When Jesus Is Your Baby Daddy
Taiyon J. Coleman
so we thought to do better by ourselves
to begin our next row
we would go and get him
because he was medically degreed in baby bringing
because he was young and white and handsome
and because of that
had been neighbor to more knowledge
there in the city
than us way back behind
the country’s proud and inferior lines
—“The Afterbirth, 1931,” Nikky Finney
It was the summer of 2000, and my pregnancy was considered high-risk because my OB-GYN diagnosed me with uterine fibroids. I woke from a deep sleep feeling period-like cramps in my stomach and my mattress shaking. I slept that night with my head at the foot of my single bed, which both my well-mannered grandmother and superstitious grandma would not have liked. Grandma always said that you should never sleep with your feet closer to your bedroom door than your head. She said it was very rude to let the bottoms of your feet be the first thing that greeted Spirits if you were so lucky to be graced with a visit from the dead during the night. Sleeping with my head at the foot of my bed was the only position where my pregnant body could feel the muggy August Iowa air being pulled into the hot and humid basement apartment by my cheap Walmart window fan.
At almost twenty weeks pregnant, the smell of everything made me disgustingly sick. It seemed that I could smell and taste someone eating a banana from a mile away. My boyfriend with Jesus’s name, Emmanuel, was working a night shift at Krispy Kreme and wouldn’t be home until well after midnight. When Emmanuel came home from work, I regularly made him take off his uniform and shower before he was allowed to enter our bedroom. He and his work clothes reeked so bad that I was convinced that he was just getting paid for mixing and frying sugar and shit, glazing it, and selling it as doughnuts. That night, I thought the bed moving was him, but when I sniffed and didn’t detect the DEFCON odor, I knew he wasn’t home yet, and that I was alone. I assumed that the mattress shaking was nothing and happily closed my eyes into more funk-free sleep.
The bed shook again, and I looked to my right toward the bedroom door. My eyes opened to a pair of knees covered in chocolate-brown slacks. Don’t ask me how I knew that the person was black skinned, had masculine energy, and wore a really nice eighties’ television sitcom–style cable-knit sweater with patterned hues of beige, chestnut, and cocoa brown that matched his neatly pleated slacks. I didn’t look up to see his face, but I intuitively knew that he was pointing over me toward the green wall behind me. I turned away from the pointing man to my left and faced the plain wall and saw nothing but rotating shadows and streetlights reflecting from the window fan, but I did hear a baby crying. The crying seemed to stop as soon as it started, and I was wide awake. Immediately, I turned back to my right, and the man standing at the foot of my bed was gone—just like that.
I wasn’t new to visitors from the other side. I grew up in a family where feeling, seeing, and talking to Spirits was an everyday thing. My grandma said it came from being born with a veil over your face. Although we were practicing Catholics, five generations removed from Germany on my momma’s side, talking with the dead beyond Mary and Jesus wasn’t really viewed as double-timing Christ, especially if talking to the dead brought much needed “tea” from the other side: dreams of slithering snakes to let you know to watch out because someone you really trusted was going to betray you; regular warnings to ignore short and dark haints (ghosts) promising winning lottery numbers and other secret riches in exchange for your soul. My grandma’s best girlfriend, who died young, regularly entered the world of the living through my grandma’s south bedroom wall to forewarn Grandma first of her son’s death and then later of her daughter’s, my momma’s, death. Uncle Freddie, my grandma’s dead brother, who died in a car twisted around a sneaky bend on a southern Illinois back highway after too much whiskey, always confirmed Grandma’s suspicions of Pawpaw’s infidelity with that light-skinned hussy at the bar. And the old white lady, the former owner of my grandmother’s nineteenth-century home, stomped nightly through the shotgun hallways and seemed to really get off on revealing herself, only her head, in full living color to folks who were courageous enough to sleep in her former bedroom and make the fatal error of looking up at the ceiling right before they fell asleep.
“Did you know who it was?” Grandma would ask me if I saw or sensed somebody when we spent our preteen summers with her.
“No,” I responded.
“Well. They ain’t gonna bother you if you don’t bother them. Don’t be scared. If you are scared, just ask them, ‘What in the name of the Lord do you want?’ and they should go away. It is the living that should scare you and not the dead,” she always calmly replied.
