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– Nonfiction by Diana Gustafson –

Featured in issue 16 of Dreamers Magazine.

Homemade Insanity

On a warm Saturday afternoon in September, Annika gave birth to a nine-and-a-half-pound baby boy. According to the obstetrician, her thirty-seven-hour labour was “uneventful”. Uneventful was not a word Annika would have used.

The next day, she couldn’t remember her pre-pregnancy body – the one without rock-hard boobs, a cramping uterus, and pulsing girl parts. That exhausted, aching body, the micro human that had exploded from it, and the man who had seeded it nine months earlier were now a family, leaving the hospital.

The nurse had told her that birthing was a shock to the system. That it took time for some women to bond with their newborns. A strange word – bond. She’d been bonded like super glue to this being growing in her belly for nine months. If she weren’t bonded now, would she ever be? Or maybe it was the kind of bond that Peter and his business friends talked about – an IOU between a lender and a borrower – a security against a debt. The security of her womb and the promise of her son’s filial devotion. In that case, her obligation had been fulfilled. Maybe the rest of the bonding contract was up to the baby.

But probably not.

Peter pulled their blue Toyota into the back lane and parked in the garage behind their modest stucco house on Alexander Avenue in Winnipeg’s Centennial neighourhood. Their sleeping son in his arms, Peter led the way to the house. Annika trudged behind, past the overgrown Caragana hedge, along the path to the crumbling concrete steps. Annika picked at white paint flaking on the door frame before stepping over the threshold.

Peter carried the baby into the nursery. The tightly wrapped bundle was swallowed up by the immensity of the crib. A blue skull cap covered the baby’s cone-shaped head. His eyelids were swollen as if he’d been in a fight. Pimply white bumps spilled over his pug nose and onto his cheeks. His chest rose and fell with each short, snorty breath.

“He’s beautiful.” Peter’s voice quivered as he gripped the crib rails. “And so tiny.” He pulled Annika into a sideways hug.

“Didn’t feel tiny coming out.” Annika meant to be funny, but her tone sagged like her deflated belly. Nothing felt normal or familiar.

“I’m exhausted. I need to lie down.” Annika waddled out of the nursery distracted by the burning pain between her legs. An episiotomy may cause some mild discomfort, her obstetrician had told her. Again, discomfort was not a word she’d have used. Maybe he needed to wear a super-jumbo medical grade pad that scraped across a sutured incision she cut in his crotch. Let him walk around in mild discomfort.

As Annika lay in bed, staring at a crack in the ceiling, she chewed on uneventful labour and failed bonding, beautiful and tiny, and mild discomfort until these words were minced into morsels that she could spit across the room like the outrageous profanities they were.

About the Author – Diana Gustafson

Diana L. Gustafson is a Canadian author with disciplinary and geographic roots from sea to sea. She was born in a small farming community on the prairies, published dozens of articles (and three books) during her twenty years as a women’s health researcher at an east coast university, and is completing her MFA in creative writing at the University of British Columbia. She currently lives and writes in Toronto and is an active member of three writing collectives.

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