Not even a week ago, I gave birth to my second baby. That felt weird to type, but I am growing through it. My labor started on a Friday. I was at home telling my husband, not husband (more on that later) I had a pain in my side that wouldn’t go away no matter what I tried. I was almost 29 weeks pregnant.
The most pregnant I have ever been.
I was sure the pain in my side was just gas until I went to the bathroom and confronted the bright red blood in my panties.
When I saw it, I let out a little moan. Stori’s Dad yelled to me through the door, his voice penetrating the extremely loud fan we desperately needed to replace.
“What is it, baby?”
“I am bleeding.”
“What does that mean?”
“Nothing good.” My eyes were wet.
“I will grab some of your stuff.”
I followed him upstairs, and stared blankly at him as he stuffed a backpack full of my clothes, toiletries, and books.
I don’t know where this man came from, yall. He is pretty magical though. I was scared, or something like it. I wanted this baby to stay inside. So, so, badly. The pain, though intense, didn’t stop me from being present and visualizing a plump little version of myself born at full-term. This was something I had been practicing throughout the entire pregnancy. Day after day, I had to remind myself that it was totally possible to have her at full-term, and be in good health during the pregnancy. Up until now, that had been the case.
When I got to the hospital, I was able to talk through the pain, and explain what was happening. In most cases, this makes people think you aren’t to be taken seriously, especially if you are a Black woman.
Do the research.
It didn’t take too long to get to a room, which was a blessing because I was in extreme agony. As soon as I got into the room, I was bombarded with the usual questions, while writhing all over the hospital bed. Stori’s Dad answered some of the questions for me so that I could focus on my breath. I was worried about my baby. After maybe ten minutes of being in the room, I kept hearing the nurse saying things about an emergency c-section. I was totally dumbfounded, because at no point did it seem as though there was clarity on what was happening to my body, so why were we talking about cutting it open? The swooshes on the monitor let me know that my baby was fine. That made me feel hopeful. I just wanted to know why I was bleeding like the pigs from Carrie, and when the blood was going to stop.
I remember feeling super optimistic, like there is no way this thing is as bad as it seems. No way at all. Thirty or so minutes pass by, and there is an ultrasound ordered. I am terrified, because I don’t want to be pressed on or poked into. I am just tired, and borderline frightened about what is happening to me, again.
Why on earth can’t I hold a baby inside my womb?
This pregnancy was pretty easy, if I am being honest. My cervix was long. I wasn’t in pain. The specialist felt like I didn’t need a cerclage. All was well. I was going out on fun outings with Stori’s Dad, and our kids. We still made time and space to love on each other. I was dressing up most of the time, getting lots of sleep, and going into work when I wasn’t doing it from home. The absolute best part was that I still had the energy to pick Levi up from school, and do little activities with him that let him know he was still the main character in my life. I made sure that he felt special, or tried to anyway.
The fact that I was actually in labor came as a huge shock to me. I almost didn’t believe it. No, as a matter of fact, I didn’t believe it at all. I was like, surely this is a fluke, and I am going home.
And I did.
After about three days on magnesium, pitocin, fentanyl, and whatever else. I pushed to go home, because my contractions had stopped, and I wasn’t in any pain. I had a little bleeding still, but mostly just spotting. No clots, or blood dripping intensely like before. I went home, hugged my kids, opened Amazon packages, and then I rested.
By the next day, I was in the hospital again.
This time, I was in active labor by the time I got to there. Stori’s Dad helped me get through my contractions in the registration line at the emergency room. It felt better for me to deal with the surges standing up, so that’s what I did. I stood up, held onto his arms and squeezed. By the time I got to labor and delivery, I was covered in blood, and sweating profusely. I was certain that she was coming, and so was the medical staff. When I rounded the nurses station, the woman who would deliver my daughter an hour later looked at me, and said, “We have another one.” She got up out of her chair, and came to the door of the room. “Don’t worry, baby. We are going to take care of you.” That she did.
I was rolled to the bedside by an African woman. She asked me to stand. Next, she took my dress off and replaced it with a hospital gown. I was trembling by this time. I have no idea how my legs were strong enough to support my body, because I was so worn out. I was thirsty. When I asked for water, my request was gently denied. I just smiled and nodded, awaiting another surge that signaled the inevitable. My mind was racing. The blood pouring out of me was hotter than a West Indian grandmother’s morning tea. Stori’s Dad was trying to comfort me as best he could, but as more and more aunties filed into the room, it was hard for him to know where he should be. I wanted him next to me, but being in a room full of Black women getting ready to usher in a brand new Black woman must be a little scary. So he sat down near the back of the room. I was glad he did. Usually highly composed, Stori’s father was a visible ball of nerves, wiping sweat off his head every couple minutes, and pulling his wet Wu-Tang shirt away from his body.
“Wow, she is really putting out a lot of blood. We have to get this baby out.”
I was glad that my baby was adamant about getting out that night. There was no time to walk me through the million things that could be wrong with her as a result of her being born so prematurely. It happened at Little Company of Mary, and as if the information wasn’t harsh enough, the conversation started with, “I’m sure you’ve already heard all this because you have a 25 weeker.” Super deflating.
“Okay, Mama. You are getting ready to have this baby.” The doctor looked me right in the face. I nodded quickly. It was like being talked to by my mother. What else was I going to do? I was scared. The pain crushed me. I felt like everything on the inside of my body was going to just come through my pores. Or that I would just stop breathing, because of exhaustion. One of the women called Stori’s Dad over. He stood among them at the foot of the bed, and was promptly redirected to the head of it instead. He held my hand. There was so much noise. The doctor wordlessly stuck her hand inside my vagina. I winced, and grabbed onto the side of the bed with my free hand, instinctively clenching my knees together. An older woman standing next to Stori’s Dad screamed at me. “Hey! You can’t do that! You gotta keep your knees open if you want this baby to come out!”
