CNF: These Little Moments

Naomi won’t remember these late nights. Her crying. Me holding her close. Us intertwined in an exchange of energy. Her face resting on my chest, breathing in my exhales. 

She won’t remember the times I’ve cried, wondering if I am a good mother. Asking myself if I’ve made a mistake. If maybe it was selfish of me to bring her here. After so many tries. If I did this because I wanted to be a mom so bad I didn’t stop to think about how my past might seep through my pores and taint the light of her beautiful soul.

Naomi won’t remember the dance parties in the middle of the living room. Dad and I wiggling around like boneless chickens. Her doing that weird hua-hua-hua noise, bouncing up and down in a deep squat that will one day give her power quads. The music blaring from speakers she stares at with wonder and admiration. 

He and I talk about this on occasion. How these beautiful moments will one day fade into the back of our memory boxes, only thought of as “Do you remember that one time when…wait, how did it go?”

The way her small feet patter across the floor when she’s chasing after you. Trying to move faster than you so you don’t leave her behind. Two fingers stuck in her mouth, grinding on flesh and bone and creating calluses. 

She’ll never remember the days when I’m staying up late studying or sitting at my desk, as I am now, writing at 3:30 am. The partition I created from an old fashion board blocking her from the light from my computer, and the overhead bulbs. Noise-canceling headphones on my head, one pushed off an ear just in case she cries. My phone across the room playing Nature Sounds for Meditation and Sleeping. Artificial Rain. Soothing thunder. The knocking of Native American drums. 

Sometimes I wonder if it matters. If any of this matters. I wonder if in 5 years, 10 years, more years, I’ll care whether she remembers this time. Or if I want to pick and choose what she remembers.

Is it the best memories I want her to have? A mix of the best and the worst? Only the ones in which I’ve sacrificed? Those times when my guy gets home from working a double – exhausted – because he’s supporting his woman’s dreams while taking care of his family?

I also wonder if maybe it happens this way because these years are not about her remembering. These years are for us. My guy and I cuddling in bed, giggling, our knees touching, hands tickling. Whispering loudly, hoping to steal a few moments before the baby wakes up or goes to sleep or finishes her bottle. 

It would be interesting to find these moments are less about Naomi – seeing her parents as they were before they became the people who “always tell her what to do” – and more about me discovering the strength to stay up late to write my books, or study, or take exams because I want my days to be filled with baby giggles and walks. Or daddy, working doubles and coming home to hold her in his arms. Her dropping everything she’s doing to sprint across the room and throw something at him. Her ‘hi, I’m so excited to see you, daddy. Here’s my favorite toy of the day’. 

I wonder if these small moments that remind us to hold on through the money troubles, or stay strong through a pandemic, or unite ahead frustrations are just for us. 

Now that this realization unfolds as I write this I feel a cathartic release. That I shouldn’t be so afraid or worried about what she’ll remember. That I’ll enjoy this just for us. And what will come; may. 

I must let it may.

CNF: I Miss My Mommy

I have struggled this year and I feel the only way to get this out of me is to….get the words out. This piece has eaten away at me and the only way to make it stop was to write it. So here it is.

I miss my mother. 

The way she wrapped her arms around me and her plush body covered mine, suffocating me. But it was all okay because there was warmth there, in the folds of older black woman body. The way I would cry and she would say, “Come here, tell me what’s wrong?” even though she knows what’s wrong because she already told me that boy wasn’t right or that girl wasn’t my friend or that jesus loves me even though I’m selfish and stubborn and angry and mean and I don’t like to listen.

I miss my mom.

The way she would stretch out on the couch, with socked feet tucked into the crack between the cushions. Her knees stacked, legs innocently and sanctimoniously closed. A small table before her dangerously balancing laptop, coffee mug, keys, lipstick, the black stick that looks like lipstick but it really covers grey hairs, rattail comb for scratching beneath wigs (or hairpieces?), piles of junk mail never thrown out, a few dollars to give temptation to wandering foster hands, and the computer mouse.

The way she would fall asleep, mouth slightly opened. How I would whisper just loud enough to be heard but quiet enough not to waken: “Can I go to the library please?” and when the grunt sounds like yes, dart out of the house so fast with my bag for appropriate books on top – that also hides lustful romances and murderous mysteries in the bottom. The way she would come darting after me, some hours later, because I’ve forgotten myself between the pages of adventure. Her Navigator squealing around the corner and slam stopping in front of the building. Because “never ask me questions when I’m sleeping”.

How she would wait for me to exit and unlock the doors when I notice it’s her. My head falling forward, my shoulders dropping. And I push the bag down, down, down, between the seats, beneath my feet, hoping the devil’s literature won’t be found. The way she told me to open it up, and the tears filled my eyes, and I reached down into embarrassment hoping the first, second, and third book I pulled out was the innocent Christian series. There it is, with her watchful eye. One, Christy, Two, Christy, Three…Robin Jones Gunn, the tale of Christy. 

I miss my mommy. 

The way she didn’t call me after I nearly died in childbirth. How she didn’t send words of wisdom, or half-listened-to prayers, or didn’t offer to come down to be with me as I spiraled into the depression of someone going home to place they were once deliriously happy. Doors reminding you of hellos and goodbyes. Beds reminding you of the roll-up you no longer have to do because you’re belly is empty. The wine you can now drink collecting dust on counter. 

How those hours in the hospital – doctors pulling at the placenta stuck to my uterus while trying to stop the blood from gushing, gushing, gushing – nurses whispering “you’re fine, you’re fine, you’re doing amazing” while I tried to be still despite the pain – my guy’s face above me worrying – waiting on a call from my mommy. Waiting to discover how we got here.

How that one time, when the angry black lady ran the stop sign and hit me with her truck, she came to the hospital to see me. How she brought daddy and they held my hands, the only parts of me they were allowed to touch. Telling jokes despite the fact my neck hurt, and my back hurt, and my foot hurt, and my eyes hurt when opened and hurt when closed. My daddy driving me to and fro doctor’s appointments and the chiropractor to fix my back. Mommy holding my hair as I puked or wiping my drool because the Vicodin had my brains unspooling into my soup or cleaning my kitchen because I could barely walk. 

The way she said “you expect too much out of me as a mother” when I had just lost my baby. Lost my third baby. The one the doctors swore would make it – the repeating ultrasounds, the blood tests, the sweet thump thump thump of a beating heart, the tiny nose nuzzling against my womb. How maybe after the first loss no one cares anymore and you’re expected to suffer in the silence you should’ve kept in the first place. The way I asked for space, knowing I couldn’t deal with the loss of another tiny soul that was half me and the anger at my mother for listening. And after many years of her ignoring my cries for love, comfort, and a closer bond, she finally listened. Those months were lonely. Long and lonely and motherless. 

I miss my mum. 

The way she said “I knew you’d grow up to be an amazing writer” years and years and years after she told me “Writers don’t make any money, you need to do something that will get you paid”. To which I replied with an acceptance to a Master’s in Architecture program that ate my soul. That ate my time. That ate my creativity. That ate my confidence. That ate my joy.

The one that ended when that boy I swore was my friend held me down. And slapped. And kissed me. And pulled at my lip with his teeth like a lover’s kiss. And how I thought of her when I froze, there beneath his weight. His eyes on mine, clear as day. Smiling, caressing the fear in me, pulling at it until I slapped at his shoulder, and then at his back, then punched at his head. How I knew if I told her, she’d blame me. “Don’t let these boys in, you don’t want to be a slut” I knew she’d say, because jesus doesn’t love sluts. It’s only god who loves everyone. And he’s not listening.

How I walked the dorms a ghost of myself, his eyes on mine in the elevator as we rode in silence. The way he smirked at me, turning until I could see his whole face – not the one he always wore but the one he had only shown me. Classes become beds, textbooks like expensive paperweights on the window ledge, grades dropping, dipping, spiraling until the scholarships were gone and the money dried up.

How she said “If you don’t want to be a part of this family you don’t have to be” when I finally worked up the courage to call, much later. And how it still took years to tell her what happened, to which she replied “well, why did you have boys in your room?”

I miss her, my mother. 

The way I showed her my first nonfiction publication hoping she would say she was proud, although I tried not to care. When I sent the links to my blog, and the photos of my work in print, and the happy texts that really asked if she still loved me. If anyone back home still loved me. The way auto-sent generic replies stuck to my stomach in a sickening thick that had me heaving, no I’m not pregnant, just grieving.

