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By Shamae Budd

I lay in bed a few weeks ago, admiring the flatness of my stomach, grieving in advance the lack-of-flatness I can expect when my husband and I decide to start growing children of our own, and I found myself wondering, strangely, how snakes are born. Do they hatch from eggs, or are they born live and wriggling? 

I assumed the answer was eggs. That sounded right. Reptilian. 

But then the internet surprised me. I discovered that while most snakes do hatch from leathery and elongated eggs, there are a few species—boas, rattlesnakes, garter snakes—that give birth to live young. 

These slithery babies develop within their mothers, and then slip into the world surrounded by a thin membrane, what a website called “kidzone” refers to as a “goopy baggy.” According to the same website, “the baby uses an egg tooth to rip out of the membrane and wriggle free.”  The egg tooth is not actually a tooth, but a horny protrusion located somewhere on the head, which disappears after the snake sheds its first skin. Other reptiles, like lizards and turtles, also sport egg teeth on their heads and snouts, ripping through the barrier between their tiny bodies and the world, when they are born. 

If I were a snake, I would prefer to have my slinky children hatch from eggs. So much less intimate that way, so much cleaner. If I were an egg-laying snake, I could simply deposit my embryonic children in a pile of bracken and weeds, bundled up in their individual leathery packaging, and wait for them to hatch. Separate from my serpentine body. Apart. 

“As luck would have it,” you might be thinking, “you are not a snake, so what does it matter whether you would prefer your children to hatch from eggs or not?” Well, here’s the rub, dear reader. I am not a snake, but I am a woman recently married. And therefore, the concerns of carrying and bearing young has become more relevant than it used to be, and although I am delighted by the possibility of children, I am disturbed by the prospect of becoming literally attached to another human being for nine months, without reprieve. I started birth control a month before our wedding, and for six months now, I have taken my pill faithfully each morning, with a mixture of gratitude and guilt, a nervous relief. But despite the artificial hormonal postponement, pregnancy looms before me—a bodily intertwining I will have to endure if I ever want to have children of my own.

And it would appear that I have been channeling this fear into only vaguely related research—avoiding questions of human pregnancy, and investigating instead the how’s and why’s of gestation and delivery in the animal kingdom. 

Snails, if you care to know, are part of the lucky egg-birthing half of the world. And snails are hermaphrodites, which means that in a snail community everybody shares the burdens of fertilizing and laying eggs, because everybody has both mommy and daddy parts. Snails bury their eggs—globular white orbs—en masse in a shallow hole in the ground. And when baby snails hatch, they emerge looking like tiny, slimy, translucent versions of their parents, complete with squishy, spiraling miniature shells on their backs. 

This is quite different from the case of the hermit crab, who, like many crustaceans, when hatched will find itself in a larval form called zoea, which looks less like a crab than it does an alien: naked and shell-less, with eyes too big for its head and a body shaped like a mosquito without wings. 

And what’s worse, the hermit crab (unlike the snail, which leaves its eggs to develop in the damp earth), is destined to carry around her several hundred eggs attached to her abdomen and appendages for a month or more, waiting until her zoea are finally ready to hatch. I’m sure this becomes a little claustrophobic—scuttling through the world with the burden of a hundred tiny orange eggs draped across your belly, for weeks on end. It must get in the way of her limbs, so hard and delicate, as she reaches to do her daily tasks in the sand, straining awkwardly around that alien bulk and weight. 

My closest friend, J—-, is pregnant. For the past fifteen weeks she has vomited into many, many garbage cans and toilets and plastic bags, she has dreamed strange and sometimes terrible dreams, she has eaten whatever is before her with a voracious and tedious hunger, she has wept with exhaustion and discomfort and defeat. Her body has, in so many ways, revolted against the invasion, the physiological change. And she told me this week that she’s started to feel something in there, wiggling around, bumping into things. A “bubbling” sensation at the base of her abdomen, like the understated movement of a fish’s tiny flippers or a baby bird’s wings. And this makes me recoil—makes me remember that a living thing is growing somewhere inside of her, a creature that does, and does not, belong.  

Of course, I am happy for her. Not long into her marriage, she became accidentally pregnant and miscarried the baby only ten weeks in. She was surprised and then afraid and then ecstatic and then crushed, all in the space of a month or two—a wave of emotions she never could have anticipated. And suddenly, although she had been purposely avoiding pregnancy to that point in her life, the whirlwind of having and losing a baby made her want one in a way she hadn’t wanted one before. And for the next two years, she and her husband tried to get their miniscule and fickle sperms and eggs to cooperate, without any luck. So the fact that she is now 16 weeks along in her second pregnancy without any sign of distress, the fact that she has a real baby inside of her, with a real, beating heart, this is beautiful, joyful, miraculous, but—can I say it in the same breath?—also alarming. 

