Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
The Center of the World

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Because my son was born so early and spent the first six months of his life in the hospital, his body offers up a latticework of scars. Dotting his feet are the tiny marks where blood was drawn, hundreds of times; along his ankles and wrists, deeper, twisted scars where doctors cut into veins, attempting to place lines and probes; along his forehead, more signs of pinpricks and IV's.

At first, with his tender baby skin, Evan's marks were obvious and startling. As he has grown, they have faded the same way my memories have. I used to know the source of each scar. Today, when I run my finger along them, I often can no longer remember the moment that brought each one.

Along his stomach, though, there are marks I cannot envision ever fading. When I lift his shirt I see them, a six-inch long marvel of scars, starting like a jungle gym at the top of his sternum and ending in something far less orderly: a triangle of deep, circular scars where his belly button ought to be.

These are the marks of my son's most recent surgery, and of his very first.

~

Evan's most recent surgery was performed when he was six months old. Due to his extreme prematurity, my son had difficulty sucking and swallowing. Before we could bring him home, the doctors informed us that he would require a feeding tube. The surgeon went in, placed the feeding tube, repaired a hiatal hernia at the same time and left behind a six-inch scar from sternum to stomach, dotted on either side with no less than twenty stitches.

My son's first surgery took place six months earlier, when he was only a few hours old. The surgeon arrived in the NICU late at night to perform an "umbilical cut down." In babies born as small as Evan, the largest artery -- and the one most often used to monitor blood pressure -- happens to be in the umbilical cord. To access this artery, the surgeon had to cut through what was left of Evan's miniature stump and sew a probe deep into his body.

This procedure left Evan's original belly button little more than a tangle of scar and skin, those three pools on his stomach where the other scars end. When the surgeon went to place his feeding tube -- the same surgeon who performed the umbilical cut down -- I said to her, "I have a bone to pick with you about my son's belly button!" To this day a child will see Evan's stomach and ask, "What's wrong with his belly button?" and, "Why does he have three of them?"

~

The ancient Greeks referred to the "omphalos" (or navel) as the center of the world. For a mother, there is nothing more totemic than an infant's belly button, that critical site of connection between her life and that of the baby. When I think of Evan's three belly buttons, I often think they represent what I am missing: a connection to my son unmarred by medical interventions. But like so many of the mysteries of my son's life I have come to see beauty in this imperfection. I sometimes wonder, for example, if Evan's three belly buttons aren't intentional. One for himself, one for his twin sister who died, and maybe even one for his own sweet mother, to prove to the world he's hers.


Vicki Forman is the author of This Lovely Life: A Memoir of Premature Motherhood and
teaches creative writing at the University of Southern California. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart and has appeared in Philosophical Mother, The Santa Monica Review, Writer to Writer and Faultline. She lives in Southern California with her husband and child.


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beautiful, vicki. and yes! i love that final image: one for sweet him, one for sweet her, and one for sweet you. all the things he will forever be connected to, all the places he came from--the mystery of his own life, the mystery of motherhood and the mystery of who his sister was and could have been. as always, i am moved by your writing, your voice, your story. i look forward to this column so much.
What a lovely, lovely post...it brings back so many memories for me of my life with my own son, and how well I can picture that first IV-to-the-head; my lord, someone could warn a person! And it's true--the scars, and scares, are part of what we carry as mothers, what we embrace out of love for our children.
Good grief what a stressful start to such a beautiful young life. I'm so glad to hear that some of the 'scars' have healed so perfectly. Best wishes
What an amazing voice you have, Vicki. You and Evan are such an inspiration. I remember those first months when Evan came home. A clear memory I have of Josie using feeding tubes with her dolls/animals in her room. I must say that as much as Evan has been a miracle - you have been the miracle worker. Thanks for sharing your journey with others. Mel
Hi Vicki, Your article reminded me of all my efforts to keep Quin from getting even one heel stick for the PKU test, as I am both needle-phobic, and the Bradley Natural Childbirth instruction advocated for as warm and nurturing and stress-free process as possible. Haha, what a naive mother-to-be I was! I remember another mom who told me her child's friends talk about her daughter's g-tube as a second belly button. Quin had to have his g-tube stoma site repositioned, so he had 3. Plus the chest zipper line for heart surgery, and the trach stoma, and the central line scars, and so on. I grew up collecting scars, and though most of them were self-inflicted, I remember how my mom worried about them. Quin's scars helped me understand my mom's perspective some, the pain endured in the process. But I tend to share your viewpoint. I consider Quin's scars marks of survival and evidence of love and caring. Thanks again for your eloquence.
Beautiful, real words and perfectly written. I've relived my darling Wil's scars, some very similar to your son's. I wasn't there at birth for the scars formed at his first surgery, but I've nurtured him through all subsequent surgeries. Connections of mother to son are so strong, so deep, whether by birth or adoption. Thank you for your words.
Beautiful as usual. I love the last two sentences "I sometimes wonder, for example, if Evan's three belly buttons aren't intentional. One for himself, one for his twin sister who died, and maybe even one for his own sweet mother, to prove to the world he's hers." Beautiful!!! Though my Miss T did not go through any of the "surgeries", there are still memories of "scary times" that we had. They thought she had a Coarctation of the Aorta and life flighted her out. Watching her be "prepared for flight" was in a word difficult. She had already been diagnosed with Down syndrome, as I understand "Ds" kids don't have good veins. They poked her everywhere they "might" be able to get line in. The Panda Team (3 of them)tried to get the one in her forehead and were unable. To this day when she cries that one area turns into a red/purple spot where it was injured. A scar? No, yet a reminder still. Thank you again for knowing how so many of us feel. God Bless Kim and Miss T
Such a beautiful way of looking at the reason for the three belly buttons! My daughter has two belly buttons (so to speak) her own and a G-Tube site. She is 24 years old now and doesn't want the G-Tube site one fixed via plastic surgery, she thinks it's kinda neat that she has two and a reminder of the hard work she did to learn to eat. I remember kids asking why she had two belly buttons, at first it took me by surprise and I didn't really know how to answer a child. Julie also has a Roadmap of scars on her body. Stomach surgery, heel cord and hamstring lengthening, rebuilt hip surgery. Those scars she's not too enthused about but is still glad the surgeries were done to improve her mobility. I remember the IV's in the head, foot, the black and blue marks left from them, the huge swollen limb from an IV gone bad in the night. So glad those days are over.
(o)
hello Vicky, this is so sweet I have twins that born at 25 weeks and this is so true about the scars that they have, each scar demonstrate haw brave this kids are and what that have thru, God Bless you and your Kid.
I get to know Evan better each time you write. I'm sure at least one of those buttons is reserved for you, the greatest mommy of all time. (Ah, three. Personally, my favorite number.)
I love this, and I'm thankful that with time your memory fades of the reason for the scar. Jenelle has few scars, and hopefully one day we will have one for her g-tube site as well! I remember the day of the surgery, doting on her belly knowing it would be changed forever.
This piece exemplifies what I love so much about your writing, Vicki. It's the way you guide us through some of the most painful, thorny experiences with such grace and clarity...until something clicks and we see a kind of beauty we would never have known to look for. Thank you for that.
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