Soma Mei Sheng Frazier

Motherhood as Grand Mal (And a Few Other Things)

by Soma Mei Sheng Frazier


Childless friends often ask me to describe it: life as a mother. But how?

Once I met my daughter Zoe, I realized I’d known nothing about love before, and that’s an offensive thing to say to someone without kids. It makes you a real asshole. So perhaps –

• Poet’s Answer
Motherhood is intangible: quite the opposite of, say, the craggy new stitches that once bisected my friend’s tongue and the disparate eras in an otherwise seamless life – the easy undoubting years before he learned of the epilepsy, biting himself badly during that first seizure, and all the other years to come. (or) All love is imbued with yearning, but this yearning answers itself completely; all love is selfish, yes, but this love is more selfish than the lover. It will crack you before you can crack it, and even then you’ll thank it on your knees. (or) My life was a hot mess. But the devil handed me a bus pass home from Hades in the delivery room, along with a tall, cool glass of water. (or) It’s something that makes you deeply humble, though others will see you as overly proud, and it’s something that should make you better, too. (or) On second thought, maybe it is like the stitches: long dissolved from his tongue, but to my friend ever present and still tender.

• Textbook Answer
The obstetrician packed gauze around the uterus. Avoiding the bladder, he incised the organ, extended the paramedian incision and emptied the mother of baby, placenta and membranes. Then, using an anchor stitch and inverting suture, he closed the wound – piercing its edges from within to bury the peritoneal surface and minimize the formation of adhesions.

• Scriptwriter’s Answer


Machines buzz. SOMA, a new mother who’d hoped to have her baby via natural childbirth, without an epidural, reclines in a mechanical bed doped up on morphine, fentanyl and a mixture of local anesthetics. DR. B.D. SIDEMANOR, a young, efficient and brusque woman with piercing blue eyes, enters and approaches the bed.

There’s good news and bad. Which do you want first?


Well, we gave you a classical caesarean.

(drools, still woozy; wipes chin)
Sounds fancy.

Actually it’s a fairly primitive procedure. Your uterus is tipped and your daughter was breech, so we had to cut pretty far upward into thin tissue that doesn’t heal well. If you want another child, it’ll mean months of bed rest and the risk of uterine rupture.

How big a risk?

For you, I’d say 12%.

Just 12%? Not bad odds. And if it ruptures?

Then the baby may escape into your abdominal cavity, resulting in –


Death is very rare.
(smiles brightly)
More likely, neurological complications.

And – the good news?

When we made the vertical cut, we rolled your skin up, just like a sweater.
(makes energetic rolling motions)
So the scar is internal and you can still wear a bikini!

The baby was gorgeous, and apparently the air-lift team had pulled her from the bloody mess of me in lotus position, her eyes open and focused on their faces. “It was weird,” a nurse told me later. “Freaky.” But I didn’t think it was weird. It was Zoe. (Nor did my husband, once I woke him from his exhaustion by throwing a juice-box at his head, and repeated the nurse’s comments.) Four days later, we took my daughter home. And things got weirder.

• Poet’s Summary of Events


Sometimes my infant daughter
wakes in the middle of the night
irrepressibly happy.

My husband and I lull her back
to sleep with our various
Shaolin techniques:

His trick is to stroke her ears and mine, to
put the radio on static and
dance slowly.

These things work like hypnosis, like
narcotics, like prayer:
hit or miss.

Sometimes our desperate trying
reminds me of all the stops
my mother pulled out, years ago

to try and cheer herself up
about life: liquor, crystals, seminars, triathlons
and legal drugs that made her hair fall out.

I remember driving home late
a senior in high school
and seeing her dart

across the road in front of our house
barefoot, eyes wide. I slammed
on the brakes and

when the car stopped
inches short of her
she met my eyes.

We stared
through the windshield and
my mind kept trying to turn her into a deer.

Like a doe she darted off wildly
over the dirt shoulder and into
the dark door of the forest.

My father was waiting at home.
I don’t know what to do, he croaked, and
it was the only time in his whole macho life

that he ever admitted as much to me, so
although he was an abusive bastard
I took him in my arms

and swayed.
in the deepest hours

I sway that way with my daughter
to sedate her.
Other times

I remember how
my mother slept
still as a stone, for days and days

when she finally came home.
It was like
she wanted to forget

her husband, her house
her thoughts and me and
recapture the darkness of the woods.

