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  • Writer's pictureJane Leder

A Womb Of Your Own

A therapist asked me if I'd ever thought of how my time in the womb and ride down the birth control might have affected me throughout the rest of my life. I had not. But it seemed like a fun and potentially instructive activity, so I wrote a little story (most of which I fictionalized) because I have no conscious memories of the nine months I spent sloshing around in amniotic fluid.

Biding Time

I was shaken from a cozy nap when the liquid in which I was percolating buffeted me from side to side like a piece of driftwood caught in an angry sea. I don’t know how many cells had divided and multiplied by then, but there weren’t enough to protect me from what I later—much later—understood to be the spasmodic heave ho's of the woman who was to birth me. If this was what I had to look forward to in the ensuing months, I wanted to suspend the whole affair and shrink back to one little cell going nowhere.

My dad was in the Army Air Corps

There was a war going on both inside the womb and out. The man I’d eventually call my father had gone off to war to fight the Nazis. My mother, like millions of other wives, waited—waited for news, waited for her husband to return home in one piece. The stress hormones roiling throughout her body put me on edge. I felt jittery, unsettled but, mostly, out of control. I never knew when another round of nausea would hit and toss me back into the angry sea.

It’s a curious thing—waiting around in the womb, growing appendages, sucking what becomes a thumb. My mother rubbed her belly and soothed both of us—at least, for a time. But then something would happen (I’m not sure what), and the tension made my throat tighten as if someone had taken the umbilical cord and wrapped it around my neck’. I wanted to escape, but there was no way out.

I’ve never given much thought to how my mother’s moods affected me—affected me for life. I focused on her and how difficult it must have been to wait at home without knowing when the war would end and my father would come home. On the outside, she was brave. She kept herself busy, wrote one letter each day, sewed baby clothes that would work for either a boy or girl (There were no ultra sounds back in the day), and spent time with other women stateside who were in the same predicament as she was. But her brave exterior was a charade. She had trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating and sometimes trouble gearing up for another day.

When things were calm, I enjoyed my float. Nothing bothered me. Nothing disrupted the ease with which I swished back and forth though, to be honest, quarters got a bit tight there toward the end. Happy endorphins (I know, that word wasn’t part of my vocabulary back then) from my mother (and maybe her mother, too) made me feel wanted and loved. I was going to be the first child out of the shoot. Special.

I’ve told and retold the story of my birth. In a nutshell, my father was reported missing in action, and my mother passed Go and went straight into labor. Her grief cut me to pieces. Her fear scared me more than the heave ho's at the beginning of this saga. But, wait, there’s a happy ending. My father wasn’t missing and made it home while my mother was still in labor. Hard labor. Her muscles had tightened like the jaws of a shark. I kept trying to force my way down the birth canal for one final ride, but my mother pushed and pushed with no success. I bumped my head more times than I could count. Back and forth, back and forth like a pinball machine gone haywire.

And all this time my mother didn’t know that my father was standing at the front desk of the hospital pleading with the nuns to let him see my mother. They refused. But my father would have none of it and somehow made it up to the labor rooms and, when the nuns again refused to let him see my mother, he wrote her a note. Can you imagine? One minute my mother thinks she is going to have to raise me alone; the next, the tables have turned and we will be a family of three.

My mother didn’t believe for a second that the note was from my father. It was a ruse to get her to push even harder and get me out of what had become a torture chamber.

My mother waddled into the hospital hallway with me sequestered between her legs. I must have felt like an unwanted appendage. She saw my father, breathed a sigh of relief, returned to the hospital bed and, finally, after hours and hours, pushed me out and into the world.

It was a long, rough ride—one that I may have been reenacting in some way or another for 73 years.

So, let's play arm chair therapist. How might my time in the womb helped determine certain of my traits?

  1. I like to be in control

  2. I'm not comfortable not knowing

  3. I'm assertive and don't like to give up, even if it means "ramming my head against a wall"

  4. My mother's moods have (had) a real impact on how I feel about myself, and my mother was always difficult to "read"

  5. I have epilepsy and suspect that that fateful journey may have set the stage for what, thankfully, are, with medication, under control.


TELL US YOUR WOMB STORY (Or what, if anything, you remember.) If you're like me, write how you think time in the womb helped mold who you are today. Share your story.

Tell Us Your Womb Story


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