The way I shared my emotions, in the spirit of confident adulthood, and they mattered not. How I cried and I cried, and I piled my limbs into bed tight to my chest, shoulders shaking like they do in the movies, snot clogged nostrils, my guy at feet, rubbing my back, at the loss of my mother. The way her headstone lives in Missouri, walking and talking and judging and living happily, rent free in my head. 

How I thought once I became a mother to a sweet, happy, healthily living baby, it would bring us closer. The way Naomi wraps her arms around me, asking me with those eyes – to heal. My eyes filling with tears because while I worked so hard to be a good adoptive daughter, an honest, trustworthy, dependable daughter, no one had taught me how to be a mother.

How she might call and say the things that need to be said without conditions for her love. That she’s sorry. Truly, irrevocably sorry. How she sees what I’ve grown up to be. That she would see the nurturer in me, the mistakes I seek to correct, the fear I want to quell, the fostered abandonment I hold in my heart, and know that things could be different now. But knowing she won’t.

I miss my mother. 

But it hurts. Despite everything, I fall on this pain knowing it holds me captive. Knowing that letting go and releasing are two different things. Because I not only miss the mother she could’ve been but also, the one she was to me. 

A Brief Analysis of “Overpass” by Ada Limón

I greatly related to the poetry collection The Carrying, by Ada Limón. I understood her struggle with conceiving and reproduction, as I’ve had my own losses, and that connection with death is prevalent throughout each poem. The strongest of poems, and with many layers, is a reflection from years past.

In Limón’s “Overpass”, there’s a subtle reference to how proximity to death allows you to reevaluate your life and see how death intrudes in even the smallest moments. “I don’t think I worshipped/ him, his deadness, but I liked the evidence/ of him, how it felt like a job to daily/ take note of his shifting into the sand” shows an almost morbid fascination with how things change. An obsession with how death changes you and how you see the world. Initially, there’s an unadulterated curiosity about the world and its possessions. The search for “a bottle top, a man’s black boot, a toad” and then, without much effort on the narrator’s part, the inevitable find of death and transformation. 

This change is also alluded to in the first line when the narrator says “the road wasn’t as hazardous then”. On first pass, this line could be read as literal change, a time before new construction in the town. It could also be deeper, referencing a time when the narrator was innocent, before she experienced death and loss, and before the roads to healing and understanding (the whys of it all) were less “hazardous”. I don’t think it too far of a reach to interpret how the narrator’s “bendy girl body” was once pliable, before it failed or experienced the overhaul of adulthood and the risks of pregnancy and miscarriage. It feels that there, through language and imagery, the narrator discovers a monotonous connection with how one might “check on [him] each day” as you would a fetus, at risk of being unborn.


Usually, I am not a poetry reader, but this collection and how someone who has been through what I’ve gone through “carries grief” drew me in. I hope to share more thoughts with you as I read more of The Carrying.

Link to “Over Pass”

Good Readdance,
Jade

P.S. I initially wrote this for a very short essay for my Hispanic Women Writers course but continued it into a blog post because I felt connected to it? I’m not sure. But I hope you follow the link and read the poem and enjoy it, and The Carrying, as much as I did. If you are interested in reading more posts like this just let me know. I never know these days!

P.S.S. As I have the book and didn’t take this from the link, here’s the citation.

Limón, Ada. “Overpass.” The Carrying, Corsair Poetry, 2018, pp 38.

I Am You and You Are We

An Ode to Baby Naomi Kai

 

 

When I touch my lips to your soft cheek I think of how I’m kissing myself.

Those cheeks are mine, girl

They puff out so big in smile or pout

and that nose

That nose is mine too, with tiny nostrils round and perfectly tucked in brown skin

and those eyes, the way they slant, they are mine too.

Although that color comes from daddy

the way it’s brighter in the sun when you turn your face up to mine.

 

When I look down at you I want to kiss those eyelids with their whisper thin skin,

how they reflect me, and tear

and light up when you see me

and that forehead, I can’t lie, It’s all daddy.

It’s wide and big and will one day be called a fivehead and yet, I kiss it too

But when I press my lips to your crown I know that hair is all mine.

The silky smooth brown, the rust red, the blonde at your temples and at the tips of your lashes 

and the blonde at the nape of your neck that’s barely there – slowly turning to night.

And your ears, your ears are mine, the way they hug against your skull to burrow closer to your thoughts.

 

When I touch my lips to your shoulder to smell your sweet breast milk scent

I think of how you’re like my elbow

So close to me and yet so far away

So vital to me, the hinge that pulls love closer, holds love tight

Because you are me, when I kiss you.

You came from me and yeah, your daddy too

And I wonder if it means he pecks against my cheek when he’s kissing you.

 

When I grab your thighs to pinch them for giggles you’re all me

They are thick like mine and taper into strong little legs that are mine too

with defined baby calves.

And those feet, I kiss your toes one at a time because each one is as adorable as the next, 

But, sweet thing, they are your daddy’s feet and I’m just so sorry.

Square and thin, with long nails that curl slightly under, and straight across from big to pinky

How’d you get those toes, girl? All daddy-like and strong.

When I push a finger into your bloated belly you giggle and slap my hands away.

Then grab to pull me closer because you aren’t sure what you want

and that’s all me too

Because of you I have a little belly, too. One daddy used to rub when you were in there

Kicking and punching and asking to come out to play.

So our bellies are the same but, curse the nurses from the day you were born, that belly button is all daddy

It looks like a button, one we shined smooth because we thought a quarter would help with the shape.

And when you walk around poking it in, sticking it out, chattering to yourself,

we laugh to think of all the coins we could’ve saved.

 

When I say ‘kisses’? You lean forward and open your mouth wide

And we dodge, side to side, hoping to not receive slobber for our time

And you catch us every moment with a swipe of the tongue.

Because you are all me and you love love

You want to get closer to me, crawl into me, get beneath my skin,

to hold your arms around my throat and lie your head on my shoulder. 

Which you have of mine too, the stocky build of my body, the lack of feminine curve,

And you press tear streaked cheeks to mine, then you smile and wipe that momma’s nose against my neck.

And I pat your booty, your poor flat booty

Girl, I’m sad to say that’s mine too.

But it’s okay because I love everything about my body.

Which means, my dear girl, that

I also love everything about you.

CNF: 3 Diary Entries from Early COVID-19

My musings from the first three days in Louisiana: when things were shutting down in Florida due to the virus and my guy wanted us to get out of the big city and take refuge in the country. We ended up staying for 6.5 weeks.

 

 

Day One 03/22/2020

 

It’s weird being a guest in someone’s home for an undisclosed amount of time. You open your car door – every space is messily packed with canned goods and spice jars and little girl socks – and step out in unfamiliar territory. 

They ask ‘need help with anything’ as if they are true bellmen. Waiting for you to unleash your bags on them, along with a flurry of ones or fives for their good service. 

You shake your head no and shyly look away because how do you tell someone who is so graciously opening their home to you that you don’t want to stay. You don’t want to unspool your hastily packed belongings because it is the last signifier that you will not be going home – to your safe space – anytime soon. You don’t want to appear ungrateful so you ask ‘meaningful’ questions like “do you mind if I use this space” – despite it being obvious that they cleared it out just for you. 

You don’t want to appear bothersome so you stumble over phrases like “no rush” and “hey, if you don’t mind, can I…” and “I’m going to be doing __insert random activity here __” because you don’t want them to think you’re hiding in your room.

Which you are. You don’t mean to but the pungent smell of wet walls mixed with summer heat and spring rain doesn’t bode with the weed they’ve taken up in the living room. And you have the baby to think about, of course.

They did ask “hey, do you mind if we smoke in here? If the baby is in there?” they point to your jail, I mean room, and with your eyes you follow their finger to the closed door that protects your tiny human. 

You prefer they not. You hate the smell. Despite having done it yourself, you can’t imagine making it a daily, weekly, or even monthly affair if you were back home when life was normal. The smell sticks to you like glue. Permeates your dreadlocks, that are already judged for being what they are – and no matter how many detoxes, oils, or deep conditions you do you can’t get that smell out before an interview.

You say yes, they can smoke, and you move to the protection of the door just to turn the knob, reassuring yourself that it’s all going to be alright. 

