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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

"Sacred Waters: 19 and Pregnant" (Chapter 7: "Looking for a Star")

Updated: Feb 27, 2023

Baxter Hall (1954-2004), on the left, housed the Snack Bar, student union and dining hall. It was named for James Phinney Baxter III, Class of 1914 and president of Williams College from 1937-1961. Baxter (1893-1975) took leave from Williams during World War II, when he served, among other things, as director of the Office of Strategic Services. He wrote Scientists Against Time, for which he won the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for History.

Chapin Hall, on the right, opened its concert hall doors in 1910 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was a gift from Alfred Clark Chapin, Class of 1869. Chapin (1848-1936) was a lawyer and politician who served as the mayor of Brooklyn and as a member of the House of Representatives. His sister, Alice Chapin, was an actress, playwright and, in England, a suffragette. At the Old Bailey in London, she received a prison sentence in 1911 after splashing chemicals over ballot papers. However, she was granted a King’s pardon. (Photo by Max/Flickr)



Lovingly, I rubbed my hand over my belly in a circular fashion that was so soothing that I forgot I was doing it. I was transported to a place I had never dreamt of before, a safe place. It was a forest smelling of rich, dark soil. I was hugging an oak, strong, deep-rooted and protective.

When I caught myself, I threw my hands to my sides and tried to wipe out the longing for maternity.

How is it that something so natural became so distorted? There were so many reasons.

When I was still all arms and legs, Mami taught me to wash myself everyday while sitting on the toilet with my legs spread apart. I would douse myself with a mild solution of Dettol disinfectant in a blue plastic potty. She advised me that as I grew older and my smell stronger, the solution should be more potent. Already, the cleaning antiseptic’s pungency made me wheeze; the ritual gave me discomfort. I did not know why. The dismissive look the gynecologist gave Mami as we left his office confirmed in me a torn allegiance to my instincts and to her.

“No, she did not hurt herself as she washed,” the doctor said, as he scooted us out of the examining room where the ears of the waiting patients were pricked for the story of this young girl. “She’s fine,” he told Mami, not bothering to look down and assure me. He had quickly ascertained the identity of the true patient.

After that telling encounter, I fell back on the nightly washings and then stopped altogether.

However, I had not stopped associating womanhood with disaster.

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