Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


Margaret Nowaczyk
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Photo of a nautilus representing the Omphalos
Chambered Nautilus Shell – detail. Photo by Jitze Couperus, 2008, on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.

Once, I linked you to the woman who gave birth to you: for forty weeks, a twisted pearly cord, pulsing with two syncopated heartbeats, bound you two together. It fed you and gave you oxygen. It attached you to life.

In Greek mythology, the omphalos is the center of the universe, where the two eagles loosened by Zeus met in the skies over Delphi after circumnavigating the ancient world. The prophetess Pythia sat by the sacred carved stone—the omphalos—and, from within the fragrant smoke rising from the Earth’s crack, foretold the rises and falls of kingdoms and of men.

You were afraid of me for most your childhood, squirming when touching me. What were you afraid of? Pain? Opening a gateway into your innermost being? A dimple in the center of your belly, a pink star-burst, you wished I was not there. Once, you read that babies were born through me; even though you knew better by then, this falsehood still made an indelible impression. In a way, babies are born “through” me. Thanks to me, they grow, fatten, and—when I am no longer necessary—are cut off. A dried-up brownish stump falls off their tiny bodies perfectly formed by their mothers.

Only when you were to become a mother yourself did you make peace with me. Flattened from within, a spiky-petaled flower of flesh, I did not frighten anymore. A star cicatrix in the center of you and your baby’s universe, I guided you through the transformations in your connected bodies. By the gestation’s end, I disappeared from your belly, stretched taut by the growing body of your firstborn son.

I am mythical and mythological. The center of you and the hub of all the life in the universe. I am omphalos, your navel.

MARGARET NOWACZYK, MD, MFA, is a pediatric clinical geneticist and a professor at McMaster University and DeGroote School of Medicine. Her essays and short stories have appeared in Canadian, Polish, and American literary magazines. Chasing Zebras, a memoir of clinical genetics, mental health, and writing, will be published in the fall 2021. She lives in Hamilton, ON, Canada, with her husband and two sons.

Highlighted Vignette Volume 14, Issue 1 – Winter 2022

Summer 2021



2 responses

  1. Such lovely words and imagery!
    But “pulsing with TWO syncopated heart beats”?
    There are two umbilical arteries, granted, but their pulse is from ONE source, the fetal heart.

  2. How beautiful! Thanks for this unique perspective.

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