While in college, I tutored the following subjects for two years: Anatomy & Physiology, Biology (general and Advanced), and Microbiology. Yet there is one area I was never made privy to: the timeline of the umbilical cord. Going into the last weeks of childbirthing class with my wife, I suddenly find it psychologically incommoding I never learned that following labor and delivery, the umbilical cord is not cut all the way down to the bellybutton.

Yes, all the way down to the bellybutton.

Maybe you’re like me and didn’t know this.

Or maybe you aren’t.

Suddenly, I feel like the dumbest person on Planet Earth for not knowing this.

For the last 36 weeks, I have been a bit scared of having the honor of cutting my baby’s umbilical cord.

“Who needs scissors,” I told my wife when she was around 24 weeks. “I’m using my teeth. Look at these incisors.”

Then I grabbed the air with two hands as if I was holding an invisible rope and started gnawing.

Humor comforts me in times of the unknown.

Note to future dads: Your wife probably won’t find this amusing.

What if I didn’t cut far enough and my baby had an outie? I remember back in the summer days of my youth thinking that kids at the pool with outies looked funny.

Or what if I cut too close and my baby has the ultimate innie, a three-inch deep crater that will collect lint for all eternity? All this time, I’ve been terrified I would cut the umbilical cord much too close to my baby’s stomach and cause some nightmarish infection, thus subjecting my first born to weeks of antibiotic treatment and various hypoallergenic ointments 3x a day.

All because I cut the umbilical cord too close to the bellybutton.

And it would be all because of me.

Her dad.

Her hero.

The man she would grow up idolizing and compare all men to who ultimately could never measure up .

Or at least this is what I like to tell myself.

Then I learn the real story: that after I cut the cord—not all of it, just some of it—a clamp is placed on the leftover upright noodle and remains clamped until a week or so later when said umbilical cord dries up and falls off.

“If you’re lucky,” our childbirth instructor said, “You’ll go to pick up your baby after a nice, long rest and you’ll see the umbilical cord lying there in the crib.”

Just lying there?

In the crib?

Like a fat earthworm that has baked in the hot sun?

Shouldn’t someone have sent out a mass e-mail to all expecting parents that along with taking your baby home, you also take home part of the umbilical cord?

Look, I’m not grossed out by this.

Actually, I am slightly.

But why is it I didn’t know this?

When I told my mom that Allison and I were expecting she didn’t tell me about the umbilical cord.

Neither did those Biology textbooks.

Then again, we never did get to the very end.

Science is sort of like history in that regard. You never get to the Civil Rights Movement or Vietnam, nor do you get to the nitty-gritty in concern to the timeline of the umbilical cord.

Whereas I’m the youngest of two children, my wife is the oldest of four. She knew this already. Maybe all women do. Maybe this tidbit of information is something all women receive when they get their ears pierced.

Allison’s youngest sibling is nine years younger than her.

“I remember when I was a kid, Emily [her sister] and I would go into the nursery each morning to see if Carrington’s umbilical cord had fallen off yet,” she said to me while we were eating some 80/20 Angus Beef hamburgers I’d cooked up.

“What do you mean you’d go in and see if the umbilical cord had fallen off?”

“It dries up.”

“What do you mean by ‘it dries up’?”

“It dries up and falls off.”

“Falls off?”

“Yeah, falls off.”

“The umbilical cord?”

“What did you think happened to it?”

“It stayed at the hospital . . . with the placenta.”

So let this be a lesson to all you expecting first-time fathers out there. When you go in the nursery to snatch up your baby for a good rocking and see what appears to be either a turd or a chewed up cigar in the crib, Red Auerbach has not returned from the dead and been watching over your baby at night. That’s your baby’s dried up umbilical cord stump.

And let this also be a lesson that I am apparently not the right man to talk to in regard to tutoring you for any Biology class, especially Anatomy & Physiology.

As for me, I guess it’s about time I get some shuteye. As the story goes, there isn’t much of that in my near future. But it’s all gravy.

Here’s to first time knowledge and dried up umbilical cord stumps.

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JEFFREY PILLOW is a contributing writer for The Nervous Breakdown and Hoops Addict. He lives in Charlottesville with his wife, daughter, and dog -- three separate entities. A certified basketball junkie, he also loves cheddar cheese and poorly crafted science fiction thriller films involving cold-blooded animals and bad acting. SEE Shark Attack 3: Megalodon. His work has appeared on Yahoo! Sports, USA Today, and 16 Blocks magazine et al. Visit him online at www.jeffreypillow.com.