Those nights I
set my daughter on my stomach
facing me, wobbly

and we talk.
Her words rattle up from her little chest
and straighten out into

rapturous ooohs and aaahs.
I tell her
all of my secrets and

we stay awake
for hours.

• Textbook Summary
Utilizing large, homemade flashcards suited to a newborn’s developing vision, the baby’s mother and father dedicated multiple hours per week to teaching her to read entire words. Flashcard size was inversely correlated to age and ocular development, the words shrinking as the baby grew. The hypothesis was as follows: A baby can learn to recognize words as single units, exactly as it can other images – pictures of birds, the moon, its caretakers’ faces etc.

Neither mother nor father could identify a means of gauging progress while the baby was largely nonverbal; therefore, both parents remained initially uncertain of the procedure’s efficacy. Efficacy was confirmed when, at eight months of age, during a diaper change in an Oakland, California bathroom, the baby pointed to the words “No Smoking” on a smeared sign above the door and said “No.” It was one of few words she could pronounce. By three, she was adeptly reading chapter books.

• Scriptwriter’s Summary

Sometimes I miss you at school.


When it happens I sing to myself.

Oh, Bub –

(misreading mother’s emotion)
It’s okay. I sing quietly so the teachers don’t even mind.

So what is it like – life as a mother?

At first, motherhood made me inordinately healthy: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and aerosol can Easy Cheese were supplanted by real food. I drank water in place of Dr. Pepper, and even my vocabulary was wholesome. I experienced, in reverse, the phenomenon noted by Samuel L. Jackson’s character in The Long Kiss Goodnight: “What I’m saying is, back when we first met, you were all like ‘Oh phooey, I burned the darn muffins.’ Now, you go into a bar and ten minutes later, sailors come running out.”

As Zoe aged, I reverted to old, bad habits: drank cola, coffee and beer, eschewing water. Dropped the occasional F-bomb. On a deeper level, though, I remained invisibly transformed.

Yes, doctor Sidemanor: I’m rocking the string bikini again. But beyond that, I have no desire to return to a pre-motherhood state.

How to describe the feeling of motherhood?

It’s the difference between seeing sunshine through the window and feeling it on my skin. The difference between wondering idly when I’ll die and thinking, “I can’t die. Ever. She needs me.” Crying at the thought of my own death, for the first time ever. Wiping my eyes quickly, because I don’t want her to see me a mess. Telling her “Even when I’m away from you, I’m right here.” Pressing my palms to her little chest, her temples, her hands. “Right here.” It’s like –

Shivering in the square blue sea, I watch my husband toss my daughter around in the shallow end. I’ve just told a childless friend about the reading trick: “ – so if you ever go the baby route, I’ll lend you my big-azz flashcards.” And now I’m reflecting on the conversation.

I didn’t suggest teaching her baby to read because I’m overly proud of the fact that Zoe is halfway through Asimov’s I, Robot, or because the flashcard trick will work on every baby. Certainly, it won’t. And who cares? Hell I’m not even sure early reading is advantageous, except when I want help on the freeway. “Mommy! ‘Treasure Island / Yerba Buena Island / ½ Mile!’” But I do know this much about parenting: it’s more mysterious than anyone can tell you. So if your daughter pops into our world with her eyes open, think about the fact that she may be hungry for big red flashcards. If your son is completely nonverbal at three years old, but likes to bang on the floor, put some drumsticks in his hand. Who gives a fuck if the neighbors hate you?

I shake my head to clear it; refocus on the now. Not twenty feet from Zoe, who plays Marco, Polo with her father and a few other kids, I ache for my daughter. Because ever since she was pulled from my bleeding, gaping middle, she’s felt far away. On the other hand, I can put miles of distance between us and still feel her with me. Right here.

The indoor pool’s lights are flickering now, a warning that the facility’s about to close. Moving toward Zoe and Burgious, I slide a finger below my bikini and graze the faint scar: the line bisecting disparate eras in an otherwise seamless life. The border dividing all the years I spent with half of her spirit inside me – not knowing her at all – from the laden years after her birth. The fraught, delicate, breathtaking years to come. I fill my lungs with air and dive. Taking care not to shift my bikini, which is mostly string, it seems, I weave toward them underwater. And copying my daughter, I sing softly.

(“The Deepest Hours” was first published in The New Guard 2011.)

Contributed by Soma Mei Sheng Frazier