A Father’s Fourth Trimester by S.L. Smith for Skin to Skin

 This drawing is in direct reference to 'it was the place I felt him cry' a quote from Carmen Marcus’s poem ‘My World is Small’. The work is created with pencil and marker pens on paper. The drawing captures the empty void you feel after giving birth. When someone would hold my baby and he cried, it translated as an empty yearning void in my womb. In the context of Sussi’s poem the title ‘It Was The Place I Felt Him Cry’ extends to acknowledge the suppressed anxiety of the father’s experience.

It Was The Place I Felt Him Cry illustration by Clare Hansford inspired by poem by Carmen Marcus

My world is small

But her world is smaller

I see it shrink day by hour by Nano second

as I watch them

sharing their breaths

tears running silently from her sleeping eyes as the baby’s eyelids flicker in sync

She is withering in this period of endless motherlove and primal urges

and I am helpless

So I stand here

by the edge of the bed

watching the two I love more than my body knows how

There’s no place for my protection here

No need for breadwinning masculinity

or strong arms to lift

Which is lucky as this whole scene is bringing me to my knees

The toolbox is out on the living room floor

I have knots bolts and things I have no ideas where go, ready in my hands

The baby’s cot

The bookshelf she has asked me to repair for more than a year

I didn’t tell her that I couldn’t

Because I am not that sort of man

I am the sort of man that stands helpless

Watching my love cry herself to sleep next to the miracle baby

we made

And I am helpless

I suggested a trip to the sea, her mum, the doctor.

She says okay.

Then melts into the beautiful red chair I found in the dumpster down the road

The baby sometimes looks at me from her tight grip

As if saying, ‘try harder dad.

I need to feel the soul of your skin too’

But I don’t dare.

If I hold him to my heart, maybe she’ll disappear

Maybe I will

Then what would he do

My son?

Our son

This is the fourth trimester

And I am the one who is pregnant

With trying to do what is right

What is expected and

I have no clue what that is

So I buy small green plastic fish

And googlehow to use a power drill

And I stand here

By the edge of our bed

Watching the two souls I love more than can possibly be healthy

And I wonder

If I take off my armour

If I lay down my useless tools.

If I move the green fishes and soft toys

And lay behind her

My knees against hers

My arm over the two of them

Will she push me away?

Is the world too small for me already?

Am I still here?

Or should I lie on the other side

My knees to hers

My arm over them both

Watching their world

Maybe there could be space for me there

A trinity to be nurtured

If she will let me

What if she won’t, I know how scared she is

I am so scared too.

Salty dried streaks on her eyelashes and cheeks

Surprise then recognition

I lie down

He is still asleep

the miracle between us

And she wipes my eyes with feathers as she drifts away again

For now the world may be small

But it is for us

Sussi Louise was the vice chair of the Danish Network for research on Men and Masculinities (NeMM) for a number of years and has maintained an interest in fatherhood and parenting. During her time in NeMM several studies were carried out in Scandinavia by members concerning paternal post-natal depression and trauma. Sussi strongly believes that fathers mental health after traumatic births is an ill covered and even tabooed subject. For the dads, for the new mums engrossed in their own experience and not least for society who still expects new dads to be traditional strong men, nappy changers and emotionally supportive husbands. But what if a new father is experiencing deep seeded sadness and anxiety too? Who is supporting him? Where are the new fathers’ support groups? The birth trauma support service for men? Sussi is also a mother of two, who herself went through more than three days hard labour and who didn’t always manage to let her husband in to share the burden. It was only much later during her studies and research she realised how closed-up and overprotective she’d really been. If only she’d known. And understood.

Author: Carmen Marcus

As the daughter of a Yorkshire Fisherman and Irish Mother, my writing brings together the visceral and the magical. My debut novel #How Saints Die was published with Harvill Secker in 2017. It won New Writing North's Northern Promise Award as a work in progress and was longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize in 2018. My poetry has been commissioned by BBC Radio, The Royal Festival Hall and Durham Book Festival. As a child of an 80s council estate I am an advocate for working class writers and stories. I’m currently working on my first poetry collection The Book of Godless Verse and my next novel. I try to live up to the words of my first critic and primary school teacher ‘weird minus one house point.’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s