Iron Mom by Corina Skentzou

Fastening your bra when your breasts are this swollen isn’t easy. My breasts (like half of the universe’s breasts) are always sore and swollen just before my period. I experience other things as well, such as crying spells and a tendency to order three domino pizzas after I’ve eaten chocolate and sour cream and onion chips, although not necessarily together.

But this is not about PMS. My swollen breasts are permanent, as are the cravings and the crying spells. It’s the pill, in my case the minipill because I cannot take an estrogen one. Only progesterone for me. Well, there is a history of heart disease – and heart break – in my family. I suspect the two are linked.

I have started dating again and this time, I want to do it right. Good sex should not result in nine months of hell. Eighteen months of hell in my case, as I have two children, and they are still young – 5 and 2. So why not use a condom? Men hate condoms, and I love men. But most importantly, I love to be loved by a man.

I’m still young and hot, I tell myself after the divorce. Okay, kind of young: forty-five but I look thirty-five. I try hard to look thirty-five. I dye my hair because I noticed three white and two gray hairs on the top of my head. It sucks, but not as much as having lines next to your eyes and frown lines between your brows. Those I don’t have because I’ve had Botox since I was twenty-eight. I inspect my face in the mirror. Not bad, not bad.

I need to change Dora’s diaper. She is playing with her dollies – oh my sweet girl – quite calmly. I panic for a second – did she get into my cannabis-gummies? That would explain the uncharacteristic peace. But no, I keep those hidden from prying hands, on the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard.

‘Dora, we need to change for school.’

‘No. Play now.’

‘You can play later.’


But as a taller, stronger, and smarter human being, I abuse my power and grab her, take her to my bed. She screams until I kiss and make farting sounds with my mouth on her soft belly. Belly-fart sounds always make her laugh.

So, I’m young and hot, and heartbroken, and I’m back on the scene. I went out in a mini skirt to show my long legs, wore my long blonde hair on the side, smiled to show that I have a good heart, sipped two apple Martinis, and brought Allan home. He’s thirty-five, from South Virginia, and runs Burger King in Union Square. He wears cowboy boots when not at work and rolls cigarettes. He says ma’am and the drawl lasts for three seconds. He opens doors, pays the check, and brings flowers. He plays with my kids. And my breasts. He is the god of sex.

So there is life after divorce, and there can be better sex. There is an Allan out there for every woman, someone young and tall with strong, broad shoulders, and the perfect round, muscular ass. I sound shallow, I objectify, but it is what it is.

I could write a well-meaning article about divorcing in your forties. I’m a journalist and I write an advice column about love for a popular women’s magazine. I used to be a serious journalist, writing about democracy in America, but I told too many truths and lost that job. Politics.

‘Mommyyyy.’ The wail comes from my son, my oldest child, Dennis.

‘Whaaat?’ I say, while trying to get the diaper off Dora who is kicking in the air and doing floor gymnastics on my bed.

‘Dora took Hulk and put him in the toilet.’

I can’t get the diaper off.  What the hell! Is it glued on? Damn, I’ve ripped it. Its gel-like peed-on bits that stink extravagantly are scattered over my extra soft white blanket and my fluffy orange carpet.

‘AAAAAARGH!’ Dennis screams and then I hear a thud.

‘What’s wrong, baby?’

‘I’m not a baby.’

‘What’s wrong, Dennis?’

‘It isn’t me. It’s Hulk. He’s angrier than ever.’ He pops his head around the door and looks at me with his clever eyes.

I make towards the door to negotiate getting them ready for school, but Dennis runs downstairs and Dora toddles after him. I follow them to find that I’ve forgotten my screaming espresso maker on the stove.  Some coffee has spilled on the stovetop. I close my eyes and then open them again, but we are all still here.

