For more than a year I barely slept. The terror of it still vibrates. I sleep, now, in bursts of a few hours. Until recently a light stayed on. I still can’t sleep in silence. My convalescence continues.
In this tussle with slumber, I’ve become intimate with the process of falling asleep. Consistently, I sleep on my side, feet crossed at the ankle, where they fit together so perfectly that I think they must have been that way in the womb. I press the side of my face into the pillow, cotton against my cheek, nose, eyelid, brow. It is smooth and forgiving, as if it were my mother’s flesh enclosing me.
It would have been warm and soft, with muffled sounds and gentle rocking. A constant heartbeat. Held closely. Never hungry or thirsty, tired or cold. Barely aware of existing at all.
As I grew, my limbs folded into my body as the uterine walls became firmer around me. My ankles crossed and moulded to each other, my knees pressed against my chest.
I squirmed to find a more comfortable place until my skull rested against the inside of my mother’s cervix. It was thick and firm, more solid than the elastic muscle or lumps of organs. I rested.
I felt the squeezing first in my bottom and feet. As flesh tightened around my lower half, the crown of my head pushed against my mother’s cervix, which stretched and thinned like dough under a roller. Finally it relinquished the wad of mucus that had protected us. The bloody plug slid free to tell her for certain that soon we would be parted.
The squeezing started, stopped and started again. My body was squashed and turned, my head pressing harder. Impossibly, her cervix stretched further, becoming parchment-thin and beginning to open.
With each contraction, my face and brow heaved against my mother’s spine, flattening her lower intestine against the ladder of bone. Soft as my head was, it strained and the cervix surrendered. The unfused bones of my skull collapsed inwards and over each other, my scalp wrinkling. My head elongated as it travelled through the silky sheath of my mother’s vagina, my face pressed to insistent, forgiving muscles.
Two or three surges of pressure and it was bright and loud.
My shoulders bent and twisted, working their way through and out, with the help of gloved hands. The edgeless embrace was gone and only two hands kept me from the abyss. I discovered cold and the terror of the open.
Soon I had the familiar heartbeat back, but it was muffled by distance and mixed with many other sounds.