I want to protect our baby from children with perfect belly buttons.
When I was eight years old, I noticed that my belly button wasn’t like my friend’s belly button.
It was sticky-outy and pokey-pokey, a fleshy baked bean marking the centre of me.
My friend called it an outie.
- I rushed to pull down my vest, we were all changing for P.E, this was not a revelation I had planned. My belly button was exposed and compromised. I knew that it was only a matter of time before everyone in year four knew that I had an outie.
In the meantime, my friend wasted no time in lifting up her vest and revealing that she had a neat, tiny whirlpool of a belly button, stuck right in the middle of her own little tummy.
She put her finger inside it and rolled it around like she was scraping chocolate mousse out of a tub.
“I’ve got an innie” she declared with pride.
“Your belly button is weird” she said.
Innie. The word was new in my head. Trapped between my teeth like too much sticky toffee, I couldn’t quite get it to come out.
How could one tiny word make me feel so uncomfortable and separate?
I watched her hypnotically roll her finger in her belly button for a few more seconds. Watching someone play with their belly button is the kind of obscene thing that only eight-year-olds can do with utter disregard.
She stepped away from me and let go of her vest with a theatrical ‘mic drop’ that made me feel like shit. My heart hurt. Why wasn’t my belly button tucked inside of me like a tiny lint-filled paddling pool too?
I wanted to be like everyone else; I resented my difference.
I think belly-button-gate is my earliest recollection of alienation.
Our belly buttons estranged my friend and me indefinitely. She looked at me with childish reproach, and I recoiled into my self with guilt.
I knew that in the centre of me, was a tiny button that I couldn’t button. A small tag of skin that gave me convexity and interrupted my streamline form.
I felt ashamed.
Self-perception is born in innocent moments of discovery, and I had just had my first negative experience. My low self-worth was born in a
Porta Cabin classroom in Epsom.
Life would never be the same.
We first begin to notice our differences when we are young, and the process of recognition often gets crueller and more exacting with age and socialisation.
One day your belly button is strange, much later your taste in music is strange. Later still, your beliefs are strange, and suddenly you’re stuck in this profound space where you’re coming to terms with an entire body of strangeness that you’ve picked up along the way. Some of it learned, some of it God-given, some of it fostered, uncertain and afraid…
I’m 29 years old now, and I’m 27 weeks pregnant.
It’s 3:48 am, and I’m rubbing my belly as our baby kicks me relentlessly. My hand moves over my belly button; hard and small and subject to 20 years of scrutinising mirrored glares.
I want to protect our baby from girls in vests with perfect innies.
I want to protect our baby from scrutiny and discomfort and the awkward realisation that many people see being different as dirty.
I wonder at the world our baby will be born into and I am worried. How do I keep him safe from the unforgiving gaze of other people?
The truth is, I can’t.
From the moment this little one is born, he’ll be hard-wired to spend most of his life building himself up within the evaluative glances that he is subject to receive.
I know this because I studied Psychology at university. I know this because I was eight years old and felt the heat of distress within me. I know this because I have spent 20 years trying to accept my belly button.
The world is a crazy place, and I’m scared of what it will do to this little mother-kicker, but I know that the best thing I can do for both of us is to come clean with my insecurities and make peace with my fears.
I haven’t written for a while, and I think it’s because I’ve been almost weary of explaining how I feel during this uncomfortable transitory time of pregnancy.
However, in the last few months of this journey, I want to make a concerted effort to unpack the awkward secrets of Nadia-without so that when our baby does arrive, I can focus on being Nadia-with.
I don’t know if this post will hold resonance with the people who read it, but I do know that I feel lighter and more at ease. I may not be able to store fluff in my belly button, but you know what? I think I’m okay with that.