36 responses to “The Umbilical Cord Stump”

  1. Richard Cox says:

    Just be glad you don’t have to eat the placenta.

    The 80/20 Angus beef and Red Auerbach bits are new Jeffro classics. Funny shit, man.

    • Jeffro says:

      The placenta is a whole different post. I made the mistake of viewing a live childbirth and BAM! out comes the placenta at the very end. PLOP. Projectile. Right to the tip of the bed. Totally unexpected (on my part). I remember back when I was 17, a co-worker who just had his first said to me, “Whatever you do, after the baby is delivered, DO NOT LOOK DOWN! It’s not over.” He was white as a ghost in the face recanting placenta time.

      Oh, and the Angus 80/20. You can’t beat it. Little bit of garlic powder and you’re set. Best burger you can make. Just make sure you get the Chuck. 90/10 sirloin is no good.

      And a chewed up Auerbach cigar, that’s totally how I’m visualizing what it’ll look like. Just like a Celtics Game 7 win.

  2. Zara Potts says:

    I have a pathological dislike of tummybuttons.
    I like to pretend they don’t exist. Every time I accidentally touch my own or someone else’s I feel physically nauseous. I don’t know why this is.
    Maybe it’s because when I was a baby my mother stuck a diaper pin through my tummy button by accident. I hope your baby’s umbilical cord falls off nice and easy, Jeffro. You are going to make a terrific dad!

    • Jeffro says:

      Ouch! I never thought about that. I hope I don’t poke a hole in my child putting on a diaper. I think I’ll stick with the taped ends. God bless plastic.

      Maybe there’s like a belly button phobia group you could join. You’d all set in a circle with your bellies exposed and each person would go around touching the others belly button in a clockwise fashion. Then you could do counter clockwise. I think it would be liberating.

  3. Irene Zion says:


    I didn’t know that either when I had my first baby.
    I didn’t know anything.
    The meconium poop that erupts like a volcano scared the bejesus out of us when we were changing her diaper.
    Changing diapers back then entailed huge safety pins. I was always afraid I would poke her.
    So I started wrapping her diaper up in masking tape.
    I should have patented it. We’d be on easy street.
    Sara was our experimental child, but she survived in spite of that.
    Congratulations, Pillow and wife of Pillow!

    • Jeffro says:

      I’ve heard the “teething” diapers are the worst. Apparently, it’s like the IRA did a bombing in the diaper. How are they? Tell me they aren’t bad. You can lie. Little white lies never hurt anyone.

      • Irene Zion says:


        That’s totally an old wive’s tale. Do you know how long kids are teething? They’d have grosser than usual diapers for years. Think about it. It doesn’t make any sense.
        Worry not. You will get so used to diapers that you won’t even be bothered by them.

  4. Gloria says:

    Jeffrey – this piece, as usual, cracked me the hell up.

    I knew about the umbilical cord stump. It really is very foul. I am working on a piece for TNB, as luck would have it, that mentions the dried up stump. It’s not sweet and endearing. Or funny.

    Congratulations to the Pillow family! This – and so much more – will be very exciting very soon. 🙂 Good luck, all of you!

    • Jeffro says:

      I aim to please. Plus, the lack of sleep has already sent my brain’s thoughts this way and that. I wrote this while my wife was asleep in bed snoring. That’s another thing no one tells you: that pregnant women snore like your grandmother without a CPAC machine. Thanks for the congrats. Looking forward to reading your umbilical cord story. Hopefully, our stories will spawn a TNB Theme Week.

  5. Jessica Blau says:

    Congratulations Jeffrey!

    I thought the dried umbilical stump was kinda cool (although the fathers of each of these babies would agree with Gloria–foul!). I saved them but must admit that I have since LOST them. Now that’s kind of strange isn’t it, to think of these loose dried oniony-looking things floating around the world somewhere. Maybe they ended up on someone’s Chinese Chicken salad.

    • Jeffro says:

      There’s a visual: someone chomping down on their Chinese Chicken Salad right into the heart of an umbilical cord. Mmm mmm good. Somehow I think tonight I may have nightmares like I’m on Chantix. Thanks for the congrats. It’s a very exiting time.

  6. Becky Palapala says:

    My mother saved mine.

    It’s in her jewelry box.

    My stump and my baby teeth.

    A macabre memorial to my extreme tiny human-hood.

    So weird.

    • Matt says:

      Just think, soon you’ll be able to create one of your very own.

