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Cell-Life: A Mother's Story

Cell-Life: A Mother's Story

For someone who doesn't have any children or even a readily available womb, I've been thinking a lot about birth. I've hit that age when friends reproduce like mosquitos after a rainstorm. No, seriously, I could paper my bathroom with the birth announcements, but that's just one reason that reproduction is on my mind.
Mostly it's because I'm writing about it. In addition to blog posts, I'm trying my hand at a novel, and it opens with a birth. Without giving anything away, I can tell you that it doesn't go well, and for my protagonist, a young mountain woman named Reenie, it opens up a world of questions. What do you do when life takes a very bad turn? What happens when you're overflowing with love but have no where to direct it? How far will you go to get your nurturing fix?
That's why Carrie Mullins' Cell-Life resonates with me. This compelling short story, published in Appalachian Heritage, brings us Marie, a young, Kentucky mother-to-be whose home life is a mess. On the verge of childbirth, she hasn't even gotten a crib (her deadbeat husband jokes about keeping the baby in a dresser drawer), but she has latched onto a strange notion—cryo-freezing her placenta and umbilical cord. She calls it insurance, figuring the cells could be used to treat a host of diseases.
Is this obsession an attempt to bring stability to her unborn child's life or just a bad decision?
I hope you'll leave a comment and let us know what you think.



by Carrie Mullins

Every time Bobo gave Marie money to buy groceries or notebooks or what- ever, she saved a little bit of it. She put it in her purse, into a red and white tin that used to hold mints. She kept a ponytail holder around the tin for a while, then took it off, because someone might wonder what was in a tin with a purple band around it in her purse. Someone might want to take that purple band off and open the tin to see what was inside.
In the early morning when no one was at the house and there was no danger of anyone coming to see Bobo, she counted the money. She counted it on the bed. Mostly ones and fives she stacked around her there on the bumpy white bedspread that had belonged to Bobo’s great aunt.
She counted seventy-two dollars, plus the hundred-dollar bill her Dad had put in her hand that day. She straightened the stacks, put them on top of each other until there was one big stack that she folded over and put it into the tin, closed it up and shoved it down into the bottom of the black purse. She pulled out the pamphlet from one of the zipper pockets on the side of the purse. She always looked at it after she counted the money. It helped to keep her mind focused. Every time she read it, she saw some- thing new. This time she learned that the cryo-bank was in California. Part of her would be frozen way out west, part of her baby too. She told herself she could do it.
When Crystal came over that evening, Marie finally told her about the placenta and umbilical cord bank. She even showed her the pamphlet. Crystal’s eyebrow went up. “So what is the purpose of this?”
“They freeze it for you, and keep it, in case your baby gets a disease and needs those cells.”
“Sounds gross.” She handed the pamphlet back to Marie.
“It’s not gross. It’s like insurance.” Marie wanted to explain all the diseases the frozen cells could be used against, to treat her baby, if she needed it.
“Bobo doesn’t know about this, does he?”
Marie shook her head.
“Well it might be a scam. Have you thought about that?” Crystal shook her head and sat Marie down with a piece of paper. Crystal made a list of what she’d need for the baby. Blankets, pajamas, bottles, a car seat and a stroller. “I’ll have you a baby shower,” Crystal said when they finished. There weren’t but two or three people in Crawford to invite, just Janie and Ed’s witch of a girlfriend. Marie didn’t want to sit around with them. She didn’t want to taste baby food straight from the jar and try to figure out what it was. She didn’t want to play that other game where you have to guess what kind of candy bar was melted in a diaper. She didn’t want to sit there while Crystal’s moon-faced girls watched, those girls who only moved when Crystal told them to, moved like silent, moon-faced drones. But she’d do it, for the baby.
“What are you making for supper tonight?” Crystal opened the refrigerator, then looked at Marie, who shrugged.