Everything will be fine, as always. But everything will not be fine. Or always. 

Day Two 3/23/2020

“Be careful, it’s spicy,” she says as you spoon some veggie soup from your plate onto Baby’s tray. You tell her it’s fine but make sure to cut everything into small pieces to make sure Baby doesn’t get too much heat at once. 

You should’ve known. She’s white. She doesn’t really understand what ‘heat’ is. It’s definitely stereotypical of her but also stereotypical of you to think so. 

When you eat it you blow, there’s some steam coming from each bit of potato, bean, meat, and carrot. The soup is a rusty red and it is clean of food bits or spice or debris. This is the first indicator of the whiteness. 

Anytime you cook anything there’s going to be something to it, you think. Something that shows you’ve put your foot in it. It sounds judgy, you might apologize if you had said the words out loud. It’s not her fault, and not completely true with all white people. But there’s a tug of war going on between you and her. You don’t mean anything by it. No malice. There’s nothing behind this struggle – at least for you.

She is used to being the woman of the house. So are you. She’s used to her way of cleaning, straightening, and vacuuming. She’s surely to be offended if you do something against her ways, because when you’re the woman of the house you rule with an iron fist. And it’s not always with a spatula. But there’s two of ya’ll now. And you are just the guest. So, when you see her kitchen and the way she likes to leave it you try your damndest to keep it that way. 

After you cook your food, chicken thoroughly marinated, cut, skin cripsed, meat juicy, corn on the cob slick with butter and garlic, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, and rice seasoned with the same, you make sure to tell her ‘I’m going to clean this…I just wanted to let the oil cool first”. 

She smiles and says “ok” as if she had no idea why you were telling her. Basking in the pretense of innocence. But you both know had you left those dirty pots, staining the oven with their orange and black oil sports, she would’ve been angry. 

You might not have seen the consequences. Maybe she would hold that irritation, that small showing of power, close to her chest until one day she explodes with a fire so hot you’d lose your eyebrows. You don’t know because she is a stranger to you, and you to her.  

So, there it is. The power struggle that happens anytime you wake up in a home that is not yours, on a bed you didn’t buy, to the chirping sounds of nature you, and your Midwestern background, are no longer accustomed to due to your 5 year stint in florida. 

But you’ll try. Everyday. You’ll be grateful and gracious. Honest and excited. Content and overwhelmingly sensitive to the needs of others. Because that’s all you can do, to keep from crying. 

 

Day Three 03/24/2020

 

Today has been weird for you. Parts of you wanted to stomp your foot like a child and yell “you aren’t my __. I want to go home!” but you don’t. 

Another part of you wants to be grateful, is grateful, for the time away from the city. You are taking advantage of not having cell-service, the bars that only reach one dot, the smell of fresh air, neon green trees, cloudy (and matter of fact, quite gray) skies and cool nights. 

You appreciate the way Louisiana makes you feel. Big fish, little pond. You think of future days where you might have enough money to contemplate buying that little house next door – white with a coat of green vines and brown sludge. The owners have neglected it. You wouldn’t. You’d take that extra acreage and put together a beautiful herb garden, have a small pond, and windows filled with vining houseplants. And you would take in that stray you found yesterday while getting the stroller out of the car.

You had decided it was time to get out of the house and see nature up close. After packing her into her carseat, you sat the baby on the sidewalk to rest. As you struggle with the mechanics of the compact Hyundai, still packed with all that are important to you, you see a bright tuff of white and brown streak through your vision. 

You didn’t know what it was but it scared you. You sprinted around the car and reached the baby at the same time as a gaunt, swift footed Beagle. It stuck its nose into the baby’s personal space and you screamed out ‘Hey!’ with a voice so hoarse it felt like you never used your throat before. 

The Beagle, Doggy as you will call him, slinks away possibly afraid of you and what you might do to him. You don’t lash out, he seems nice, but you stand like a sentry in front of the tiny human tucked into her carseat. 

Two, three, four times he tries to nose in to see the tiny human. She giggles at his attempts and you can’t help but stare down at her with love in your eyes (because while the world is ending it feels great to see she is none the wiser and happy). Then, when he realizes it’s a pipe dream, he slinks away to the back of the car. You follow him and grab this and that before returning to unleash the stroller from the front seat. 

Doggy follows you on your walk. It’s trying, yelling at him to keep out of the road, but you love it. You love every bend in the road, the smell of air unpolluted, the chirp of birds, the loud barks quickly followed by the cackling irritation of chickens. You love the tiny yellow flowers, growing along the road, that you zoom into with your camera and shoot at different exposures to get the color quite right. 

So you’ll take in that dog for the time you’re stuck in Louisiana, due to the virus. And you’ll let him roam with the freedom he always has, but he’ll stick close. Chomping your scraps thrown out the back door, and barking at intruders, or birds, or squirrels, or anything really.

But you don’t mind. You love this space outside the city. It’s only taken a few days to change your mind about this place. You still don’t want to be here but you aren’t afraid to be here. And you wonder about the significance of this. 

That’s what you think when pondering the house next door to your temporary stay. How you want to go home but one day, you’d think you’d actually want to stay. 

 

***

When your guy arrives on that third day -shortly after you because he had been stubborn and stayed in the city despite the frantic shopping and the terrified winding lines of traffic – you read him the entries from Day One and Day Two. He doesn’t get it. 

He brought you out here, knowing you didn’t want to come – despite the dangers of a city during an outbreak. He made you drive 20+ hours across three states, after having only 2 hours of sleep the night before. Struggling to drive and keep an eye on the sleeping baby, and you’re crying on the floor of Walmart because everything is closed and you can’t find any place to pump breastmilk and dammit, your breasts hurt and there’s no relief and you’re the only one on the road, and you don’t want to be driving here anyway.

He told you – after your hosts were nowhere to be found – to just find any place to sleep. With the baby. He said “I’m sorry baby, I feel so bad,” so many times you wanted to wring his neck. He also told you to go into the major city, when all other places were closed down. The place is so empty it feels like an intrusion just to drive on the streets. It’s sickening, you feel, to see a place so normally filled with verve and pulse to be so still. 

Dead.

That’s what it feels like. Like that scene in the movies and shows when everyone has either been killed by Zombies or forced out into the country. That moment when the hero, or anti-hero, wakes up from his coma, or breaks out of jail cell, or finds a way out of the pine box and stumbles onto a desolate place. He looks in all the corners for answers. Searching for friends, family, and hell, even food. He jumps at a sound, or two, from a nearby alley and discovers it’s just his shadow moving, fighting, pulling him back, silently screaming “get out of here” or “danger ahead”. 

Then the Zombies unleash. And he’s running. Sprinting. His legs moving faster and pushing harder and covering more ground than ever before. 

And then there is no ground. And he’s jumping, climbing, clamoring really. Praying anyone will save him or fight for him or offer their services in exchange for a boon, predetermined or foreshadowed by someone else earlier in the show or movie.

And then he’s free, but not free. He’s out of danger but now there’s another danger. And this isn’t from the Zombies or other mutated beings. This is from those that look like him. Those who would kill you over toilet paper in the grocery store. He must be strong and alert and sharp at every turn. Lest he die. 

You think of all this while getting the baby out of the car at an overpriced hotel and creeping to the door. Watching every shadow as you move. You think ‘I’m alert. I’m awake’ even though it’s been days since you’ve seen a full night’s sleep. You look left and right, although you can clearly see there are no Zombies in suits, holding briefcases here. 

But you do wonder ‘where the hell is my hatchet?” because you’re you and of course you bought one to bring to this place you’ve never been before. 

*** 

Anyway, so you read these entries to him, from the previous two days, and all he – who made you feel all that – can only say in response “I don’t get it. Why is it in 2nd person? It really just sounds like you’re complaining about not wanting to be here” – quoted directly from his perfectly pouting mouth that you sometimes want to slap him in. Because of times like this.

You feel upset, on the cusp of anger, because he knows you don’t want to be here. Why is that a surprise? No offense to your hosts – they are actually very nice. He also knew that you actually meant ‘what did you think’ in a literary sense. Does it flow? Am I crazy? Are my thoughts cohesive? Am I a good writer? Can you tell me something that is real? Are we going to be okay? Will the baby have a future? Will I get to publish anything or will I die before I get the chance? What do you really think? What do you honestly think?

