Seeing spots / by Vanessa Fiola

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On the base of my son’s spine there is a faint purple spot just bigger than the size of a quarter. This spot looks like a bruise and when he was born, the midwife pointed it out. “Your son has a Mongolian spot.” I didn’t know what she meant but I was vaguely proud. Though she could have told me that he had a third ear and I would have been like, “Oh my god that’s so perfect!”

When you birth a child at home, you are required by law to take him into a pediatrician within two days of being born, presumably so that someone, er, credible can validate that you have an actual child. We chose a pediatrician mostly because of his proximity to our house, but also because he was on the list of doctors our midwife recommended.  

We made our way into the examining room and eventually Dr. Fleiss walked in. He looked about a hundred years old or at least the kind of age that you figure your midwife might have mentioned.

“What a beautiful baby you have,” he gently offered as he drew my newborn into his arms.

For those of you old enough to watch the news in the nineties, Dr. Fleiss was the father a woman who arranged prostitutes for actors and other wealthy Hollywood types. They call that profession a madam, which seems like a misnomer for a reason I can’t quite put my finger on. Her father, our new pediatrician, apparently played some role in money laundering on her behalf.

Which would surprise you if you had met him. In addition to his immeasurably kind and gentle presence, he was nothing if not unassuming. He served children of celebrities and welfare-recipients alike.

If you were to look at where Jonah’s spine begins to trail off, just above the purple discoloration, you would notice that his tailbone is dimpled. “See this,” Dr. Fleiss pointed out. “This typically closes in utero, but it eventually will.”

“And this,” he said, pointing to his spot, “this is called a Mongolian spot. You need to know that it’s normal and point it out to anyone who will be taking care of your son so they don’t think he’s been abused.”

I wanted to know how long it would be there. Not because I wanted to change even one single thing about him. He told me it would be gone by the time he was five.

Dr. Fleiss died when Jonah was eleven months old. For a couple of months, his practice fell into limbo. Eventually a woman who is head of pediatrics at an LA-area hospital purchased it. When we took him in for his first examination at the new doctor’s, a nurse looked him over.

“That’s a Mongolian spot,” I forewarned.

“Oh we don’t call it that anymore,” she said. There is nothing more horrifying to a bleeding heart liberal than the faint suggestion of being called a racist. “It’s called hyper-pigmentation now.”

I wanted to explain that I didn’t make it up, but then, never mind.

Later research would teach me that these spots are in fact normal. If you’re Asian. Or African. Or Latino. He is not. This congenital quirk—or I suppose, as some would call it, defect—makes him that much more perfect to me.