Once within the once of the very essential once, there existed a nice-enough young woman who, after she had given birth to a beautiful baby, liked it so deliciously and lip-smackingly much, that she decided immediately to have another one.
Her boyfriend didn’t seem to mind at all.
She noticed that the superlative thing about having babies lay in how it changed the basic way other people treated you.
She had grown up in the middle of war, a twenty-year pitched battle between her mom and step-dad, but after she was pregnant the world seemed to still and calm around her, as if she were in the eye of a storm, and she felt more normal than she had ever felt in her life.
She had never been one that anyone took particular notice of, even her boyfriend, but pregnant, the kid who sacked her groceries in the supermarket insisted that he help her shopping-cart her goods out to the car. The ladies where she had her nails done wanted to touch her tummy, and her boyfriend quit asking her to do drugs with him.
The rounder she grew, the better it got. Random people would smile at her across a room; women she didn’t even know would approach her and ask when she was due. And men were particularly appropriate around her, and kept their distance better. Other moms came over for coffee and told her their birthing stories. She told hers.
And then there was the sitting time, when she was nursing, and pregnant again, just sitting, with no one expecting anything from her except that she, “Take it easy.” In the evening when she and her boyfriend were watching TV, and she was holding the baby, she could even ask him to get her a snack, and he would get it! Babies made him a better man. They made her a better woman.
Sometime during her third pregnancy her boyfriend’s addictions worsened and he stopped working. But she noticed almost without thinking about it that this turned out well for her also. Now he was around more to help with the little ones.
After her fifth baby, she received government housing and food stamps and she and her boyfriend ate well and were happy and got a truck and settled into life, except when he would leave for a week only to return home and sleep for another week. Then they would fight, like her parents had taught her, viciously, and she hated him.
“You stupid drug addict!” she screamed. “You don’t think about anybody but yourself. You are the most irresponsible person I have ever known!”
When she had her sixth baby her own family pretty much stopped coming by. But that meant less stress, because they were always implying, with this or that remark, that she wasn’t doing something right or that she might be doing this or that wrong. During her seventh pregnancy she didn’t even tell them she was having a baby. At least her boyfriend remained loyal to her.
After her ninth baby, she swore she was done.
After her twelfth, she knew she was done.
After her eighteenth she was done.
But, upon giving birth to her twenty-fifth child, she knew she wasn’t.
It still felt normal to her.
Upon bearing her thirtieth child she took an oath to quit, and she told her boyfriend, in one of her everyday fits of rage, “I hope that you die at work!” He was working again. She didn’t like that.
That was the year that her boyfriend disappeared.
After popping out her thirty-fourth baby she swore off having them forever, although she knew that it would be a fight, and she had her tubes tied.
But by then the whole baby thing had become impossible, and she had no choice but to turn the lot of them over to the foster care system; although she kept the youngest one to hold and nurse, and she also kept a few of the older ones to help her cook, do the dishes and go to the grocery store. In his manner, she was able to maintain the life-style she was accustomed to, her sitting time and her exquisite and delicious sense of normality. She was at peace with the world.
She lived on, and then on, and on, and then on some more, eventually to the ripe-melon old age of ninety-eight, and by the time of her death she had the distinction of having three hundred seventeen grandchildren and one-hundred eighty-nine great-grandchildren.
To the very end, she looked rather good, considering her usage and her age, and at her somewhat unattended memorial service, her friends who knew her well, remarked quite nicely on her.
One stood up and with much approval from the people gathered in the church, noted wisely that “Her riches were in her children, and in her many grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.”
Another said this, to sum her up, and got it quite right, “All things considered, she did a pretty good job of taking care of herself.”