I was wrong about something.

The memories of it leaked back into me gradually all through yesterday. For a while, it’s just this blurred image of holding Nata’s hand. She is lying down in her bed and there is something going on down below, but it doesn’t seem to be sexual. Maybe it is. I have no idea.

And then there is a vague impression of a lot of people around, like they are shadows, kind of milling around the bed.

And then the head. The crown of Veroushka’s head appearing. I wonder if it’s like the abortion, where I have pictures in my head because I’m trying to imagine something I didn’t see myself and that is hard for me to understand only in words, but it has a solidity despite its blurred quality.

The parts that are clear are Nata holding my hand, that she is squeezing it very hard, and it crosses my mind that I don’t know whether she’s going to break it. Except this seems really unimportant. I’ll have a broken hand perhaps, but she’s going to have a baby.

And then the head, the wonder at Veroushka’s first ugly, bloody appearance, as if I did not really completely believe there was a baby in there until I saw her.

And Veroushka lying for the first time on her mother’s chest. Finally out. Finally her own, separate human being after nine months of being a part of Natalya.

It is the most miraculous thing I have ever seen. A part of what comes back with the sensory memory is wave after wave of happiness. That’s not my only feeling about it. I also feel terribly, unbearably sad.

It’s a sad thing, that all of this has happened. That Natalya couldn’t raise her daughter, that the only reasonable option was to try to send her away. It’s sad even that she is not quite 16 years old and she is giving birth to a child she cannot even identity the father of because there are so many men, and because none of them were her choice. It’s sad that Natalya is dead and I will never know what became of this child, who I remember as being deliciously pudgy, who was a happy, easy baby that gurgled and laughed and blew bubbles. It’s so terribly sad, and yet it’s wonderful.

The teddy bear has done this. I didn’t expect that, because I didn’t understand about the teddy bear. The teddy bear with its white fur and red bow for Valentine’s Day was never for Natalya. It was for Veroushka. And the surprise I have the next time I see them is that Veroushka is clean and dressed in a yellow dress, and her mother is not damp with sweat, and Veroushka has lost that wrinkly, angry look of someone not sure they want to be outside in the world just yet. Labour is such a dramatic event, you don’t realize that normal life is going to resume again. Or I didn’t.

I was not quite 12 years old and I loved Natalya, but I never loved anyone so much as I loved that baby.


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