Born Hearts Upside Down

Home birth sounds so...

Homey! Sweet! Safe from fear!  

What a welcome, to bouncing baby 

Who will arrive through legs, in arms… home 


I knew you were a boy.

But if you weren’t,

I’d name you Jubilee Ruth!

If you ever transition, 


Or get a baby, or dog of your own

I hope you use it

Like I knew you’d be Raoul, 

If your dad didn’t shoot that down


Now your dog who grows with you

Is named your name

I called you, as you grew in 

My layered bubble belly


We made you in a tent

Glen Rose, Texas: Dinosaur Valley 

We were married

Day before you erupted on the scene


After the courthouse 

We sat at Lucia eating delicious pastas 

In decadent celebratory union,

Belly dancing…with strange unfamiliar hardness


Glass jeweled silk headband 

Crowned brown curls from my father

Summer cream lace dress to my toes

Concert sized beach ball at middle


Memories of pretend pregnancies

Balloons at parties under our shirts

“Look how big the baby is!”

Running around mom’s legs to make her laugh

“Y’all better not think I’m raisin’ yours,

You four are enough…”
Memories of how I cried in bed
Won’t my line ever learn

To keep our legs closed?

Staring at my partner

“This is a 

good thing

This is wonderful

It’s okay……………………………...It’s going to be okay”

Looking at double beating lines

heart closed into itself

Compact mirrored fate

Generation after generation

 Lost hopes for bachelor’s degrees



The dreams

Of my mother

Lost to childbirth,


And the ever-elusive dollar


A woman at the table 

next to ours said, “You are so brave...”

I chuckled thanks, in confusion,

Eating what I would regret in forthcoming labor


Next dawn, sitting on an exercise ball 

Pains spiking at interval

In cool sweat anticipation

I began to realize what she’d meant.


When I called her, 

the midwife said she 

Didn’t think I was actually in labor

I told her I was, so she sent a nurse...


Never had met her, she began to monitor and report

with phony delicate tone I knew all too well: 

A caretaker’s avoidant nonchalance, and

Bearer of unsettling news


You would need to be born 

At the “birthing center”

Not at home, the center of our world

Our connection: wrapped around your neck 


Each contraction, 

Your heart rate decelerated

Last stretch to the finish line: 

paved in barbed wire


Checking water balloon sack

Again, after only moments before 

Intensifying tension 

on your dewdrop cocoon


I feel a nail drive into the tissue

Popping, “Oops….

You’ll have this baby 

in the hospital”


Brows of dew on sweating forehead

Clamp down, tightening

Woodworker’s vice grip 

I do as I am told, through


Encouraging words 
Through beeps and stickers, through screams 

more of my own: “Fuck you”

And I vomit over and over


Because the smell of shit

Because the pain, because the shame from

Feeling angelic nurse wiping 

my rank, blossoming ass, stranger no longer 


Plastic cap on mouth

Rubbermaid nausea

“He isn’t getting oxygen

You have to wear it”


Carpenter decides on the saw then holds back

I vacillate through wasted    gasps   for life 

“I can’t do it...”            “get it out”          “don’t cut me open”       

fears churn, one atop the other



I want my mother.

This husband I’d had 

for one day,

She hated him...born the same year as she

She’d stopped talking to me

After a fight we’d had about him and after

the voicemail I left relaying the information that 

I was pregnant with his child and I hoped she could accept that but

No call back

And I made my bed

Slept with thrashing child within

Mother I need you so much! 

 And I am sorry

And YOU did this four times

And I have no one who can help me

And I’m surrounded by strangers: curious onlookers

And they want me to stop screaming

And I’m scaring the other women

And I’m terrified

And as I become a mother

I want MY mom

I want my mom...



“You aren’t dilating fast enough, 

The shears might do it but 

You MUST push with 

Your entire being during this next contraction”


Said the doctor, trying to 

Respect glass-shattering fear 

Of major surgery… while saving 

YOU, my little love


Snip…. again: snip

legs and body writhing 

Burning, freezing, 

choking, gushing


Alien emerges 

From my open cavity

I fall from the crest of 

The tumbling waves, shattered


The deep holds more

Life unknown and I can’t wait to know you!

You, who came out with a splash

Leaving a puddle of ashen flesh in your wake


You peed all over everyone 

Screaming your own insults

In foreign infant tongue 

Your father cried 


“I thought you were both going to die”         


I didn’t tell him but 

I had died

new things were born:


                                   A mother                                                                    

                                 a grandmother too...




Mom took two years

To loosen her guard

We made up

And are closer than ever

Now,             when my siblings or I 

Say ignorant things that hurt her

I see her with my new eyes,

 see her move on with a grace 

I still struggle with

She is so used to the pain 

That children bring

I smile at her



 the hell you will put me through

And the hell I will put you through, trying to raise you right

Being a mother 

Is a privilege not to be taken lightly


A string drops one heart upside down from another


One day I will grow to be like her 

 strong, graceful, confident, determined, humble, patient 

Woman                                    Mother


I will always be there for you,



Just like my mother is

Even when she isn’t.

-Monika Bowman Bell


Monika Bowman Bell places storytelling and the delicacy of the natural world at the heart of visual, performative, musical and written works. She is board president at Dallas, Texas literary non-profit, WordSpace, is the Arts Track mentor at Dallas Young Makers’ Club at the J. Erik Jonsson Central Library, is in the midst of writing a script for a rock opera titled Old Maid/Lemons and is producing a new body of visual work based on shadows. Bell sings and performs around Dallas in bands, The Stoners and Mad Mother Goblin. 







Julia NusbaumComment