Written by Eva Strelitz-Block
Graphic by Luna Malloy.
I don’t remember the day I was born, the days leading up to my birth, or the days just after. I mean—obviously. But the stories I’ve been told about my entrance into the world feel so real it’s as if I was there, which, I suppose, I was. It’s a strange, but poignant bit of irony that for me, “my” birth stories tell me little, specifically, about myself. Which isn’t to suggest that they aren’t revelatory. Like all origin stories, even fragmented ones, they contain slivers and shadows of the experiences and people that would shape my life. Here is almost everything I know, think I know, and have heard about my arrival:
My Jewish grandparents were not thrilled, to say the least, about the home birth plan. They lodged numerous objections. When my mom and dad called them after I was safely delivered, they were relieved and overjoyed, sure, but complaints were made. Poppy said he didn’t like my parents’ chosen name for me, Eva, because Eva was the name of Hitler’s wife. To be fair, he didn’t approve of my brother’s name, Jude, either because Jude sounds a lot like Judas – a figure not terribly well-regarded biblically speaking. And he didn’t like my cousin’s name, Miles, because he said Miles Strelitz is alliterative, which, apparently, is bad. Poppy has lots of opinions.
Deep in the recesses of my childhood bedroom closet is a flaky white plaster belly cast of my mom’s pregnant belly. It was made with her best friends’ help at her baby shower just before I was born. My younger brother has one, too. His belly cast is beautiful—it was painted at his baby shower. Friends of my parents inscribed it with lines from their favorite poems and their wishes for the new baby, for my mother, for me too —a soon-to-be big sister. It used to sit on the bookshelf between my bedroom and my brother’s until he and I decided it was weird having it on display for all our friends to see (the boobs). My belly cast was supposed to have been decorated, but I was the first kid, and according to my mom, the pre-home birth baby shower routine had not yet been perfected. My guess: there was probably too much wine involved in the first one.
My mom and dad’s best friends gathered in Berkeley, California, where my parents were living at the time, for my baby shower. My Uncle Pete, my mom’s brother, was there. They did many hippie things. The plaster belly cast. Something about woven bracelets with moonstones to wrap around everyones’ wrists to be worn until I was safely born. Pete likes to tell the story about finding himself hand in hand with Norman, my parents’ friend, when everyone sat in a circle holding hands. They’d never met before, but shared a pranky vibe. They pledged to be each others’ guardians instead of mine. There was also communal watching of home birth videos. Pete, then a recovering frat boy and law student, was not prepared for this. He’s still processing. For reasons I don’t think I can now describe, I watched those grainy VHS home birth videos with my friends throughout preschool and my early elementary years. My oldest friends are also still processing.
My mom labored alone through the night on the couch as my dad was sleeping soundly in the bedroom of their small, rented Berkeley duplex on Walnut Street. My dad disputes this particular detail, but I think it is good form to believe the pregnant person, so I’ll take my mom’s side on this one. She finally woke him up at 5:00 AM when she felt like I was getting close. Together they called their midwives, Sara and Amrit, to tell them it was time.
Amrit was the older, experienced midwife, and Sara was still in training. Thinking about it now, Sara couldn’t have been much older than I am. I have a picture of Sara gazing at me tenderly. She has beautiful auburn hair and a nose ring. She is the one who caught me. Amrit suctioned mucus from my nose to help me start breathing. For a while I became obsessed with knowing more about them and wanting them to know who I was. I have a very early memory of asking my mom to send them a picture of me. Even now, every so often, I google their names along with “midwife.” But my searches aren’t that sophisticated and I’ve never found anything definitive. It’s strange to feel so connected to people you don’t know at all.
My parents didn’t find out if they were having a girl or a boy before I was born. They wanted it to be a surprise. But my mom says that she had dreams about me when she was pregnant—dreams where she saw my face—and knew exactly who I was long before she first laid eyes on me.
Along with our cats Dexter and Billie, we moved from Berkeley to Austin when I was four weeks old. Apparently, as a baby, I didn’t let anyone hold me except for my mom. When she started attending a Jazzercise class, I didn’t handle the separation like a champ. My dad would regularly have to call the front desk of the Austin Recreation Center and the staff person would slip a note to the jazzercise instructor up on her platform. The instructor would call out, “Philippa Strelitz, your baby won’t stop crying.” My mom headed home.
These stories are not necessarily my stories. They are my mom’s and my dad’s and my brother’s. They belong to my grandparents and my uncle. They are Sara and Amrit’s stories, too. Yet, these stories are me. In these stories, the web of people to whom I am connected, the tonal flow of the relationships and dynamics that are the scaffolding of my identity, begins to take shape. I feel them in my bones.
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