At first glance, it looks like an abstract heart or a small gold nugget, but the pendant that’s always hanging around my neck is something that’s far more valuable than any precious metal or stone: It’s my daughter’s belly button, and I know this sounds super weird, but it is one of my most cherished pieces of jewelry.
When my daughter Ihlen’s umbilical cord fell off, she was 10 days old. There it was, all of the sudden, on the floor. It looked like a clump of dried boogers, and I begged my husband, Gunnar, to hold onto it. I am sentimental by nature and keep trinkets from time to time, but this was extreme, even for me. Most parents probably toss the dried-up cord as soon as it detaches. After all, you wouldn't save your tonsils or wisdom teeth after they’re removed, and collecting your fingernail clippings or stray hairs could qualify you for a TLC show. I can’t explain what drew me to save it, but I like to chalk it up to a mother’s instinct: I was certain this piece of cord was to be cherished one day.
That tiny lump represents the moment when Gunnar, Ihlen, and I were connected as one. The complete circle of life is wrapped up in something smaller than my fingertip. To me, this unsightly piece of dried-up matter is one of the most beautiful things in the world, and a reminder of the 41 weeks Ihlen grew inside of my belly, of the special connection I have with my child. Perhaps even more importantly, it's a reminder of the love that Gunnar and I have for one another; Ihlen is our DNA, not just mine. He thought this idea was crazy, but agreed to hold off on throwing the piece away.
Last May, Gunnar surprised me with a gold cast of Ihlen’s belly button that he had gotten made into a necklace. He took Ihlen’s umbilical cord to jeweler Lisa Linhardt, whose also a trusted friend. Her reaction was similar to the masses — what a strange idea! Because she loves Gunnar and I, she took the commissioned piece and created a special cast. It took about four weeks and cost around $550. She returned the original belly button to us when the job was complete, and it's still hanging around our apartment someplace. (To be completely honest, I’m not sure where!)
I’ve worn the necklace every day since. I'm back at work now, and it especially helps me to feel connected to Ihlen when I can’t touch, see, or talk to her. It’s like her heartbeat, Gunnar's, and mine are fused in this tiny golden time capsule, and it’s our secret telepathic language to one another.
I recognize this may seem like a strange idea, and it’s definitely not for everyone. I receive mixed reactions from strangers all the time. One person said the whole thing was really gross and she could never do something like that. Another just giggled, while someone else wants the name of my jeweler and says I should patent the idea. Listen, some parents make bronze casted booties, some post to social media every time their child does something new (I’m guilty of this, too) — I happen to have done something a bit more unconventional. To each her own, right?
When Ihlen is old enough, I'll explain how the necklace came to be. She may love it, and she may think it's totally creepy— but let’s hope it’s not the latter, since Gunnar had a silver version made for her! Whatever the outcome, I'm looking forward to sharing with her the way she's inspired her Mama to love fearlessly, and to share our story with others. I'll be sure to tell her that her Papa is totally a romantic at heart; I treasure that gift, too.