Lisa Factora-Borches

It was a hot September night when my son turned nine months old, when the guilt completed its transformation from emotion to somatic. The stress of breastfeeding, the isolation of parenting in a nuclear family in a quiet Midwestern street, to the unexpected realization I did not want to be a full time stay at home parent; like a magnetic calling for its ingredients, my body harbored some kind of experimental fusion of a new entity. It has no name.

I stand in the doorway and watch him. My tot lay in his crib, noisily dreaming with his round rump in the air. My feet shuffle a few steps over a thick hallway rug and I pause at a different threshold. I watched my partner blow thin puffs of air between his slightly parted lips, a sign, I knew after almost a decade of loving him, that designed exhalation meant he was in deep sleep. Assured they are safe from my dark thoughts, I walk the house.

A dead whisper, clamoring for life, wafts into my ear “What kind of mother are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was a judgment that hammered the space between my fingers since Isaiah was born so they felt numb when I tried to type, write, scribble, or even jot.

Rewriting the ending of stories I read, saving cards, reading poetry aloud to a mirror in the bathroom, I knew I was a writer when I was seven years old. But motherhood I didn’t decide until the advent of my 30s. There was little warning that the two would clash so magnificently, in such a horror comic show of blunder and anxiety. The collision of biology and art was a daily bruiser. I preferred to work on my writing more than anything in the world. Sometimes even mothering. I kept that secret deep within, afraid of what others would think. Afraid what it revealed about me as a mother. Terrified what kind of monster that made me.

I walk the house, stealing brief glances at the two sleepers in their beds. Tired of walking into nothing but endless questions and dim corners, I finally lay down to close my eyes and join them.

Out of nowhere – or maybe It was there all the time and I just realized It – It began. It was physical.

The tingling begins on the left side of my body and my heart began rhythmic drumming as I was running for my life. The walls turned into flat vacuums, sucking the air out of the room, leaving nothing for me. I couldn’t breathe.

I’m dying. I’m dying.

He turns over in the bed and sees my hand reaching for him. I muster plainly, “Something is wrong.”

What kind of mother are you.

It wasn’t a question.

The fear of my son being outloved by words, metaphor, meaning, and craft. The broken bleeding nipples, the tilted uterus, the rash outbreaks from the hospital gowns, my refusal for pain medication, messy IV, itchy skin. My heart races with fuel to outrun the memory bank of my body.

The tingling spread and Nick’s face covered mine and he is talking. I can feel your heartbeat and I’m barely touching you. You need help. We need help.

I open my eyes and see strangers in my bedroom, working on my body, taking my blood pressure, asking me questions about my health.

I’m dying. I’m dying.

The paramedics assure me that my heart was fine. I ask if they are sure.

Have you ever had a panic attack? one paramedic asks.

I laugh.

No. I don’t have anxiety in my family.

You had a panic attack.

I laugh again. He didn’t.

It’s three in the morning, he points out.

And? I challenge, suddenly feeling naked to have these strangers in my bedroom.

You’re a new mom? He’s not aggressive, just imploring.
But it was like scratching your finger against a bulldozer.

He sees my eyes flash, dark marbles of wild emotion.

Hey, he says, this is your body taking care of you. Whatever this is, whatever’s going on in your head is too much for your body. Your adrenaline is pumped in waves in reaction to your thoughts. You think you’re dying because it feels like a stroke, but it’s your body responding.

I look down. My disheveled tank top, my scrunched pajama shorts. The embarrassment sweats down my chest.

What kind of mother are you.

He sees my shifting eyes and goes on. When your body doesn’t get enough oxygen from hyperventilating, you begin to pass out. It’s your body’s way of saying Woah, I need to take over here so I can stabilize and get what I need because I’m not getting it.

He nods, appreciating his own analogy.

My son is sleeping through it all. Sound asleep.

They begin packing their equipment and I am standing now, apologizing.

What the hell am I apologizing for?

Just take care of yourself, he says.

What kind of—

I am a mother. And writer.

Lisa Factora-Borchers is a writer and editor of the forthcoming anthology, Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Assault (January 2014, AK Press). Her work can be found on and offline, and it focuses on spirituality, liberation, and feminism. Lisa lives with her partner, Nick, and their son Isaiah.

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