About two years earlier, in 1998, I had lost a baby at six weeks. I had no pain or other symptoms, except for some spotting. If it weren’t for a faint blue line on the Walgreens pregnancy test and the absence of a regular period, I wouldn’t have known any difference in my body. In some ways, it was like it had never happened. I had just finished graduate school, and at the end of the summer, I realized that I had missed my period. I went to the doctor’s office. My sister and I were the only black people in the waiting room of the clinic, and we seemed to wait forever. Finally, a nurse called me to the front desk of the clinic and asked me to go pee in a cup. I followed the nurse to the back, entered the bathroom, peed in the plastic cup after wiping from front to back with a moist towelette, and followed the nurse back into the public waiting room. The nurse told me and my sister to remain in the public waiting room for the test results. My sister and I kept looking at each other, wondering if we stunk or something, because we wondered why the nurse, a white woman, couldn’t just allow us to wait in a patient room for the results.
Twenty years later I can see the dismissiveness and institutional racism in the nurse’s action, but back then I was so grateful to have completed my master’s degree and to have made it that far in life. I think I was just doing enough just to make it through the situation, just enough to make it through every day. I hadn’t planned on having a child then, but I naively and arrogantly believed at the time that I would be fine because I wasn’t a teenager and I had completed my education. With the best of intentions, I had been so trained as a black girl growing up in poverty on the south side of Chicago not to get pregnant and to complete my education. Little did I know that my so-called success and ed-u-ma-ca-tion only increased my mortality risk and the likelihood that I would miscarry, and that I was more likely to die from complications from pregnancy and childbirth. I wondered if my white doctors and nurses understood this fact and if they even cared.
Once the nurse returned with the results, it seemed that because I had not yet made it to the first trimester, I wasn’t worthy of seeing a doctor and waiting in an actual patient room. Apparently, my human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels were not high enough for the length of time that I had been without a period, which was told to me and my sister in the public waiting room. We were not afforded the human dignity of privacy. I kept asking questions, and finally we were escorted to a waiting room, where a white female nurse did an ultrasound. It was confirmed that the fetus was dead, or in their words, “nonviable.” The nurse also informed me that fetal loss in the first trimester is so normal that they, the medical establishment, don’t even consider it an issue or problem unless a woman experiences three miscarriages in a row. It was all so very nonchalant and matter-of-fact that I felt like I maybe had overreacted. Maybe I did something wrong. The nurse explained that the uterus and body would naturally expel the fetus, including tissue, and if it did not expel from the body in a couple of weeks, I was to return to the doctor.
I felt like I was in a daze and that a cruel trick had been played on me. I had spent over sixteen years, since sixth grade, making sure that I didn’t have a baby, that I didn’t stink—as my sixth-grade teacher had warned us girls during “the talk” about our periods and wearing deodorant—and working hard to outlive my membership in the sixth-grade brown birds math group, as opposed to the red cardinals and blue jays math groups. Here, sixteen years later, in 1998, I had been responsible, I got ed-u-macated, fell in love, and now—finally—wanted to have a baby, and my body and the Universe were like “Fuck You!” The next week on Wednesday, which would have been the first day of my graduate writing program, I felt a quick tearing inside my belly and rushed to the bathroom. I missed my first class of the semester, a fiction class—the novel—and I spent that evening sitting long periods on the toilet with the steady sound of skin and blood clots dropping and flopping into water to keep me company. Even after all that, I was still in love with that skinny black guy named for Jesus, and I still wanted to have his babies.
Maybe my miscarriage was a punishment, and I wondered if black women could have it all: babies, education, a career, and love.
Before I became pregnant in 1998, my momma came to me in a dream, as she often did in the year after her sudden death in 1997 at the age of forty-nine. On one visit, she told me about men, “that God will choose.” I had no clue what the hell she was talking about, but when my current love interest at the time, Sphincter Muscle, “Sphinc” or “Satan II” for short, started complaining of someone beating him in the head at night and waking him out of his sleep, I knew it was my momma. It was funny as hell to see how scared his community-dick-having-self was, but it still took me a couple of months to leave his trifling ass, because the sex was really good. From my late teens through my twenties, I had several relationships, had experienced my own loves, and watched the loves of family members disintegrate, and I knew and believed then, unequivocally, that I did not want to have any children.
“You will never find a husband and get married!” My grandma would yell at me when I, twelve years old and knowing it all, complained about my required daily chores of cleaning her house, which included the dreaded vacuum. My mother would send me and my older sister to stay with my grandma during the summers of the late eighties. I now realize it was another birth control strategy and to keep us away from what she feared could happen to latchkey kids in the summer streets of Chicago, latchkey black girls home alone. It’s ironic to think that my mother and her mother, Grandma, actually believed that it was harder for two preteen black girls to get pregnant living in a small southern Illinois town in the middle of nowhere instead of on the south side of Chicago with too much time on your hands.
