I was a war baby, the first child and only girl. In the years when I could finally understand, my mother never missed a chance to tell me that she had suffered two awful miscarriages before me, so I understood that I was her third, and lucky try, yet if not for the difficulties during those previous pregnancies, I would have never arrived. The thought of that was unimaginable to me and more than a bit shocking.
How could my entire existence be so precarious? Instead of a girl, with big hazel eyes, and chubby thighs, I might have been just another egg, sloughed off with all the dozens of others that came before me. Oh, and then the other story she liked to tell was that I was born with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around my neck and nearly died.
Though these tales fascinated me, I was always aware of my mother’s matter-of-fact approach in their telling. I think what I wanted was to hear how happy she had finally become, or that something miraculous had now changed her life for the better, and that the something was having me, finally, a healthy child- a daughter. I wanted to know that my birth and entry into the world was not paired with memories of remorse or regret.
Fifteen months later, with the war over and my father safely returned from his stint in the Navy, my mother gave birth with little complication to another child, this time a boy. Since we lived across the street from my grandmother’s house in Brooklyn, there were always surrogates to help out with babies. Besides my grandmother, there were my two unmarried aunts. Both were happy to look after their niece and nephew, intent on earning their keep so far from their homeland in Vilna, and living, since they were teenagers, in their brother’s house.
In most of the baby pictures of me, which are just a few, I appear owl-eyed and cautious, even a bit worried. Told again and again that I was a terrible sleeper, I was tossed around a lot, passed from body to body, from scent to scent. Was I searching for her, my mother? A lifetime later, I am still restless.