My Baby Rose Marie: A meditation on Horror Film and Spiritual Understanding

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Detail from the original cover of Ira Levin’s novel, 1967.

This is not an easy article to write… and there are many ways of getting this wrong, or misinterpreting my intentions. This is a very personal article which does somehow relate to my fascinations with diabolical horror, religion and spirituality in my personal experience; please bear with me.    –   H.B.G.

My obsession with the story Rosemary’s Baby, as popular novel and film, goes way back into my pre-teen days; and my love of diabolical and occult horror in general goes back even earlier. After a brief look at this website my profound interest in Rosemary’s Baby will become quickly obvious. I won’t try to explain this general attraction towards occult horror; but, I first ought to try to express why I think this particular story has had such a lasting and personal significance to me.

I sympathize with the character Rosemary Woodhouse because she is a Madonna figure; or maybe, at first, after the horrific revelation at the end of the story, a reluctant Madonna. She loves her unborn child and does everything within her power to protect it from a perceived threat of harm from a coven of witches. After the discovery of her baby and the revelation of it’s satanic paternity, and after the initial shock wears off a bit, Rosemary comes to accept and love the child just as she always did. As she always knew she would.images-4

This causes sympathy at the end of Rosemary’s Baby for those sensitive souls who contemplate the mystery within the story. This is the main point: the limitless reaches of Mother Love, of complete parental acceptance of a child despite it’s demonic appearance or diabolical destiny. We question if it is not in fact a happy ending, or… what?!

As a youth I felt terribly flawed, imperfect, weak, and worse than worthless. My family loved me but I was “different.” Midwest American society and religion, in the form of my Protestant upbringing in a small city, was ever quick to point out a particular damning spiritual defect I noticed within myself, a defect I was desperate to conceal as much as possible. But to broach  this topic is to open a whole other can of worms I choose not to deal with here.

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Black Sabbath album cover 1983 This image has always reminded us of this line from The Raven: “And his eyes have all the seeming, of a demon’s that is dreaming….”        E.A. Poe

That a mother or father could love such a “damned” thing despite it’s “sinful” nature flies in the face of God and becomes heresy. Therefore, I developed heretical ideas and beliefs at quite a tender age. Stand unashamedly, even defiantly, before The Almighty with your child – whatever his or her nature, is one way of looking at it. After reading and watching Rosemary’s Baby, I wanted to have a devil baby myself, a child which would otherwise be shameful or unwanted, and love it as my own, and bring it up to be whatever it was meant to be, in perfect love and understanding. Like that devil baby image I saw on junior high  classmate’s Black Sabbath t-shirts back in the eighties. I would have loved to care for Rosemary’s Baby. Now, in hindsight,  I know it was my own self I wanted to love… but couldn’t. A monstrous view of myself caused by small-minded religious trauma.

Fast forward through years of spiritual questing, learning, depression, art, a little therapy – professional or otherwise, some very strange and wonderful religious and occult experiences and wide ranging experimentation and different relationships, and I’m now a married father of two beautiful children (one boy, one girl) living in Japan, until the birth of our third child last October, just a couple days before Halloween… It seemed only natural for us to call her Rose Marie, Marie being a family name on my mother’s side, asides from the 50th anniversary of Ira Levin’s diabolical fable.

We knew Rose Marie was a girl. We knew she would be delivered via c-section just as our previous two were because that’s the way it’s done in Japan. We knew the c-section was scheduled to be October 30th – also known as Devil’s Night (natural birth would have been a week later on November 6th – my own birthday). We knew Rose Marie was destined to be a Scorpio – like her daddy. We were a little surprised when the maternity clinic staff decided to do a c-section earlier than scheduled – on the 29th – due to my wife’s condition. We blamed it on the typhoon we were experiencing. What we didn’t know and were totally unprepared for was that Rose Marie had one extra chromosome number 21, technically called Trisomy 21, commonly referred to as Down syndrome.

We were not told right away. Not sure what the standard practice is in Japan but it was two days after the delivery, on Halloween, after they unexpectedly relocated baby Rose Marie from the maternity clinic to a university hospital. Quite possibly nobody on staff wanted the burden of breaking the news to me, the father, in English. We were told there were some  concerns about our baby’s oxygen levels, but she is doing alright. I was so busy looking after my other two that my time with our newest baby those first days was very limited. I thought she looked a bit funny but I thought nothing of it since all newborns look strange.

After being admitted into the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) and washing my hands I found two serious faced doctors standing by one of a dozen or so plastic bassinets and incubators waiting to see me. The first doctor spoke English and asked me if I noticed anything different about this baby from my other two children. Somewhat bewildered, I looked at my baby and commented something about her eyes… it wasn’t possible for her to open them yet on her own, and her cheeks seeming swollen. All newborns look funny and squished after all. The first doctor (the second one didn’t speak at all, as I recall, probably not confident enough in his English ability) asked if I noticed something different about her ears, that they were set a little lower than normal. The bridge of her nose slightly squashed, a lack of muscle tone, the presence of extra skin on the back of the neck….

