Meeting No. 3
Umbilical Affect

An account of the third of four meetings between the author and the esteemed professor Quang Lee Hu during his brief visit to the United States*

Despite the stature implied by his white hospital coat upon which, embroidered lavishly on his breast pocket, were both the Chinese and American spellings of his name, my new friend, the little Chinese genius, looks something like a refugee or a fast-food delivery boy. He asked me to call him "Qwli," a childhood nickname which, when pronounced clumsily in my Western way, feels like saying "kwlee" with a twig in the mouth. I found him in Chipotle sitting alone at the same table that had been the scene of our last two interviews. He had always preceded me there apparently to stake out some pretty hefty personal space, but emanated a polite, enthusiastic demeanor, tolerating and appreciating me. Perhaps his relationship to personal space represented a cultural expression of possessiveness, given Chinese population and the intense pressure upon individual territory in certain cities.

As I sat down he smiled widely and said, "Same table. My Table." Before I could say hello he hollered from his belly, "I have implanted here, my place." Two nurses sitting at a nearby table gave me sharp and resentful looks, evoking the idea, without any nurse-like patience, that some unpleasantness had preceded my arrival. By association with Qwli, I was now implicated and apparently an accomplice. "They move for me," Qwli said, without looking at them. I answered the nurses with a smile and a sheepish shrug to apologize for whatever his extravagance might have been, but neither of them were anything but hostile. I wanted to explain whom they were dealing with or return their unfriendliness, but I tried to ignore them as I was anticipating an experience with Qwli that would feed me, and ratify my purpose for being there.

Then, after taking count, I noticed that Qwli had seven burritos stacked on a plate in front of him. A substantial collection of food, he had managed to pile them two above three above two so that they held together in something of a big tube rather than a pyramid. "Take a look," he said, gesturing for me to peer under the table. His feet were dangling six inches from the floor as he was sitting atop three phone books. The effect was something like a custom made high chair such that his navel was directly across from the center of the stack of burritos aimed at him. Unimpressed with his shenanigans, the nurses were still sending plenty of resentful energy in our direction, and clearly talking darkly about us. I began to wonder what kind of perversions they suspected me a part of, but Qwli was completely unfazed.

They will die eating their own unhappiness," he explained, "while I have decided to live because I know I have something important to do. This is why I allowed my prenatal twin brother to die, or you might just say perhaps that I am responsible for his death as I knew how to take in all the food I needed, and there was hardly enough for one. Are you hungry?

"What are you talking about?"

We all live out the patterns set up in our prenatal lives. I'm talking about implantation, umbilical affect, and twin loss. I have examined and remembered much of my prenatal life, and being a human being, I cannot escape the creative staying power of certain powerful prenatal patterns, so I prefer to live them out consciously, sometimes even ritualistically, which is what I am doing today. I have implanted in this restaurant which is most similar to my mother's womb. I am floating here in front of an umbilical cord that is full of food most similar to what my mother ate. And I have invited you as my twin brother, because you are intelligent, open-minded, vulnerable, and needing, I think, a little good advice for your own personal development. The circumstances we live through prenatally shape every square inch of our psyche and create the basis of our personality long before we are born. Are you hungry?

"Not right now, I just want to understand."

"Fine, where do you want to start, with implantation, umbilical affect, or twin loss?"

I realized I had unconsciously been rubbing my belly at the navel, "Umbilical affect, I guess."

"Excellent choice," he said in a congratulatory voice, patting his stack of burritos.

Imagine your belly is hooked up to three hoses. One of them enters your body passing all sorts of things through blood, shared blood, across your liver and into your heart. The other two leave your body from deep in your inner thighs and you can send all sorts of things back out through them.

"Like an umbilicus?" I asked.

"Exactly. Now lets just say you are only two millimeters tall from top to bottom and your umbilical cord is like a grand canal one millimeters wide: the largest organ in your tiny, forming body."

"Like an early prenate, say in the first trimester?"