    • Jeffro says:

      @Becky – Baby teeth I get. Baby teeth are cute. But the umbilical cord. I don’t know. Though with you saying this is in your mom’s jewelry box, it does make me wonder what an umbilical cord would look like as a bracelet or maybe an anklet. I’ve decided this is how I will keep away future potential suitors of my daughter. They will have to wear her umbilical cord anklet.

      • Tawni Freeland says:

        @Jeffrey- You could also preserve the umbilical cord stump in a clear resin necklace pendant and present it to your wife as a gift on her first Mother’s Day. If you have a death wish, I mean. Or maybe right before you exclaim, “Just kidding, honey!” and pull out the diamond tennis bracelet. (:

    • Tawni Freeland says:

      @Becky- I can’t believe your mom saved your baby teeth. She’s so brave. I frantically look away when I see a child wiggling a loose tooth. I have already informed my husband that he will be completely in charge of dealing with the loss of my son’s baby teeth when it starts to happen. I feel faint just thinking about it. Oy.

      • Becky Palapala says:

        She’s a crazy person. My mother fears nothing. I heard she killed a bear with a dirty look one time.

        I take that back. Heights. She’s afraid of heights. And foreigners.

  7. Dana says:

    I think I was a teenager when I found out about the stump. I was either babysitting or helping my mom babysit a tiny cousin. It’s skeezy. Cutting the cord is so gross to me, but of course your baby probably doesn’t want to drag that whole thing around, so I guess it makes sense. I wonder how long ago it was when we started cutting these with actual tools vs things found in nature… like teeth. 🙂

    Jessica – hahah – Chinese chicken salad!

    Becky – My mom has my baby teeth. They’re in a prescription pill bottle in the guest bathroom on a high shelf. WHY?!? If you or JPillow save the cord or the teeth, you must explain the compunction.

    • Jeffro says:

      I think you’re on to something when you say, “but of course your baby probably doesn’t want to drag that whole thing around.” Why are we cutting nature’s leash? That thing could come in handy when she’s like 16.

      “Dad,” she’ll say, “I’m taking the car over to [insert boyfriend’s name here].”

      “Oh no you aren’t young lady,” I respond, grabbing her by the umbilical cord. “You’re staying right here tonight. There’s a Matlock marathon on.”

  8. pixy says:

    i did NOT know about the stump!


    like i needed ANOTHER reason to not have kids. they just leave everything lying around don’t they?

    • Jeffro says:

      I think what adds to the horror is picturing my dog running down the hallway with the stump in her mouth at 3 AM, playing keep away. Socks are one thing. Umbilical cords. Totally different story.

  9. dwoz says:

    Just a quick note on cloth diapers.

    You’re supposed to put your fingers inside the diaper, underneath the pinning spot.

    That way you can be stupid on your own dime.

    Also, babies are not under the rule of the law of conservation of mass and energy. When you open some diapers, it’s readily apparent that there’s no possible way all of that came out of just one baby.

  10. D.R. Haney says:

    I remember being grossed out by my brother’s umbilical-cord stump when I was a child. And the word “gravy” in your penultimate paragraph here is, in the context, kind of grossing me out also, if I may say so.

    Is this the last we’re going to hear from you before the baby is born?

  11. Tawni Freeland says:

    The stump horrified me too, Jeffrey. I never knew about it before I got pregnant. I don’t remember when my son’s dropped off, however. I think I blocked it out. (:

    • Matt says:

      Given some of the things you’ve said about your kid, he may have just eaten it before either of you noticed it had happened.


      • Tawni Freeland says:

        Haha. Or maybe my little Poopcasso used the umbilical stump in the “found items” art masterpiece he created on his bedroom wall with feces.

        So proud.

  12. Matt says:

    I, for one, am glad to know there will soon be another little Pillow in the world. Body parts falling off, leper-like or not.

    My cousin came out looking like one of the California Raisins. So who knows, that umbilical chord might be the least of your concerns.

  13. dwoz says:

    The stump pales in comparison to the milk rash.

    Babies, those little cherubic chubbies with the multiple chins, have two areas under their jaw, that form pockets. The little brats tend to hold their heads forward, protecting these little voids with every ounce of their strength, which is way more strength than you imagine. When they eat, they slobber, and when they slobber, they collect that milk inside those spaces under their chins, and in a matter of a few hours it turns into a full-blown leper colony reenactment in there, replete with sloughing-off of skin, open sores, and a blinking neon “parental fail” sign. Smells great too.

  14. Judy Prince says:

    Jeffro, girl babies don’t have that vestigial umbilical stump—-only boy babies, and it dries up and drops off, though the other dangly bit usually doesn’t dry up and drop off. I thought everyone knew that.

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