Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Individual Medley

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Author's Note: An Individual Medley (IM) consists of a single swimmer swimming equal distances of four different strokes within one race.

Butterfly

I can't get pregnant. We try and we try and we try but it does not take. It simply will not work. There are only a few days in every month when there is something to be done, and I love those days. There is a day when I can call the sperm bank and then two or three days when I can pee on an ovulation predictor and fight with Chris about how purple the line is, followed by one day when we can take the liquid nitrogen tank to the midwife so that she can thread a tiny catheter filled with thawed sperm through my cervix and into my uterus. That's it. After that, I must find something else to do.
So I swim. I drive through the hills around our town in search of a house that we can afford and when I come upon a lake I stop for a swim. I swim hard and fast the way I used to when I was a young girl on the swim team. I might even swim harder, now that I am older and less fearful of the pain that comes with pushing my body as far as it can go. As I bring my hands back into the water after each stroke I let them brush past my taut belly. Grow! I command with each breath. Gestate! I want this belly to be big and round. I want to take up space.

Sometimes when the lake is empty I swim out to a far rock, take off my swimming suit, and swim naked.

Backstroke

I am pregnant. The baby is due in August. We live in these hills now, in this land of lakes and ponds and fast rivers, and so I do not have to go far for my daily swim. This baby makes me buoyant, and some days I stay in the water for hours. I have lost my taste for writing, and for work in general. Mostly I just want to swim and eat and sleep. I am surprised to find myself afraid to swim out too far or too hard, although I'm not quite sure what it is that I fear. Drowning? Getting caught in a storm? Leg cramps? Regardless, all summer I swim slowly and float on my back and stay close to the shore. I think about last summer, when I wanted nothing more than what I have now. This summer I have moved on to wanting a hundred new things. I have forgotten all about pee sticks and cervical mucus and bargaining with God. There is a lesson to be learned from this amnesia, from this ceaseless yearning, but I have not learned it, at least not yet. One evening in early August, Chris and my sister and I go to the pond for a quick swim. We paddle and splash until dark. The next day I give birth to our daughter in a tub of warm water.

Breaststroke

The second baby is here. The summer is hot and sweaty and there is always a child on my body. Grace wants to swim and so we go to the river because it is easy and close. I stand in the shallows with the baby in a sling while Grace kicks and sputters around me. I feel large and droopy in my swimming suit. I am too tired to swim. But one afternoon Chris insists. So I leave everyone at home and drive to a lake that is far from our house, a lake whose water is clear and cool long into the summer. I drop my towel and car keys on the beach and walk right into the water. There is no time for a gentle entry. I dive into the cold water and feel the milk let down in my breasts.

Freestyle

I haven't seen the girls since this morning. All day I have been working at the computer and I am ready to move this creaky body of mine. I go to the lake. I sit on the shore and read a few pages from my book while I wait for my body to heat up in the late-day sun. I see a friend building a sandcastle with her toddler. "Where are your people?" she asks. I tell her that the girls are at home, with a babysitter. I have been at this long enough to know that the look on her face does not mean she disapproves, only that she is surprised, and a little bit jealous.

It is still June and the water will be cold. I know that much by now. Eventually I work up my courage and head for the shoreline. I stand in the water and then force myself to walk into the cold shallows. I dive. And then I swim. Hard. The water is so cold that at first I can't catch a breath. I swim out into the lake, one stroke spinning into the next and I do not stop. My body is working so hard that for a few minutes the girls are completely gone from my mind. I swim and I do not bother to touch my stomach; I know what it feels like by now. I think about taking off my suit, but I am far past the buoys and the rocks and there is nowhere to put it. It does not matter. I am free enough.


Erin White received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Massachusetts where she taught writing for 3 years. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Passionfruit, Babble, and elsewhere. She lives in the hills of western Massachusetts with her partner and their two young daughters. For more of her writing, visit her personal website, Hatched by Two Chicks.


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This piece is simply gorgeous. I can relate to wanting something so bad, then God does it for you, and you forget so soon. The words created such a vivid and realistic picture in my mind. Love it.
I love this piece - the images are vivid, moving, and real. The pacing works well.
Lovely, lovely, lovely writing.
Wondrous! And, oh! can I relate.
Written with wisdom. This speaks to my own experience as a mother. I love the way this piece subtly explores our expectations of motherhood. I love the rhythm, the imagery, the honesty and the simplicity of this piece.
Beautiful.
Lush, lovely and wise. Thank you!
Wonderfully evocative of the different stages of motherhood.
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