Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A messy entrance

On what most likely was a chilly March 10th in 1958, in a hospital room at St. Mary's in Rochester, Minnesota, I came bolting into the world at precisely 10:18 PM.

And so begins the story which over the years has reached mythical proportions- how I almost killed my mother on my birthday. Perhaps it is one reason I chose to never have children - my own mother terrified the heck out of me with my own birth story. In all seriousness, my mother did almost bleed to death, and I have this scar she likes to point out on my forehead from the momentous occasion. Supposedly my father looked pale and upset when he saw me because I was pink and red and lobster like, where as my brother came out a year earlier looking like JFK - seriously, for years my mother compared my brother's looks to JFK. I was compared to a lobster.

And hours before I barged out of the womb, my father had been called to the morgue, where his 57 year old mother lay dead, of a heart attack, diabetes related. Her untimely death led me to receive her name, Katherine, instead of Bridgette which my mother had picked out. I cant imagine being named Bridgette, although as a child I liked to tell this story, since Bridgette Bardot was all the rage, and as a chubby little redhead, I thought BB was quite the cat's pajamas.

So I can only imagine the yin and yang and surreal quality of that cold March night for my father. I wonder if there were things that brought it all back to him as he aged. Did the sound of heels on a linoleum floor late at night bring back a sensation of the events he dealt with that night? As I get older, 52 years older to be exact, I can understand how this moment is burned into my mother, or father, in some kind of post traumatic stress way. But being true Minnesotans, we carried on, and every year, my mother made me one of my favorite layer cakes- at the time it was white cake with pink butter frosting. In time, my tastes changed to German chocolate, or her white cake with chocolate frosting. I still have the same recipe cards she hand wrote so many years ago, all spotted with vanilla stains.

While I appreciate that I was born, I am not one of the people out there saying that birth is beautiful. In fact, I couldn't disagree more. It's an intimate moment of a mother creature being out of control of her body. Miraculous, yes, but not beautiful. I get just about as much birth as I need on the farm, thank you very much , and all the blood, after birth and vaginal prolapses that come with it. I think birth is traumatic, terrifying, bloody and completely chaotic. It's a mess. In fact, it makes no sense. A creature pushed out of a keyhole - that's not beautiful, it's bizarre. It's a miracle, but it's not beautiful.

But it's the only way to get a foot in the door, isn't it? Staying in a womb all your life would be safe, and warm, and inexpensive - no taxes, no maniacs on the radio shouting at you. But there would be no grand entrance, no kisses, no pie made with the first strawberries, no front row seats to Neil Young. No puppies. No showers on a hot day. No hand to hold when a father dies and no little mouths to feed when a mother dies. No matter what creatures come into your life, mothering is the beautiful part of birth. That some one would go through that trauma to give another creature a way to get their foot in the door of this big, messy place called life.

The winds have come in, it's bone chilling. All day I was carried back to a place I liked to hide when I was little, a grove of sumac bushes out behind our house. Alone, I felt protected, but spooked at the same time. Rushing back to the house, I'd hear the wind blowing buckets and roof tops, and it felt scary like the Wizard of Oz. But home was warm, there was homemade cake even on my non birthday. It wasn't messy.

It's like that today - the sounds of the barn roof rattling in the wind are spooky, but I feel safe in the barn, surrounded by my mothering ewes. Together with my flock, I experienced the trauma of last year's lambing, and just like my mother did after my birth, I carry that trauma with me in a little surface wound, in danger of getting reopened if I bump it just right. I realized it's my very own birth story, and it's required if one expects to find a sense of place in this messy world.

March 10, Post Note: Daisy presented my with two healthy lambs this morning, a perfect way to start my birthday.