As a writer, there are so many layers to ‘what did you think’ and these layers go even deeper depending on the tone and cadence of the voice when asking. So, you are upset. You try to explain in a deep monotone voice. You tell him what it ‘means’ even though you didn’t want to have to explain. You just wanted him to get it. Fucking get it. 

So, then you wonder if there are only two possibilities. Either: “I am a shitty writer” or “he’s just not my audience”. Which is it? Which one is it? 

Although in this place, stuck in a world that is not ours, during an unexpected time, fearing for our lives and that of our daughter, wondering if this will be The Stand or Pandemic or Station Eleven or The Strain and unsure if we’ll ever be able to go home, I know one thing. Those are not the questions I really want to ask. There’s only one. I really want to know if, in the midst of all this, we will survive. 

 

CNF: Revision of Child-Like Dreams

Note: I decided to revise the Child-Like Dreams essay from my reflection assignment for University. I felt that due to the overwhelming reaction from my peer reviews – how everyone seemed confused and stated it was all over the place – that this would be the best course for growth and revision. I’ve completely reworked the idea of the piece so that it focuses on one topic and one reason for change. I changed the tone and wrote from the heart. I hope you all can understand this one better than Child-Like Dreams. 

 

New Title: Gratitude

In 2018, I almost died during childbirth. My waters had broken at 15 weeks pregnant and I had been told by every doctor that the baby would die. They told me there was nothing I could do. I took to research, as I do with my novels, and I discovered support groups tooting the slogan ‘Where There’s A Heartbeat, There’s Hope’. I decided to try and see if I could make it further along with the pregnancy. When I was 19 weeks my water broke again and I went into labor. I’ve written about those moments on my blog, on Youtube, on Facebook, on Twitter, everywhere that I think could help other women who have gone through the same experiences: sharing my tale of pain, fear, terror, and eventually anger, regret, distrust in god, and self pity and how it translated to healing, trust, optimism, honesty, and more. What I never wrote about is gratitude. 

Sometimes, there are small moments that truly change our lives. When thinking of an event, that was the catalyst for change, I thought of so many that I piled them all into one essay. As peer reviews were correct in saying, it felt disjointed, much like life itself, and I knew that further reflection was needed. Through introspection, I was reminded of gratitude and what it does for your soul, how it heals your heart, and how it can change your life.

After my near death experience (the placenta had been stuck because I didn’t fully dilate; I began to bleed out on the table, and had to be rushed to the OR for surgery) I sunk into a deep depression. My adoptive mother, who had always been a killer of hopes and dreams, had abandoned me in my time of need. Saying ‘you expect too much out of me as a mother’ when I simply wanted a phone call after losing another baby. My guy was dealing with his own grief, and being filled with shame, I didn’t want to hurt him with my pain. My friends were all having healthy babies, even the ones who hated children. My coworkers pelted me with “I’m sorry”s and “you’re still a mom”s and “at least you can have more children”s. There was no happiness, no baby, and nowhere to turn. 

Then my guy said the same thing he had told me after our first pregnancy loss. “You need to find something that you love and just do it, I’ll help you do anything you want but you’ve got to get out of bed.” At first, I was angry and I lashed out at him. “You don’t understand. She was healthy! She was healthy and my body killed her, failed her.”

I remembered my child-like dreams. I remembered what I always wanted to be. A Writer. Not just a writer but a professor. As a child, I would daydream about standing in the front of the room, at University, with a messenger bag, students with open minds about creative writing, and a notebook filled with ideas and inspirations from all walks of life. I dreamed of having a cabin where I could escape the world, and its tragic intricacies, and write novels. I also wanted an apartment in the city where I could live when doing readings and signings at bookstores for all my bestselling works. Boy, wasn’t I ambitious.

I laughed when I told my guy about this dream I had since I was seven and how it had been derailed by all of those who told me ‘writing isn’t a profession’ or ‘writer’s don’t make any money’. I laughed when I said “How funny would it be if I actually went back to school. Enrolled at University over ten years later. Got my degree, went to graduate school, became a professor, published articles, books, and went to signings and writer’s conferences…”. I laughed. It was incredulous because I was a broken, motherless woman who couldn’t get out of bed. Who still hugged her empty belly at night and smiled during the phantom kicks. Who had no money and hadn’t written in a year. 

“Do it, then,” my guy said. A slogan for the man, if he ever had one. He’d always been supportive of my hopes and dreams. Always pushing me to be better than I am. Always right there when I’m too afraid to just jump in. 

“Ok,” I remember saying. Not in agreeance, but in a snarky way that accompanies an eye-roll and a long sigh that says ‘you aren’t even listening’. Later, I took to research, as I always do, and discovered that with grants, light loans, and a structured schedule I could afford to go back to college and finish what I started. I could enroll: get my degree, go to graduate school, become a professor, publish articles and books, and go to signings and writer’s conferences and, and, and… Then I got out of bed. I took a shower. I made myself, and my guy, a huge breakfast – which I hadn’t done in a long while. I cleaned my apartment and took the pain medicine that helped my body recover. Then, after fighting myself over the decision, my resolve won. I enrolled.

That time, when I almost lost my life, was one of the hardest I’d ever endured. I wanted to keep that inside me, that anger and pain and shame, but I couldn’t. I was grateful for the change. How it woke me up inside and gave me renewed passion about writing, literature, and all things “words”. Gratitude let me know that I am much stronger than I thought. I didn’t need a toxic family to remind me of what I’m not. I didn’t need coworkers to feel sorry for me. I didn’t need to hide my pain from my guy, he was healing too and that was something we needed to get through together, again. I didn’t need to feel ashamed for what my body failed to do. I needed to make myself happy and do whatever would help me achieve that.

I was grateful for what came out of a hard time. I was grateful that I was finally back on track with my childhood dreams. That my soul was no longer crushed. Now, years later, I write this essay for an University course assignment with a smile on my face, with journals piled around me filled with writings from the last few years, and my healthy, sleeping baby in my arms and I feel gratitude. 

CNF: The Times I’ve Lied

I lied when I told my guy I wouldn’t buy any more plants. I knew that I would. That plants make me so happy when they are growing, when they are dying, when they are in my apartment. I lied when I said I would empty the porch and remove the plants that were dying and not replace them with more. I lied when I told him that it was just a phase, before it became a ‘fad’ for everyone else. In reality, I had always wanted them, it just made me nervous to kill yet another plant. Turns out, I was just lazy before and I didn’t admit to myself that I needed to study this subject like any other hobby or skill.

 

I lied to my mother on the phone the last time I talked to her. And the time before that. And the time before that. She didn’t ask me any questions, not really, but I lied all the same. I didn’t tell her how she hurt me, how she made me angry, how I forgave her, how I couldn’t forget, how I often spent time wishing she would treat me better. I lied because I didn’t want to start an argument. I lied because I was afraid to not have a mother anymore. I lied because a motherless world is a scary place and here, I’ve had two chances and they both were a flop and maybe I’m the problem, anyway. Turns out, a motherless world is less scary when a toxic relationship is gone.

 

I lied to the cashier at Joann’s when she asked me if I had coupons. I didn’t, though I said I did, and then I stood there pretending to pull them up on my phone while I was busily googling “Joann’s + Coupons” and hoping I could catch something on accident. I was told “Never go into Joann’s without a coupon” by some rando on Twitter and it saved me $30 last time. Well, nothing worked. Turns out, the coupons only work if you have the app downloaded. 

 

I lied to my guy when I told him that I was worried that I am not a good mother. I love my daughter, and give her as much light, love, and all the kisses I can every single day. I would protect her with everything that I am, with my life if I have to. I make sure she is fed and have sacrificed much to have her. Nearly my life. I lied because I am not as worried about being a good mother as I am at simply being a horrible and useless human being. Can I be both at the same time? Turns out, there are many layers to life and I am not my mother. 

 

I lied to my writing group on Twitter when I said I was working on something good. It’s all trash. Half the time I bang out 10,000 words in one sitting and stumble over the keys because the words flow from me like a luminescent river of god’s tears. The other half I sit clicking my fingertips on the keys, switching back and forth between social media accounts and my empty google docs, hoping that one day I’ll get rich from this gig so that I can provide for my family, so I can achieve my dreams, so I’m not completely wasting my life away. Turns out, most writers do this but that little fact doesn’t make me feel any better.

