Breathe in that baby smell

I smell lavender body wash. I am curled on the floor of my bathtub, and my sister is showing me how to relieve my over-swollen breasts. I am too weak and too sick to stand, and the cascading water is hot but I am shivering. She shows me how to massage away the pain, but I am too cold and too weak. She covers me with a towel and helps me out of the tub.

I smell hospital. Antiseptic and lunchmeat. My son is in the back of my room, my husband bouncing him to soothe him as we wait for another doctor. We stare at the closed door, the barrier between my newborn and the many invisible threats to his underdeveloped body. A security guard jokes about how bad it is to bring a newborn to the ER. We want to hurt him.

I smell ginger—the cookies I can stomach when I can’t eat anything else. I smell my husband’s deodorant as he smooths my hair when I’m too sick to get out of bed.

I don’t smell my baby. I don’t want to.


I become obsessed with time. I want it to go faster, speed up. Whisk me away to a future place when things are better. I don’t know what “better” means. I just know it’s different.

I think about how quickly time passed before the baby, and hope it goes as fast after. Our vacation to Seattle was two months ago, and those two months flew by. How can I make the next two months go just as fast?

They say to soak it in now because I’ll blink and it’ll be over.

I blink and blink and blink and time still feels sticky and slow.

I held you instead

I read about leaving the laundry for later. I read to let the dishes pile up. I read that I should let other people help me. I should enjoy this fleeting time with my baby.

I haven’t been in my kitchen in a week. I orbit from the bed to the couch. I want to do the dishes. I want to fold my laundry and wipe off my counter. I want to see something clean, stacked, orderly, complete.

I savor the feeling of clean clothes against my skin.

I cannot hold my baby.

Mom and baby are happy and healthy.

I scroll through my phone and see beaming women holding their babies. They are secure in their hospital beds. I want to warn them that it changes once they get home. But it doesn’t seem to change for them. Why did it change for me?

Settling into a new normal they say. They joke about finally getting a shower. They use hashtags like #newmomlife and #needcoffee to make light of it all.

I want to make light of it all, but it all feels so heavy.

I am not happy and I am not healthy.

I miss those newborn noises.

I hear him through walls. I can hear each grunt, each cry, each sniffle. Each noise sets sparks across my skin and makes my heart race. I cannot sleep when he sleeps, as they tell me to do. He is too loud. I am too frantic.

When my mother holds him downstairs, I listen through the crackly silence to hear him cry.

I stay in the shower too long and let the water crash on my ears. It’s the only place I can’t hear him.

This. Right. Here. This is everything.

I ask people to keep telling me it gets better. It gets better, right? It gets better, right? Tell me it gets better?

I don’t want this to be all that’s left for me. Please tell me that there’s more.

And just like that…

I post pictures of my baby. He is smiling and it feels like a salve. People tell me he always looks happy.

I don’t post about the night we held him as he screamed, when he wouldn’t latch and we knew he was starving. I don’t post about my husband feeding him with a syringe, and the feeling of defeat and fear that I couldn’t care for him.

I can’t figure out how to share my child with the world. I want to, but the internet strips away complexity. It makes everything black and white. Everything is either amazing or terrible.

I want to be many, many things, but I am reduced to just a mother.

Madeline Anthes is the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary and the Assistant Editor of Lost Balloon. Her writing can be found in journals like WhiskeyPaper, Cease, Cows, and Jellyfish Review. Her first collection of flash fiction, Now We Haunt This Home Together, will be released in February 2020 with Bone & Ink Press.  Find more at or on Twitter @maddieanthes

© 2019 Madeline Anthes. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, August 2019.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: Studio Anne Bearne).




by Madeline Anthes
Call If You Don’t Feel 
Better In Two Weeks