The clock hangs on the only bit of the wall that is white, above the empty plant pots and the water cooler, above my kids’ dusty fingerprints, above all of us. I look at it with nervous anticipation: 8:22am. Mornings with young kids is difficult, but mornings with young kids when you also need to get to a medical appointment in Midtown Manhattan at 9:30am, are surreal. I have waited two months for this appointment. I must get this non-hormonal, copper coil thing inserted into me before my breasts and temper explode and bad things happen.

Dennis runs into the kitchen and I notice that he is wearing his Iron Man costume. I like Iron Man – it isn’t just the colors of his uniform, red and gold, that I love – it’s the idea of softness under steel.

Hopefully prising my hand inside the Iron Man costume, I feel that Dennis is still wearing his pajamas underneath. He escapes before I can complete my investigation: is he still wearing his big-boy-pull-up-underwear? In reality, this is a diaper, but we try not to call it that. If we do, then this diaper will never be worn, and I won’t sleep because I’ll be woken up in the middle of the night by a very upset and wet 5-year-old. And I’ll never get back to sleep, because I’ll need to change pajamas and sheets and lull small people back to sleep at 3:00am. Then at around 4:00am, I’ll stare at the ceiling and think and think about my life, my broken marriage, and my pathetic career writing articles that support sexism. No, we don’t need that.

‘Dennis, come over here, sweety.’

‘I’m NOT Dennis.’

‘I’m so sorry, Tony Stark, come over here, sweety.’

Choo chug chuff,’ Dennis says, standing in front of me.

I face the tiny Iron Man with the big plastic mask attached to the small body. I kneel and hug him, feeling his tiny, warm body against mine.

‘You are such a big boy. You took off your big-boy-pull-up-diaper all by yourself.’

‘It isn’t a diaper.’

‘Sorry, your underpants.’

You know what? I’ll just send him like this to daycare, as Iron Man with concealed pajamas and no underwear. I pay the daycare fifteen hundred bucks a month.

I look around for Dora. She’s sitting on her naked butt on the floor, singing Twinkle -Twinkle Little Star to the couch pillows.

I kiss her belly, and cheeks, and plump hands. She giggles and screams once more. I finally get the diaper on her along with Dennis’s old Nike sweatpants. I feel bad for Dora that she is dressed as a boy today, but those were the only clean clothes I could find this morning.

There is a crazy wind blowing outside. I buckle both children in, check my mirrors, and we are off.  I notice the time: 8:45 am. I can make it to my appointment, I just need to cross Brooklyn Bridge, drop them off in the East Village and then get on the FDR.

‘Mommy, is Allan coming tonight?’ Dennis asks me.

I introduced Allan to the kids four months ago. We’ve been together for sixteen months, so this feels about right, right?


‘Will he play with the Batman Lego with me?’

‘You can ask him.’

Dennis sighs. ‘Allan said bad words yesterday.’

‘What did he say?’

‘Yesterday, the Cookie Monster woke me up in the middle of the night.’

‘Did he?’

‘Yes, and I put him on a time out.’

‘Well done.’

‘Then I woke up Allan, to tell him.’

‘Tell him what?’

‘Tell him that the Cookie Monster was on a time out!’

‘Okay, I see. Good.’

‘Yes, but Allan said bad words.’

I brake suddenly because the driver in a black SUV in front of me, a taxi driver with a fake license, no doubt, thinks that it’s okay to stop and let people out in the second lane of 2nd Avenue.


‘Yes, Dennis.’

‘I told Allan that the Cookie Monster was on a time out and he said, ‘the son of a bitch’. That’s a very bad word to say. Mommy, is Allan bad?’

‘You are right, that’s a bad word. But saying bad words doesn’t make you a bad person.’


‘Yes.’ I stop at the red traffic light, watching the tall trees that are bending in the wind.

‘Why doesn’t Daddy play with me?’

‘You do other things with Daddy.’

‘Yeah, we go to the park.’


‘Yeah.’ He looks out of the window. ‘But he’s always on his phone. Does Daddy love me?’

