As I walked through the churning landscape of a contemporary college campus, I came to the realization: my stomach was bursting with its ninth month of pregnancy. Beneath a tight fitting blue tee-shirt was a bubble of flesh stretched to the capacity of its elasticity; in this bubble laid a bundle of blood, tissue and new life in gestation. I walked past the web of angular concrete buildings, the Constructivist architecture looming, and mazes of cleanly cut ten-foot rectangular shrubs reminiscent of those in Kubrick's The Shining. I came across people whom I knew and they stared in shock at the parcel I was carrying within me.
My body was drawn to an unknown journey on foot. Through barren city streets I walked until I found my former boss from the radio station, Elizabeth, withdrawing money from an ATM. I caught her attention and she swished her bristles of salt and pepper hair around as she marveled at the bounty in my womb. She warned me of the hardships of child birth and upbringing. In my conscience, I found the advice to be an ominous foreboding. I departed with a sunken spiral in my stomach and limbs until my body grew heavier with each step through my voyage.
At an isolated crossroads of brittle desert sand and dry tumbleweeds, an eerie magnet drew me to the right in the direction of an Indian reservation. I walked through a scattering of tanned leather teepees and small fire pits over which roasted meat dripping crimson and brown driblets of blood. A shaman emanating with a glistening wisdom stood amidst a grouping of woven tapestries and baskets overflowing with dried herbs and ointments. Also, among his medicinal supplies and relics of spirits, a plump Indian woman was laid upon a rug woven from dried grass; it was the color of newborn flaxen hair growing from the dry earth. The women lay on her back with legs spread open. I knew she was in a ritual preparation for giving birth and the shaman was to act as her guide and healer. Along with assistants, he dragged a cast iron five-foot tall cylinder on which decorative holes had been carved for the woman to grasp as her pain increased. The shaman applied crushed herbs to the woman's birth canal in order to numb the opening. He applied spices and unguents to her forehead and eyelids as well; these applications invigorated her awareness and allowed for a clarity to focus on the labor. I reluctantly watched the ceremony's beginning rites which included placing a bit in her mouth for her teeth.
Although I had felt invisible for the time I had already spent there, the shaman approached me to explain a vital procedure that was to take place. In the tribe, a secret preparation is performed to insure the survival of the woman and the purity of the newborn. The shaman described the ritual as follows: before birth, the woman's vagina is stretched open; her outer left labium is expanded and numbed; then a small disc of vaginal flesh - about the size of a pencil eraser - is cut from the body. The shaman and the tribe believed this would extract all evil spirits and unnecessary suffering from the body. Before the shaman actually started the procedure, I booked it back to the college campus. While walking, I contemplated the unbearable physical pain I was soon to face. My body trembled and my womb quaked as I felt the first trickle of fluids careen down my legs. My womb felt as though twenty fetuses were trampling within it and my bladder was ready to explode firecracker style. As soon as I felt a strong pressure in my vaginal walls, I waddled at an elephant's speed to the hospital with a flowing and somewhat nautical reluctance brewing within my veins.
When I arrived at the obstetrics ward of the hospital, I breathlessly swung open the sterile steel gates that were leading me to my physical downfall. Stretchers, gurneys, stirrups, lifeless lighting one may find hanging over a plate of french fries, various red, blue and green tanks hovering like evil clowns, surgical clamps and tweezers glittering on the blue embossed napkins, snow white gauze soon to be bloodied, scrubs and white clamps, an ominous, wrench-like speculum looming impatiently, malevolent forceps that eerily resembled barbecue tongs, steel bowls and pots used to collect the placental remains squeezed out by the incessant pushing, blankets to warm the cold perspiration of the ravaged women who passed through these halls like hens in a chicken coop. Now it was I who was the hen with fluttered feathers and wings uncertain to flap into this migration.
As my hesitance grew like an angry weed, my body began to sweat profusely as if it were prying away all of its toxins in liquid form. A doctor and nurse arrived to assist me and as they approached, their faces mutated into narrow, drawn-out caricatures of shocked, dying animals. I looked down and felt the flat empty space. My stomach had completely flattened; there was not an inch of baby in there as far as I could tell. My hands caressed the smooth unstretched flesh, the belly button that remained in its natural crevice, the unswollen breasts and nipples that no longer screamed at merely a touch. The shirt that I wore brushed freely on my body rather than acting as a thin strip of shrink wrap tightened over a bulbous watermelon.
My doctor propped me up on the gurney to conduct tests to determine the medical cause of this baffling conundrum. It looked like the hungry speculum would have its way with me after all. No traces of fetal tissue, placental remains or amniotic fluid were detected in my womb. Puzzled and somewhat peeved, he demanded that I was to return the following day for further testing. I swung through the doors of sterility, a veil of relief adorned me and I glowed with gratitude to nature for sparing me the imminent pain of labor. However, that veil concealed the sorrow and nagging in my mind; the truth had yet to hit me completely and I knew then and there that I would duck under the overpasses that contained my grief and inquiries. At that moment, I held my veiled head high and caressed the flesh covering my barren womb; I thought of the future and the possibility that perhaps I had never been pregnant. Perhaps it was only a dream.