Officially known as the funiculus umbilicus, the umbilical cord connects the foetus to the placenta from which it attains all the nutrients it needs to survive. Wikipedia informs me that during the prenatal stages of pregnancy the umbilical cord connects the foetus both genetically and physically to the mother, and is cut very soon after birth. Without it one cannot survive, one cannot be brought into being.
Yet so often we look at the umbilical cord as something that connects the child to the mother, and not mother to child. I’m speaking about this outside the biological realms of science and surgery. Throughout the act of pregnancy, the umbilical cord is appropriated from simply being a physiological element to an emotional, a metaphysical symbol of unity. It is the chord of Life, and life in the very complex expression of that term. It is the chord that generates and maintains maternal affection throughout the life of that child. It is the chord that generates the sacrificial nature of parenthood, it is the chord that you can never cut, its roots are planted in the very arteries that make up the heart, it becomes the carrier of the ‘familial’ life blood.
And when we, the children, grow up, becoming adults ourselves, when we physically move away from the maternal breast, the home, the space in which Mother rules, we stretch it taught. We strain the very tissues that hold it together, stretching the cells, and inadvertently pulling on the nerves, jolting the heart into action. You see, when the umbilical cord is cut in the physical world, only the child retains any memory of it, the belly button. But when it’s cut in the emotional, the scars are often found on the mother. There is that desire to hold on, to draw the children back to the bosom, and remind them how much they are loved and wanted –
Yet also how much the mother wants to be loved and wanted. How big a space those children that were carried internally, take up in the external world. How her life is reduced into a single room in which all her focus is trapped, waiting for those fragile beings to be nurtured, developed and to grow.
Hearing my mother asking for my speedy return home reiterated to me something I had tried to ignore. Growing up isn’t solely about moving forwards and experiencing life selfishly. It’s also, just like driving a car, about checking in the review mirror, the cars, the people we might be leaving behind.
Just as the blood that is carried in the arteries that line the umbilical cord fed me when I was being nurtured in her womb, so does my time, attention, my reminder of my love for her, need to be a source of sustenance stretching back along the familial arteries that keep the life blood pumping throughout our family unit.