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.
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.
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!