Monday, October 10, 2011

I was almost a Canadian

When I hear about my birth it tends to be in terms of how I was born, and often how it contrasted with how my sister was born more than two years prior. By all accounts the births were quite different.

My sister was born so energetically no one ever believes the story. The doctor was ready to gently catch her as she came out, then she popped out with enough force to hit him in the shoulder. She fell right into his waiting hands after that so everything worked out fine.

When you're not a wide eyed child you realize that the distances involved aren't nearly as impressive as you'd first imagine when you hear about a child coming out flying. It's still enough that people don't believe it. The only time my mother ever expressed anything other than complete and adamant disinterest in birth videos was when she said that she sort of wished she had documentary evidence of how it went down, not to look at herself, just to show to the disbelieving.

If my sister's energetic theatrical birth set up expectations, I completely failed to meet them. My birth was much less eventful. I know it couldn't have been very interesting because I slept through it. My father thought I was dead when he saw my limp body. I didn't wake up until they poked me with a needle, and even then I didn't put in the effort to cry instead delivering a short sound that my father describes as, “'ey,” (sort of, “hey,” without an H.)

Those stories get focused on because in retrospect they seem bizarrely prescient, my sister was the one with the absurdly high energy, I was the quiet low energy one.

As such it sometimes gets overlooked that there was another somewhat odd thing about my birth story: I was born about a month before I was expected even though I wasn't premature. After I was born the doctor who handled the delivery told someone to tell my mother's doctor, “that he missed it and he can't count,” or something to that effect. I was a full term baby, but my parents had erroneously been told by doctors that I was one month less far along than I really was. That meant that they hadn't been acting like the birth could come at any moment. Part of that was that, apparently, that they traveled to Canada. Or at least my mother did.

I don't know the details of the trip, like I said the birth story tends to focus on me sleeping through the whole thing, but I do know that I came very close to being Canadian. Very, very close. I don't think my life would have been that different if I were. I'd still be a US citizen, I'd still live in Maine, I'm pretty sure I'd still be in the same place doing much the same things.

But I'd also be Canadian. They have birthright citizenship just like my country does, and I wonder how that would change things. This week, for the first time in my life, I thought about that in terms of national priorities in as reflected in healthcare policies. What would it be like knowing that a country I'd almost never been to thought I was entitled to proper medical care while the one I'd spent basically my entire life in thought that I wasn't?

Never asked myself that before. I doubt it would change much in terms of actual access of healthcare, I'm here not there and I'm sure I still would be were I Canadian, but it's a message that I've never thought of before and will never have to face outside of a hypothetical.

What would it be like growing up knowing the entire time that I wasn't just an American? How would it feel to be one of the mythical anchor babies that people from south of the border sneak into the north to have? (How many Americans have engaged in this sneaky process to game the system into giving their children Canadian citizenship?)

Nationality is drilled into us forever. I am an American. If I leave the country today and never return I will still be an American for the rest of my life, it's part of my identity. How would I be different if that identity also included, “and I'm a Canadian too”?

I have no idea.

I was almost Canadian. I don't have much to add beyond that.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a Canadian, although I haven't lived there in a number of years and I don't know if I'll ever make it back. You're absolutely right that nationality *is* drilled into us, not only in the sense of our own identities, but other people's as well. No matter how long I stay in the country where I live, I will never belong - in other people's opinions at least.

    I don't think that would have been the case for you, if you grew up in the US; dual citizenship would make for interesting personal trivia, but I don't think you would be significantly othered. You might be able to get discount medications, but it's possible you need to be a resident for that, I don't know.