Transcript from The Moth storytelling event on June 14, 2022, on theme of Birthdays
Gil Allen, M.D.
So I was born breech on June 2nd, 1966 in Honolulu Hawaii. I was, at least as of then, the largest breech baby ever born in the Kopi’olani Obstetric Hospital. There is a reason I know this fact, but that will come later in my story.
Now if the name of the Kopi’olani Obstetrical Hospital sounds familiar to this crowd, it should. Because on August 4th, 1961, another young boy was born there to the joy of his parents, Stanley Ann Durham and Hussein Onyango Obama. This commonality
that I share with our 44th president was a large source of excitement and pride to me when I learned this. In fact, I was so proud of this fact that when a copy of Barak Obama’s birth certificate was shared on the Obama Whitehouse archives,
I immediately posted a picture of it beside a picture of my own, de-identified, birth certificate, demonstrating not only a carbon copy similarity in form and name, but identical Registrar signatures.
In this post I commented how excited I was to have learned that we were born in the same hospital, but also how shocked I was to learn that all these years I had been living a lie….that I too was not an American citizen, and could never legally
be President of the United States, which of course held greater significance for Barack than it did for me.
Anyway, getting back to my birth day.
Not only was I the largest breech baby in the history of that hospital, both I, and my mother came very close to dying that day. I locked up in the birth canal because of my “enormous head” and I needed to be forcibly extracted with forceps.
To this days my eyes are so crooked, I sometimes drift to the left while walking at a brisk pace. But this near-death experience for both me and my mother is what brings me to the central theme of my story, because as it turns out, I cannot recall
ever having had a birthday that my mother did not call me to wish me a happy birthday….and remind me of that day that I nearly killed her. It usually comes in the form of something like, “Happy Birthday son, I will never forget that
day. It was the day you almost killed me.” This the tie that has both bound and divided us all these 56 years in a way that perhaps no other thing can bind and divide a mother and her son….my original sin if you will, my first display
of “naughty behavior” before I even got to take my first meconium crap outside of the womb.
In fact, this has become a running joke in our house and the perfect allegorical representation of my complicated relationship with my dear old Mum. And just like clockwork, two Thursdays ago, it happened again. My mother called me first thing in
the morning to very thoughtfully wish me a Happy Birthday. We had a lovely talk about my plans for the day, and I closed with, “Thanks for always remembering to call first thing on my Birthday, Mom, it means a lot to me”, and my mother
counter lunged with “Oh, I could never forget that day son….believe me. One could never forget a day like that.” No lie.
But to understand this better, you really have to have known my grandmother, an Eastern European Catholic and virtual Bene Geseret witch when it came to the weirding ways of manipulation through guilt and shame. Much of it I realized was imprinted
on Mom…from the beginning….and realizing this has helped me learn to forgive her for this, because you know, at the end of the day, we cannot really have meaningful, lasting relationships without forgiveness.
So now, ever since my father died a few years back, I’ve made it my duty to fly down at least a couple times a year, to be the good son, to be issued my 28 item to-do list, and get to work for 4 solid days.
During those times, though, I’ve grown closer to my mother, learning more about her dysfunctional upbringing, and her deeply flawed relationship with my father, and how lost she felt as a parent when I came along. Back in those days, they really
didn’t have a label for ADHD; I was simply labeled a very “challenging” child, or at least that’s the narrative that I’ve always been fed, and something else that I’m also regularly reminded of. Nowadays however,
when I catch her doing this, I simply call her out on it. Sometimes she gets defensive, but in better moments, she laughs and even apologizes.
That is the awesome thing about my mother. Despite all of her shortcomings, she can be quite open-minded. I can talk to her about almost anything, and confront her even over her most cutting innuendo. She is, like everyone else, just a human being.
She is flawed, and she is simply trying to do the best she can with what she has….and she tries, and I love her for that.
But I can’t always let her off the hook that easy. So this year when she once again reminded me of that eventful day on June 2nd, 1966, little did she know that my own birthday card of sorts was on its way to her in the mail this year. It stated
something like “Wishing you a million and one birthday wishes…because you truly are one in a million” To this I added, “On this day you gave birth to the largest breech baby in the history of the Kopi’olani Obstetric
Hospital…and lived to tell the story for the next 56 years.” “Thought I would turn the tables a bit this year and send you a card to celebrate the day that I almost killed you.” Your loving son, Gil…Well, she sent
back an immediate text after reading it, telling me how it made her laugh…I gotta love her for that and forgive her for the reminders…and who knows, perhaps one day she will learn to forgive me for almost killing her…maybe
she already has.