There is a moment that happens when you have made a critical choice: it engulfs you so quietly you barely recognize that it happened. It is a soft, imperceptible moment that fills the space in your lungs, moves the gentle curve of your ribs outward. It fills you with an intangible force, leaves you breathless. It occurs to remind you that you are the choices you make: a relationship ended, a baby born, a death, a beginning. It is a moment that fortifies you, prepares you, breaks you, fills the space between your cells. He was that choice for me. We didn’t last, but he left an ineffable space behind, an imprint molded into the couch cushions.

The other he, the one that the critical moment prepared me for, came earthbound in the summer heat. He was born in silence, with great effort. Placed on my belly, he looked into my eyes, wrinkled his nose. He turned a soft shade of purple before he was finally able to get ahold of the fact that he was done breathing water, before he was cognizant that he was here now, an air breather. He was the result of my critical choice. In those brief, long moments, we lay skin-to-skin. Lay still in the midst of busy hands and needless hurry. In those endless, fleeting moments, he reminded me how to breathe. He showed me rawness, taught me how to recognize the wet smell of humanity, the possibility.

His is the only entrance that has ever changed me so completely, altered the way my very cells function, the way my blood flows, how my muscles remember. He made me a mother. He stripped me of my identity, but gave me a new one. In those timeless hours since, I have known a rawness that shook me to my core. In the thickness of it, dense, humid breaths have screamed silently from me. Motherhood has asked of me in crescendo.

I move with intention now. My limbs, weighted with the hushed effort of carefulness, dance as though underwater. My bones know the weight of a growing, moving, thriving life. My muscles have acquired new memory in tension, in stretch. I have become substantial, durable. He sits now atop the broadened curve of my hip, pummels his tiny fists into the softness of my belly, feeds from the substance of my breasts. I stop to bask, now, in the thickness, the weight of it all; to inhale the validity of this life I now lead, let it rattle against the walls of my ribcage. 

I made a critical choice, once, and a silent moment warned me. If I had paid attention, it would have told me that I would stand alone as his parent. That this choice would ask of me, occupy space in me, try to break me open. It would tell me that I would learn a new way to breathe, that the very mechanism I used to move, breathe, think, love, learn, would be altered indefinitely. Permanently. I made a critical choice once, and I was allowed this glorious mess to revel in, to find new legs in. I made a critical choice once, and it made me a mother.

Isa Down

Isa is a writer & artist living at the base of the Rocky Mountains. She began writing essays on motherhood after becoming a single parent and realizing the importance of having a village to help raise children. In her spare time, you can find her creating art, running after her toddler, and studying.  Follow her on Facebook and on Instagram.