I’ve dealt with mild anxiety for the last several years, and I’ve learned, for the most part, to deal with it—the rush of discomfort that results from feeling trapped or smothered or out of control. But even still, there have been times in the last few months when I’ve gently pushed my husband aside mid-cuddle, because I suddenly needed a little extra space in which to breathe, because of the sheer nearness of him. But having a baby inside of me means, at least in theory, that there is no escaping nearness, because I’m quite literally surrendering my bodily space to someone else. For nine months, my body will be a co-op. 

My husband tries to understand this fear, even if it’s an abstract kind of understanding. He says, jokingly: “Why don’t I get a parasite, intentionally, once you’re pregnant?” I laugh, and I appreciate the offering—this desire for empathy. I think that if he could, Daniel would be willing to do things the snail way—carrying this alongside me, laying both our batches of eggs in the ground. But, assuming I am able, I know this is something I will have to do on my own. He will listen to my worry, but it will be my body that carries our children, alone. 

Until the age of twelve or thirteen, I swore to my mother that I would never have children. Unlike my more nurturing female counterparts, I was not even remotely interested in having a human being develop inside of me. A balled-up little parasite attached to one of my own, personal organs, feeding off of my life-blood, and stretching me out like a balloon was not something I aspired to host. No thank you. My mother smiled and suggested that someday I might feel differently. At the age of thirteen or fourteen, I said with a self-satisfied harumph, “I’ll adopt,” as though I had found a loop-hole in the “children require pregnancy” dilemma—sensing that my mother was right, but still unwilling to consider bodily sacrifice as a viable option. And although I decided sometime near the end of high school that I might want kids of my own someday—admitting begrudgingly that pregnancy might be worth it in the end—my distaste for the process of growing said infants did not lessen as the years passed. 

My mother says that late into her pregnancy with me she could feel my toes jabbing at the flesh between her ribs. And I am grateful she endured this—my probing curiosity within her womb—which made it hard for her to sit up straight and breathe. But I am bothered by the closeness of it. The fact that I was once inside of her, part of her, intertwining with her ribs and pushing aside her organs—the fact that I might one day have someone else inside of me. Thinking of either scenario, being baby or mother, I feel consumed. 

Of course, after the nine months are over you have an entirely different set of anxieties on your hands—the problem of how to get the baby out, and what to do with it for the lifetime that follows. Problems that many women fear, and with good reason. 

When my mother was pregnant with her third child, her three year old, Riley, asked with some measure of concern: “Mommy, how are they going to get the baby out? Are they going to cut off your head?” This is a cute story, and whenever she tells it, we chuckle at little Riley’s naiveté. “Silly boy,” we think to ourselves. But the bodily trauma which can occur during childbirth doesn’t seem so distant from the gruesome scene he imagined. 

When my mother gave birth to her fourth and last child, I was in the delivery room: ten years old and wide-eyed. To most people, this seems strange—to allow, let alone to invite, a child to be present during the trauma of labor and delivery—and I have always shrugged it off as one of my mother’s quirks. I agree, it was a little strange… I felt that it was strange, even then. But I think she thought I should be there, in the hospital, because it was part of my future and my heritage, as a girl who would become a woman, and a mother, maybe. She has always believed in full-disclosure—no apologies or pseudonyms for body parts or functions. Even as a toddler, I used anatomically accurate language with matter-of-fact accuracy that surprised most adults. So I wonder if her inviting me to that hospital room had something to do with this overall life philosophy—that we should unashamedly acknowledge the gruesome realities of living in bodies, weak and soft and warm, so easily broken. I wonder if she wanted me to see the reality of this thing we sometimes call the miracle of life, like it is only glory. The blood and sweat and trembling required to put a baby in your arms. 

I don’t remember much, so it’s difficult to say whether this experience was the beginning of my fears about pregnancy, as some of my friends have suggested—but I doubt it. (Mostly because I am afraid of being pregnant more than I am afraid of labor and delivery, as I have said.) I was on ice-duty. I tipped the cup of pebbled ice into her mouth when she asked for something to chew, and I watched her squeeze my father’s hand and a thick winter glove at intervals, her fingers taut and veiny. Those are the things I remember most clearly: the ice, and her hands. And then the image of my newest brother, slick and purple and gasping beneath the fluorescent hospital lights in the hands of medical workers wearing white rubber gloves. 

I think I was unimpressed—not unimpressed by my mother, but by the squirming thing she had suffered for. When we arrive, we are not like newly hatched snails—adorably tiny carbon copies of our parents. We are like the hermit crab zoea—alien, slippery, strange. 

Perhaps I should fear what follows those months of gestation more than the pregnancy itself. Bringing life into the world is an intimate and distressing and messy process. And the challenge of childbirth—something that has killed millions of women through the centuries, though it is now generally survived—is only followed by the intimidating monotony of parenthood. But right now, for whatever reason, I fear the nine months of actual, bodily inseparability most of all. Maybe because, when pregnant, the thing inside your belly is so entirely unknown, somewhere between imagined and real, both part of you, and separate, all at once. I don’t know how to embrace something that has never existed outside of me—I don’t know how to love it, how to accept it as part of myself. 

