Rosalie has six children and who knows, maybe she’ll churn out a few more.
Some women see pregnancy as morning sickness and swollen ankles, an inconvenience to endure and joke about. But to Rosalie having a baby is pure power.
Every day she is pregnant Rosalie takes up more space in the world than she did the day before. Her broadening belly plows ahead like the bow of a boat cleaving through water. People see her and smile, hold doors, volunteer seats on the bus.
As a child Rosalie was invisible. Why, she asked, had she been born?
“Accidents happen,” her mother snapped impatiently.
Pregnant again after Rosalie, her mother took to bed. “I’ll get up when this is all over,” she declared. “And not until then.”
Although he would not leave them permanently until the following year, Rosalie’s father left for work so early in the morning and came home so late at night that to her he already seemed like a memory.
Not yet old enough for school, every morning Rosalie awoke to the up and down sounds of her mother's voice. Talking on the phone while she chain-smoked, her mother filled the apartment with nicotine and disdain.
Silently Rosalie got dressed, then wobbled atop the stepstool, straining for the Cheerios box. Ate a dry fistful, then applied herself industriously to her toys.
One afternoon her mother woke from a nap and began screaming. Rosalie tried to ignore it and remain focused on a puzzle, but the sounds scattered her efforts in all directions.
A neighbor called the police. The ambulance came and her mother was taken to the hospital.
A week later she returned home and went straight back to bed. The new baby was called Gina. A nurse in a white dress and shoes came to tend to her.
Rosalie’s mother moaned loudly from bed. The nurse, with her plain, pale face glanced up from the bundle in her arms. Rosalie longed to be held that way. This desire filled her with humiliation. She hated the nurse for making her feel it.
“Tylenol,” the nurse advised.
Her mother hurled a bedpan across the room. Rosalie began coloring in her coloring book. The nurse glanced at Rosalie, then spoke calmly, “Millions of women have babies. Afterwards they take Tylenol for any residual pain.”
Rosalie picked up a toy fire engine. It was a boys’ toy but she liked it.
“Don’t sass me!” Her mother’s face was red as the fire engine. “I sign your paychecks."
Later, when her mother finally slept, the nurse spoke softly to Rosalie. “Would you like to see my family?”
Rosalie nodded. Neither of them wanted her mother to wake up. The nurse unclasped her purse and extricated a photograph. “These are my babies,” she told Rosalie proudly.
There were six scrappy-looking children, none of whom were actual babies any longer. There was a husband and a house that looked too small to hold them all. The nurse described what made each one special. The nurse suddenly seemed very beautiful to Rosalie.
A guttural growl rose from the bed. Her mother sat up, glared. The nurse sighed and put the picture away. Everything belonged to her mother; even the air they all breathed.
Years later when Rosalie announced that she was pregnant with her first child, her committedly child-free sister Gina sneered in disgust, “Accidents happen!”
Whatever baby-making hormone her sister lacked, Rosalie had in spades.
That first time in the delivery room, as per her wishes, there was no anesthesia.
The pain belonged to Rosalie and only to Rosalie, and she loved every single second of it.