Umbilicus


When was the last time you looked at your belly button and thought about why it’s there?  Have you ever really considered that it’s proof that you were once vitally and intimately tied to another person: your mother? Honestly, I’m not sure I ever did. Until last week, when my doctor told me I might have to have it removed. As I sat there, considering that idea, it occurred to me that I would be losing this one concrete thing that physically tied me to my mother, and I’d never even considered that before.

I have a hernia. It hurts like hell some days, other days I just notice a dull ache. Over the past year it’s become increasingly problematic, without my even realizing it was there. I’ve been to the doctor’s office a couple of times, complaining of abdominal pain, but nothing was obvious… until it was. Firs there was a ridge, my abdominal muscles apparently separating. Then, my doctor felt the hernia, by now large enough that it requires fixing. The procedure is simple he tells me: “outpatient, done with a scope, and a fairly easy recovery.” What do they do, I ask. “They simply go in, locate the opening– the nub that is where the umbilical cord was once connected and they remove the nub, and sew up the hole. Simple.”

It’s simple. A simple solution to a problem that has been bothering me for ages. A hernia had never occurred to me, and I had given my belly button zero consideration in ages–other than to notice that my stomach is bigger than I want it to be, and the belly button is the bull’s-eye that highlights my nemesis.

I don’t ever recall being happy with my belly, other than when I was pregnant, ironically. It was the one time in my life when watching it grow, seeing it become round and full, brought me boundless joy.  I didn’t worry about looking fat, or eating too much; I wasn’t looking in the mirror with the self-loathing I’ve felt for so much of my life. I loved my belly, and it’s ability to grow. I loved imagining each of my babies curled up in that expanse of stretched skin, sucking their tiny thumbs, moving to the music I played for them, and listening to me talk to them.  I love you already; I can’t wait to meet you…  This is the park where I’ll bring you to play…  This is one of my favorite songs, what do you think of it?… What do you look like?… Do you hear your daddy? He loves you too.   

I spoke to the growing orb. I caressed and loved it. I didn’t hate it because it was big, and that love of self felt so good. It felt perfect to love my curves and my expanding mid-section. The bull’s-eye, my belly button, was like an organic Butter Ball pop-up indicator: getting stretched and losing its inny properties, and eventually becoming an outy… ready to pop when my babies were ready to arrive. In photos you could see the big button announcing my last few weeks. I would imagine my babies in there, tethered by their umbilical chords, like beautiful aliens in my dark space. I never thought about how I had once been tethered, and that the button was evidence of how I had once been connected to my own mother.

August 1996, 9 months pregnant with Little Man, my third and final child.

August 1996, 9 months pregnant with Little Man, my third and final child.

I was at war with my mother. I was forging my own identity and my role as a soon to be new mother. I thought I knew more than her… about almost everything. I was not smoking while pregnant; I ate nutritious foods and took prenatal vitamins; I talked to my unborn babes; I was ready to read to them and teach them things; I would be a much better mom. It never occurred to me that maybe my mother had thought the same things when she carried me, or my brother and sister. By the time I was becoming a new mother, I knew my own mother in terms of the faults I’d found while growing up, rather than the dreams she’d had when she was growing each of us. I never asked her if she had spoken to her belly, or made promises to me, as I lay in her silent cocoon. Unconsciously, over the years, I’d come to imagine that I began growing away from her the moment they cut our chord.

Yet, all these years, the scar of our connection, the “bull’s-eye,” the “turkey indicator,” my “belly button” has been the remains of our nine moths together, our time of becoming a mother and a daughter. All along, it has been the scar of all that might have been and all that briefly was. It was right there and I didn’t stop to look at it with love, or respect, or admiration for the tie it was. I didn’t really understand, that under the skin, buried amidst my organs, was a small hole that was that original cord to Mom.  However, when my doctor told me he would need to cut it out, and sew it closed, I felt a sudden jolt of pain and loss. Strange how it came to me instantly, after a life time of ignoring the scar.

My mother, holding Little Man. She was a wonderful grandmother.

