…the tenacity of a mother searching for her lost children

 I have some posts in mind, about who I am, and what led me to where I am today, in Kolkata, mother to twelve orphaned girls.  When you know me better, you can see that my life today is a logical outcome of who I am, and who I have been throughout my life.  I don’t remember exactly why I wrote this four years ago.  I was trying to explain myself. 

“They Turned Them Back In Stalingrad!”

From the mind and memory of Dr. Michelle Harrison, 29 November 2009

The year was 1942.  My mother had gone into labor on Thanksgiving, the 26th of November that year, and had delivered me in the afternoon of the 27th.  The following morning my father came to visit her in the hospital.  He leaned over to kiss his beautiful young wife, and with pride and joy announced, “They turned them back in Stalingrad!”  She said, “But David, the baby…”  “Well,” he told her reassuringly, “there is always plastic surgery.”  I had first appeared to the world in the shadows of World War II, and with my face a bit caved in. 

 My appearance was a terrible shock to my mother, as the nurses had initially, and mistakenly, brought her a beautiful ten-day-old red haired boy.  She adored him for the hours he was with her.  I do not joke, but on my 60th birthday she was still remembering and talking about that baby, how beautiful and perfect he was, how happy she was holding him, talking to him, how shocked she was when they brought me to her.  Part of her shock was guilt.  She blamed herself for my face because, “no one taught me how to give birth.”

 So, by the time I was one day old, there were stories to tell, stories and themes, personal and political, that would be with me throughout my life.  As for my face, it mended on its own, probably within a day or two, but that part of the story is never told.  I think I just had an ordinary newborn smushed-in face.  To my mother though, I never really looked right.  She longed for the “perfect” ten-day-old red haired boy she had held in the hours after giving birth.  She also longed for a son, which she never had.   

 I have another day-of-my-birth story.  I became a doctor.  One focus of my work was the early relationships of mother and child, in pregnancy, childbirth, and the newborn period. I once participated in a meditation and hypnosis workshop where we were supposed to regress back to our lives before we were born.  But I could only get back as far as my birth.  The delivery room was cold and gray.  I saw myself being born; I looked around and there was my mother, frightened, lying on the table.  Then the doctors were holding me upside down, dangling me by my feet as was the custom.  I was screaming and screaming at the top of my lungs, “You are doing it wrong!  You are doing it wrong!”  No one was listening to me.  

 In 1982, I published a book, A Woman in Residence (Random House 1982; Penguin 1994; Kindle Edition 2013), an autobiographical account of my training in Obstetrics and Gynecology.  It is an expose; it is about the institutionalized abuses of women; it is about how childbirth should be practiced, not how it is practiced.  It is my strongest voice, and the words no one listened to in the hospital room that day I was born.  I am persistent.  I have the memory of an elephant, and the tenacity of a mother searching for her lost children.

Michelle Harrison



2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ann Jackson
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 07:21:23

    Have read the book and enjoyed it it vrry much


  2. avijit guha
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 20:59:40

    going through your article….am spellbound……tears rolling down my eyes……


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November 2013
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