The Scars of Motherhood

I can remember the act of cutting my hand, but not the pain in it. Labor felt much the same way if you are curious. I spent days after trying to recall what a contraction felt like, when the crowning happened. At first I could remember exactly the sharp searing abdominal pain of a contraction, but then, only hours later, it had all disappeared. I couldn’t remember any of it. The same thing happened when I cut my hand. I was barely out of the first trimester, still shaky from sickness, but at least standing upright most of the day. I was living at my parents' house. My dad was home painting bookshelves with my brother’s guitar teacher, Serge. Sometimes we gave him extra cash for odd jobs, and he happened to be there that day. I was still in that distracted, newly pregnant haze. I often found myself missing turns while driving, staring off into space, worried about the future. That day I was making macaroni and cheese for lunch. I took out the butter dish, which had a little knife next to it. Thinking nothing of it, I tried to pry the cold butter out of the dish with the knife, slicing sideways, and sliced right into my left hand.

At first, I felt nothing. Then as the blood started coming, I began to feel the pain. I yelled for Dad and Serge to come over, we put it under cold water, and the blood kept coming, red, red, red. We all piled in the car to go to urgent care while my father called my husband to meet us there. To Matt’s credit, he was pretty calm the whole time (a good trait to have in the labor and delivery room I later found out). Serge tried to distract me with stories of New York and Long Island, growing up there, being in a band. He had long scraggly gray hair and smelled always of cigarettes, but in that moment, scared and unsure, it was nice to listen to a good story.

The verdict was that I didn’t need stitches. It was jagged and long enough we thought I might. Instead, they bandaged it really good and basically put Neosporin on it. No painkillers since I was pregnant. It throbbed all day long. I showered for weeks with my left arm sticking up with a baggie on it. But it wasn’t the pain of the cut, instead it was the stigma of it. How would I ever be a good mother if I couldn’t make macaroni and cheese? I cried into my pillow, my kitchen competence momentarily shaken. How could I take care of someone else if I couldn't even take care of myself? I needed my husband's help to pull my jeans up, a two-handed job.

I thought of that incident over the weekend. I think of it often whenever I glance at my hand and see the J-shaped scar. I spent Saturday baking a cake. If you have never baked a cake, it is quite a bit more work than cookies or cupcakes, which is why I reserve them for special occasions. The last one I made was for Charley’s second birthday, six months ago. And this weekend, it was for my father’s birthday. Much has changed in three years and I am confident in my kitchen knife skills again. I won’t ever use a sharp French cheese knife for butter (I found out later). We have our own house with a large island for baking that I picked out. I had all of my baking supplies spread out, the house was quite and still, everyone napping while I baked. I had some trouble getting the middle of the cake to set, and kept sticking toothpicks into it to test. Just when I thought I was good, the middle sank in and I need to put it back in the oven! But my one cake pan was being used for the second layer, so I put the first layer on a cookie sheet and popped it back in. It took another ten minutes or so, and as I leaned in to check it again, I felt the hot slap of a burn from the cookie pan. I had leaned right into it. I rushed to the sink and ran cold water over it, cursing Florida that the water is always lukewarm. At first it looked like nothing, but as I continued to bake and wave it over the hot burners, it reared up bright red. One ugly darkened streak. The pain has left now, but the mark is still there, one of my many scars of motherhood.