This baby is sucking the life out of me, my daughter says, and I want to return with Just you wait, but I don’t, because I know how annoying mothers can be, always sounding warnings. Instead, I stand chopping—onions, celery, a breast and a thigh from a chicken—making a thin soup that will pass through her stomach and then her gut, traveling superhighways of vessels into her cells and into the cells of the nine-week-old body growing inside hers, with dark wells for eyes and translucent lids, miles of capillaries, and the intestines, formed in the umbilical cord and just now migrating into the belly.

My mother, my daughter’s grandmother, roasted chickens for soup—Such a better flavor this way, she said that morning as she pulled the crisped browned skin from the flesh, separating out the veins and the bones, anything resembling an animal, a thing grown from an egg. She chopped carrots, onions, and meat into tiny pieces, tiny enough to pass through my tight, tender esophagus, because when the last of my babies—a son—expanded inside me, his body ripped into mine, causing a rupture requiring a fundoplication, where we reach in through the belly, where we wrap the stomach around the esophagus, where we make a new kind-of valve, as my surgeon explained. My baby sucked milk from my breast as I sipped my mother’s broth—thin enough to wash by my sutures, through the cells of my body and into those of my son—Sip it, she said, sip it so you don’t choke.

My daughter tells me she can’t take the meat, can’t stand the smell, the chew, can’t swallow, I will vomit, she says, and I want to tell her, You need this meat with all the building that’s happening, muscle for muscle, but I don’t. Instead, I chop through rings of vessels that once carried water and nutrients, I scrape skin from a breast, knife out a tendon. I stand chopping until this pile is just a pile, nothing like plants and or animals, far from veinlets and muscle. Deep beneath my daughter’s abdominal wall, neurons myelinate, spark, shoot, while deeper still, silent colonists stack eggs into the walls of this new body’s—her daughter’s, my granddaughter’s—ovaries. Libraries of possibilities. This baby, my daughter says, and I hand her a mug of broth. Sip, I say. Just sip.

Martha Petersen writes from the beautiful but prickly Sonoran desert in Tucson, Arizona. Her creative nonfiction, short fiction, and book reviews have appeared in Salamander, Best American Essays 2020 Notable Essays, Witness, Silk Road Review, Essay Daily, Press 53, and others. Her work has been nominated for Best American Essays, the Pushcart Prize, and Best of the Net award. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches composition and creative writing at Pima Community College.

Artwork by Barbara Gillette Price