Through Any Given Door

1.44 Plucked From the Womb

August 1948 • Sonora ~ I was welcomed into the family two years after Mom’s first breakdown, though not by her. She didn’t want another child, she wanted out. As far as she was concerned, I was a fifth burden tacking on another eighteen years to her prison sentence. Another eighteen years of not wanting to be a wife or a mother, of not wanting to cook and clean and cry every day.

Just after midnight, Mom gave birth to me by optional cesarean, which was in vogue if you were wealthy; we weren’t. She wanted to have her tubes tied so Dad wouldn’t know, and Mom’s doctor was willing to do it for her; if she had it done while having a Cesarean, no one would find out. It was illegal for a doctor to perform this kind of surgery without a husband’s permission and it could have gotten them both in a lot of trouble, but he’d been my mother’s doctor for years and knew it would be the end for her if she had another child. Mom was not concerned about it being against the law or a mortal sin. She was barely hanging on to her soul as it was.

Sonora Union Democrat birth notice:
CLEMENS, In Sonora,
August 16, at the Sonora Hospital, to the wife of
Carl Clemens of Sonora, a daughter, at 12:10 A.M.

Plucked from my mother’s womb, I missed the struggle from one world to another with no heroic journey or victorious birth cry. No wonder I wonder how I got here. I was short-circuited in the beginning.

None of the other kids knew Mom was pregnant. It seemed simpler than attempting to explain how the whole thing came about, although apparently it hadn’t occurred to my parents that questions might arise upon my appearance. Larry was fourteen and clueless. Carleen, thirteen, found out in catechism the month before I was due. Stunned, she said, “Not my mother.” She knew you had to have sex to have a baby and she could hardly imagine her parents doing such a thing. Of course, Carleen didn’t tell any of the rest of the family. Betty, now nine, was off climbing fences and protecting the weak but took the news in stride; I would be her next foundling. Claudia, at seven, and up until I came along, the baby of the family, found out when she went to the store after spending a morning in the library and Larry told her she had a new sister. She was happy about this news, but that was before she found out she wasn’t allowed to touch me. The first time she saw me was when Mom held me up to the second floor window of the Sonora Hospital.

I was born a block from our house in what had been known as the Bromley Sanitarium, a small two-story building on lower Washington Street where many Sonora babies were born. On my arrival home, Claudia, who was curious to see what I was all about, was continually told, “don’t touch the baby, don’t touch the baby,” so she didn’t have much to do with me, deciding early on that I was going to be nothin’ but trouble.


Laying me on the dark mahogany dining table to change me (I was probably about six-months- old), Carleen told Claudia to watch me, then turned to get my diapers out of the sideboard’s bottom drawer. I rolled off the table onto the floor and wailed. Claudia, leaning against the door jamb with her arms crossed, got slapped and hollered at for not watching me. She was watching me all right, she just wasn’t about to touch me.

She was no longer the fair-haired baby of the family, had lost her mother’s attention, and was forbidden to suck her thumb. She wasn’t one bit happy about any of it, including my arrival on the scene. I sucked two middle fingers on my left hand and rubbed Mom’s earlobe with my right; when Mom gave me cotton balls to rub between my fingers instead, Claudia sulked, “Mom never bought me any damn cotton balls.”

to be continued…

© 2017. Catherine Sevenau.
All rights reserved.

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  1. Jim Chatfield says:

    For the hard start you had in life, you showed the world perseverance pays off. Your mother sounds a lot like my first wife, she never wanted a child, wanted to be free, and party. Once we separated she never asked how her daughter was doing and that was 58 years ago.

  2. Susan Davidson Dalberg says:

    her loss, our gain honey!!!

  3. Birth control wasn’t very reliable and we can certainly sympathize with women like your mom who had more children than they would have chosen. However, I am grateful you made it into the world and are able to share your fabulous stories with us.

  4. I can relate…..also cesarean, and my older sister who was the queen bee
    resented my coming on the scene and was mean to me. Sorry about your
    fall off the table!!!! It’s amazing how you’ve turned all this negativity into
    a positive, wonderful, fulfilling life. And that you can have so much empathy
    for your mom, understanding how she felt. I know, it’s taken years of work
    and introspection. Kudos!!!!!

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