From ‘On Becoming a Border’ [extract]
First published in Litro (November 2020). To read this essay in full, please click here.
When I gave birth, they cut my vagina with scissors. Five snips turned my flesh into five fronds. My uterus repulsed the baby. My vagina sucked the baby back in and the fronds closed over his head. My uterus contracted again and if the doctors had not caught the baby’s dark crown in their plunger and pulled him out, I expect my body would probably still be there. My vagina would still be pulsating on the birthing table like a sea anemone.
‘She is the “abject” who threatens the tenuous boundary between the not-yet-subject and the not-yet-object,’ writes Marianne Hirsch.
After the birth, my borders would not close easily. The doctor stitched me up, joining the five fronds together, but there wasn’t a part of me that didn’t leak: eyes, urethra, vagina, nipples, arse. In the first few days, I bathed as often as I could bear. Letting out pathetic whimpers, I crouched in a bath and paddled water into my crotch. Flinchingly. Quickly – in the time I snatched from the baby. Then I’d hear him wail.
Prising the baby off was like tearing away a strip of skin. I was too squeamish, and instead, I held him most of the time. Constantly holding a baby made washing my new vagina difficult. When the community midwife did her rounds, she ordered me upstairs to inspect my stitches. I lay on the bed, skirt hitched past waist, legs spread, panting for approval. She winced, then said, ‘Done a good job, whoever did it. Must’ve taken a while. Try to keep it cleaner.’
‘It is thus not lack of cleanliness or health that causes abjection but what disturbs identity, system, order,’ says Kristeva.