*This is a work of nonfiction based on actual events as told to me by a woman who experienced them firsthand; used with permission.
Having a baby born without a belly button or an umbilical cord was unheard of in my family. So when my aunt gave birth to a baby with a hole in her belly, my entire family felt shocked and concerned.
Would the baby survive? Would she be able to conceive, carry, and give birth to children of her own someday if she chooses? Doctors answered, "Probably," and "Almost definitely" to those questions.
Those were just some of the questions they asked each other, plus this one. What in the world causes a baby to be born without a belly button or an umbilical cord anyway?
As babycenter explained:
Belly buttons may be cute – and some are even bling-worthy – but they don't serve much of a purpose. That's a good thing, considering the many people who are living happy, navel-less lives. [...] The culprits are two types of hernias, or holes, that can be present in the abdominal wall at birth: gastroschisis and omphalocele.
Infants with gastroschisis are born with a hole in the abdominal wall on one side of the umbilical cord. These infants have belly buttons—they're just hard to locate—and surgeons use their belly buttons during the surgical reconstruction of the abdomen.
However, infants with an omphalocele are born without a belly button, as in the case of my cousin. The infant's intestines and/or other abdominal organs protrude through a hole in the center of the infant's abdomen, precisely where the belly button should be.
My cousin was born with a hole in her abdomen. Her parents could see her insides through the hole. As non-medical professionals, the family found it strange and disconcerting.
As a child, I thought it was terrifying. I never saw it myself as my cousin was an adult by the time I was born, but I heard the stories. They were hard to stomach.
Surgeons attempted to close the baby's abdomen with sutures, but the sutures came apart. After several surgeries failed, doctors left the hole open to close on its own with the help of saline compresses. Little by little, the opening healed with the help of the saline.
My aunt and uncle brought my cousin home from the hospital once the opening in her abdomen had closed completely. However, she still had a ball-like protrusion sticking out of her belly.
Once, when she was a toddler, a guest at my aunt and uncle's home spotted my cousin's rounded belly and said, "Oh, look how cute. She's hiding a ball under her t-shirt." Of course, it wasn't a ball at all.
My cousin endured several more reconstructive surgeries before she reached adulthood, which helped normalize the appearance of her abdomen. By the time she became an adult, all her surgeries were behind her. Still, my cousin never had a belly button.
She married and had three children of her own. Just as doctors had predicted when she was still a child, the omphalocele didn't prevent her from choosing to become a mother, and recently, she also became a grandmother.