Shortly after my daughter was born, I was so taken in by the miracle of life, I wrote a lengthy composition on our shared birth experience. It was scary, exhilarating, painful, and represented a cornerstone in my transition to womanhood and, thankfully, within 12 hours she was born. I wrote that essay on college ruled, 3-hole punched loose-leaf paper and stored it in my daughter's baby book with the typical items many parents keep; her newborn footprints and baptism records, a lock of soft brown hair from her first haircut, the dates she cut her first tooth and took her first step. Writing about her birth and rereading it periodically, I could relive the joy and the possibilities of all that lay ahead.
Imagine my disappointment in those early days of motherhood when I visited the county records department to collect my daughter's birth certificate and was handed a document with ILLEGITIMATE stamped across it. When I asked why all eyes in the office turned to look down their noses at me as the clerk said, "Because you're not married to the father." I blinked and said, "But she has his last name." Was I naive? Absolutely. Was I confused? You bet. My beautiful newborn baby girl not legit? In the eyes of the law, she wasn't true, genuine, or real. The county office had done its job. I walked away in shame.
I had made the "mistake" of becoming pregnant before marriage, despite my respect for rules and the order of things. The legitimacy issue unnerved me, and it became the impetus to re-establish order in my life. Stupidly and naively, I married my abuser thereby providing my daughter the legitimacy I sought. Or did I marry him to overcome my shame? I've asked myself that question numerous times. I do know I could not imagine a future day when my daughter might ask about this dark stamp from the day of her birth.
A few years later, while estranged from my husband, I rented a lower flat where another woman rented the upper unit. Both our daughters were the same age. Quite a lovely arrangement with shared child care complete with a tiny sandbox outside the back door. Until one night when the house burned. Thankfully, we were all away, and no one was hurt but the firefighter who fell to the basement while searching for our possibly dead bodies.
Many precious items burned that night. The one I miss the most is the baby book. Little did I know how I would wish for that keepsake in the coming years. In retrospect, I should have immediately started another from that point forward, but with the upheaval and havoc to our lives at the time, I never made it a priority.
Regardless of the legalities and family challenges, my daughter's baby book was, in essence, my book of dreams. At that moment, it held our shared story of all that was right with the world.
Whether I label them regrets or lessons learned, life decisions sometimes keep me awake at night. Learning to forgive others and myself continues to be a life-long challenge. How about you? What keeps you awake at night?
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