The word “shock” is appropriate here. You could have knocked me over with a feather were I not so numb and dumb. Did I stop breathing? I don’t remember what was said –  something about more tests being needed but that Down syndrome was likely. But that there didn’t seem to be any heart problems or other immediate concerns, and she seemed strong. The doctors faded away into the background to leave me with my baby.

“My explorations into the occult and mysticism have taught me much, one of the greatest and most persistent being to release fear and to embrace the darkness; it has so much wisdom to offer.”

I stood there in the NICU of a foreign land staring down into a plastic bassinet at a little creature resting uneasily with tubes and wires attached. Beeping, crying sounds, and staff speaking in Japanese in the background around me as they tended their precious charges. I was alone with this tremendous revelation, my wife back at the maternity clinic still recovering from c-section surgery – probably very worried. A chair was brought over and I was told to sit down.

I sat there and stared at Marie-chan. I laid my big hand lightly on her little body, above her heart; my hand covered her entire torso. I had no clue as to what to do. I was feeling a very heavy weight being dropped on my shoulders as I looked at her squished and swollen features. After a little time a nurse approached and asked if I’d like to hold her. “Can I ?” I asked, stupidly.

Can I? Can I do this?

I was so careful because of an IV tube and wires attached to monitors. So small and helpless. I held her. She was so light, so fragile. Happy Halloween, Mr Gardner. Trick or treat?

Such darkness. Such heaviness overwhelmed me. An unspeakable darkness. My hands hesitate to type for fear to implicate myself and my own dreadful thoughts. An evil born of fear and ignorance conjured the worst ideas into my head, then. Ideas masquerading as merciful, which must have been fairly common actions in the time of our ancestors a few generations back when faced with such a situation, when there were fields to till and mouths to feed and back-breaking labor and no time or economy for compassionate nursing.

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Artwork: uncredited, please enlighten us.

But this is my baby. The little Scorpio girl I’d been expecting. My little Rose Marie. Were my parents still alive how would they react? They adored their grandchildren.

I wanted to comfort the flawed and helpless little creature in my arms. She was surrounded by strangers, all good staff, I’m sure, but it’s their job. They weren’t family, and could not be completely loving, as such. They have enough to keep them busy. How to do it? I stared at the cartoon fish, frogs and animals on the walls and over at the industrial sink. I tried not to stare at the other babies in the NICU, some looked much weaker and in more need than my little one. Well, I’ve always sung to my babies, or hummed, when so small, a way of affirming to the little consciousness snuggled in my arms that a caring presence was there. But at that moment, believe it or not, I could not think of a single lullaby, not a one could come to mind or memory! My brain and tongue were frozen. Now, of course, I can list them all: Hush Little Baby, Rock-a-bye Baby, Twinkle, twinkle little star…. But nothing, not a lyric or tune came to mind.

Irony of ironies, only one lullaby came to me as I sat holding my youngest in that NICU in Osaka University Hospital: the opening and closing lullaby theme to the film Rosemary’s Baby; the “La la la la….” sung by Mia Farrow herself. I began to hum it quietly, that sad, sweet, haunting and somehow comforting tune, as I looked down at my youngest, my Rose Marie.

Link to listen:

Krzysztof Komeda – Lullaby – (Rosemary’s Baby – 1968) sung by Mia farrow

My explorations into the occult and mysticism have taught me much, one of the greatest and most persistent being to release fear and to embrace the darkness; it has so much wisdom to offer.

Under the respectfully-distant-but-ever-at-hand-presence of the NICU staff I was able to change Rose Marie’s diaper and to bottle feed her that first Halloween. I feared the bond which I felt forming. I wasn’t sure I could nurture this bond. (Can I? Can I do this?) That night, Aidan and Lily, our two others at home with my mother-in-law, danced around a candlelit Jack O’ lantern as I stared numbly at the grimacing face of the flickering pumpkin. Trick or Treat, indeed. But those first few weeks following the birth were very difficult and dark and full of a bleak sadness for us.

“We now consider ourselves lucky, blessed, chosen.”

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Mia farrow in the final scene of Rosemary’s Baby, 1968.

Fast forward to today. Rose Marie is nearly nine months old now and doing very well, despite the regular “irregular” digestive trouble common among Trisomy 21 babies. My wife and I have come a very long way since last Halloween; we have discovered a new kind of normal (whatever that means!). Rose Marie, or Mari-chan, is a special light in our lives and we cannot imagine life without her. We have reached epiphany after epiphany. About half of babies born with Down syndrome require neonatal heart surgery or some sort of digestive tract surgery. It is about a one in a thousand chance to get a baby with Down syndrome. Most do not even make it to full term and birth. We now consider ourselves lucky, blessed, chosen. Rose Marie is an angel who has enlightened our souls, and her smiles and giggles and cuddles are absolutely enchanting. She dispels the darkness and has ushered in so much light and opened us up to a wider world. It is amazing how the human heart can adapt, change, grow… how a tremendous spiritual upheaval which dashes the soul upon the rocks of harsh physical reality, shattering it apart from the frail and selfish ego, can strengthen one and raise the spirit higher.

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Me with Rose Marie

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Mari-chan

Thanks for reading.

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