Dangerous for Mothers

—after Connie Voisine’s “Dangerous for Girls”

It was the summer of crumbling in the pediatrician’s office

when she turned from my newborn daughter to ask me,

And how’s mom doing? My hand floating

a Dixie cup of water to my lips and the doctor squeezing

my other hand, admitting she didn’t love her son, really love her son,

until he was four months old. It was the summer of understanding

 that I should be so hungry but never feeling hunger, forcing

down a milkshake and corndog from Cookout, breathing

through each bite with opaque eyes. Knowing I needed

to eat, my mother fed me pieces of waffle drowned

in maple syrup while the baby hummed and sucked. It was the summer

I was scared to read the word psychosis, scared the word could turn me

into the mother who strapped her baby to her chest and jumped tandem

off a high-rise balcony. That summer my OB lied when he said I was okay,

or rather, he said, You have no history of mental illness.

And I was not alone that summer—

Everywhere are always women who stare down at their babies

and wish them away, begging to wake up years earlier

lonely and free. Instead of waking up, that summer I slept

even when I was awake, peering through the haze at visitors

who trilled: we love the baby. I watched greeting cards pile up,

pale pink and sparkly: blessing, little angel, princess, precious.

And then the crumbling would appear again, like a mudslide

caving in a village, and I’d drop my head to the kitchen table

and cry next to a plate of Chinese takeout. My mother said, Maybe

you need more sleep after the OB said I would be fine though I couldn’t imagine

ever being the same while the world chanted love the baby,

love the baby. I searched for other mothers’ stories

and remember folding up in relief when I read about a woman

who pictured her baby floating dead in a swimming pool. Let me repeat

what you said to make sure I understand

what you are feeling, the social worker said after I choked

my dread into the phone. So, I listened and he assured a plan to get me better:

psychiatrist, Zoloft, support group, Ativan, counseling, sleep. I pressed

a damp Kleenex into a small, compact square, nervous through the tips

of my fingers. And this will save me? For some women, becoming a mother

is not natural so much as it is gradual. And so we condemn ourselves, drifting

along, flashing the bright, red smile of a façade, balancing over the void

like a tight-rope walker crossing for the first time without a net.


Bridget Bell is an instructor of English at Durham Technical Community College in North Carolina and a proofreader for Four Way Books, an independent literary press in Manhattan. She studied at Ohio University and Sarah Lawrence College, and her work has been published in The New Ohio Review, Folio, Eclectica, Zone 3, The Los Angeles Review Online, DIAGRAM and Eleven Eleven, among other literary journals.