Silently she stared down at her round belly. Then she looked up at me, and then back down at her belly again. Her brow furrowed and her eyebrows lifted into little triangles of puzzlement. She started chewing on her lower lip. She was understandably perplexed.
“Yes, that’s right. Even though your uterus is much larger than this, your baby is only this big,” I explained, demonstrating the size of a twelve-week fetus with my thumb and forefinger. Thinking that she might have twins because of the discrepancy between her size and her history, I had ordered a sonogram. The results confirmed the presence of a single, healthy, three-month old baby. The oversized uterus was just an unexplained phenomenon and not a problem.
She continued to gnaw on her lip, looking at me like I had lost my mind. “Let me show you something,” I said. I picked up a marking pen and drew a little upside down cartoon baby just over her pubic bone. I gave it features like curly hair, and tennis shoes and long eyelashes. Then I traced the outline of the uterus with a placenta at the top and the umbilical cord spiraling down and attaching to the belly button that I had drawn on the baby. “There, it’s something like that.” I said.
Her eyes opened wide, and she blinked a few times. Then slowly and methodically she took her finger and began to carefully stroke this cartoon baby. Her face had a look of childlike wonder and she started to laugh. “What are you doing in such a big house all by yourself? You’re such a bitty thing. What do you do in there all day?”
I sat silently on my stool for a long time, watching her – listening to her converse with her unborn child. Finally she looked down at me, tears glistening in her eyes. “There’s a baby in my belly. I can see that there’s a baby in there,” she whispered.
She had a three-year-old daughter who had developmental difficulties and a year ago she had given birth to a little boy in Texas who was premature and who had birth defects. He lived only three days. They had suggested to her in the hospital that she might be to blame, that she had not taken good enough care of her babies when she was pregnant. Now that she was expecting another baby, she was convinced that she was incapable of growing a healthy child in a body that had obviously “failed” her twice.
The next time I saw her she told me. “This might sound silly, but I set a place for the baby at the table now, and put food on the plate like he is sitting there.” She blushed and chuckled. “Then I eat it myself, as well as everything else on my own plate. By golly I reckon he’s getting plenty enough to eat.”
Each visit she would have me draw the baby on her belly – each month I drew it bigger and bigger, tracing the contours of his body. When I was done she would stand up and take a picture of it with her camera. Once she brought in a baby blanket to show me how she and her daughter covered the baby at night before “they” went to bed. “I feel so different this pregnancy, like I’m already a mama. It seems like we already know each other,” she beamed. “Do you think this is possible—to know someone before you even meet them? “Yes, I do,” I reassured her. “No one could do a better job than you are doing, caring for your baby.”
A few months later, when she gave birth to an eight-pound healthy baby boy, I was not surprised to see this mother and child come together, like two old souls. She had taught me how something so simple as drawing cartoon babies on bellies, can connect a mother to a visual reality of another human being living inside of her body, and could even play a crucial role in mother and child bonding before birth. Not surprisingly, this soon became a routine part of my pre-natal care.
Nowadays, with the sophistication of ultrasound technology, this perhaps seems simplistic, maybe even silly and funky, but it worked back then – beautifully so.