There is a roundness to my belly. Not the kind that comes from too much beer or fatty foods, but the kind that comes only from occupation- a rite of passage, a battle scar, a reminder.
On the bad days, it reminds me of all that I've lost. A reminder of the carefree life that came before it, a life of mini-skirts and cute tops- enjoying the heads that turned as I walked by, a life of fitted dress clothes in lovely fabrics and beautiful colors that marked my passage into adulthood. I was coming into myself. I felt good.
But the loss goes deeper and my belly reminds me of that, too. A reminder of another life. A daughter. Growing within me. A tiny miracle.
The reminder is with me, but she is not.
In the beginning, my belly was barely noticeable. A stranger on the street would never have known- in fact her future parents first reaction was "You're so tiny!". Those close to me could tell. If I turned just the right way so that the fabric in my shirt hugged its outline, they knew. My sister marveled at it.
I tried to hide it for awhile- not really by choice, but because I learned early that people were ashamed. They would rather have me pretend. I bought pants and shirts in larger sizes and cried each morning as I tried to dress in a way that wouldn't reveal my sin.
As my belly grew larger and more noticeable, I tried harder not to be noticed- a trait that has stuck. I kept my eyes low to the ground praying nobody would stop to talk to me, to ask me about the little life growing within.
When I went out, I imagined every eye going straight to my naked fingers as their own shook at me in condemnation and disgust. But it wasn't just that I was unwed, it was what I had planned- to give away my own flesh and blood, to shirk responsibility for my actions by passing it on to someone else. Surely I could not love my child if I was planning such a thing. And so I became selfish and unloving in their eyes- not just those of strangers, but those of the people closest to me as well.
And my belly grew. The rest of me filled up to help support the added weight. A beautiful round basketball.
What is left reminds me of good things, too- sleepless nights in bed feeling precious kicks. Oh how I loved that full and occupied belly! Nothing short of magical- to feel sweet life within. Strange shapes and bumps- I rubbed my belly constantly- sometimes I still catch myself doing it.
On difficult days, I would pat and talk in soothing voices- calming myself and my baby at the same time. Some days I was angry that I was alone. Some days I wished there was someone else to share the joy of tiny movements- to lay a head on my belly- to marvel at the activity.
Before that could happen, my belly was emptied. Soft pouch taking the place of taut sphere. The invisible baby made her way into the world. The memory is bittersweet.
I went home without her. But I kept the belly. A reminder. Of loss and joy.