A.S. Byatt on birth

28 April 2010 at 1:11 am Leave a comment

It’s just about the end of the semester for me, and I just finished teaching, among other things, the A.S. Byatt short story “Body Art” to a group of undergrads in the context of a writing class. The end of “Body Art” depicts a troubled couple, Daisy and Damian, who are not even sure they want to be together, at the birth of their baby girl. I thought I’d give you this scene so you can see how deftly Byatt captures some of the intense emotions of birth.

Daisy was in a curtained-off space of her own, with a bowl of fruit on her locker. She was sitting up in bed in a hospital nightshirt, and her hair was washed and floating. She was holding–he saw her–the baby, in her arms, at her breast. The baby was feeding. He could see the little ripples of movement in the fine skin over the back of her skull. She was feeding from the pierced nipple. Daisy’s little face was completely wet with tears. Her little hands, with their tattooed mittens, tightened round Kate, and grasped. She stared at Damien as though he meant to rip the child out of her arms. Her lip, with its silly studs, trembled.

Damien sat down heavily on the visitor’s chair. Daisy said, in a small but perfectly grown-up voice:

“I didin’t understand. I didn’t know. She’s perfect. No, it isn’t that, everybody says that. She’s somebody, she’s a person, and she’s mine and she–seems to need me. I mean, it does seem to be me she needs. I mean, I can’t help it, she can’t help it, I’m–hers, I mean, I’m her mother.” The word obviously gave her trouble. She repeated, “I didn’t understand. I didn’t know.”

Damien said, “You are right of course. She is also mine.” He could have added “And I am hers,” but he wasn’t capable of so much rhetoric.

“You know, they all go on about love. Love, love, love. You and me, me and love–well, not you and me personally, but in the abstract. No one writes songs to babies, do they? But when I saw her–that was love, that was it. I know what it is–“

“I know. That’s what I felt. When I saw her.”

The baby hiccupped. Awkwardly, but gently, Daisy tipped her up on her shoulder and patted her back. Then, gingerly, she held her out to Damian, who took her in his arms, and looked down into the unique, lovely face.

“What the hell are we going to do now?” Damian asked. (105-107)

Source: Byatt, A.S. “Body Art.” Little Black Book of Stories. New York: Vintage, 2005. 47-107. Print.

–Christina

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