My mother, holding Little Man. She was a wonderful grandmother.

After the holidays, I will have the hole sewn shut. I will have the nub removed. It has become a source of pain and can’t be fixed any other way. Strange how I spent so many years trying to excise my mother’s issues and mistakes from my life, but now feel torn about a nub I didn’t know was there.  I wanted to prove that I was better than her at this thing called motherhood, when she never challenged me to that duel.  Only when a pain in my belly, a hernia that needs repair, came into play, did I stop to really think about the ties that bind us. My mother has been dead for two years  this December. It’s too late to share any of this with her. In the end, she knew I loved her. We’d made our peace. But, I wish she were here to hold my hand, when they cut that final piece of her out of me.

Take a minute and tell me what you think. Share your own belly button stories. Or just hit like and share your thoughts, to connect. We may not share a chord, but what you think matters to me. If you really like, pass it on: share this story. Thanks!

About Dawn Quyle Landau

Mother, Writer, treasure hunter, aging red head, and sushi lover. This is my view on life, "Straight up, with a twist––" because life is too short to be subtle! Featured blogger for Huffington Post, and followed on Twitter by LeBron James– for reasons beyond my comprehension.
This entry was posted in Aging, Awareness, Death of parent, Honest observations on many things, Life, Mothers, Musings, My world, Parenting, Personal change, Tales From the Motherland, Women, Women's issues, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

48 Responses to Umbilicus

  1. Beautiful piece, Dawn. Sorry about your mom. And the hernia.

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  2. Mike Lince says:

    Ouch! I had a hernia once, too, something more we have in common. Getting it fixed was a piece of cake. I was in and out of surgery in 4 hours (2 of which were spent coming out from general anesthesia). I am glad my physician found it when he did. He saved me some of the pain you unfortunately have had to experience. I love your description of carrying your children in your ever-expanding belly. Your words create wonderful images and recreate priceless memories, like reading them stories while they were still in the womb. I felt them kick gently when I talked to them. Thank you. – Mike

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  3. This is a beautifully moving and thoughtful piece, Dawn. What a lovely tribute to your mother. To all mothers.

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  4. Such a thought provoking post! It never occurred to me before and I kind of love thinking about it that way now! 🙂

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  5. jgroeber says:

    Lovely! Exactly on the mark. Well, not the hernia per se (sorry for that, by the way), but the mothering and the motherhood and the being a daughter is exactly at the heart of it. In art history there’s the axis mundi (which for the Greeks was in Delphi) which was the thing that connected one realm to the other, the heaven’s to the earth and so on. I’ve always loved that this was the navel (omphalos.) And while I’ve admired my kids’ belly buttons (even my preemie twins who had such herniated belly buttons that they looked like absorbed appendages from a third fetus… seriously gross), and I had thought about my connection to my mother, you’ve got me thinking about my mother’s belly button. I wonder if she feels the connection back to her own mother…

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    • Exactly! I’m not sure why I’ve never looked at that, or wondered about it. That “scar”– the wonderful belly button that each of my children have, and that I loved, is no different than my own, and my mothers… it ties us all together. The idea that there is still a small nub, a piece of the actual cord, within me… all this time… that really moves me. It’s an amazing thing to consider. Thanks so much for taking the time to read my post, and share your very personal, and thoughtful comments. Much appreciated!

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  6. Cathy Ulrich says:

    You’re right, Dawn. I hadn’t thought much about that connection to my mother before. But since she’s been gone for seven years, It’s a nice way to appreciate her. And I’m sorry that you’ve got the hernia that requires that your umbilicus be removed. I do know that your mother will be there for you in spirit. I feel it!

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  7. Carrie Rubin says:

    As always, you make me see things differently. My pragmatism keeps me from diving more deeply into things, I think. Loved how you made the connection, and I can see why the surgery involves more than just hernia repair. I hope everything goes well with it–both physically and emotionally. 🙂

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  8. Love the photos! I had an umbilical hernia a few years ago– the surgery and recoup were easy– but I didn’t have to have my belly button removed– good luck and take care of it! You’ll remember your mother in so many other ways.

