Thursday, December 26, 2013
My Life in Words, Part Two: People who never learned to weather the storm.
My mother is writing her story, for part one, start here
The rest of that chapter is very garbled. It is something I must have studied when I was tired. I almost remember it but maybe the details don’t gel, or facts are fuzzy. It could have been that the instructor, my aunt, was too cautious about how she taught me the truth of my beginnings. She didn’t want to hurt me, but wanted to be truthful and believable. Even though I was forty, it was the first time I had been told “my” birth story. And as much as she wanted to give me the feel good phrases that other babies are given, instead she was left with painful, ugly facts which she had to spin into a story that at best she could make humorous. She glossed over the supreme family explosion that occurred that night in September when a sixteen year old was confronted about her sexuality and thus, the state of her body – which by that time was “our” body. Her mother yelled, her father cried, and each one pulled and tugged and demanded until the name of the perpetrator (never called my father) was revealed. Then came the movie script version that was reality. A posse of fathers and uncles tracked down this donor and pulled him from under a bed, and under the threat of a gun carried by one uncle, a courthouse wedding quickly ensued. Too bad a marriage never followed. Well, nothing that could be called a marriage anyway. The teen egg carrier returned to her suburban existence of living with her parents and arguing with her sister about whose turn it was to do the dishes. The only change was that now there were other reasons for the younger sister to resent the older one. The pregnant one, despite doing something BAD, got treated royally. She was given steak to eat when everyone else had cheap cuts. She got fresh fish while the family got canned mackerel patties. Bad Girl didn’t have to cut the grass, carry full laundry baskets, or go to school. But the younger sister, who had done nothing wrong, had to go to school and walk down the hallways which by then were full or rumors about her family secret. It became so bad, the family moved. And younger sister – good sister – lost all her friends, teachers, routines, and security, to move to a new neighborhood where no one knew about the ugliness. The resentment that began during the teen years of the younger sister never left her – not even at her death. And in some perverse twist, Good Sister ended up caring for Bad Sister as she died from a disease directly related to another habit she started as an act of rebellion, smoking. And so, the end of their lives mirrored the beginning. Struggle, anger, and bitterness existing in a sad dance of two people who never learned to weather the storm.
My troublesome trip into existence didn’t end with a calm, peaceful birth, a delicate moment of a baby being placed in the arms of a waiting, but labor-tired mother. No, I fought my way into this life, and very nearly took the life of the girl-woman giving birth. As the pregnancy reached its end, everyone waited, as people have done since time began, for the signals of an impending birth. But nothing happened. No twinges of contractions, no stabbing back pains, and no tiny show of blood that would herald what was to come. Even the doctor expressed his concern, and so a date was set when science would override nature, and labor was going to be started with medicine.. By the time that date arrived, the doctor had become ill with the flu. Yet he was so concerned about my mom and her birth, he came to the hospital to preside over the events himself. That fact was often repeated to me, the reasoning being that I would understand how wanted I was and how important even the doctor thought I was. He remained the doctor who took care of our family’s gynecological needs for many years until his retirement. Even he told me how my birth was one of his most memorable deliveries. To understand my delivery, you have to put your mind back to a past that had no ultrasounds, no heartbeat monitors, and no epidurals. Doctors had stethoscopes, their hands, and years of training and experience. Or at least, one would hope that the doctor standing between her legs had training and experience. There was no internet to check those facts out, to be sure.
It is said that babies come into the world in the exact form needed to insure bonding. Maybe that is why I was beautiful. For many years, older relatives would tell me that I was the most beautiful baby they had ever seen. Now, when I look back on my life, I think that from the point of my birth on, I had to do everything possible to make people fall in love with me. I disrupted a family, I uprooted the social and educational life of a popular teenager, and I very nearly killed the one who job it was to birth me. If you go back and read that sentence about the doctor deciding to kickstart the labor process, it has no predicting hints of what that one decision would cause. I think the doctor always remembered my birth because two lives were very nearly lost – mine and my mothers. No one knew, or suspected I guess, that my in utero food source – the very one that was the beneficiary of all those steaks and fish – was blocking my doorway to the world. Science calls it placenta previa, but in 1953 – and even today actually – it could be called death. When the staff realized what was happening, my mother, still in her laboring bed, was rolled into an operating room. She was hemorrhaging. It was awful, I was told. A nun/nurse came out to the waiting area and asked to speak to the mother’s parents. They were told that there would not be a baby – not a live one anyway. She explained what had happened, and that in those cases, the babies cannot live without a source of oxygen. Without a source of life is what she was really saying. I couldn’t breathe air yet, and I no longer had that lifeline umbilical cord attached to a placenta. I was in a dying limbo. But so was the teenager who had to have had conflicting emotions about the baby inside her. She wanted that life. But she was ashamed of that life and if it went away, maybe things would be easier.