In her dark waters, the glowing moon hangs like a ripe pomegranate.
I milk her body from within. I milk her body from without.
Her pooling liquid: living, rushing.
The beating heart in the moon.
To the point of light, a dilated pupil, toward it—
Muddy bottom, sludge and silt
There is no language—my body beating against the membrane.
I have a dream in which I must crawl through a very tight space and cannot breathe.
The dream is over when I say it is over.
I scream into the chasm, feet hanging over the edge.
Coyotes yowl in the distance and a wind picks up.
I was wet for a very long time and now
My mother’s long life of hurt—I carry it. The memory of her losses runs hot into my throat. It catches me.
She—pregnant at 15 or 16: an unsafe removal.
Then a baby girl born still. Then isolated and bleeding in the home for unwed mothers.
Decades later, under the auspices of infertility, I am conceived, then pushed out into the hands of a midwife.
My grandmother is young and pregnant. My mother buds inside her.
At 5 month’s gestation she is developing all the eggs she will have in her lifetime.
One of those eggs is me.
69 years ago, I came to life inside my grandmother.
My great grandmother’s womb. As sturdy and firm as her hands.
Young, working the cotton fields, birthing my grandmother easy.
The proximity in their ages bonds them more as sisters, only 16 years apart—my mother and I are nearly four decades apart. We, too, are sisters.
They could not carry it; their wombs could not contain all that hurt them.
I hold it in my belly—like water seeping through the trunk of a tree. Trafficking slowly through the layers: great grandmother, grandmother, mother, me, then mine. Growing cells extruding nutrients, pain, and secret stories from generations past.
It’s a silent process—even when we do our best, work through our trauma, it seeps in anyhow. Molecular scars adhere to our DNA. Gone but not forgotten.
I see so clearly how my mother worked to break this. In the womb she constructed, not the one I was created inside, but the one she made after, in the world, I was safe and protected. It’s as if she was hitting a reset button when she made me. Or she thought she was.
We cannot completely heal the trauma living in our cells.
I was made among scars.
While I received the very best from her, the tiny buzzing pieces carried over from her mother, and her mother’s mother and beyond.
Gone but not forgotten.
All I can do is hope that my own daughter will have a fainter imprint of the suffering. That my mother’s consciousness realigned many of my cells toward health and away from hurt. Her determination deserves endless credit. She can’t erase but she can revise. As will I.
My daughter will know, her cells will know.
I will hold her against my skin, I will teach her.
Forged in a scarred womb. What does that do to a person? What does it do to the womb it creates? The trauma carries over, lighter, but present. My forming being rests in the hardened tissues, finds comfort in the branches growing from her cervix.
I thrive in the space where two other girls couldn’t. An empty guilt fills my womb. Maybe they’ll return in me. I owe them that much.
Zoë Etkin is the author of The Embodied Pregnancy Journal, and spends her time supporting new families as a birth & postpartum doula. Zoë is also a women’s sexual wellness coach and practitioner. She earned her MFA in poetry at CalArts. Her work has appeared in Word Riot, Unlikely Stories, [PANK], and others.