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  9. Belly buttons amaze me! I often look at our little one’s, particularly at bath time and can’t quite get my head round her once being physically attached to ME by that!… And like you say, me being attached to MY mum! Quite bizarre and utterly bonding!

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  10. “By the time I was becoming a new mother, I knew my own mother in terms of the faults I’d found while growing up, rather than the dreams she’d had when she was growing each of us.” Wow, this post really cut me to the core…or the belly button, as the case may be. I’m looking at my belly button a whole new way today. Being able to see others, especially our parents, in a light we never though about is transcending. You truly amaze me with the way you look at life.

    Love and prayers for a successful surgery and quick recovery…and healing belly button grieving.

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  11. Chowderhead says:

    I was not aware that the belly button was such a vital organ? This was a breath of fresh air though. Sorry about your intestines hanging out. That part sucks. I’ve never had a hernia, thank god, but I have been pushing the vacuum cleaner around quite vigorously lately, so I guess I couldn’t rule one out in the near future.

    But good luck with your procedure. I hope everything goes well, and I hope they at least let you keep it in a jar or something? That would be a great conversational piece at Thanksgiving! But don’t accidentally drop it on the gizzards plate…oof. Now there’s a thought…

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  12. Katalina4 says:

    Well, I’m glad you’ll still have a belly-button, even if you’re losing a nub… Just love the visceral connection you made to mom. I used to think of it / feel it more, but as the years pass…it’s been forgotten. Thanks for the reminder, and for the lovely thoughtful piece. Sending you good vibes for the procedure, xxx Kat

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  13. susanissima says:

    What a precious reflection, Dawn. You’re so adept at making important connections that help you and others to hack through the bramble of family life and to celebrate its beautiful flora along the way, as well. Hugs, and best of luck on your surgery. XO

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  14. Beautiful post. It’s funny how something we never knew existed can mean so much. I’m going to go look at my belly button now. 🙂

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  15. Shannon says:

    This made me tear up. I lost my mom a few years ago and never thought about how my belly button is a physical connection to her, still present on my own body. Whoa.

    I’ve also had two hernia surgeries but they weren’t near my belly button. It’s a amazing how such random experiences can give one insight applicable to all. Good luck with the surgery and I hope it relieves your pain. I’m sorry you’re losing that physical reminder of your mom.

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    • Welcome to TFTM, Shannon and thanks for your thoughtful words. It is a small thing, that we never really think about. I’m sorry for the loss of your mother; mine died 2 years ago Dec. 31st. It’s a really hard loss. The surgery, that should be a breeze I’ve heard. I hope you’ll stop by again and share your thoughts; much appreciated!

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  16. Thank you SO MUCH for mentioning this post. This is really such a great piece of writing.

    Isn’t it funny how we’re so different from our parents, but they can also be such an integral part of us. In your case, quite literally a part of you. I’ve found pieces of my parents in me over the last few years, and it’s kind of a reality check.

    Sorry about your hernia! I’ve heard they are terrible.

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  17. jaklumen says:

    I’m so fat, even my belly button is chubby. No, seriously, my “innie” is turning into an “outie”.

    I’d rather laugh than cry, but smart alecky comments aside (it’s true, though), a lot of the extra weight comes from psychiatric and neurological drugs for bipolar mood disorder, and back injuries. I wasn’t always packing so much extra padding, and a fat belly button is a rather raw reminder of how bad things have gotten. I’m looking into spinal cord stim for post-surgery pain that just…won’t…go…away…

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  18. samara says:

    “I was at war with with my mother…” That entire paragraph. There. I want to be that kind of a writer. So damn good. I can’t write like that. Maybe someday. You are an incredible wordsmith, and these are the blogs that inspire me. Thank you for letting me join your party of words.

    Hope the surgery goes well.

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  19. PAPA MIKE says:

    Did you know that Alfred Hitchcock doesn’t have a Belly Button.

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