Originally published in Nobody Told Me (Blackfriars, 2016). Nobody Told Me won the 2016 Ted Hughes Award For New Work in Poetry.

From the judges: "This collection breaks new ground reporting from the front line of motherhood. Poetry and prose mix well creating an internal rhythm that is conversational and honest. Hollie McNish deals with big issues without flinching from inadequacies and failings whilst reaching out to new poetry readers with her accessible style."

28 October: 5 months pregnant [Banana Baby]

by Hollie McNish

I’m starting to regret having signed up to these online pregnancy updates – one email every week since week eight telling us what stage of development the baby should be at; telling me what to eat, how to look ‘chic’ whilst pregnant, and on and on.
   Today, the baby should be the size of a large banana, apparently; last month, it was a medium- sized aubergine; the first time I got the update, it was a cherry. I imagined a maraschino stuck on the side of a massive cocktail I cannot drink any more.
   I bought a fruit bowl from the market today, thinking it would turn our flat’s small kitchen into the sort of cottage where Italian families sit around a big wooden table and share homemade tagliatelle together. I realise not all Italian families do this, or even like tagliatelle, but the ones with large kitchens and wooden tables I imagine might. I used to have a recurrent dream when I was a teenager of a naked baby toddling through vineyards shouting ‘Mama, mama’ at me. I don’t even know if that’s the Italian for ‘mum’. I think it was after watching repeats of A Place in the Sun. Or a Dolmio advert. If I’m honest, it is likely a backlash from my teenage obsession with watching Stealing Beauty on repeat from the age of fourteen to sixteen; a film in which a teenage girl loses her virginity in a vineyard by an old tree in Italy. I fucking loved that film. More than was healthy. I wrote heaps of terrible, terrible poems about how I was the last leaf on that olive tree just waiting to be plucked or swept away in the warm Italian breeze. The worst lines I remember are possibly:

I am an ice cube waiting to melt
   I’m a flower waiting to be smelt

Basically, I just wanted to shag in a vineyard, but I hid it in bad – and pretty easy to decode – metaphors. I’ve still never been to Italy. And I now realise the film is as bad as my poems, with one of the worst titles I’ve ever heard. But back then, for me, it was the shit.

Anyway, I bought the bowl.
   The market craftswoman was pregnant too, and when I bought the bowl she cried. Looked me in the eyes and wept.
   I thought she was crying because I was her only customer for the day, the week, the month maybe, battling with Habitat factorymade fruit bowls.
   But maybe, she was also thinking that day:

Banana Baby

‘Your baby should be as big as a banana by now’
‘Your sickness may calm down now’
‘Your stomach may be sorer now’
‘You should feel more tired now’
‘You should put on a pound a week now’
‘You may be more forgetful now’
‘You should think about your finances now’
‘You should consider birth classes now’
‘You should book your next scan now’
‘You should start pelvic exercises now’
‘You should clench between each wee now’
‘You must clench between each wee now’
‘You should get the maternity leave form now
and fill it in and hand it to your boss now’
‘You have to tell your boss now’
‘You should start thinking about names for the baby now’
‘You should decide whether or not you are going to use
disposable or cotton or semi-disposable
or eco-company nappies now’
‘You should try to keep the baby happy now’
‘You should play the baby classical music now’
‘Classical music will make your baby brainy now’
‘No Mr Whippy ice-cream now’
‘You might have trouble weeing now’
‘It may be hard to reach round’
‘You should pack your birth bag now’
‘You should pack your hospital bag now’
‘You should buy sanitary pads now’
‘You should buy breast-leak pads now’
‘You should buy big pants now,
I mean really, really, really, really big pants now’
‘You shouldn’t sleep on your back now
or your right-hand side now
and sleep may be uncomfortable now
and you may wake in the night now
and your ribcage may ache now
and your left arm and shoulder blade and leg
may hurt a little now
and you may think about buying
a sculpted pregnant-woman cushion now’

 It said:
(discount code below)

‘But don’t do too much’
‘Remember . . . to . . . relax’
‘Stress can be very harmful for your baby.’

 Maybe she was thinking that.
Your baby should be as big as a banana by now.

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