 

I lied to the insurance company when they asked me if I could pay the $280 to pay for my bill by July 27th. I said no. I do have the money. What they didn’t ask me is if I could “afford” to pay the $280 to pay for my bill by July 27th because honestly, no. As my guy is still waiting on his job to reopen, maybe not for months, and our savings are dwindling and death awaits us outside the doors, and there’s no telling when we’ll be making steady money again: I will continue to lie. I’d rather spend that money on food so we don’t starve, or rent so we aren’t evicted, or utilities so we aren’t in the dark, or hygiene products so we remain healthy, than to spend it on a car I can’t drive to places I can’t go. Turns out, gas is cheap when one tank lasts you over a month.

 

I lied when I told Naomi I was going to bed. Even though she can’t understand me with her baby ears, I try to be honest with her as much as I can. I wanted time to myself, in my own space, lying naked on the bed in spread eagle while watching shows I’ve already seen because I’m happiest in that comfort zone. When my guy went up to play his game, I told him and the baby that I was going to take a nap and I went and basked in some me time that wasn’t Mommy or Honey time. Turns out, it feels good to just lie on the bed and air dry after a long rejuvenating shower.

 

I lied anytime that I’ve ever told anyone that I’m a good listener. I’m not. I’m trying very hard to be and I spend time practicing listening while I’m supposed to be listening and what if they ask me a question and I’m not sure what they’ve said because I spent the entire time thinking of what I can say back. When people are talking, especially about themselves, there is usually a montague of times when I’ve said the wrong thing flying through my head and I begin to create a list of “hmmhmmm”s or “yes, I know you feel like that but what if”s that would suffice. Also, I’m guilty of being the person who thinks of what I’m going to say when you take a breath to let me speak and then when I do I never take a breath to let you speak. I wonder if it has something to do with continuously being told to be quiet as a kid, that nothing I ever had to say matters because I wasn’t an adult, or feeling like my voice was never heard and so I try to get every thought out that I can before the topic moves on and whew….a breath should be taken there. Turns out, therein lies the point. 

 

I lied when I told a writing friend group I’m in that I removed myself on accident. It wasn’t true. I left because they are amazing. They are doing big things and they are banging out words on laptops that turn into deals that become books you can hold in your hands. I lied because although I have some essays published I feel like I am nothing in comparison. That my writing is so far beneath theirs that when they ask for advice or a writing buddy I wonder ‘what in the hell could they learn from me’? I lied because sometimes I’m embarrassed in the glow of their light but I also wanted back so bad because I knew I just wanted to be a part of the crew even if I didn’t measure up. Even now, I write this wondering if any of them will take the time to read this and call me out for the phony that I am and kick me out for good because that’s the luck that I have. But…I have to be truthful about the times that I lied. Turns out, I might just be going somewhere with this lies thing.

 

I lied when I said the truth will set you free. Turns out, nothing sets you free more than revealing your lies. 

 

 

CNF: Child Like Dreams

Title: Child-Like Dreams

I’ve always had big dreams. When I was a child, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I often tell people that the years in between were lost years when I let others tell me what’s best and that I’m finally back on track. It’s true. I wrote my first story when I was seven years old and I knew I wanted to become an author. In high school, I let my parents convince me to change my mind. My mother always knew I loved to write but told me those were child-like dreams. Childish dreams. She said I needed to do something that made money and that “writer’s don’t make money, they struggle, and they can barely pay their bills” and with my soul beaten down, The Great Change happened: I went to school for architecture.

After steps taken backward, and some forward, I found myself 10 years later without a degree, in a new state, fortunately estranged from my family, and unsure of my future and the goals therein. I thought, “why not?” Then there I was, enrolling in school to pick up with the child in me left off: Back at University to become a writer.

Recently, I wrote a piece for an University magazine titled “10 Years Late to University: I don’t Belong Here But I Belong Here” about my experience with being a new mother as well as being a student again, after years in the workforce. It mostly covered my emotions after I enrolled, I had completely overlooked the rest of the story. The Beginning.

When I was seven years old I was already reading the classics, adult books, and fantasy chapter stories. They allowed me to escape the constant barrage of memories circling abuse, neglect, and abandonment dealt to me. I filled my soul with Melusine, The Westing Game, Summer of my German Soldier and The Golden Compass.

In these stories, I thought I had the answer to the rest of my life. I was overwhelmed with the idea of being a writer and wrote my first story. I’ll never forget the joy that filled me when my main characters came to life on the page. A cat and a dog, who were best friends, go on an adventure. It was the simplest plot. The dog died, having been injured, and the cat was unbelievably sad. She spent her days and nights moping over her dead friend, afraid to go on any future adventures. Then, the dog came back to life and the cat was rejuvenated.

As silly as this feels, it was a pivotal moment for me. I didn’t realize, until I became an adult, that this was my way to interpret my own feelings of loss after our family dog, Pepper, died horrifically. After watching my biological brother, and my adoptive nephew, jump the fence many times Pepper jumped while we were at church – not realizing that she still had the chained collar around her neck. A man who had been driving by spotted the dog, knocked on the door, and told my father what he had found. Although they tried to be secret, my brother and I were in hiding and watched as our dog was lifted from where she hung and buried in the backyard.

In this story, I was the cat who couldn’t deal with the loss of the only person who loved her unconditionally. The cat dealt with the same issues with abandonment that I struggled with, that I still struggle with, and wasn’t able to recover on her own. I knew that in the real world animals, and people, couldn’t come back to life but when it came to my writing anything could happen.

Anything. As an adult this felt like a way for me to be ok with the memories of someone after they’ve gone, whether unwilling through death or wiling through my growth. I didn’t realize that in an odd way, I was writing nonfiction.

Ironically, the person who crushed my dreams of becoming a writer, and made me change my mind about my prospective college major when I was in high school, was the same person who tried to crush my writing spirit. My adoptive mother. I let her read this five page story and she destroyed it. She told me animals couldn’t talk, that they didn’t go on adventures, that cats and dogs would never be best friends, and that – most importantly – no one, absolutely no one, ever came back to life.

I was angry and told her that I could write whatever I wanted because it was my book. My writing. I told her I never wanted her to read anything I wrote, ever again. I vowed, that day, to become a writer. I was more determined than ever to create worlds where impossible things could happen. I wanted to write books where the dead would rise, unlikely pairs would come together, and adventures would abound.

Over those years, I would daydream about becoming a professor with a messenger bag and a notebook filled with ideas and inspirations. I dreamed of having a cabin where I could escape the world, and its tragic intricacies, and write novels. I also wanted an apartment in the city where I could live when doing readings and signings at bookstores for all my bestselling works. Boy, wasn’t I ambitious.

Now, ten years after The Great Change, after the shit show that was my first time in college, after I let others push me down and trample my dreams, and destroy my spirit, I am back here. I enrolled at the University and now I’m close to graduation. I will be going to grad school next year. I will publish in both nonfiction and fiction. I will become a professor and I will finally fulfill my child-like dreams.

CNF: The Boy Who Loved Me

 

 

A boy who never grew up told me he loved me. He held my hand in his, touched the back of my head to bring me into a deep hug and kissed my forehead whenever I felt sad. I didn’t get to know him, not in the way he was when he died, as it had been months since we last spoke but I’ll never forget how he tilted toward me when he said the words and I toward him, my hand on his knee, waiting for him to look into my eyes and see the truth. I told him I didn’t feel the same, when he said he loved me, and he understood. We were too young and I hadn’t learned what it meant to be loved yet or how to give it back. 

He brought me flowers, this one time before the end, and I took them warily. I was honest, as much as a teen who knew nothing about the world could be, and I didn’t want him to think that I was changing my mind about my feelings but he shook his head at me, laughed and said I shouldn’t feel ashamed. That it’s ok to not love someone. It’s ok. It’s alright. It doesn’t mean we still can’t be friends.

I was in my room in the house where I had been adopted when I heard. Because I had outgrown the other foster kids, the new ones that came and went on a revolving door, I had been moved down to the den. The bed was large, it filled the small room almost completely, it’s sides nearly touching walls, touching the window, touching the dresser and stopping the drawers. It secluded me there, and it would hold my grief.

