Monday, April 08, 2019

THE WEAKER SEX

by Keira Knightley

To my girl

My vagina split. You came out with your eyes open. Arms up in the air. Screaming. They put you on to me, covered in blood, vernix, your head misshapen from the birth canal. Pulsating, gasping, screaming. You were pushing yourself up with your arms, furious at your frailty. Wanting to see. Wanting to know. You latched on to my breast immediately, hungrily. I remember the pain. The mouth clenched tight around my nipple, life sucking on and sucking out. I remember the shit, the vomit, the blood, the stitches. I remember my battleground. Your battleground and life pulsating. Surviving. And I am the weaker sex? You are?

People came to the hospital immediately. Family, friends came to see you, the sweet little baby, and me in beautiful motherhood. We had champagne and Chinese food. I was in a hospital gown with paper pants on. Blood soaking through the sanitary pad wedged between my legs. Adrenalin coursing through my veins. I felt invincible. You were in a crib by the bed. You cried and I ran to you. Exposing myself to the men in the room, blood running down my thighs, arse, cellulite. You are mine. Mine, and I will stop you crying. My breast is out in front of them all and I don't care. Your life is my life. You need me. I'm there. Fuck them all with their eyes watching, their embarrassed faces at my animalistic semi-nudity. Is this soft motherhood?

The day before, I walked seven miles. Our house to a restaurant, the restaurant to the doctor's. I felt water running down my leg on Clerkenwell Road. I was wearing tights and they were wet on the inside. It ran all the way into my shoes. My favourite shoes. Brown lace-up brogues. You'd been engaged for a month, head wedged between my legs, waiting to come out. I didn't know that my waters had broken. I didn't know that the numbing, dull pain was the first contractions - they'd been going on for days. I thought I'd pissed myself. The shame. I walked two miles more to the doctor's. It began.

The day after you were born we left the hospital. I took a shower. Washed my bloodstained thighs. I haven't slept. Will never sleep again the way I did before. My shoes are crusted and sticky with the amniotic fluid of yesterday. They smell. Kate Middleton had her baby the day after mine. We stand and watch the TV screen. She was out of hospital seven hours later with her face made up and high heels on. The face the world wants to see. Hide. Hide our pain, our bodies splitting, our breasts leaking, our hormones raging. Look beautiful, look stylish, don't show your battleground, Kate. Seven hours after your fight with life and death, seven hours after your body breaks open, and bloody, screaming life comes out. Don't show. Don't tell. Stand there with your girl and be shot by a pack of male photographers. This stuff is easy. It happens every day. What's the big deal? So does death, you shit-heads, but you don't have to pretend that's easy.

I don't wash for a month. Can't get dressed. The hormones rage. I'm buffeted by silent storms more terrible than the battleground. I hear everything. It's all too loud. The world is too loud. The wind in the trees thunders around me. It thunders around you. Death. It's living next to me. I've brought life and understand the terror of losing it. The world is too big. I want to be with you in a cave. In a dark, deep, quiet cave. I want to shield you with my body. I cry. I don't want your dad to leave. He might be taken from me. I don't want my mum to go. I want her to make it better. One day you could all be gone forever. I would die for you. I would kill for you. You are mine and I am yours. Soft motherhood. Black cats frighten me.

I was born on the cork kitchen floor. My brother was upstairs sleeping. My mother's first battleground was in a hospital. She was told she wasn't in labour, she was imagining it, and was made to sit on a hard wooden chair while they called a psych nurse. The machine had read no contractions. Don't listen to the woman - what would she know? So it happened there in the wooden chair, nails boring into the wood. The baby and the body taking over. She split front to back and my brother came. She never went into a hospital again. With me she stayed in her cave. The kitchen. The beating heart of the house. The weaker sex.

My mother worked. I was so proud of her. So proud to be her daughter. She was a writer with a voice. She walked around with bare feet and caused a scene. She was ambitious and angry and loved me. She could do anything. I can do anything. I will do everything. She is a trickster, a manipulator, a warrior, a laugher; she is immovable; she is a fairy. She is a matriarch, she loves and is loved. She is in charge. I am in charge. You are in charge.

I work. I work because my mother told me to. I work because I am good at it. I work for my family. I work so you can be proud of me the way I was of her. I work to show you that you can. You must. I turn up on time, word perfect, with ideas and an opinion. I am up with you all night if you need me. Sometimes I cry I'm so tired. Up with you all night and work all day. You visit me in my lunch break or when the camera turns round. That time is your time. I try every which way to be there when you wake up and to put you to bed. I ache with tiredness. I weep with tiredness. I break with tiredness. My male colleagues can be late, can not know their lines. They can shout and scream and throw things. They can turn up drunk or not turn up at all. They don't see their children. They're working. They need to concentrate. I concentrate. I see you. I am yours and you are mine. I am not the weaker sex. You are not the weaker sex. We are not the weaker sex.

I work with men. I watch them and they watch me. They worry that I don't like them. It drives them mad. They belittle me, they try not to listen to me, they don't talk to me, they don't want to hear my voice, my experience, my opinion. Be pretty. Stand there. They tell me what it is to be a woman. Be nice, be supportive, be pretty but not too pretty, be thin but not too thin, be sexy but not too sexy, be successful but not too successful. Wear these clothes, look this way, buy this stuff. I work with men and they worry that I don't like them. It makes them mad, it makes them sad, it makes them shout and scream. I like them. But I don't want to flirt and mother them, flirt and mother, flirt and mother. I don't want to flirt with you because I don't want to fuck you, and I don't want to mother you because I am not your mother. I am her mother. I would die for her. Kill for her. That's not the kind of mother they mean. I just want to work, mate. Is that OK? Talk and be heard, be talked to and listen. Male ego. Stop getting in the way.

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