Twilight Sleep - Confessions of an NPE


It’s almost my birthday.


3000 years ago, in the Paleolithic age, or the 1960’s anyway, I came out of the womb probably kicking and screaming. In birth then as I am now. Always kicking and screaming.


In those days the doctors knocked the laboring mother out with Twilight Sleep; a practice in which the mother was dosed with both morphine and scopolamine - a combination of drugs that eased pain and caused amnesia. The mother lost her memory of the pain of childbirth and sometimes the memory of the birth itself. It removed her from the birth experience and often depressed the central nervous system of the baby. The practice has long since fallen out of favor because…amnesia? WTF. 


The births of my two children, as effing painful as those births may have been, are two of my most treasured moments. The combination of creating life while facing death is powerful. To not remember that experience would be, for me, such a tragic loss - which leads me to this question:


At what cost do we forget our pain?


As I read the stories of my fellow NPE’s, I see a common thread: Bitterness caused by the coverup. We hold so much anger at being kept from the truth, of having our core identities withheld, of having other people know our stories but not allowing us to experience them. This is how it is for me anyway. The actuality of who my father was is less painful to me than the fact that his identity was kept hidden from me, that people knew and discussed it, and hid it in my best interest


I have no doubt that all of this mess was created in what, however misguidedly, they thought was best for me. Best for them. Best for a child who would grow up as a Goodrich but would never understand why exactly she didn’t fit in completely. It’s such a common story that I feel guilty even talking about it because it hurts the people who tried to shield me from the pain - who tried to erase the memory…who put me in Twilight Sleep like my mother was on the day I was born.


But the truth is, that was a disservice.


We are created in pleasure and born in pain. Wisdom comes from acknowledging that pain. Buddhism says that suffering exists. It is part of the human condition. Dukkha. There are births and deaths, pleasures and pains. Suffering comes from trying to hold on to the pleasurable moments and not acknowledging that all of life is change. We shut the door on pain…we try to forget it…and in doing so we create our own suffering. 


In the family dynamic, there is often discord and, in an effort to shield the child from the pain, silence descends. Don’t talk about it. Forget it. Do not acknowledge it. It is chosen amnesia. The problem comes because children intuitively know when something is wrong, and without confirmation or acknowledgement of this truth a split occurs. The child learns not to trust themselves or their parents because this silence tells them what they intuitively feel does not exist. In dismissing or shielding them from suffering, we actually create it for them.


Ok, I am going to quote a vampire book here, and vampires are totally not my thing but here it is anyway:


“The strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell. It is pounded and struck repeatedly before it's plunged back into the molten fire. The fire gives it power and flexibility, and the blows give it STRENGTH. Those two things make the metal pliable and able to withstand every battle it's called upon to fight.”

                                                Sherrilyn Kenyon, The Dark Hunters, Volume 1


We become stronger by trials and tribulation, not from running from them and certainly not by forgetting them. We have been forged in the fires of hell. We are strong. We are ready to withstand the battle.

So, on this weekend before the anniversary of my forgotten birth, I’m going to remember that I am steel…but I am also water. I am fluid and moveable. I will acknowledge both the power in suffering and the fleeting moments of joy, and I will not cling too tightly to either one.  It is not the suffering itself that is the difficulty. It’s the feeling alone in that suffering that is most painful. We are all in transition between moments of joy and moments of sorrow, and that is part of the beauty and the flow of life.

(When a DNA test revealed I was an NPE – the child of a Non Paternity Event – I decided to write about the experience in order to destigmatize the situation, and to let others in the same position know that they are not alone. These are my stories.)