Birth by Zoë Ruiz

Today I saw my friend who is very close to giving birth and she placed her hands on her stomach and asked, “Can you believe there is a baby inside here?”

“A human being,” I say. “Can you imagine a human inside there?”

“No,” she says. “I cannot. It is crazy.”

Months ago, my friend and I were at a bar and I told her, I don’t know what it’s like to want to be a mother.

I can imagine what it feels like to be a selfish mother, a selfless mother, one that tries and fails, one that is fearful, one that is brave. I can imagine the mothering, the act itself, and a whole life of it. But the wanting, the desire–that I don’t know.

I do know I’m a writer. I’ve always known that, but for years didn’t embrace it. When I was growing up, I thought writing could save me and maybe it did, up to a point, up until I was twenty-three. That’s when I learned writing would not save me because it did not save me and for months, for years, even when I was better and wanted to write; I did not. I felt abandoned by writing so I abandoned writing.

But I am a writer and there came the day when I could not not write, so I started again. Reluctantly. Now here I am. Thirty years old. Writing a book. Not because I want to but because I feel like I have to. Have to not because of any external pressure but an internal one.


I decide I have to make significant progress on the book in the next three months. I am trying to hold myself accountable but instead of turning into a responsible, hard-working version of myself, I begin to spiral without realizing I’m spiraling. I’m terrified without realizing I’m terrified.

One evening I spend four hours at a desk writing, going in and out of states of concentration and crying, and when I leave the desk, I walk outside and sob. My sobbing sounds like something is rupturing and I know only night and nature can hold that kind of something. I look out at the night in all its blackness and silhouettes of eucalyptus trees and bow my head towards my heart and the cries begin again. The sounds are deep and guttural and I know only animals and spirits can hold that kind of sound.

My sadness continues past night into daytime and I’m remembering too much and too fast and then the sadness turns into something raw, visceral, almost electric. One night, I dance for hours and for those hours, I feel light. I feel joy. I am transforming my feelings through movement. The next day, hungover and tired, eyeliner and mascara smeared under my eyes and still wearing clothes from the night before, I tell myself the way to finish the book without being so sad is to dance at least once a week. It’s a bad solution. But it’s the only one I come up with.

Soon I get a bad cough, a painful period, my car stalls on the road. When I close my eyes, I see a compass, spinning rapidly and out of control. Everything is telling me to slow down and I don’t until one late afternoon I find myself with a man and while we are together, his dog starts to bark again and again and won’t stop and this incessant barking somehow wakes me up out of my trance. I realize this man’s touch feels brutal, his body feels heavy, almost suffocating. I stand up and rush out of his apartment. I start my car and am overwhelmed and as I leave, get in an accident.

And what comes to mind is a scene from Joan Didion’s Play It As It Lays.

“That afternoon Maria had a small accident with the Corvette, received a call from the bank about her overdrawn account, and learned from the drugstore that the doctor would no longer renew the barbiturate prescriptions. In a way she was relieved.”

I know Maria doesn’t stop there but I hope I can. Although I’m scared I can’t. At home on the phone with my best friend in San Francisco, I ask him, “What if I can’t stop?”

He says, “You are a warrior. You’ve spiraled before.”

Meaning I’ve spiraled and stopped and can do it again. And the wise part of myself knows that I can write the book without destruction and despair. The wise part of myself knows there can be grace in the process.

I just have to listen to that wisdom.


Today my friend was leaning back in a chair and her belly looked so large. Months ago, we looked at a sonogram of her baby when she wasn’t showing. The doctor estimates her child is now six pounds and at birth will be nine pounds. There is a human being growing inside her, a being she will birth and mother for the rest of her lifetime. Today my friend offered advice about the book. She said, “You have to approach it by pieces. If you think of it as a whole, you will get too scared.”


Zoë Ruiz lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in The WeeklingsSalonTwo Serious LadiesTrop and the anthology California Prose Directory (2014). She is the former managing editor of The Rumpus and currently produces READINGS, a Los Angeles based reading series.