I was going to get back to Imprint, but I thought I’d start with a story that occurred a few years after Imprint was created. My middle daughter, Amayi, when she was about 4 years old was looking at her belly. She pointed to her belly button and asked, “What is that?” “Well,” I said, “that is your belly button. It is where you were connected to me.” And that was it, until the afternoon when I was in the bathtub. She walked in and looked at my belly and said with wide eyes, “You have one too!” I responded, “Yes, I do. That is where I was connected to Grandma.” Her eyes opened wide again, “And does Grandma have a belly button?” “Yes, that is where she was connected to Mina.” “And Mina?” “Yes, that is where she was connected to her mama..” It was as if she got how we were all connected generation after generation just by looking at the belly button.
Another time I will say something about my dad’s grandmother (who I knew) and her mother (who was a midwife), but now I’m going to go back on my mother’s lineage. I never knew my maternal, great grandmother. I had known that my grandma was German and that her family had been quite strict. Born in 1904, my grandma had grown up on the farm in northern central Missouri. It was not until I had become a midwife that the stories began to come in about her being a midwife. My great grandma, Wilhelmina Catherine Haik, attended births in her community and was seen as the local midwife. If someone was having a baby she would be called to help out and would ride over in a horse and wagon.
My grandma told me the story of how when her younger brother Edward was born, all of the siblings lined up sitting down in the other room of the house quiet. They didn’t dare make a noise. She was little and she remembered her father coming out to tell them he had been born. All of them had been born at home. Yet, my grandma, who my kids call Mina, decided she didn’t want to marry early or live on a farm. Instead, she “up and went” to college in the 1920s and became a secretary. It was not until she was 37 years old that she married my grandfather. At 38 she gave birth to my mother. That was a big deal then to have a first baby in the 1940s. However, she did what any modern lady in 1942 would do, she went to the hospital. She had no memory of how the birth went since she was completely knocked out. She did remember, however, wanting to hold my mom who was in the nursery. My mom would be crying and they would bring her to Mina. Once in Mina’s arms she would fall asleep instead of nurse, and because she was only given so much time with her, they’d come get her again. My mother birthed my sister in the 1960s asleep as well. She awakened to a pretty little package of a daughter. Six years later, in 1971, things had changed.
I was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico on December 10, 1971 at Presbyterian Hospital. The Christmas shopping season was drawing near, and my mom, a day overdue, was induced so she could be ready for the holidays. For my birth she was induced but advised to have an epidural which would cut the pain but allowed her to remain awake to witness the event. The epidural, however, hadn’t taken effect when I was born. The process wasn’t clean or comfortable. The nurse held up a mirror so that my mom could see me coming. That wasn’t a good memory for her. Why would she want to see that? When I was born, I was set directly on my mom’s chest. My mom wasn’t ready for a baby all covered with goo. She let the nurses know that she’d been through quite enough, please take her away.
Ok, so I wrote Imprint 16 years ago, and today I have so much more empathy for my mother. How shocking it would have been to really want a birth experience to be neat and tidy and contained. Then she got a raw, messy, non-anesthetized experience. I do know she got to have my dad there for my birth which she said was a relief (he wasn’t allowed in labor and delivery in the 1960s). Oh how relationships shift and change, and oh how we carry so much with us through life as well. There have been many things that I’ve done in my life that have had this shock affect on her – even down to the way I birthed my children at home. But now I’ve learned, everyone has a threshold. People have different experiences, fears, desires, and expectations. What they bring into their life or their birth cannot be trivialized no matter how or where a woman chooses to birth.
Recently, I came across Clarissa Estes’s version of “La Mera Mera” in The Dangerous Old Woman (CD #4). This story is about legacy and really hit home about the connections of generations. In some ways we are thousands of years old in how we birth our babies. We carry with us the knowledge from one generation to another in our body of not only birthing but bonding and child rearing and struggle and pain and grief and happiness. We carry with us burdens to unload and wounds to heal and love and nurture so that we can return to the woman inside all of us which is whole. But to acknowledge this whole woman we must also acknowledge the wounded part of ourselves. Because wounds were never really talked about by most of my family, I really don’t know what many of the intergenerational wounds may be. I can only hope I can pass on the tools and potential to my children to heal such wounds (or new ones that may occur) and the appreciation of finding a healthy balance. And and some point far, far, far away when or if I become a grandmother, I will be thinking of the legacy of birth and nurturing that I can pass on to my granddaughters and grandsons. How will I fashion them a legacy necklace, an appreciation of the sacred in life, that can be generational? How can I reclaim my legacy necklace that I may have thrown unknowingly into the waters of the lake?
On a final note, I wanted to mention how amazing it is that a baby girl that is born has all of the eggs it will release in her lifetime inside of her body. That means I was carrying the egg/s of my grandchildren when I was pregnant. Yes, I was caretaking my grandchildren in some off-hand way when my daughters were inside of me. Amazing, absolutely, amazing.