 My adopted dad, always the one with the soft heart and a softer voice, knocked on the door just as soft. I told him to come in and I should’ve known from the way his eyes looked down and his mouth drooped at the corners and his cheeks were swiped sideways with wetness, dashed away tears recently spent. I sat up and crossed my legs with the flexibility of an athletic teen. He said my name three times and then was silent. I didn’t know who but I knew what. 

He said the boy who loved me was dead. Murdered. They had found him chopped up and stuffed into a large garbage bag. The suspect had been pushing him in a grocery cart, blood seeping from the side, dripping down onto the ground, onto the street, where others could see and call to the cops ‘Someone is dead!’ I listened but I didn’t reply, didn’t react.

I sat there, my eyes on my father and his eyes on me. His wet eyes for a young boy who’d lost his life, treated like waste. Human waste thrown out with the soda cans and the banana peels and the plastic straws that will ruin the environment and the teeth bitten sunflower seed shells and the other things. Then my dad closed his eyes and I knew he wasn’t through. I knew he had more to say and that whatever it was it hurt him more than it hurt me. But he didn’t say it. So, I tilted my head back and let myself drop.

My head hit the soft comforter and the tears rolled sideways. They dropped into my ears and pooled there and I wished they would fill and fill. My chest shook and then my stomach and then I was rolling sideways. I drew up like a fetus and grabbed at my wrists, my biceps, my shoulders. It wrecked me, what he said, and I sucked in air as fast as I could. Then I coughed. I coughed and I squeezed until my arms hurt and then there he was. My dad. Wrapping his big arms around me, his protruding belly pushing into my back, his tears on my shoulder. 

He spoke about god’s plan but I didn’t want to hear it. I knew he didn’t believe it either. He said a lot of things he didn’t believe, I knew.

Later the real pain came. The words he didn’t want to say were said by my adoptive mother. It was a week later, if I remember correctly but to be honest those days blended together and it could’ve been weeks or months or maybe a summer. She said that the person who had killed him was related to one of the foster girls who would come stay with us – and to one who already had. Their brother. She wanted to know if it was ok. She asked me if it was ok. If I would be ok with that. If I was ok. 

No. I wasn’t ok and I was never ok with that. But I was alone. Everyone else said yes. The other foster kids. No one knew him like I did. They didn’t know that he loved me. That he told me it was ok that I didn’t love him in return. They didn’t know that I had taken it as an out because it meant I didn’t hurt him and he couldn’t hurt me. So, she came to stay. 

And it was my fault, the way I treated her from that moment on. She had her problems, she was dangerous, she fought and scratched and attacked like the other foster kids who came and went and more. But a murderer shared her face and I couldn’t look at her without looking at him and it ate me inside. For the time she was with us it festered in me for the boy it was ok not to love. I couldn’t hate, as it wasn’t my way, but I tried. I wanted to hate her just as much as I wanted to love him.      

CNF: The Birth, and Death, of Iris Giana

 

The Birth, and Death, of Iris Giana

(Also titled The Questions We Ask)

 

 

5:30am I wake up with a deep searing pain that spread from my pelvis up over my rounded belly and nestled just under my ribs. Rocking to my side (as somehow during the long night – or perhaps after the fourth trip to the bathroom – I’d ended up on my back), I take one, two, three deep breaths in. Trying to send the pain away. Tony, who is sleeping next to me, grunts questioningly and I pat his arm to tell him I’m ok. I roll out of bed, half bent at the waist from the pain, and get ready for work. 

 

6:45 am  I pull open the door to my compact car and swing my left foot out. Gingerly, I move my belly to follow, place my right foot on the ground and struggle to pull myself from the small space. At 19 weeks, my low slung belly is just big enough to make moving difficult and the pain is making it nearly impossible for me to be as nimble as I usually am.


Lately, I’ve been careful to step as lightly as possible because my water broke very early, at 15 weeks. They already warned that I would most likely have the baby early. Too early for her to survive. That I must be careful and drink enough water so that I’m continuously replenishing the sac. I hear them and I get it but I’m optimistic. I won’t terminate her little life, as they pressure me to do. I must endure. I reach in the car to grab my water bottle and purse and happily tiptoe toward my office. Everything was fine. Everything is fine. Baby Iris Giana is fine. 

 

7:30 am I can’t take the pain. Everything is not fine. I’m useless at work. I can’t answer messages, decipher data, or pick up the phone. Over and over, the searing pain stabs me from front to back. I lean forward to breathe through it and immediately lean back to hold my breath.


“Oh my god,” I huff and the heads of my coworkers swivel toward me. “Something isn’t right, something isn’t right, something…” I pause to pant as the pain returns. I close my eyes as if that might help. 

“Honey,” the older woman, that sits across from me, says as she wipes at the spilled coffee on her desk. “I’m really sorry but I think you need to go to the hospital. Right now.” I turn away from her, away from the pity in her eyes. My own are wet with unspent tears. ‘I must be strong. I’m stronger than this’, I chant it in my head.

“I’m ok, I’ve been in a lot of pain lately. It comes and goes. It’ll pass, it’ll pass, it’ll pass.” I’m chanting again and I have no idea why.

“No,” she pauses to get up from her chair. Her thick body swaying to remove itself from the plastic arms. “I’ve had 6 children, Jade. I have even more grandchildren. I’m sorry but it sounds like you’re in labor. You need to go to the hospital, right now.”

I shake my head at her but I know she’s right. Everyone told me I wouldn’t make it. That Iris Giana wouldn’t make it. But I had to try, didn’t they see? I couldn’t just give up on her. I shake my head again, this time the tears fall hot and fast. I suck air in through clenched teeth as another wave of pain passed through me. I shoot out of my chair and brace my hands on the desktop. My manager immediately grabs up my purse. She searches for my phone and hands it to me. We aren’t supposed to have our phones at our desks but everyone does it. I keep my eyes averted, a rule breaker I am not. Usually. 

“Here, call Tony. Tell him to meet you at the hospital. I’ll take you,” she says as she pats my arm then turns to look for her own purse and phone. Also out on the office floor.

“No, I’m ok. I promise.” One breath in, long exhale out. I thumb over the phone and call my guy. Once, Twice, then a text message. Please, meet me at Winnie. Baby coming now. Too much pain. Coworker says possible labor. The rings must have woken him because immediately he messages back: Damn. If you can’t drive, call an ambulance. I’m on my way. How silly. Of course I can drive myself. I am a strong, black woman. I am a strong black woman who can take care of herself. 

 

8:45 am I could not drive myself.

I’m waiting at a red light but I gotta get out. I wipe a hand across my forehead and it comes away wet with sweat. I’m too hot and I can’t sit down for even one more minute. Stepping on the gas, I swing into the parking lot just at the edge of the street and I whip the door open so fast I nearly fall out of the car. Was I wearing a seatbelt? 

I make sure to snatch up my phone and, as I walk my first pass around the car, I call my mother. No answer. I hang up and call again. No answer.

“Mom, please. I need you,” I say out loud. Or I try to. I’m crying too hard to get words out. Another wave of pain hits and I double over the hood and do one, two, three squats. I think to call Tony but stop myself. He’s already on his way. So, I muster up all the strength I have left, round the car another three times, and do my squats. The whirring sound of traffic speeds past me and slows at each the turn of the light. No one stops. Life goes on. Does no one care that I’m losing my baby over here? Does she matter to no one but me?

 

9:30 am – 2:00pm I arrive at the hospital and am admitted into triage. Within the next few days I will be a completely different person. I will no longer be pregnant. Iris Giana will no longer be alive. I will, once again, no longer be a mother. 

Tony holds me as I weep. He holds me as I take the medicine to slow down the contractions. They are much too strong and I’m not dilated yet. We must be careful, the doctor said but I don’t know why. I’m already losing the baby, what else can I lose? Tony helps me to the restroom. There’s blood. He helps me back to the bed. We do this two more times. I’m crying all the while. The doctor comes back. It’s time to move me to my hospital room.

They tell me when I get to my room I’ll need to take a pill for the abortion. I feel attacked. I don’t want an abortion. I want my baby, I cry and say. Please let me keep her. I turn away from their long faces, their looks of pity. They tell me I can’t.

