The first time I birthed a blood baby it plopped to the tub floor and slid to the drain, trail of red staining the porcelain. I didn’t know what it was. It looked like a chunk of canned cranberry sauce. It wobbled in the shower spray, too big to be washed away. I pressed my big toe against its smoothness and smashed it down the drain in pieces.
The third time it happened, I picked up the thing to examine it, turning it around in my hands, soft and squishy like an overripe plum. “Keep me,” a voice said. I slipped and almost dropped it. I turned off the shower thinking the water was playing tricks on me. Trevor wasn’t home, so it couldn’t be him. “Keep me,” the squeaky voice said again. There was only this bloody blob in my hands. Sitting naked on the tub’s edge, I looked for a mouth. No arms or legs, no mouth or face, but its voice vibrated in my hands; it was all heart. “Keep me,” it pleaded.
I grabbed a towel, raced to the kitchen, and got a dessert bowl from the china hutch. I’d been saving the silver basket weave patterned dishes for a special occasion. After 12 years of marriage, I thought we’d have more things to celebrate. I thought there’d be children and chipped china. I wiped dust from the bowl with my towel and placed the blood baby gently in. I set the bowl on the windowsill that got the most sun.
Every month a new blood baby came to join her sisters. The oldest lost her luster and shriveled to a burgundy-black pea. The youngest was silken, wet. I organized them around the bowl by birth date, a blood-baby-stages-of-metamorphosis clock. Trevor shunned the window, passing it with eyes focused on the floor or body glued to the opposite wall. Avoidance was his coping strategy.
I found joy in sitting by the window talking to my blood babies as they aged and withered. Sometimes we sat in silence. Sometimes they said sorry on behalf of my uterus. Sometimes I’d teach them songs we’d sing together in harmony, but I loved hearing them call me Mama most. Once they became crisp pebbles, I returned them to the earth, buried in our small backyard beneath a circle of smooth stones.
The doctor said I had abnormal growths called fibroids, but I heard fruit. One, a plum, another a grape. My uterus became a small orchard. I gave thanks to its inhospitable environment for sustaining fruit. I signed up for Your Baby’s Fruit Size This Week emails and learned a plum is the size of a 12-week-old fetus. I’d never made it past the blueberry stage with my pregnancies, but my fruit continued to grow. Plum became orange, grape became plum. They drained me as they grew. I craved blood, going from well done to medium rare red meat. I told the staff at the steakhouse near my job, “The baby likes steak!” Then grapefruit, then orange again. Out of breath walking up the stairs, stars in my eyes when I stood up too fast. Then honeydew melon, then mango. Strangers gave me their seats on the subway. I gladly sat down while rubbing my belly.
My weekly baby-size email said I had heartburn, frequent urination, trouble sleeping, and my internal organs were being squished. It also said my baby could hear and its kidneys and liver should be fully functional. I wondered if Honeydew and Mango heard me when I groaned in pain. Did they feel responsible? My doctor said they were dangerous and had to be taken out. I woke from surgery with a flatter stomach, a new scar above my pubic hair, but no fruit, no babies. In online groups, no amount of calling fibroids fruit made people like them—they were always monsters. But I miss my little monsters and how they showed me what a pregnant body would look like on me.
My mother used to say to me, “Never throw your hair in the garbage because birds will find it, use it in their nests, and you’ll have headaches for the rest of your life.” As a child, I’d picture pigeons pecking my brain like worms. After cornrowing my hair, she’d put the little bundles of shed hair in an ashtray and light it. I’d watch, mesmerized by how the hair sizzled, quickly becoming ash.
After the doctor said I couldn’t have babies, I began leaving gifts for the birds in our backyard. It feels good to have my own ritual now. My hair is perfect for nests, soft and coily, dark brown to easily blend with other nest materials, a few wiry grays for strength. During the week, I gather hair from my brush or finger detangling. I put the strands in the same bowl by the window my blood babies spent their short lives in; Trevor still avoids that window. By the end of the week, the bowl has sprouted. On Saturdays, after Trevor leaves to coach football, I scatter hair mixed with twigs and birdseed on the grassy section of our small yard.
After the hair is spread, I sit in a lounge chair on the patio, sip chamomile from a silver-lined teacup, and wait. Two tiny birds I call Kiwi and Tan have been coming for birdseed for a long time. They like the hair, taking pieces in their beaks and flying up to the top of our towering London planetree. Their nest is hidden by leaves and branches, but I know they’re pleased with my gifts because they leave me trinkets near the feeder: feathers, ribbon, small colorful beads, a keychain in the shape of a house. It feels good to know that something beautiful can be made with my body. When the pain comes, it’s not a headache, but sharp beaks at my belly, pecking at my already mangled uterus. There’s still life inside me.
LaToya Jordan is a writer from Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of the poetry chapbook Thick-Skinned Sugar (Finishing Line Press). Her essay, “After Striking a Fixed Object,” is listed as “notable” in Best American Essays 2016 and her writing has appeared in Mom Egg Review, Literary Mama, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, Mobius: The Journal of Social Change, and more. LaToya received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She is a mother to two amazing kids and wife to an English teacher. Follow her on Twitter @latoyadjordan.