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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Birth Stories

Like most adoptive parents, I have no birth story to share with my daughter. I wasn’t there. As a poor substitute I thought maybe I could share mine with her.

“I don’t remember a thing,” my mother informs me dryly. “I’ve blotted everything out. All of it.”

This is my mother’s standard response to questions about my early years. Don’t get me wrong – there was no trauma, no tragedy, no tumult. I suspect it’s just the accumulation of unremarkable details in a stable and secure environment – the pot roasts cooked, the laundry folded, the hours spent outside piano lessons or dentist visits or dance class, the birthday presents bought and wrapped – that my mother eventually put behind her like an outgrown shell; with that shell went the pearls, too, I guess. In 1961 fathers were not routinely welcomed into delivery rooms, let alone with cameras, let alone with video cameras. For my birth story I have to be content with a minute examination of my birth certificate, the first record of my existence.

Most noticeable, of course, is my footprint, the first involuntary step in my journey. How small it is! How unlikely it seems that that could have represented me. Time of birth, 5:45 p.m on Friday, May 12, 1961. Waltham, Massachusetts. While folks were stuck in rush-hour traffic in Boston and Cambridge, my heroic journey was getting underway close by, totally unmarked by those people! They could have been listening to the radio: “Take Good Care of My Baby,” by Bobby Vee, or Bobby Darin’s “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby.” How fitting that soundtrack was, and they had no idea! Where was my sister, then two years old? My dad? The only thing I can confidently assert is that at that moment, I was there and so was my mom. 

The birth certificate can only tell me so much about that story, the opening lines and nothing more. Beyond that is a blank, a formless void until the arrival of my consciousness. This is how most origin stories start: in the beginning there was nothing, and then eventually the people became themselves. Creation stories and origin myths tells us much about how a culture views itself and what it counts as important, where it came from and where it is going. The sheer variety of these stories from around the world is dazzling, each one with its own local details and deities. The Maasai’s creation myth accounts for animal herding, animal hunting, and crop farming. Japan’s earliest origin stories describe the creation of the islands in the sea, and not surprisingly the Norse creation myths describe a universe of frost and ice.

Whether we know our own birth stories, whether we share our children’s birth stories with them or not, we are, in a way, each responsible for our own creation myth. We build it over time, as our journey unfolds, as we become ourselves. May we all have the courage to tell that story. I wish that for my daughter most of all.

8 comments:

  1. What a touching post. Although you have no birth story for her. I think the day you held her in your arms as your daughter is just as wonderful. I admirer parents that adopted.

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  2. Thank you for your kind words, Thai Hoa!

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  3. Ah yes, the birth story. I was one of 5 daughters, 2nd in line, 1958. My mother was unconscious at the time which was "the way." When we asked why, she responded, "Are you kidding? Why wouldn't I be? I used to tell them, 'Knock me out and hand me a Clean Baby!' and they did." I didn't get to see my birth certificate till she finally had to dig it out for my working papers - until then she couldn't even tell me what time of day I was born. "When you have five, you mix them all up." I couldn't wait to have children to share with them all the details of those special moments; all the emotions that I had to only imagine occurred when I was born.
    But here's what actually happened. My first born made her entrance in the Yukon while we were living in a cabin with no running water or electricity and nine sled dogs to tote around. We did get to a hospital but it took her 104 hours of labor to finally pop out and her first 10 days were in a neonatal unit in faraway Alberta after her first airplane trip (Medi-vac) (She recovered, she's fine.) But I was only semi-conscious and all I really remember is throwing up.
    The second one was born 19 days late in a hospital in Cooperstown after a relatively uneventful (Unless you count pain as an event) 36 hours of labor and all I really remember is throwing up.
    The 3rd arrived 7 hours after church on a Sunday which was mercifully fast, but...all I really remember is throwing up.
    When I try to tell the story of my first daughter's birth to her, she immediately cuts me off. Can't deal with the emotion. "Mom, I really don't care."
    Daughter #2? Well she never really wanted to come out anyway. If it weren't for pitocin, she'd still be in there. Didn't really want to hear about that awful moment where the temperature suddenly dropped 20 degrees in an instant and she was hit with that bright light.
    And the son? Well, if only I could remember something for him. But my mom was right, you get all mixed up. And anyway it happened so fast. We just tell him he was cute.
    So you see, even though our generation has made the moment of birth out to be some sort of watershed moment, (HA HA HA) really, it is all the moments following that immortalize us to these kids. And maybe my mom had it right after all. That clean baby thing was a nice touch.

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  4. Laughing out loud! Great stories, even if they are mixed up! Thank you so much for sharing.

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  5. I am always interested in the emotion that comes with a mother sharing the birth stories of her children, whether she physically gave birth to, or adopted the child. A dear friend honored my children and I by inviting us to be at the airport when her husband brought home their adopted 6 month old son from Korea. I will never forget the beauty and love that surrounded everyone at that terminal, when the dad appeared with their newly adopted baby, followed by many passengers and crew- all clearly touched and hovering close to him. My friend's 5 year old yelled out for everyone to hear "I'm a big brother!" There was not one person in that section of the airport that did not share the joy this little one brought as he came home to this family. That is what I consider to be his birth story, and the story of the birth of our relationship with him. And perhaps even as important to me, when I have asked my two teenagers about this moment, they have their own version of an incredibly loving, important memory of a new life and of the history of their friendship with this child.

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  6. Thank you for sharing that sweet story, Mary. I also had the privilege of escorting an infant home from Ethiopia to her new family, and I have never delivered anything more special! Maybe we should revise our idea of birth story to "the moment you joined our family." :)

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  7. With my first the birth story was a long well-thought-out story. With my second I guess what you can call a poem. And my third, well, you know. And the irony is that my first is a boy and the other two are girls. The girls want to read theirs and the boy can care less :).

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  8. Oh well, Dalia, maybe your son will ask you for it when he becomes a dad himself! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us.

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