Recently, I’ve been reading stories. Two come to mind: “How We Keep It Fresh” by Christian Tebordo (Pank, 6.01/ January 2011) and “Afterglow” by Sandra Odell (Ideomancer, 9:3/September 2010). These stories, among others whose names I can’t remember, relate a desire to return to the womb. I heard there is a term for this. When you Google “unbirthing” you obtain disturbing links to odd furry fetishes I don’t understand (and don’t really want to know too much about – I say leave the bedroom in the bedroom), but still the fact that this is a modern fetish (which I assume belongs to more than one individual), and there is actual paraphernalia designed for the specific purpose of acting out this fantasy says something about modern culture. I think. Even popular music makes references to unbirthing: Beck sings about a girl leaping into a volcano in his song “Volcano” off the album Modern Guilt. Beck asks, “Was she trying to make it back/Back into the womb of the world?”
Is this a modern phenomenon? What is the interpretation? I’m not going to go all Jungian on you. I promise. That’d be dull. Besides, I’m not smart enough for that kind of thing, and neither is the person telling this story (or the nameless narrator, for that matter). I won’t look for mythic roots, proof of collective unconscious, or point out older texts referencing these kinds of things (not that I couldn’t do so, but I’m feeling too lazy today). You can do all that yourself. Google and Wikipedia are good starting points, but always verify with other sources, preferably in paper format inside the rotting walls of a library reeking of dust and neglect and other modern clichés.***
So why return to the womb? Why is this a fantasy and a fetish? Why is this event expressing itself in literature and music? Is it coincidence that this image haunts me? No, this is not an interpretation. What follows are simply my unenlightened observations.
A quick note on the positive traits of life in utero*:
- It’s quiet. All sounds are muffled. Sometimes mommies and daddies and others talk to pregnant bellies, and when they do, it’s always with a soothing, cooing tone. Sometimes people even read stories and play music, deluding themselves they will increase the child’s brain capacity, when in actuality they are only decreasing their own. **
- There’s no friction. Everything is well-lubricated and without sharp edges. If you trip and fall on your umbilical cord, you won’t get hurt. I guess you could get tied up in the cord and choke and die. I’ve heard of that happening, but thankfully, this is unusual.
- Mothers protect you in the womb. Sometimes they do this outside the womb, but when you are actually inside their body, they are even more protective. Perhaps it has something to do with you still being a part of them, physically, at that point in time? Whatever the reason, this is nice.
- When inside the womb there is blind optimism directed your way. Parents dream big for their child, buy footballs or art sets. Parents live out their own fantasies through their unborn. You haven’t disappointed anyone. Yet.
- It’s dark all the time. You can sleep whenever you want. This means lots of dreams, and in dreams you can be whatever you want to be. Even if you want to be a giraffe on the plains of the Serengeti, you can do that. Or you could be an alpaca tied up in a trailer park in Mississippi, or an inside sales representative, or a short order cook, or whatever. Endless possibilities. Personally, I’d dream of being an entry-level data entry clerk or maybe the back seat of a 1970 Chevy Nova . Dream big!
- Anyone who hits a pregnant belly is a jerk and can actually have attempted murder – or even murder – charges brought against them. Once you’re born, people can hit you all they want. As long as you live, it’s only assault.
- There are no temptations. There are no vices. You haven’t fallen. Not yet.
- You’re kind of trapped...
- There are no mountains to look at.
- You can only hear the ocean, not see it.
- Music is muffled and you probably only hear the beat and not the details of a melody.
- Voices are muffled and easily misunderstood.
- Range of movement is limited.
- There’s nowhere to jog, hike, or fish.
- You’re kind of trapped…
All the same, this is a cultural desire (and not just mine, whoever I am). The pros outweigh the cons. Besides, how often do you have days you simply don’t want to get out of bed? How much better would it be to be in a womb? It’s warmer, softer, quieter. Sure there’s no light for reading, but you still have time to dream. That’s worth something. Also, you are a blank slate. You are perfect.
Unlike me. I screwed up so many times. Too many times to count and disguised as many different people.
So, I went back. But there’s not much room in here, to tell the truth, and I really, really need to stretch. It kind of smells funny, too. It reeks of failure and other clichés.***
* …and a certain Nirvana album cover comes immediately to mind just like that!
** “"There are no studies on the effects of stimulation before birth on intelligence, creativity, or later development," says Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist who studies fetal development at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.” (http://www.babycenter.com/0_music-and-your-unborn-child_6547.bc -- Yes, I researched this online because I’m lazy. There’s no proof that if my mother played music to me or my father read to me in utero that I would be any less lazy. I’m also a hypocrite sometimes as you can see from my not following my own rules about using libraries to verify.)
*** Why does the verb “reek” often accompany so many clichés? Perhaps I’ll ask my friend to ask his nameless narrator. It might make for a good story.