On belly buttons and belonging

My first son Carter was born in a small rural community on the flat, sage-covered plains of eastern Montana, in the local hospital during a blizzard. The birth was all the things most first births are: terrifying and exhilarating and overwhelming and deeply humbling.

Almost instantly I realized that I didn’t know as much as I thought I did about anything, and I tried to begin paying better attention to women who were already mothers. One of them, a nurse, told me that when my baby lost the stump of his umbilical cord, I should save it. In the spring, I should plant it in the earth, so that my son would feel grounded, and always be able to find his way home.

Well, I didn’t. We moved, returning to the mountains in the western part of the state, and I was relieved I hadn’t planted my son’s future in a place we’d left. Instead, I kept the cord folded in a white kleenex tucked in my sock drawer.

Three years passed, and I forgot about the whole idea until the twins were born. They came seven weeks early and stayed in the NICU, which was where their umbilical cords came off–one day they were there; the next, gone. This worried me tremendously; everything was so different than my first birth, and now I’d lost the belly buttons.

I held the babies and cried a little, rocking and singing and thinking about all the things I was missing, and the sadness seemed almost unbearable. I asked a nurse if they might be found. She looked at me as if I’d lost my mind.

When I got home from the hospital, there was a message on the answering machine. It was from the nurse in the NICU. She’d retrieved the cords, and would leave them at the front desk for me. I picked them up the next day, each labeled and stored safely in a clean, plastic urine-sample cup.

Three more years passed. I still have the cords; two in cups and one wrapped in white kleenex. We’ve lived in this same house the whole time; it’s the only home Carter remembers, it’s the only home the twins have ever known. Tom has written two books here, I’ve written one and almost another. This land, this place has been good to us. If this isn’t home, what is?

I could plant the cords in the garden when the spring thaw loosens the soil, or I could scrape away the pine needles beneath the big tree the boys love to climb, or I could dig a little hole beneath the mock cherry that shades their room. All these choices, and yet, I hesitate.

I don’t want our sons to belong to a place, or even to me. I want them to belong to themselves. I think when they are big enough to understand, I will return the cords. I will give each boy to himself, and let him make of it what he will.

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9 thoughts on “On belly buttons and belonging

  1. Thank you for the link, Jo, it’s wonderful information. I think I shall make a pouch for each boy’s cord, something better than what they are in now. Your support has inspired me, thank you!

  2. I had never heard that about burying the umbilical cords – how interesting! I don’t even know where Kayla’s is – it probably got thrown away; we didn’t think of saving it! I think it’s neat that you’ll give it back to your boys though and let them figure it out!

    The new look is wonderful!

  3. Oh I agree, they are odd things to have lying about the house…but clearly, I didn’t know what to do about it! Now I think I do…thank you for helping me begin to figure it out.

  4. Is it alright if I just say “eeew”? Thanks! I love what you said aout our kids “belonging to themselves.” It’s such a great perspective to bring them up with. Thanks for letting me say “eeew” though.

  5. Oh, Jennifer….that’s beautiful. And you nailed it with your description of first births…although I think it may apply to second, and third, and subsequent births as well. Just maybe without the terrifying part!

  6. I have Elainah’s in a jar next to the bed. I recently thought about what to do with it as well. For now, maybe for many years, it will remain in the drawer next to the bed.

    I like the new look. It’s fabulous.

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