“There’s nothing we can do,” they say. I hate them. Despite all that has happened in my life, everything I’ve been through: the attacks, the abuse, the searing cigarettes against my skin and scalp, I have never hated in my life. It’s filled with too much evil and eats you up. It poisons your soul. But, in that, moment I hate them. I turn my face away because I can’t bear to look at them. I am ashamed, because of this, and I can’t look at Tony. He might see the hatred behind my eyes and think less of me. He loves my light, how it shines from the inside. Hatred dims your light, I know it. 

“It’s just the scientific term for it,” my nurse soothes me. “We know that you aren’t having an abortion,” she says softer and touches my hand. “It’ll help you dilate and the contractions will start back up. It takes almost 4 hours for the first pill to start. Then, if you haven’t dilated further, we’ll give you another.” I don’t want to meet her eyes so I keep mine trained on her manicured fingers. The nails are rounded and clean. EMPLOYEES MUST WASH HANDS BEFORE RETURNING TO WORK and I can tell she’s a rule follower. Like me.

Her fingers are small but they cover most of the words on the paper. I want to snatch the paper from her fingers and tear it to pieces. I don’t want to sign it. Yes, fine. I take it from her, softly. With shaking fingers I sign on the line saying they can give me medicine to abort my baby. I want to ask questions. I always thought, should the occasion come, that I would ask questions and advocate for more myself but I am deflated. 

There is nothing I can do. I have done it all. There’s no way to save Iris. We’ve done all that we could and it didn’t work. 

 

2:25pm I’m transferred to a new hospital room and I’m crying again. “I’m not supposed to be here. This is a delivery room.” I can’t hold my head up. I’m ashamed. I’m letting Iris down and I can’t be here in this room.


“It’s ok,” Tony pats my hand and I’m wheeled in. I can feel the wave of pain passing through again but it’s muted by the loudness of the room. It calls to me. You’ve failed, the big delivery bed says. You couldn’t hack it, the floor to ceiling windows scream. You did this, sounds the closed door to a hotel grade bathroom.  

After settling me into the bed, Tony says that he will be back. He needs to run back to the house to get something that needs a signature. Why is he leaving me? Why would you leave me alone? But I understand, I guess. Maybe he needed a break from all of this. Maybe he would go and cry in the car, because he’s a strong black man and he needs that strength for me.

 

2:45pm The pain is back. My room is set up, I’ve taken my horridly named abortion pill, and I’m wrapped in a new hospital gown, one designed for birthing. I take a quick trip down to the terrace area, some semblance of normalcy. A place that is supposed to fill mothers-in-labor with tranquility. It pushed me over the edge. I’m not supposed to be on this terrace until I’m 9 months. I blubber into my tissues and lean my head back and my soul cries out. The terrace is empty, ironically, and I don’t try to hide my grief.

The walk also pushed my body over the edge and the contractions speed up with an intensity I can’t take and nausea rolls through me. I have to stop in the hallway to take deep breaths. I nearly fall when I step toward my room and I’m angry.

I’m angry at god, for putting me here. How dare he? I gave him my wishes, I put my soul – and Iris Giana’s soul – in his hands and he destroyed them. I’m angry that I came out to this stupid terrace, pretending like I was one of these girls with their healthy babies and their family members that love them enough to answer their phones. I’m angry that the contractions are back and I can’t walk to my room without help and I’ve been walking on my own for 23 years and now I’ve reverted back to infancy and, and, and, and. I’m filled with hate and anger and I can’t stand it because this isn’t me. 

 

3:00pm The nurse has led me, like a sheep, back to my room and is getting the line started. I need the pain medication because I’m not a strong black woman. Not anymore. I’ve dissolved and devolved. My old tears have dried on my cheeks and new ones are threatening to fall. I can barely stand, barely sit, barely breathe. 

“It’s been less than an hour but I think the baby might be coming soon,” the nurse says to me like I don’t know what’s fucking going on. I know what’s happening to my body, I’m not a fucking child, I scream in my head but I hold my tongue. I nod and attempt a smile when she looks at me, waiting for a response. Resentment for her swirls in my belly, around the tiny baby waiting to come out.  

I text my sister, telling her the baby is coming. Asking her if she’s spoken to mom. She replies immediately, yes, she’s spoken to mom, and ‘oh my gosh, I’m just so so sorry’. So it’s settled then. My mom has time to talk to my siblings, and whoever else, but she can’t pick up the phone to speak to me. Her only daughter that’s going through a traumatic experience at the moment. She can’t even send a text. Hatred and hurt vie for space in my heart. One will eventually take over. 

 

3:05pm I call out to the nurse. It’s no guessing game now. The baby is definitely coming. I tried to sit on the bed but the pain is so bad I can’t sit my bum against the soft mattress. I turn toward the back of the bed, my knees digging into the pillows, and hold the handrails along the sides. I scream through my closed mouth as another contraction tightens my belly. Stab, stab, stab at the button to call the nurses. Stab, stab, stab to my uterus. 

“We’re coming, we’re coming,” I hear frantic voices call out through the intercom. I try to reply but only a jumble of moans and screams come out. I can’t think. I need help. Please. I try to say, again, but I can’t form the words. The pain medicine never worked. 

Two new nurses come charging into the room and take in the scene. Me, on all fours facing the back of the bed, pillows kicked to the foot, the hospital gown pulled up around my thighs. “Oh honey, if you can’t sit down that baby is definitely coming.” The nurse says, this time I don’t feel anger for her. I feel relieved. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I whisper as I turn around. She helps me ease onto my back and holds my hands in hers as the other nurse opens my legs. I look into her eyes, her only job to keep me steady. The tears come again as another contraction tightens my belly. 

“I can see the sac here,” pushing against my vagina, it hurts but not as bad as the contractions so I breathe through it. “Ok, I’m messaging the doctor. We’re having the baby now, ok?”

My hatred is gone. The first time I’ve truly felt it and I’m happy to see it go. Gratitude fills me and I thank her and I thank the nurse holding my hands. The two nod to me and rush about the room getting things ready. I watch them, in between breaths.

Where’s Tony? Am I going to have to do this alone? Oh, there he is. Coming in just as my legs are being spread wide. He’s seen this before, not during my first loss, but when he was the one opening them. This is different than that, I think with a bit of humor despite the pain. His eyes are wide open and I want to laugh but I can’t. I wonder if he sees the baby though. Can he see her coming out?

 

3:10pm Push! Push! The nurse’s soft voice calls out and I bear down, “like you’re going poo, and a one, two, three…” My legs are pulled back, five nurses – one doctor. The pain meds don’t work, something is wrong with the line and I ask for it. I ask for it again and again. I’m not a strong black woman. ‘I’m not. I’m not. I’m not,’ I chant in my head. 

The doctor looks up at me with beautiful blue eyes, staring straight into my soul and, as if she can read my mind, says “You can do this”. I can’t do this. I’m so sorry. I don’t want to lose my baby. I’m shaking my head at her. The smell of copper fills the room. Have you ever smelled copper before? Does Copper smell like blood or does blood smell like copper? Why am I thinking of this when I’m having a baby? I’m only 19 weeks! Why am I having a baby?

 

3:15pm Iris comes out at the end of a long chin to the sky, eyes open wide, breathe into the pelvis push. 3:15pm will forever be on her birth card. It’ll forever be in my mind. There’s an instant feeling of relief. I look up at Tony and he looks down into my face. I can’t read him, his eyes are red, slight widening at the corners. I wonder if he’s afraid to look anywhere else.

They put Iris on my chest and although it hurts when they push on my belly, I try to lean forward to see her. I want to sit. Can I sit? Can I see her? No, they tell me to stay where I am. Everyone is rushing about, sponge after sponge goes between my legs but at the time I don’t know what’s happening. I catch the Dr. (or was it a nurse) saying “it’s stuck’ but Iris is in my face and I’m overtaken and weeping. Her small translucent fingers wrap around mine. Her chest goes in and out as she struggles to breathe. One, two, three, four.

“I love you, I love you, I love you, Mommy’s so sorry. I love you,” I chant. I want her to know. I want her to understand.

I ask Tony if he wants to hold her and I see the fear in his eyes. I wonder if it’s because she’s just too small, only 8 ounces. Later, I wonder if it’s because he knew I was dying, that something was going wrong. He looked me in the eyes, a smile twitching his lips, his palm against my forehead, fingers stroking my hair back.

