Mortality and Motherhood
“When the butterfly struggles out of its pupa, for three long hours its wings are wet and as utterly useless as a newborn’s hands.”
In “Life Inside,” found in Issue 211 of Cimarron Review, author Caroline Sutton contemplates the limitations of mortality and motherhood amid the upcoming birth of her first granddaughter. Sutton ingeniously weaves the eager experiences of her pregnant daughter with the vulnerable life cycle of monarch butterflies and their fruitless efforts for survival in a hostile world.
Reflecting on her own complicated pregnancy decades before, Sutton likens the near loss of her infant to the toxic consumption of milkweed leaves. Monarch mothers lay eggs on milkweed plants and milkweed plants alone, for when monarch larvae ingest the plant’s toxic properties, predators avoid the black and yellow creature. Sutton thinks back to her traumatic delivery and questions her blind trust during the delivery, her assumptions that everything would be alright because it always was, because mothers always offered protection. But, in a world strung with chaos and turmoil, perhaps there are some obstacles a mother cannot predict.
Sutton concludes by comparing her daughter’s upcoming delivery with a caterpillar’s metamorphic emergence. Rather than reflecting on the cliché symbol of hope, Sutton contemplates the feebleness of the new creature. Its wings, wet, useless, and unable to defend against predators looking to “attack and devour the butterfly, toxins and all, before the wings ever open fully.” Although monarch mothers provide protection from larvae to pupa, they cannot predict the perils awaiting beyond the chrysalis.
“Life Inside” by Caroline Sutton. Cimarron Review, Spring 2020.
Reviewer bio: Mia Jensen is a graduate student at Utah State University studying creative writing. She loves horror novels, trail running, and her Australian Shepherd.