About the Belly Button

About the Belly Button

Apr 27, 2022
Susan Hynes

So, this topic may be a bit jarring. Some may think it inappropriate but don't judge the blog by the title. It is born out of a genuine event that opened up a series of contemplations that led me to this piece. It began with discovering that I would have to undergo a rather complex surgery right after Easter. As indicative of the times, my first contact with the surgeon was via a Zoom Tele Medicine session. After discussing my condition, the doctor explained the operation when he mentioned in passing that he might have to remove my belly button. "No, you can't, not my belly button. I have had it a long time," I shouted (politely) through the screen. His reply was priceless. "And when was the last time you used it?"  

This exchange ended without resolution since it would be a game-day decision, but it left me pondering. The doctor was right; of course, belly buttons are not used after birth. But that seemed to me to be a bit cavalier. After all, from an incredibly young age, belly buttons play a part in our self-awareness of our humanness. All humans have them, and from very early on, we examine them. Do you have an innie or an outie? Should I get a ring on my belly button? The prime response I got from friends when I told them the story was that people would think I was an alien. All this discussion and attention over what is basically a scar.

Besides having a pretty lovely innie, I did not want anyone to think I was an alien. I wondered why I was so fixated on what I thought might be a different take on the scar. This simple mark, centered on the body, really has more profound relevance to our spiritual self. It is the spot that marks and affirms the mystery of birth. When a child is born, they arrive still tethered to their mother. The cutting of the umbilical cord is the moment when the child lives on their own. The scab that is left in some ways is a notion that it marks the spot where our life began and a reminder that we are still symbolically attached to our mothers. We would not be here if they had not carried us to birth using that magical cord.

I suppose it is a fair criticism to suggest that I over-romanticize the whole thing. Those of us, and many who believe in science, indicate that the cord and life result from purely scientific processes. I am sure that my daughter, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine, could explain that conception to birth is devoid of God. And yet, I offer the following.

As I have written, I have an on-again, off-again relationship with the absolute certainty that God exists. It remains a conflict for me because of the cord and birth. I knew that there had to be something more than science in many miracles from my first child. I had carried this tiny human around for ten months, and she had been attached to me all that time. I kept her safe, and we grew together. I would talk to her when on a plane taking off, telling her not to worry. I refused to set up the nursery until I knew she was born, and I waited patiently. I did not pray on the matter much or ask God to watch over us. I just waited. Then after 23 and half hours, this amazing person was in my arms, and I knew there had to be a God. She had all her fingers and toes and looked straight at me. It was as if she was saying I know you. Thanks for the ride.

You see, science can give me a host of explanations about how all this occurs, but there is never enough. I accept all the information on eggs and sperm, and DNA. I recognize that the process is not always successful, but there must be more explanation. Something somewhere makes this happen. I do not know where God's hand is precisely, but I know that descriptions of human breeding don't finish the story. A secret ingredient in the design binds a child to their parents. The relevance of the cord is more than just sending nutrients. It is a form of bonding that is not transmitted with fluids. Something about Godly magic makes a child understand sounds and voices in the womb. You often see the hand of God even in sad times. My great grandfather was a doctor in earlier times. He had some excellent explanations when God was accused of being absent in a birth. For example, he would say a miscarriage was God saying the baby was not ready. There was something wrong with the process. With Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and stillbirths, he would offer that all souls only had a certain amount of time on earth, and these babies' souls were ready to go to heaven. I am sure many a doctor, including my own daughter, would not agree with these ideas. But they make sense to me both as a sometimes believer and always a believer in science.

The miracle of life is a sound, scientifically proven biological process. Science does much to help women deliver healthy babies, and every year there are improvements in that process. But there is something more that passes all understanding. When my daughter and my other children were born, this sense of science and something would be revived. They were all miraculous, and I took raising them seriously. One day twenty-some years after that first brush with miracles, my daughter called me late in the afternoon, "Mom, I just had the best day of my life. I delivered a baby."

All the above leads me to the answer about belly buttons. They are an outward sign of something far more involved and complicated than just a scar. I did not want to let it go because it stood for my mother's role in getting me here and making it possible for me to pass on belly buttons to others. There are plenty of metaphorical uses for umbilical cords and belly buttons. We have all heard "time to cut the cord" for an over-dependent child. But the fact remains that the cord between us humans and the miracle of how we got here can never be cut.


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