‘Of course he does. We adore you guys.’ I inspect Dennis’s face in the rearview mirror. His eyes look serious. I take some time to observe my boy, black curls around his pale face, his full lips with their natural cherry color, the thicker upper lip slightly crooked on the left side.

‘Does Allan love me?’ he asks.

I hesitate. Does Allan even love me? ‘Yes, he does,’ I say.

‘But I’m not his kid.’

‘Yes, but he likes your company because you’re cool.’ Our eyes meet in the rearview mirror.

Finally, the light turns green. I’m thinking of John, my ex. He was a big mistake. The biggest of all – just him, not the kids. Ten years older than me, one hundred times richer than me, three thousand times sneakier than me. He was a lawyer, always surrounded by beautiful blondes, brunettes and redheads. I was one of the blondes, ten years ago when he cheated on his first wife with me and, after she divorced him, we married. And then I wasn’t that young anymore. Somebody younger took my place two years ago and became the mistress, only a couple of months after I gave birth to Dora. We’re civilized. No arguments, no court case, no nonsense. Even when my heart ached and pumped fast at night, even when my stomach cramped and I lay curled up in a ball.

And then I found Allan and started taking this pill which creates all these other problems.

The whistling wind hits the windshield, and a paper plate lands between my wipers. I turn them on, but the plate doesn’t move. Eventually, it flies away.

We arrive at the daycare center.  I shouldn’t park in the staff parking lot, but I do. People with strollers are waiting outside. Daycares centers after the pandemic are hell. They allow in only two parents with their kids at a time. It takes forever.

In front of me, two women are chatting. One is tall and the other is short, carrying a few extra pounds. I would say ‘roly-poly’, but it isn’t a nice thing to say.

‘Let me tell you something,’ the taller one says, ‘I wasn’t always fat. I didn’t always have bleached hair with black roots. My hair was long, healthy and shiny. I had the time to go to the hair salon.’

I look at her. She is not fat.

‘I know, sweetie,’ the other one (who is fat) says, and slurps her rainbow slurpy at one hundred calories per sip, no doubt.

I check my watch: 9.10am. I text the doctor’s office to say I’m running late.

‘Do you think that my goal in life, growing up, was to have two boys that wreck the house?’ the tall one asks.

I look at her kids and guess their ages at about 5 and 3.  They stand patiently on either side of their mom, munching on bagels. They’re angels until the oldest one opens his mouth and shows us the chewed-up bagel. Then he pokes his tongue out and some of the bagel mixed with saliva falls onto the concrete. His younger brother copies him, and Dennis starts laughing. Dora, who has fallen asleep in her stroller, wakes up and screams.

‘Peter! Derrick! Stop that right now. I’ll tell Santa all about it,’ the tall woman says. They stop immediately and I make a mental note: blackmailing with Santa works.

Dennis tugs at my hand. ‘Mommy, I’m bored.’

Dora is still crying. I give her my keys. She puts them into her mouth, and I imagine the germs that are entering my daughter’s body. Never mind, she’s building a strong immune system.

9:22am. I breathe deeply and say to myself that everything is going to be alright: I’ll put this non-hormonal intrauterine contraceptive device inside my body and there won’t be any more crying jags, swollen breasts and sleepless nights.

Dennis puts on his Iron Man mask and runs around Dora’s stroller, then he darts away. I abandon the stroller and run after him, grabbing him and squeezing his arm.

‘Ouch.’ His voice is muffled by the firm plastic of the mask.

We walk back to the stroller where I’ve left Dora all alone. I sigh, very loudly, and the short woman, the roly-poly one, after a sip of slurpy says to me, ‘Don’t worry honey. It gets better.’

I really want to believe her, but the deep tiredness around her eyes doesn’t lie. She and the tall one with the revolting boys finally go inside. I’m next in the queue.

The door opens and Clara, the daycare teacher, appears. I push the stroller and Dennis follows.

‘Ahh, how cute! Iron Man is here.’ Clara says.

‘Yup.’ I turn to go.