Exactly. Now lets just say that your mother, besides sending you proteins and carbohydrates and sugars, and whatever toxins she was exposed to that day, let's just say that she is in complete distress. She is not at all ready psychologically, emotionally or financially to become the recipient of the greatest possible obligation there is in life:  growing a child. Therefore she is consciously, or unconsciously looking down on you with enormous disdain as if you were the greatest possible perversion in the world, supplanting her right to exist as a carefree unchallenged individual.

"Like those nurses?" I asked.


Happy I was able to follow his prenatal theories I began to realize how accurate his reconstruction was. The nurses invaded us with what I experienced as disdainful maternal energy. I recognized in my body a familiar shame which I connected to an existential humiliation I had often suffered at the hands of my own mother during the many times I displeased her as a child. A surging impulse to flee flamed up in me, but I knew I was stuck there, at least for the time being. I had the fantasy to run to the pristine air of remote mountains, bury my face and head in a clean racing stream, then lay in a grassy meadow and stare so deeply into a deepening blue sky that I could be absorbed into the perfection of a benevolent spirit world.

The walls of Chipotle are covered with bizarre tin and wood depictions of Mayan faces and I saw in them the distinct Asian/Mongol features which were the same as certain ancestral traces emerging, now more clearly, in the countenance of my amazing host who was floating there in front of his "umbilical cord" within his mother's "womb."

"So what do you do? What can you do? What is possible for you to do?" he questioned, banging his fist on the table, threatening to topple the stack of burritos. "By the way, are you hungry?"

"Not at all."

Then, what do you do? Imagine the stress of the poor, unprepared mother. Neuropeptides carrying the molecular expression of her angst and regret are flooding through to you at the end of your feeding tube from which you can not escape. You are being inundated with her chaos and anxiety. Mountains of her feelings are flowing into you. And you, poor chap, say perhaps your adrenal glands are in the process of formation. All of her stress neuropeptides, adrenaline and corticosteroids are flooding with enough power to disorient, confuse and fatigue her. The blood saturation of the chemicals of her anxiety is too much for a grown woman, let alone a vulnerable little creature the size of a cricket who is trying to create and regulate his own body! Your own stress responses, your adrenal glands themselves and how they will propel you into a response and even therefore a way of thinking are being programmed during their very own formation by your poor mother's stress. Say she then turns to a calming drug, an alcoholic drink, or a chain of cigarettes to self-medicate her distress. Then what do you, a helpless prenate, do? Are you hungry?

By now my head was spinning. I felt clammy, cold, and my veins were shivering deep inside me. My kidneys were aching, my legs were shaking, and I had to pee. I looked imploringly at one of the nurses and imagined for a moment that beneath her icy veneer might reside a modicum of life-saving concern. If she had been my own young mother, and I her prenate, I would have begged her to let me live, to bless me and want to meet me. I wanted to be a wanted baby, to be loved, to breast feed, to soil my diapers.

"You're missing the point," Qwli said.

I have overwhelmed you with information which, when processed by your brain and experienced in your own body, resembles a familiar crisis. Though you are sitting here with me in an environment that is relatively safe and benign you may be feeling as though you are in the midst of a life-threatening challenge. This is a result of your unresolved prenatal shock, which indeed could have been life threatening. Are you hungry? What would you do?

"I would collapse," I answered. "You have been talking about me, haven't you?"

"You, and others of us," he answered. "As tiny little prenates we have all been through the overwhelm of umbilical affect. It's what we do with it that counts. It's how soon we realize, how soon we recover."

I fantasized that I could be a prenate with a conscious mom, seeking connection with me––and I could somehow signal to her that she would be alright, that we would be alright, and could she please eat some pickles and peanut butter so it would trickle down to me. I looked for a connection with the nurse, but she and her friend had vanished, their table wiped clean. I felt completely alone. Then I saw Qwli, laughing and devouring one of his burritos. Talking to me through his frenzy of eating.