If I could ever name that one moment when I truly felt someone loved me it’s this. The way his eyes wet with tears, the way they didn’t move from my face, my hair, Iris Giana’s tiny body, my lips. I want to bask in that love. I close my eyes to it and I breathe into the moment. I think this is the last time he’ll love me. When it settles in that Iris is gone, he’ll remember that it was my body that failed us for a second time (and will again for a third time a year later) and he’ll hate me. He’ll detest me and not be able to look at me. So I bask in the love and I send it right back at him. I send it to Iris. I package it tight and keep it for later, when the love will be gone. 

 

3:….something “What’s happening with my OR?” the doctor yells out and brings me out of the safety of love.

I open my eyes, feeling as though I had been sleeping. I look down, beyond Iris’s tiny moving body and see my legs. Somehow I hadn’t noticed but they’re shaking. I see the bed beneath them, blood is everywhere. Wet and thick like rich molasses. My mouth falls open and I look up at Tony who is still staring down at me with that slight smile. He gives me a soft nod and I don’t know what to say, or do. I can feel the blood coming out now, in gushes as each of the – still continuing – contractions tightens and releases my body. 

That’s something they don’t tell you. Just because the baby is out, it doesn’t mean you stop having contractions right away. Almost as if a switch was flipped, I feel the pain spear through my belly. It’s deep enough to feel in my soul. I say ‘I can’t stop shaking’ and my doctor, bent to work between my thighs, shakes her head and tells me it’s alright. It’s alright, the shaking will stop soon.

 

3:35pm Maybe? I can’t remember how much time has passed since Iris was born. It feels like the minutes are ticking by and I’m counting each breath Iris takes in rounds of four. One, Two, Three, Four. One, Two, Three. One, Two. One…I don’t notice I’m doing it and, to this day, I can’t figure out the reasoning behind it. 

My legs are still shaking and at this point the nurse has pushed Tony out of the way. They’ve lifted the bed and I’m unable to keep the whimpers of pain from escaping. I’m trying to be strong. Everyone told me I must be strong and hold on. I have to be strong.

All my life, strong, strong, strong was pounded into me by everyone who didn’t matter. In this single moment I give into the pressure. I want Iris to know I’m a strong woman. I am a strong black woman. I feel no pain. I endure it all. But she doesn’t seem to notice, her tiny mouth gaps open and closed with each inhalation. Somehow her lips are thick and her nose stretches in the shape of her father’s. Her tiny face boasted fat cheeks like mine. As fat as they could be on such a little person. One, two, three…

My head begins to swim and I pull it through mud to lean forward. The smell clogs my nostrils and I turn my face away to try to get a clean breath. I see black spots behind my eyelids and I try to blink them away. Where’s Tony? Did he leave? Where’s Iris? Oh yeah, on my chest, one, two, three, four. I hear them calling my name as my head falls back and hits the pillow. This hospital really is like a hotel, I think as I unwillingly stare up at the ceiling. A hard push to my belly reminds me of the pain, I gain a surge of adrenaline and my head is back up again. Or did they just sit the bed up? I’m not sure.

I try to find Tony and oh, there he is. Standing behind a faceless nurse. His head is bouncing around the room: to me, to Iris, to the doctors and to the nurses at work between my legs trying their best to mop up the blood. I make eye contact with the doctor and notice she’s talking to me. She waves a hand in front of my face and I see a light. A pen light? 

“Listen, we are going to surgery. Ok? The placenta is stuck. See, what happens when you deliver too early and you’re not fully dilated is that the baby is big enough to come out but the placenta might not fully detach. And whomp, whomp, whomp, whooo,” I shake my head, my ears are filled with cotton. I shake my head harder, almost as hard as the uncontrollable movement of my legs.

“Did you hear me? I must say this, legally. The risk of this surgery is that I could puncture the side of your uterus. This could cause an issue with future pregnancies leading to…I could puncture…” the tears are falling, I don’t want to listen, I can’t fully understand anyway, and I turn my face away. I turn down to Iris on my chest. I can barely look at her either. I’m shaking my head.

“I won’t be able to have any babies? If you puncture my wall I won’t be able to have any babies?” I repeat this several more times although I can see she is trying to comfort me. She tells me it’s rare. That it’s something they have to warn me of before we go to surgery, but that we really must go. We can not wait even a second longer, and I feel the bed already moving toward the door. We can not wait even a second longer and none of it will matter if I bleed out. All I can think about is that I’ll never be a mom. She asks me if I consent to a blood transfusion. It doesn’t matter. I’ll never be a mom. Who cares if I get blood or not. Who cares? Does anyone care?

 

Time is moving. Later, I ask Tony if he knew what time we went down to surgery but he doesn’t know. He didn’t stop to clock the time. All he knew was that I was being rushed to surgery and he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. I wonder if he thought maybe he wouldn’t see me again but I’m too afraid to ask. Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m too afraid to ask. I don’t want to open all of this up for him again. 

God hates me. He really does. The one thing I’ve always wanted. The one thing I know I was biologically made to do and he took it from me, repeatedly. Take and take and take and take and take. “We really must go.” The doctor says something to a nurse about the OR. “Can we…” I nod to her.

They transfer me to a new bed ‘hold on to her tight’ they say and I pull my arms in so Iris is safe. Her tiny chest still struggling to breathe. One, two, three, four. I feel like I can sense her energy waning. Or was it mine? I try to hold her as we get moving but I can’t.

My arms slacken and I look at one of the nurses in fear. Save Iris, I want to demand but I know she can’t. Can you save Iris? I want to ask but I know it’s not fair for me to expect her to answer. Noticing my distress she gathers Iris into her arms, tiny square of a swaddle blanket and all, and then she’s gone. That tiny body held all the warmth I needed and I begin to panic as I am cool. Or at least I feel cold on the inside, or is that from the saline drip? I’m shaking.

I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave her. Please, let me stay until she’s passed. I try to ask but my mouth is dry. It’s loud in the hall. They wouldn’t be able to hear me anyway over that sound. Wait, is that me? That keening sound filled with pain? I try to close my mouth in embarrassment but I can’t. It’s too great, my pelvis is on fire and then my head is falling again and I can’t pick it up. I try to keep up with the nurse holding Iris but I can’t. 

“Status on my OR?” the doctor practically yells into a small phone held by the nurse. Somehow she’s on the bed with her feet up on the wheels, or something. We’re moving and she’s up off the wheels and leaning in front of me. Both knees pressing into the white of the soft bedding. The white quickly dampening with blood. Hands on my chest.

I try to look for Iris again, try bowing my back to get a glimpse of the nurse walking behind us. But my body doesn’t move. ‘You’ll have her with you when you come out of surgery’ says the nurse at my side. Her small hands grip the bar as she pushes quickly. What she doesn’t say is that Iris won’t be alive the next time I see her. 

Later, I will be broken. My daughter took her last breaths and I wasn’t there. Because of this stupid, worthless body, one, two, three, four. The thoughts overlap as exhaustion fills every fiber of my being. I didn’t realize how tired I’d become. One, two, three. I just want to sleep. I don’t want to sleep. One, two. But I’m so tired. One.

‘But you were losing too much blood’ my guy will later defend me to myself. ‘You had to get surgery,’ but I don’t care. I’m a bad mom. I worked so hard to keep her healthy, and she was. It was me, my body, that failed her. First, when my water broke at 15 weeks, and then again when she spent those last moments of her life without us. Alone. Unaware. Sterile. Unloved. 

There are so many questions we ask. So many things we want to know. I ask myself many of these knowing I’ll most likely never get the answer:

Does she even know how much I loved her?
How much I still love her?
How much I still think about her even years later?
Does she know I still love her despite healing and finding happiness after?

That losing a child and nearly dying didn’t keep me depressed, and angry, and frustrated at life, forever? Does she know I still loved her even though the pain of her passing got just a little better every day? That when I finally gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Naomi Kai, I thought of how much I loved her?

Does Iris find it unfair? That Naomi Kai is here and she isn’t? (Do any of my angels find it unfair?) Am I a bad mom for being happy with Naomi? Does she know that – even though I love Naomi – I still love her? Is she anywhere thinking of me? Is she anywhere thinking? Is Iris Giana anywhere at all?

At the time, I didn’t know the outcome. I didn’t know things would turn around. I was lost in that moment, in that pain, and I thought it would never end. And as I disappeared into the darkness, just moments after they rolled me into the OR, I thought one last question:

Iris, how can I live without you? 

 

 

 

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