‘Mrs. Martin, one second. Does Dora have a diaper bag?’

‘Oh shit, I forgot,’ I say in front of my kids and the other kids and their parents.

Clara throws me an awkward braced smile, and with blushed cheeks, says, ‘That’s fine, no worries. We have extra diapers.’

As I’m leaving, a mom with freckles rolls her eyes to another mom wearing thick hypermetropy glasses.

‘Mornings with kids can be really shitty sometimes,’ I tell them, and I hear Clara’s nervous chuckle.

I run towards the parking lot. No ticket, no police, no paid mob members waiting to teach me a lesson I won’t forget for using the staff parking space. Yes!

It’s gray, rainy, and windy as I drive past the sea of women with strollers and kids. There are two sleepy fathers towards the end.

Third avenue is packed; I take the subway.


I get off at the 42nd St-Bryant Park Station and run towards W40th Street where my doctor is located. Bryant Park is packed with people with paper cups and EarPods. I stand in front of the building with the shiny glass doors and read the name on the side: Dr. Dorrowitz, MD, Obstetrician-Gynecologist. I hate spreading my legs in front of this Dorrowitz, even though he performed my cesarean delivery with Dora. I press the button and am buzzed in. I get in the elevator with a woman in her seventies and her cocker spaniel. Her spaniel looks at me, then sniffs my Prada shoes, leaving wet nose-marks on them.

‘Tootsie, no!’ the lady says.

Tootsie makes snuffling noises, then barks. I realize that I didn’t drink my coffee in the espresso maker. I feel my eyelids drooping. We reach the eighth floor.

‘Have a nice day,’ the lady says.

‘You too,’ I reply.

The receptionist, who could be a Donna Karan model, smiles at me from behind the desk. I’m certain her lips and cheekbones have been injected with fillers.

‘Good morning. I’m sorry I’m late. I’m Katya Martin. I have an appointment for an IUD fitting.’

‘Follow me, please.’

We walk the shiny marble floor, she, in Manolo Blahnik heels and I, in my sniffed-by-Tootsie black leather Pradas.

The room is at the end of the corridor. A baby-blue metal gynecology examination bed is waiting for me there. I look at the stirrups and my spine tightens. The temperature in this room is high, and there are no windows so you cannot tell if it’s day or night.

‘Dr. Becket will be here soon.’ I cannot help noticing, under her shirt, the roundness of her silicone breasts.

‘Becket? My doctor is Dorrowitz. I want him.’

‘Dr. Dorrowitz is at the hospital. One of his patients is in labor.’

‘She better be really dilated, because I don’t like being examined by strangers.’

‘Understandable.’ Her eyes are empty, her smile stoned. ‘Dr. Becket will read the consent form with you, so you can sign it.’

I sit down to wait on a black leather armchair.

A stocky man in his forties with thousands of freckles comes in. I like freckles, that’s why I notice them. He wears a surgical mask which he quickly lowers under his chin and smiles at me with his enormous mouth. This mouth will swallow us all.

‘How are you today, Mrs. Martin?’


Another nurse with tired eyes, also wearing a surgical mask, clops in wearing bright red Dankso clogs. She doesn’t lower her mask. She has brought a tray of things, sterilized and wrapped in cellophane: enemas and gauges and a long thin tube, which seems excessive.

She places them on the medical table next to the bed. I smell the iodine, the alcohol, but not the one you drink, unfortunately. The floor is naked and spotless, and I swallow with difficulty.

‘So, let’s review our procedure today. I’ll explain the steps, and then you can sign the consent. How does that sound?’ Becket says.

‘It sounds excellent.’

The nurse takes the long thin tube and places it first in the row of instruments of torture. Then, in front of the tube, the long scissors. They seem extraordinarily long. I swallow sour saliva.

‘The procedure is a little uncomfortable,’ he says.

‘I can tell,’ I say, indicating the table. One of the lights starts flickering and makes a buzzing sound. I look up at the ceiling.