“I don’t want to get married and have a husband!” I would yell back at my grandma when she chastised me for not wanting to be her maid and clean her house every day.
My grandma would just look at me and shake her head. She really believed that she was living the life, and from her viewpoint I guess it made sense. She was born and raised in the Great Depression, and I can’t imagine how dangerous it must have been for a pretty black girl growing up in a small mining town run through by train tracks in southern Illinois in the 1930s and 1940s. As my grandma explained, she worked, cooked, took care of the kids, and cleaned the house, and my Pawpaw worked, paid the bills, fixed stuff around the house, kept the garden, and drank at the VFW every night. I do mean every night.
She and Pawpaw had five kids, and the oldest child, Mark Anthony, was stillborn. I knew this from as long as I could remember because my mother always talked about her stillborn brother, Mark. My momma so loved Mark that she named my baby brother, Ronnie, after him, but she ended up changing his name from Mark to my father’s name, Ronald, because my father (Satan I) threw a stone-cold fit. Although my father had completely abandoned the family by the time that my baby brother was born, and even went so far as to tell people that my brother Ronnie wasn’t his, my father still expected my mother to name her last and fifth child, my brother, after him and not her dead stillborn brother. I was only eight years old then, but I understood. I wanted Momma not to cave to my father, but she did. It was like my father believed he owned my momma, her uterus, and what came out of it, even when he treated her and us, his children, like shit.
I guess it was hard because when my brother, Ronnie, was born, he looked like my father literally spit him out. I guess my father was my first relationship with a Sphincter Muscle. I could not understand a world where a man could marry a woman, have five kids with her, and walk away from her and his own kids and lead a life as if those kids did not come out of his nut sac, as if their mother who carried them in her body for nine months and pushed them out of her vagina did not exist. Where they do that at? Now you know why I, initially, was not down for the baby thing. That shit is just jacked up, and I had (have) issues, and I was never going to make myself that vulnerable to another human being.
Having grown up the second oldest of five kids and raised by a single mother, I experienced one of the best forms of birth control that exist. I was a mother of three kids at the age of eight. There were three siblings born after me, and by age eight, I was cooking, cleaning, changing diapers, and babysitting my sisters and brother because my mother had to go to work during the day to provide for us. By this time, my father had completely abandoned the family. I could count on one hand how many times from age eight through eighteen that I actually saw my father in a year’s time, and just because I saw him didn’t mean that he recognized and acknowledged me or my siblings as his children in those moments.
As experienced by most single mothers, particularly women of color, our father’s physical abandonment of the family instantly left us in poverty. Although my mother worked tirelessly to keep a roof over our heads, there were many days when we went without basic necessities like heat, water, electricity, and sufficient food. I lived those ten years after my father left the house bearing witness to my mother’s simultaneous suffering and tenacity, as a result of my father’s betrayal and her structural social position as a single black woman parent living in the urban North in the United States. I watched my mother’s body become emaciated as she continually took the smallest piece of fried chicken at dinner to ensure that her five growing children had enough food. She wore coats and boots years beyond their physical utility in the bitter cold and windy Chicago winters because she spent what little money she had on warm clothes and boots for her growing kids. At night, she made us put on our winter coats and boots and squeeze in tight together on our only couch, and then she placed blankets over us in the hope that our small bodies would not freeze during the night in the below-zero winter weather, because our heat had been cut off for nonpayment. And when my period first started at the age of twelve, she screamed on a regular basis for my first year of bleeding, “You can get pregnant now!”—instead of the ideal Pretty in Pink Molly Ringwald black girl experience that I really wanted.
Then, I believed and was resentful that I never had a chance to be a little girl or a teenager. Instead, while my mother was constantly making preemptive stealth moves and running rescue missions to ensure that her five babies lived beyond the womb despite the personal, historical, and social economic conditions that forced the contrary on the daily, I played mother and father to myself and to my baby brother and sisters.
There is one Christmas photo after my father left the family and my mother had given birth to my brother, Ronnie, the previous summer. My mother is wearing a white dress, and our backs are to the kitchen door because we don’t have a tree or gifts for this Christmas. We have pretty dresses, we have a new baby brother, we don’t have enough food, and we have love. I can’t remember who took the photo, but I am 100 percent sure that it was not my father.
