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Wednesday, November 6, 2013

To B.B. or not to B.B.

Bye-bye to the "O," the "ball," the "cele."
 After 18 months a humanoid, our daughter Penelope qualified for her surgery to correct her abdominal defect. Called a "giant omphalocele," it was a grapefruit-sized fleshy doorknob on her belly containing her entire liver. As bad as that sounds, it was a hard-won improvement over the problem at birth, which was a clear membrane containing liver, some intestine, and a sac of amber fluid. Fortunately, this mess gradually grew skin and became something manageable.

Yesterday, her surgeons got hold of her and set her straight. It only took a couple of hours, as her body had grown to accommodate the displaced liver. Everything popped smoothly into place. Now she is about as aero-, hydro-, and sociodynamic as any human. Even the surgeons seemed surprised by how well it all fell into place. At the end of his account, the head surgeon said he tried at the end to give her a bit of a belly button. He downplayed the result, saying that the plastic surgeons could eventually do much better. We can't see anything under her big bandage, and all we care about right now is avoiding infection/optimizing healing. I assume he just left a scrap of extra skin in the right location, a little knot of tissue like a belly button rough draft.

The underlying assumption for the whole scenario is that a belly button is, if not mandatory, at least to be desired by all parties. But I find myself leaning anti-belly-button. Why?

Admittedly, part of the motivation for the whole surgery was cosmetic. Penelope was fully functional and healthy as she was; most babies with her birth defect come with more problems. All she ever really suffered, after the months it took to grow decent skin, was acid reflux. Still, she would always be running around with her largest organ in a protrusion prone to injury. Worse, once she grew into greater self-consciousness, she was sure to suffer the barbed comments of schoolyard shitasses, not to mention the random fumbles of a haplessly sociopathic world (My wife relayed the embarrassing restaurant experience of another "O" baby, who was seized on the belly bulge by a playful waitress who cried, "Do you have a ball under your shirt?!" and tugged more than once before understanding that she was grabbing the kid's extruded innards.) I brought myself to watery eyes more than once by imagining Penelope's eventual realizations that her belly was not only incongruous with bikinis and all other parameters of bodily beauty, but that it would forever be the bulls-eye of malicious mockery, even if by freakish good fortune the only attacker turned out to be the impossible standards of American beauty she is set to inherit. In short, her defect would not let her be sociodynamic.

Now she has gone from perhaps the ultimate "outie" belly button to no b.b. at all. For some reason, this strikes me as an optimal level of oddity. Not only are belly buttons useless, they catch dirt and even require occasional cleaning. I also have early memories of being slightly freaked out by the belly buttons of some other kids, back in those single-digit ages when you first encounter the bodies of your contemporaries at swimming pools and in gym classes. This in turn led to thinking that my own belly button was sub-par, partly because my sister said hers was better than mine. I think she had a fairly strict belly-button grading system already worked out, and mine definitely fell below hers in quality.

So, shouldn't I be shopping around for the best belly-button Nip/Tuck badass available? Is there even a conception or diagram of "the perfect belly button"? Obviously the b.b. ranks lower than, say, the nose, when it comes to cosmetic prominence. Just as obvious, my endorsement of no b.b. is less problematic than when Michael Jackson seemed in hot pursuit of whittling his nose down to nothing. But I'm sure there are some people out there who would call me cruel or abusive if I were to deny my child a belly button. I think the benefits of non-naveling are obvious (in no special order):

1) It would be a record of Penelope's unique origin story
2) It would be an ongoing--but optionally concealed--conversation piece, good for all sorts of jokes like, "I hatched from an egg," or "I'm a clone/alien/animate mannikin/etc."
3) It would require no further surgeries (unless her "rough-draft" b.b. is noticeable and bad)
4) It would be hygienic
5) It might look cool
6) It would eliminate belly-button grading
7) It would be hydrodynamic, increasing swim speed by some negligible smidgen

All this might be selfishly based on my own aesthetics. Get your feedback in if you wish to influence a rare omphalossian decision-making process.


tylergalloway said...

great story, chad. i would leave things as-is and talk to penelope about it when she is old enough, and let her decide. my guess is that she'll want to be like other kids, like her mom and dad, etc. but who knows? maybe she'll embrace the egg-origin gag story. that—and the truth—will certainly make for a great stock bio when she is introduced for her international speaking engagements.

Chad Woody said...

It would be a good time for time travel, to interview Penelope at a range of ages to see what she wants. I'll bet it might change through time. I would have wanted one at age 5, then maybe not at 12, and later I would have said, "What will it cost?" "How much will it hurt?"

I think you are probably right, though. Most kids think belly buttons are cool.