Open 2022 Vasant Stories - Catherine Schuster


Safe Surrender
By Catherine Schuster


At the Capitol, the odors of Desitin, baby powder, pumped breast milk and formula, and diapers that need changing confront the noses of the elected leaders who run the government. Dangerous flag pins are removed from lapels and the shoulders of pinstripe, grey, and navy blue suits are covered with receiving blankets, ready for spit-up.

Red or blue silk ties are loosened and put aside for safekeeping. A cacophony of giggles, squeaks, screeches, and wah-wah-wahs echo through the chamber. Babies startle and settle, nap and gurgle. Little arms and legs flail, tiny hands grasp the thick fingers of grown men. Dense, fragile lumps nestle into chests.
The girls don’t know where babies come from. Or they have been raped by fathers, brothers, or boys they know from school, by strangers or police or soldiers. Some are carried away by the heat of the moment, some are addicts, some simply careless. The women are poor but not poor enough for assistance, can’t afford birth control, can’t get abortions.

They are young or already have one, two, three, four or five children. They are tired. They don’t get enough to eat. Their men beat them. Their families throw them out. They live on the street. Many live in states where it is illegal to be a woman of child-bearing age if you don’t want to have a child and happen to get pregnant.

They may work for men whose religious preferences cancel their own. They may vote for politicians, imagining they hear, in stump speeches, the reflection of their own voices, hopes, and needs. But the elected leaders who claim to care and to value life care only for their personal gods of power, influence, and the next election cycle.

A few girls and women glow, but most suffer from nausea, backache, and hemorrhoids, are repulsed by smells they have previously found agreeable, have to pee constantly, and find it nearly impossible to sleep comfortably. While they work, go to school until they show too much, run households, raise children, and tend to husbands or lovers. Eventually almost all look like leaden beach balls waddling on penguin legs.

Waters break, contractions come closer and closer together, and babies are born, delivered in torrents of pain and blood. C-sections or episiotomies are stitched up, breasts are engorged until the milk comes in. Infants are swaddled, latch onto mothers’ nipples, and cherished, however briefly.

Dressed in red, white and blue onesies, they are deposited into the arms of our elected leaders. The politicians, always ready for a photo-op, hold adorable, drooling babies as the mothers slip away, bidding silent, tearless goodbyes to their infants.

Our elected leaders didn’t’t sign up for this. They didn’t’t understand the consequences, had been careless when they constructed and enacted policies that enslave women of childbearing age and the only choice is to give up for adoption the human results of unintended pregnancies.

Our elected leaders don’t yet know how to soothe, how to tell if a baby is sick, has colic, or is just teething, don’t know how to get anything done because the babies demand all their attention, keep them up all night. Crucial votes are delayed when our elected leaders fall asleep during session, what with feedings every few hours or long lines outside the diaper changing station.

Months pass and the deluge of one, two, and three-day-old infants, carefully swaddled and left in Moses baskets, milk crates, or repurposed Amazon delivery boxes, continues. Boys are called Mitch, Rudy, or Brett or nicknamed Q. Baby girls, always in pink, might have names but are usually called Princess, Doll, or Baby Girl.

Things settle eventually and senators and representatives may reach across the aisle to return a dropped Binkie, a plastic teething ring, a teddy bear. On any given day, our elected leaders can be seen swaying on their feet, shushing and crooning lullabies, and rocking the babies. Finding the rhythm of motherhood.


Catherine M Schuster is a Los Angeles-based writer. She began writing after many years and many careers: management consultant, executive director of a tiny non-profit performing arts organization, website/graphic designer. She works on her craft with the New York-based Writers Studio, at UCLA Extension, and in workshop with novelist Mark Sarvas. She is currently in the Master Class at the Writers Studio and teaches their introductory creative writing class. Catherine writes short fiction and is working on her first novel. She loves dogs, hiking, reading, and cooking for friends.


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