Yes my boy, I was talking about you, to you, and I see it hit home. You, like me, were the oldest weren't you? First child. The one who turned your mom from a carefree girl into a tired, overworked, insecure MOTHER with dark circles under her eyes, trying to comfort you in your endless crying. You would shrivel and disappear if you could. You would leave for a better place if you could, but you can't. You are you and you are stuck in your circumstance. But here is what you can do . . . you can squeeze off, flatten out, defend against that which does not serve your higher interests . . . that is, you can do this as soon as you realize you have a 'higher interest,' and as soon as you realize you are being polluted. You can eliminate, and send back and cycle through anything that is wrong as soon as you realize it is wrong. You have two hoses leading away from you and you can open them up to free yourself from every contaminant. Send back the poisons and infernal feelings and seek, with a microscope if you must, that which serves you in times of chaos and pain. Accept only what you need and refuse the rest. If your mother's dread comes into you, pass it through, send it back, taking in only what is good for you and asking for more, more of the nectar, more of the peace, more peanut butter and pickles if that's what you need. But when the toxic flood comes, repel it, contract if you must even while you are growing.

Rubbing my forehead with closed eyes, I examined his advice on the personal level it was intended, as if to his own twin brother who had died, unable to function as Qwli had in the times of prenatal turmoil. I looked up to express my thanks and saw him standing with the phone books in his arms, smiling intimately, exactly half of one burrito gone, leaving six and a half.

"Don't be afraid of too much information," he implored.

You will digest it all sooner or later, and at the right time it will improve you. For my part, little brother, I must intensify my work with you, for I am leaving sooner than expected. Soon I will be gone, and you will never see me again. You still do not understand, on a scholastic or personal level, what you must know about implantation and twin loss, both of which you need in order to grow in the way you want to, and to be able to understand the true meaning of my work.

He handed the phone books to the manager, who thanked him warmly as if they had a personal connection, and was gone. I found myself marinating emotionally in something like a tidal wave swelling in an enclosed space. But as I raced out of doors, I found an unexpected peace, and a great desire to see my friend again as soon as possible.

"When will you learn not to be afraid or cold?" I asked myself realizing that perhaps my own dear mother had been under great duress at some important time in my early life. I discovered I was now walking in bright light amidst the predictable chaos of a busy street in a big city and as I ambled along I imagined myself in a dialogue with my learned "big brother."

"Say those nurses represent the hostile, unloving part of the mother, even if it's in her unconscious, even if she thinks she's giving you everything you could possibly need," he said in my head. "What do you feel when you look over at them and take them in?"

"Sick to my stomach."

So then why don't you block them out? Look over here my boy, you trust me don't you little brother? What have you got to gain by looking back at them? Do you think they are going to change into benevolent angels for you? Do you think they have anything enriching to send to you? No? So don't look. Don't take in their pain.

I imagined looking over at them and experienced a knot form itself in my stomach.

You see? Let it go. I know it attracts you and pulls on you, but resist the urge to take in more. Stay closed and wait, wait for something that nurtures you. This is what we poor bastards could not do as prenates. We were over-exposed, like giant windows, flung wide open, gaping in the midst of a terrible storm.

I flattered myself that I had not only his accent but also his wisdom flowing easily now in my brain as if he were still right there with me. "Shut it out. Shut it out. This is repatterning. You remember about repatterning don't you?"

I began feeling a little more relaxed, and less tempted to look at the nurses, or anyone else who didn't feed me.

You see, whatever comes into the prenate, the baby that is, if it's intense, hostile, toxic, or wonderful, the baby absorbs it deeply, thoroughly into many of the cells of the body––whole regions:  organs. If the mother is reluctant, experiencing chaos or fear, wishing she were not pregnant, or even fantasizing about the relief a miscarriage would bring, then floods of neuropeptides invade deep, deep, deep into the baby. And all this happens while we are creating ourselves, our very bones, our flesh, and our organs. As we are growing and forming, our cells and the body parts that, in the moment, happen to be the most vulnerable, can absorb and retain our mother's anxieties. Your kidneys can hold your mother's fearful stress, your lungs her sorrow. That's how you've been programmed, affected by what has come through the umbilical cord, and your behavior, your impulses, your personality is the "affect." So, as an adult you must detect, hold out, keep away and defend that which is not good for you. Toxins, foods that aren't right, preservatives, or other people's bad feelings . . . protect yourself from them, you don't need them, and they will never be good for you. Move ahead seeking and inviting that which feeds you.

* Fiction . . . by Karlton Terry


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