Messages to Animal Mothers

by Jennifer Case

Message to the Tamarin Mother

When you have a child and sense you do not have enough community support for that child—that 8 oz. ball of sinew and soft fur clutching the hair on your shoulder—you do not stop yourself or judge yourself or say, what will others think? You do not hide yourself in a dark corner or withdraw from the world. No, you drop that baby from the tree or bash its head against a trunk, and you eat its brains before any others—those too-few in your cohort, your not-enough family—have a chance to enjoy those riches, too.

Afterwards, the brain matter still on your teeth, on your tongue, maybe you feel something like loss. Some twinge in your mammary glands. Some emptiness where there had once been a weight. But you did what you needed to do. You do not let yourself drown in judgements or moral codes.

Tamarin mother, I think of you. When my own small weight becomes too large of a weight, but I cannot—will not—shirk it off, I think of you, and it gives me comfort. 

Message to the Not-Yet Mother

You, the not-yet mother, the just-menstruating mother, who have climbed into your mother’s lap and cried for what you are already losing. From now on, your father turns his cheek when you kiss him goodnight, and from now on, you aren’t allowed to spend time near your brother’s Boy Scout friends, who smile at you, distracted from what they’re supposed to be doing with wood and nails and pale, tacky glue. You are banished to your basement bedroom, where you and your friend once cut images of bras from Sunday newspaper ads and left Barbies poised in naughty poses, and where your brother once opened the lock on your diary and left you crude responses.

Child. You believe in things you do not need to believe, and it will take you so long to discard them. But somewhere in you is a wolf or a bear. A creature as capable of biting as bleeding. 

Message to the Mother Trying to Pull Herself Out of Her Own Darkness

When you stare at other women, a lock on your tongue clicks itself shut. How can you talk about motherhood without touching the spot that will make them all ache? The friend who decided against children, the fifty-year-old woman who had two teen pregnancies, the woman who wanted a home birth but ended with a C-Section, the doctor who lost a woman she thought would be fine?

In nature, some mammals give birth without complications and some mammals give birth and die. Even the reptiles and birds face their perils: the egg in the oviduct, constricted and breaking, until its bits poke her organs and the yolk burgeons with living beings not meant to thrive inside her gut.

Death is a thing we must get used to. Death is a thing we both fear and must face.

This is your cheek, pressed up against the cool hand of something. 

What you fear is not your body, but it’s okay to be afraid.

Message to the Mother Chicken

Each night, my son pulls his knees to his belly beneath the covers of his bed, turns to face the sheet, and lays an egg for me to have for breakfast. Here, he tells me. A big one! He wants to be a mother—he wants to be me—and he sobs when his sister insists he’ll instead be a father. And I love him for it: the eggs that he lays me, his small body scrunched and furrowed and pained. At dinner, when I’ve made an egg bake, we thank the chickens before we eat, and so I thank him, too. And meanwhile, in the backyard, you are pecking at your feed, and roosting on your bar, and scratching in the garden, and lunging for a lizard you disembowel in three bites. Mother chicken, each day you make an egg, and each day we eat it, giving back the shattered shell.

Message to the Pale-Skinned Mother

Sometimes you have to dig back, under chalices and robes, the poisonous cores of apples flung into compost heaps and the rubber nipples of baby bottles cut by use and teeth. Sometimes, when you dig deep enough, you are startled by what still isn’t there: by the emptiness, the wary, silent circle of women, each too ashamed to uncover her face. How can you be strong when there are so few models unweighted by powdered wigs and lacy white veils and metal forceps ripping stretched flesh? You have to go back a long way. You dig your hands into dirt, unearthing roots like placentas—tough and wet, still throbbing with someone else’s blood. You grasp tight and follow them, like you’ve followed the roots of invasive plants, only this time they won’t choke you out, but save you. Deeper and then deeper. As if you are crawling back into your own guts. Eventually you land somewhere dark and warm, and you pause there, all emptiness. You listen to your own breath.