I have looked at the photo a million times over the years, and I always assumed that it was a happy time because for the most part, it was a happy memory for me. In the picture, my sisters and I are smiling black girls, not recognizing or understanding at the time our momma’s pain, suffering, strength, and sacrifice. It would be later after my mother’s death in 1997 that my momma’s mother, my grandma, would let a big-ass bone fall out of her mouth to tell us that my younger and only brother, Ronnie, had been a twin. That while pregnant and going through the stress of my father’s infidelity, abandonment, and financial struggles, my momma miscarried my baby brother’s brother.
It was not until I had my own children that I looked at the photo again and could see how emaciated and tired my momma really was, while my sisters and I stood in front of her body, taking from it. That in its stance, although weary, her body was an unwavering foundation of our full black girls’ beauty and happiness of what all we knew, even in our poverty, as we wore our beautifully white detailed frilly dresses that Momma had sewn by hand, every stitch filled with the best of love, devotion, courage, and strength that she could give us.
“Don’t you ever let a man do to you what your father did to me,” my mother would preach to us daily until I left home for college at the age of seventeen, and you best believe that by high school, I had Planned Parenthood on speed dial, and I knew the quickest CTA bus route to the nearest clinic. Although I didn’t fully understand it then, my mother was trying to tell me in her own way and in the words that she understood that my ability to have agency and control over my uterus, my choice to procreate, and my mental, emotional, and physical health would directly connect to my ability to access my dreams, autonomy, liberty, citizenship, and equity as a black woman living in this world.
I have a tilted, retroverted uterus. Although a uterus can become tilted for many reasons, some women are born with a tipped uterus. From my first pap smear as a teenager, once doctors discovered that my uterus was retroverted, they treated me like a specimen in a cage. With permission of course, OB-GYNs would call in their colleagues and students for an opportunity to see my uterus, live and direct, shifted back as a result of heredity. My young sister, the third child, has a bicornuate, or heart-shaped, uterus, and she successfully carried and birthed two healthy children. Having a heart-shaped uterus is genetic, too. Like a preening large cat, I used to think that my uterus was special, until I learned that one out of every five women has a tilted uterus, and it is really a fairly common physical condition.
In the essay “Crooked Room” from Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and black Women America, Dr. Harris-Perry notes that “black women are standing in a crooked room, and they have to figure out which way is up. Bombarded with warped images of their humanity, some black women tilt and bend themselves to fit the distortion” (29). She goes on to argue that despite the public and political actions of black women that may contradict stereotypes, the reality is that “it can be hard to stand up straight in a crooked room” (29).
Maybe God tilted my uterus because S/HE understood the social economic challenges and contradictions that I would face as a black woman born into this crooked world that makes it hard for black and brown women to stand straight, to find equilibrium. My uterus’s slight tilt, like the universal black greeting of the head nod with an explicit or implicit “What’s up?” allowed me the ability to find equilibrium despite the constant distortions caused by the intersectionality of gendered, racial, and class oppression that I and my body, my uterus, and my dead, born, and unborn black babies have experienced. The tilt in my uterus might be the only physical thing keeping me and other women, especially brown and black women, upright.
A year after I left “Sphinc, i.e., Satan II” in 1998, I met a black skinny man who told me that his name, Emmanuel, means that “God is with Us.” All I could think about was that he had the prettiest set of white teeth and the kindest brown eyes that I had ever seen. He was the gentlest person that I had ever met. Emmanuel explained that he initially wanted to be a priest, so he was right with God. When he smiled at me for the first time and asked if he could carry my book bag back to my apartment, I really knew that Jesus was indeed with us, as my ovaries actually tingled for real for real, and I knew that I was in trouble. All my years of shit-talking about wanting to have absolutely no kids went out the front door. Three months later, after meeting a black man with a name that meant “Jesus is with us,” I was pregnant at age twenty-eight, overeducated, unmarried, unemployed, in love, full of hope, and so excited to have a baby. For the first time in my life, I felt free, and that I could do anything that I wanted.
That August summer night in 2000 in the Iowa suburb, I didn’t recognize the black man in the brown slacks and sweater that stood by and shook my bed while I slept. I jumped up, turned on the lights, and went to the bathroom. In my family, Spirits only came to visit to bring messages, primarily death. I couldn’t go back to sleep, and waited for Emmanuel to arrive from work. After making sure that he had showered and placed his uniform and shoes in a hermetically sealed plastic trash bag left outside the bedroom, I allowed him to enter the room. With a great deal of hubris, I suggested to Emmanuel that he phone home to make sure that everyone was all right, because I believed that I recognized every Spirit that had ever approached me. Since I didn’t recognize the black man in brown pants, it must have been a visit for Emmanuel.