I’m pretty sure I started crying. Stage fright mixed with getting crushed by a car pain. Plus, my auntie was yelling at me.
Sweat. Fear. Anticipation. Guilt. Defeat. Sadness.
What a cocktail.
“Okay. Her head is there. When we say push, you push.” There were about seven Black women surrounding my bed. Waiting for my baby. The NICU team was off to the side, ready with a warm bed. Stori’s Dad put his forehead on mine.
“Okay. One. Two. Three. PUSH!”
I bore down like I had to poop.
I put my knees together. Hands full of history went in between my knees, and said, “No! If you want this baby to be okay, you can’t do that. If you don’t get her out, I’ll have to cut you.”
Stori’s Dad whispered straight into my ear so I could hear him over the women hollering at me. “Baby, come on please. Please.” He was crying.
“OKAY, NOW! PUSHHHHHHHH! Don’t lift your butt up. Knees open. Let’s get her out this time. We need to make sure she’s alright.”
My King’s gentle plea, mixed with me not wanting to look like a punk in front of the aunties made me flip through my mental Rolodex, and find an ancestor with plenty, plenty strength, probably my Grandmother. I visualized my little girl being out in the world with us, and I pushed with everything I had. I felt her little head burning the lips of my vagina, and I just kept pushing.
Stori came out screaming. The aunties screamed right along with her. She sounded so robust. A very good sign. Stori’s Dad told me I did well, and went over to look at her while the aunties got me cleaned up. The older one who yelled at me the loudest apologized to me. “Sorry for hollering, but we didn’t want to have to cut you.” I just patted her hand. I didn’t have the words to explain how her acknowledgment made me feel. When an old Black woman verbally apologizes to you, it’s a big deal. Centuries of pain have made us granite hard, but at the core-we are creators, full of love and nurturing. I could write a thesis on the game of peek-a-boo our softness plays. I will never forget that gesture.
I tried to ignore my contractions, fully aware I had to give birth again. Dr. Allen pushed on my belly, and out slipped my placenta. She held it in her palm, and said, “Yep. It was coming off. It’s intact though.” My left side was beeping like the machines in the room. I tried to move a little, so my weight would be on the same side as the pain. Didn’t work. When nurse Elizabeth came, and started to clean me up, I asked for pain meds. She told me I had to eat first. The lilt of her accent comforted me like the perfect portion of cornmeal porridge. I could have reached out for her and slept on her chest. Instead, I rested and tried to block out the pain. Strangely enough, I wasn’t worried about Stori, because her daddy was with her. Next to mine, he is the absolute best. I was able to close my eyes, and listen to my tattered vessel.
In between my silent mediations, Elizabeth brought me juice, and asked questions to complete my admission process. Then, she let me know I would go to a post-partum room. There I would receive pain meds, and dinner. I’d be able to sleep, and start pumping milk for my daughter. Before going to the room, she asked if I had to pee, which I did.
Quite the experience.
It felt like my innards were going to come tumbling out, and that someone used a tuning fork in my vaginal canal. I didn’t see my little flower until the next morning. While I intended to see her that night, my exhaustion got the better of me. She was resplendent. God is so good. He had given me Levi, and now Stori. I was blessed beyond measure. It will forever escape me how people who have children do not believe in God, or understand the grace he extends by making us stewards of little souls. I suppose that is a subject for another writing.
I had her on the 26th, and by the morning of the 28th, I was given my discharge paperwork. Stori’s Dad drove me home-my mother-in-law, and kids waiting. I was happy to be in my home, and sad to be away from the newest addition to my life. The emptiness was something I kept to myself, because I didn’t want anyone to feel like it wasn’t important to me to be with them. Of course I love everyone in my home-but my baby-my daughter was at the hospital in a plastic box, and that was hard, even though she was kicking butt.
The next day, I got up and took Levi to school. He was highly unenthused, since he had been allowed to stay home from school for one day while I was in the hospital. When his aide, Ms. Maddy came to the door to take him to class, I chirped up, and bid her a good morning. She said it back, and then said, “Congratulations, I heard you had the baby, and now you are here.
Wow, you are so strong.”
I replied, “I have to be.”
Then I drove away. In my head, I was punching the air like Cuba Gooding Jr.
I. Do. Not. Want. To. Be. Referred. To. As. Strong.
I know what she meant, and I happen to LOVE Ms. Maddie. The thing is, I don’t get to choose whether or not I am strong. No matter what, I am Levi’s mother too. This means that unless I am physically unable, I will show up for him. I don’t know what’s so strong about that. Might I have a little bit of Black Superwoman Syndrome? Of course. My ancestors gave birth in unrelenting heat without fancy procedures to administer medications. They huffed, and puffed and bathed in their own sweat on dirt floors, and worked with the other women folk in order to bring forth their beautiful babies. Then they got back to work. The grit they possessed was out of this world. I suppose they passed it down to me, so here I am, showing up the best way I can. There are some days where I am not strong. When I leave Stori in the NICU, and her eyes-which are my mother’s bore a hole through me, I mentally berate myself all the way home, and watch the clock intently to figure out when I can get back to her. I do my best to be warm to my big babies, and my King, but there is a little piece of me who is missing right now. I am happy that I have a supportive partner who allows me to tell him the truth, and break down when I need to. My tribe has led me through this like Moses led the Egyptians. I am grateful for them, and their commitment to holding space for me.
A Sometimes Strong Black Woman