Tammy, Newburyport, Massachusetts
Everything was good.
Yet I was terrified. And I don’t mean just the regular “oh my God I have a newborn what do I do” type of terrified. I had already taken care of hundreds of newborn babies, many of them premature or sick. Feeding and caring for my sturdy little son was not difficult for me. My husband, Danny, was a bit scared in that way, but for me even the waking up at night to feed baby Ari was a cakewalk compared to the stress-filled, sleep-deprived years of my residency.
No, I was terrified because I was caught in a waking dream, that of a parallel universe, one in which I had given birth in a different time and place, in which an unspeakable horror was in store for me and for my child.
My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. My father, too, was a survivor. He had lived through World War Two as a young child in Europe. Despite the thousands of miles and more than fifty years of time separating my family’s traumatic wartime experiences from that of Ari’s birth, I found myself reliving the trauma. It was deeply troubling and very strange.
Decades later, while I was pregnant with Ari, Danny and I watched the Holocaust movie Schindler’s List. It was awful. Of course, I knew about the horrors of the Holocaust. I had read plenty of books, heard lots of stories, some even first hand. But this movie somehow clarified the degradation, the humiliation, the slavery, and the pointless sadism that the Jews endured under the Nazis. The movie struck a deep cord in me. For days afterward I couldn’t sleep, images of the movie haunting my imagination, a feeling of fear permeating my being so completely that I didn’t know what to do. But slowly I returned to normal, and I thought I had moved past the reaction the movie had caused me.
When Ari was born, however, those feelings came back. Even as I looked around my little house in beautiful Newburyport, part of me was living in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War Two. Profound terror shook me as I gazed at my baby boy lying in his bassinet beside me, and obsessive thoughts went through my mind – what if we were being hunted? What if boots were pounding up the stairs to our room? Where would I hide? What would I do if he cried? What if I had to give him up in order to save his life?
Was it just because of what I had heard as a child that I experienced this terrible distress? Maybe. But perhaps – and I mean this literally – the horror of the Holocaust was actually in my DNA.
My family’s plight during World War Two was a story deeply rooted in my psyche…The more I considered it, the more I realized that I very much wanted to research what had happened and to put it together into a book. I felt very drawn to the tale; the story was mine as much as anyone’s.