almost looks like
you’re holding a baby.
Almost like a baby.
If life begins at birth,
she spent the briefest moments here—
a dark warmth, a flash of color and cold,
the first desire to suck in air,
but the cord tighter,
a touch of pain, thrill of fear,
and then the drifting up, the fuzziness,
return to dark,
lungs still stuck together
like tiny, wet moth wings.