I nod. Suddenly, I can’t cope with the heat and I take off my trench coat.

‘Okay, let’s read the consent form,’ he says, looking down at the document. ‘You may experience bleeding, pain and infection.’


‘Yes, it’s possible, but don’t worry, Mrs. Martin, we treat infections with prophylactic antibiotics.’

‘Does this happen often? I mean infection.’

‘It’s fairly common, but not serious.’


‘There is always the risk of expulsion, ectopic pregnancy, and cervical shock.’

‘Cervical shock?’

‘It’s a temporary episode of faintness as the coil is inserted, usually resolved by stopping the procedure.’

‘Does this happen frequently?’ I ask, and there are drops of sweat behind my neck, and more travelling from my forehead to my cheeks. I mop my brow with my forearm, and half my makeup is on my sleeve.

‘It happens occasionally, but don’t worry, once we have stopped the procedure, we can inject you with atropine if there is persistent bradycardia.’

I see the long scissors, the nurse with the mask and the tired eyes, the flickering, buzzing light.

Dr. Becket continues: ‘Your periods may become heavier, longer or more painful. And finally, there is a small possibility that we fail to insert the device at all.’

‘I see.’

‘Do you give consent for us to proceed?’

I look at the gynecology chair and the nurse who is standing still next to it. Then at Becket himself, sitting comfortably with crossed legs on the wheeled, leather chair. His hands are clasped as he waits for consent to hurt me, to put long scissors inside me so that I faint and then need to be injected. So that I won’t have any more babies.

‘What are you going to do with that?’ I ask, pointing to the long scissors which I cannot get off my mind.

‘Oh, the tenaculum,’ he says chuckling. ‘We use the tenaculum for stabilization and traction of the cervix. But Mrs. Martin, you don’t need that sort of detail. Really, it’s a completely routine procedure.’

‘You are right.’ I think of my nights and days with Allan.

‘Please put on the gown, and we’ll be back in about ten minutes.’ Becket gives me a lukewarm smile and they leave.

I grab the tenaculum and put it in my purse. I pull on my trench coat and check my make up in my pocket mirror. I look fine.

When I leave, Becket is standing at the reception desk, chuckling and flirting with the receptionist. He sees me approaching down the corridor and his eyes open like two big seas.

‘Mrs. Martin, is everything okay?’

I dig my hand into my purse and take out the tenaculum.

‘Everything’s fine. We will have vasectomy.’ I point the tenaculum at him.

‘What?’ His eyelids tremble.

‘Have a wonderful day.’

My heart is a drum, and my stomach feels weird, like small animals are residing in there, but in a good way.

I walk into Bryant Park towards Wafels & Dinges. I buy a waffle and a large latte. Then I sit on the bench and take one sip of my coffee and a bite of my waffle. I bring my ex to mind: ‘Hmm, you gained a lot of weight with the pregnancy,’ he said after I gave birth to Dennis. The chocolate is dripping between my fingers and onto my camel-colored coat. I lick them and take another bite.

I open my purse and take out the tenaculum. I place it next to me on the bench, then I’m fumbling for wet wipes, so I can clean my hands and face. I’m suddenly thirsty: I’ll get a bottle of water. I walk back to the kiosk and drink a half liter of water all at once. I return to my bench and pick up the tenaculum.

The sun appears behind clouds. I look up and sunlight warms my face, blinding me temporarily. Squinting, I see The Bank of America Tower. It’s so tall, it’s piercing the sky.

I lower my gaze and toss the tenaculum into the garbage can.

Corina Skentzou works as a psychotherapist and holds a Master’s degree in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University (UK).

Her short fiction has appeared in the Bangalore Review, Los Angeles Review of Los Angeles, Avalon Literary Review, Ginosko Literary Journal, and was longlisted for the 2019 Seán O’Faoláin Prize for Short Fiction. In 2020 her short story “Parents’ Evening” won first place in the London Independent Story Prize (LISP).