When I think about being pregnant, I don’t think about the wonder of creation, what many call a miraculous connection to God, the Creator, the Giver of life. Although I believe in the divinity of motherhood and, theoretically, in the divinity inherent in the process of creating another human being, when I think about pregnancy—actually being pregnant—I cannot think in the general terms of holiness that we allot to it. What religion tells me about being pregnant may be true, but it is also a euphemism for all the discomfort—the animalistic, biological need to reproduce, the blood and fluid and vomit and restlessness of the thing. 

Maybe this is why I have been thinking about animals—fixating on the birthing habits and rituals of creeping things instead of actual human pregnancy. To distance and depersonalize the process, making it somehow less fraught with meaning and glory and therefore easier to comprehend. 

Maybe this makes me cowardly, ungrateful. I don’t know. Or maybe it simply means I am trying to embrace my own mortal, animal nature, along with the divine, the way my mother has taught me to do since I first began learning the realities of humanity, of womanhood. 

But I find myself wishing I could be a snake or a snail, lay my eggs and leave them in the earth to hatch. Impersonal. Uncomplicated.

And yet—

My husband and I teach a Sunday school class full of 3-year-olds at our local church each week, and they are a wonder and a terror. There is Abby, who talks quietly out of the side of her mouth like she’s smoking a cigar, and Brady, who hits the other children and then cries because he wants to be friends, and Phoebe, who is more interested in twisting her braids than listening to the lesson, and Beckham, who is always saying “but, but, but” until somebody will listen to whatever he’s trying to say, and I find myself loving them while also wanting to throw up my hands in defeat, feeling the realness of their personalities—their tiny, enormous personhood. 

I watch my husband’s jaw tighten as he tries to settle a squirming, screeching boy in his chair, and I love him for his attempts at patience, and I am overcome with the desire to create a person with this man—our own little human who will make us into the kind of people who are called “mommy” and “daddy” and love us and consume us and need us and leave us. 

And I don’t know what to do with these two conflicting sides of myself: the desire, and the fear. 

I have another friend, recently married, who chose to have an IUD inserted to avoid accidental pregnancy for the next three years. She said it was agonizingly painful for the first week, but the pain has worn off, and a new sense of calm has taken its place. The stress of remembering to take her birth control was too overwhelming; the possibility of getting pregnant was driving her mad. She would almost certainly love a baby accidentally conceived—I’ve heard many stories about women utterly devoted to a child they did not initially want. The natural bond of a mother is strong, so they tell me. But I’ve also heard stories that end in abortion or adoption or a very difficult first three years, stories of women who, through no fault of their own, take months to connect with their own flesh and blood. So I can understand why she found an almost fail-proof way of avoiding an unplanned pregnancy, at least for the time being. I understand her need to displace the decision, to ignore it until she can find some version of stability, or certainty, or both. 

I think about this friend, on the one hand, and J—-, on the other. One who has intentionally taken steps to keep pregnancy at bay, the other who has done everything she could to conceive. One who has worried and agonized over the possibility of an unwanted baby, the other who has yearned and wept with desire for one.

And I feel caught somewhere in the middle—taking my birth control pill every morning, temporarily avoiding the possibility of pregnancy with a mostly reliable medical safety net, flying into a panic when I lose a pill somewhere in the seat of the car, half-wishing for an “oops” baby when we fail to find the tiny pastel-blue disk, half terrified, and thinking all the time about hermit crabs and snakes and snails. There is a part of me that envies the simplicity of their situation, the matter-of-fact reality that they will reproduce, without apprehension—though perhaps with some level of discomfort or pain—however their species has been designed to reproduce, eggs or otherwise. And there is a part of me that clings to the complicated ability I have to delay until I am ready—whatever that means. Until I am ready to give myself over, to surrender my body in the hope that I will be glad, in the end, that I did. I worry over the nine months I will have to endure if I want a baby, which I sometimes do. And instead of working through this fear of being impossibly near to another being, or the uncertainty of what I want or do not want, I think about other creatures, returning again and again to their tireless carrying and hatching and birthing, all these creeping things of the earth.


This piece won first place in the Vera Hinckley Mayhew contest in 2017.


Shamae Budd received both her BA in English (2014) and her MFA in Creative Writing (2018) from Brigham Young University. While studying there, her personal essays received numerous campus awards including 1st place in the Vera Hinckley Mayhew Student Creative Arts Contest (2017), the Elsie C. Carroll Informal Essay contest (2014, 2018), and the David O. McKay Essay Contest (2016, 2017). During the 2017 – 2018 academic year, she served as Inscape’s nonfiction editor. Her essays have appeared in Under the Gum Tree, Hippocampus Magazine, Exponent II, and elsewhere. She has taught creative writing classes at BYU as an adjunct professor in the English Department since 2020. She received the Adjunct Faculty Creative Works Award in 2022 and 2nd place in the Richard H. Cracroft Personal Essay Contest through BYU Studies the same year. She thoroughly enjoys helping her students fall in love with the essay genre, as she did during her college years!