After her son slides out of her, they drop the warm wet tangle of him on her stomach. She puts her hands on him and feels a hidden space inside of her open up. Tears stream from her eyes, down her temples and pool in her ears.
While they touch, the two women who attended the birth continue to work at the foot of the bed. One of the women lifts the baby off of her. They ask her to push one more time.
She pushes once, twice and then they tell her, that is enough.
She tries to lift her head to watch them wipe down the baby but is suddenly weighed down by an immense exhaustion. Lying back, she swivels her eyes around the mostly empty room and manages to glimpse a dark pink arm waving above a mound of towels.
One of the women, she realises, is speaking to her.
‘Do you want to keep it?’
She blinks a few times, losing the thread that stitches the woman’s question to the moments before it.
‘The placenta,‘ the woman explains. ‘Some people like to keep it.’
She looks over the woman’s shoulder, trying to catch another glimpse of the baby.
She sits at the kitchen table in silence for so long that she forgets he is at the other end of the call.
His words are both startling and completely useless. She straightens out of the question mark shape that her body has gradually adopted over the course of the conversation, looks down at her hands, the veins of which are faintly visible beneath the skin.
‘It’s fine, it’s actually fine. This is not what I want right now.’ She digs her nails into the flesh of her knee, immediately furious at the reassuring timbre of her voice.
‘You mean—’ he begins.
She talks over him, wanting to be done with this call, not wanting to have to explain herself, ‘I mean I have an appointment next week.’
‘Yes. Okay.’ he says again, sounding this time like he means it.
It is night-time when they leave the hospital. She sits in the backseat beside the hulking child restraint, one hand resting lightly on the baby, the placenta in a freezer bag on her lap.
Outside for the first time in his life, the baby is quiet at first. Eyes shut and fists resting on his chest, he might be asleep. Then, when the headlights of an adjacent car briefly spotlight his swollen face, he shudders and breaks into the small, sad wailing that has filled the past few nights to overflowing.
He cries without pause until the car is parked and she lifts him out of the backseat. She is surprised anew by his terrifying lightness—he weighs little more than the blankets they hastily wrap around him. Once he is wrapped up, he falls silent, his mouth sealing his face shut.
They hurry through the back door and her partner stumbles from room to room turning on all the lights and then the heater. She stands barefoot on the kitchen tiles cradling the baby, unsure of what comes next.
She takes the train to the hospital. She had reluctantly accepted his slow offer to drive her home, but had insisted on making her own way there.
Through the large rectangular windows, she looks into the backyards of the houses lining the tracks. So many of the yards are filled with trash. In almost every yard, there is some remnant of a childhood: small bicycles, cubby houses and swing sets in primary colours muted by dirt and dust. She tentatively scans her body, but feels nothing more than the hard plastic of the seat beneath her thighs.
The staff at reception are busy but efficient. She is moved quickly from the waiting room to the examination room and from the examination room to the holding area where she is told to lie down on a narrow hospital bed. They cover her body with warm waffle blankets, layering them one on top of the other until it is an effort to change the position of her bare legs.
The surgical nurse is an older woman whose hair is completely hidden by a scrub hat decorated with large pink camellias in full bloom. She calls her by her name and looks her in the eye when she speaks to her.
‘The doctor will be ready for you in a moment.’
When she does not respond, the nurse slips her hand under the pile of blankets and gives her hand a single firm squeeze.
She paces around and around the bassinet with his face pressed into her shoulder, singing the same nursery rhyme over and over until the words are rubbed of meaning, smooth amputated syllables rolling about on the bedroom carpet. When she stops for a moment, he looks up at her with her own dark brown eyes and she has the feeling of looking down and up at herself and being rocked and rocked and rocked.
When she wakes up, she realises she is clenching her teeth. Her hands, despite being tucked under the many blankets that are still piled on top of her, feel like somebody else’s cold hands resting on her stomach.
Her bed is partitioned off from the other beds by a blue curtain made of the same material as the nurses’ scrubs. On the small over-bed table to her right there is a white mug, a teabag and an individually packaged cookie. At the end of the bed, the off-white wall is decorated with a print which features a set of old wooden double doors that have been pushed back to reveal the greens and browns and whites of the garden beyond. Although the print looks at the garden from a clearly defined interior, the artist has left very little space around the view of the garden for the room itself and so all that is visible of the room is the corner of dressing table and the edge of a worn red rug.
The picture and the room feel very far away, but she can hear the slow in and out breathing of the woman in the bed to her left. She listens for her own breath, but though her breathing is deep and even, can barely hear a thing.
After the humid fug of breath and milk that fills the house, the twilight air peels back a layer of her skin. She holds the amorphous mass of the placenta in both hands; it slips and leans in its clear plastic bag. She opens her eyes wide to better see the fading ground in front of her feet, takes small shuffling steps in the socks she has not bothered to remove.
At the back of the garden, she slowly lowers herself to the exposed earth of the empty vegetable patch. The damp of the soil immediately begins to seep through the thin cotton of her pants, but it feels good to be cold. She places the bag to one side and thrusts her hands into the soft wet dirt, slowly emptying out a deep hollow.
She pauses to consider the dark shape of the placenta in the half-light, then reaches into the bag and lifts it out with her bare hands.
It is cold, parts of it still frozen to a crust by the hospital freezer. Her fingertips, numb from digging, begin to burn as she holds her placenta over the hole she has prepared for it. It gleams and twinkles. She lowers it into the earth and it disappears in the darkness of the hole. She pushes the dirt she put to one side back into the hole and looks at her hands – palms smeared with old black blood, fingernails packed with dirt.
She closes her eyes and draws a deep breath of night air into her lungs.