polaroid of a pregnancy by Rachel León

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imagine the faded polaroid: january 2000, a beach. rippled sand waves, still water. picture me: twenty years old (terrified) and eight months pregnant. my cousin works for united airlines, so we fly standby to san diego for a last hurrah! before i (officially) become a (single) mother. we flirt with the cab driver. baby kicks — isn’t having that. first stop is the beach. slip off the stupid mom shoes. my swollen feet won’t fit in anything else. bare feet in the sand. the ocean! i’d never seen that. hungry, always hungry. what’s baby want this time? fish tacos with extra cilantro! — shut up, it doesn’t taste like dish soap. 

back to the hotel room, giggling all the way. remember our choreography to iesha? (who was it by? oh yeah, another bad creation) what about the time we walked to the grocery store but worried we couldn’t leave without buying anything, but only had fifty cents, and bought a can of beans? memories and jokes! we fight over who gets which bed. pillow fights! pizza? sausage and mushrooms, we agree. no, half with black olives. rachel can’t stop eating, my cousin laughs. 

the next day we take a trolley to tijuana, flash our ids to get across the border. another cab, another driver. no hablamos español. guy on the street asks, do we want to see naked men? sí, sí. we follow him into a strip club: women dance slow and sexy. cool, even better. but my straight cousins hate it. they confront the guy: you tricked us! he takes us to a back room with nothing but stripper poles and a boom box. he unbuttons his shirt, sweats. (oh god, is he nervous?) we tell him, stop! we’re happy if we can play on the poles. he agrees, leaves us alone in the room. my big bulging belly — i can’t spin like my cousins. i’m not nimble like them, not sexy like the club’s dancers. 

we laugh when we’re done playing, tell the man gracias. we think it’s hilarious: my pregnant ass on a stripper pole! i worked up a sweat and am hungry again. we find a place with rooftop dining. order cokes (don’t drink the water!) and beef tacos. baby needs iron. we dance when we’re done eating, spin to the music. baby kicks — is feeling the ranchera. but it’s time to go back. back to the states. back home tomorrow night. home is a (poor?) city in the midwest. here, poor kids sell chiclets on the street. will my baby be poor? i’m on welfare. (but in college!) i’m missing class for this trip. to have fun (gain perspective?) the sunset makes me sigh. the hormones make me cry. why am i crying?

i’m hungry. back in san diego: we order tropical fruit smoothies. want to add a vitamin c boost for 50 cents extra? sure, baby needs that. baby needs so much. stuff i can’t afford. prenatal vitamins so big they’re hard to swallow. in-and-out burgers. back to the beach. i kick my feet in the sand. take the polaroid. my cousins look hot in their bikinis, i’ll never wear one again. (never look hot again?) here, we’ll take your picture, they say. but i’m embarrassed by my body, these thick curves. 

we go to the contemporary art museum and study paintings of women’s bodies. thin and skeletal, no curves. i’m an artist. my work was displayed in an art museum — won an award, an art scholarship. but will i still make art when i’m a mama? can i stay up all night painting? i like listening to loud music (don’t wake the baby!) and wonder how to make my baby like punk. can i force that? you’ll have to force a head through your vajayjay, my friend laughs. 

i can’t believe you’ll be a mom, she says in the airport. our flight didn’t have open seats, so we’re waiting for the next one. we sit and people watch. watch people our age, none with babies. people with babies, all much older. babies have both parents. a dad and a mama. my baby is only guaranteed to have one of those. any of those mamas also artists? 

art can’t support a baby. i’ll be a teacher. i’ll be a MOM. (!!!) i’m not ready, not ready. i want another fish taco. i want another eight months. i want to get a stripper pole, my cousin says. no more stripper poles for me. no more beach trips. that sunset! water, water — can’t drink enough from the fountain, can’t afford an evian. 

the next flight has seats for us. one in first class, two in coach. my cousin claims first class. but i’m pregnant (!) it’s my last chance to fly. (last chance, last dance) she shrugs, says i won’t know what i’m missing. so, coach it is. my other cousin helps put my carry-on in the overhead bin. i can’t with my balloon belly. can’t buckle my seatbelt. can’t wait to stop feeling scared. (oh god, i’m nervous.) it’s time for take-off. baby kicks — says, ready or not, here i come.

Rachel León is a writer, editor, and social worker. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fiction Writers Review, Nurture, Entropy, The Rupture, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere. She is currently working on a novel.

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