Although I had been cramping in my lower abdomen over the past week and my OB-GYN had diagnosed me with uterine fibroids, telling me that women carried full healthy babies to term perfectly with uterine fibroids, it wasn’t in the realm of my imagination to even consider that my almost five-month-old baby in my stomach could die—again.
The next morning Emmanuel and I woke to start our drive to Minnesota, as we were moving there, and I was headed back to graduate school to complete my program. That morning I had been experiencing painful cramping without any blood, and I called my OB-GYN clinic. I thought maybe that I should go to the emergency room, but neither I nor Emmanuel had any health insurance at the time.
I left an urgent message for the doctor.
He called me back.
“You can go to the emergency room, but they are only going to give you Tylenol and send you home. Just take Tylenol, and you will be fine,” he said matter-of-factly.
Although in great pain, I trusted the doctor and didn’t go to the emergency room. I took Tylenol, and Emmanuel and I set out that day for our three- to four-hour drive to Minneapolis.
An hour south of the Minnesota border on Interstate 35, I felt a pop, and water gushed down my legs and pooled at my sandal-covered feet.
I could hear myself screaming, “No! No! No! No!” thinking that if I said it loud enough it could stop the water from running out of my body.
Emmanuel pulled to the side of the road, and we decided that we would drive to the nearest hospital.
I remember sitting in a wheelchair in the hallway as people walked past me like they did not want to touch me. People walked past me like they did not see me.
I sat there in the wheelchair thinking that as long as I didn’t stand up, water would not flow out of my uterus.
All the people in the hospital were white.
I just kept praying that the water, the amniotic fluid, remained in my womb.
When I finally was given a room while they asked for information about my OB-GYN, they called my doctor and waited for his response. I lay in the hospital bed and cried while Emmanuel held my hand. The nurses kept asking for the name of my primary physician, but I only had an OB-GYN.
As I write this essay, I realize that I was college educated, twenty-eight years old, and I didn’t have a primary doctor. I didn’t see a doctor regularly or yearly unless there was something wrong. I didn’t go to the doctor unless I had to. Going to the doctor was never an enjoyable or comfortable experience for me as a woman of color, and the one moment when I really needed a doctor, it felt like I didn’t have one, because the OB-GYN seemed to just be going through the motions. The OB-GYN made me feel like he didn’t care about me. I wondered if the OB-GYN was married, and if his wife was pregnant with fibroids and cramping would he have told her to take Tylenol, or would he have insisted that she go to the emergency room.
I don’t remember much about the exam in the emergency room, but doctors were in agreement that my water had broken; however, I was not going into labor as they expected. It was then that I finally realized that my stomach cramping had stopped.
A doctor from my clinic, not my OB-GYN from that same clinic, finally called the emergency room, and he, with a kind voice, advised me to return and be admitted to the hospital where the clinic was located to see if the amniotic fluid would fill back up in the sac. The doctor said that sometimes the fluid builds back up in the amniotic sac. I was hopeful, and Emmanuel and I returned to the hospital near the clinic, and I was admitted.
I was in the hospital for seven days. During those days I can only remember feeling the baby move and me crying. It was my first time to feel the baby move because I was close to twenty weeks. The doctor told me that I could feel the baby move because there was no longer any fluid in the amniotic sac. I was constantly worried that the baby was feeling pain and could not breathe properly because there was so much fluid loss. After a week, the hospital doctors realized that my amniotic sac was not going to refill with amniotic fluid, so they gave me the option of inducing labor or a D&C. After feeling the baby for that entire week, I couldn’t imagine them doing a D&C on the baby, so we opted for induction. It was then, after a week of crying, waiting, and drinking as much water as one could imagine, that I realized that my original OB-GYN doctor from the clinic never visited me in the hospital. He never came to the hospital room, and he never even called.
It was then that doctor, a different OB-GYN than my OB-GYN at the clinic, told me that all the time I had been cramping and experiencing what I felt was like really bad period cramps and the baby just growing, I was really in labor. I didn’t know it because I had never given birth to a baby, and my clinic OB-GYN did not inform me of this. My uterine fibroids were intramural, submucosal, and subserosal. In other words, the tumors were inside my uterus, embedded into the walls of my uterus, and on the outside walls of my uterus, and they put pressure on the amniotic sac until it burst because there wasn’t enough room inside my uterus for both the growing fibroids and the growing baby from where the placenta was attached.
Because of my uterine fibroids, I should have been classified as a high-risk pregnancy, and when I called the clinic doctor the night before we left for our trip to Minnesota complaining of really bad cramping, the clinic doctor should have told me to go to the nearest emergency room immediately in order to try to stop my labor, as I was automatically high risk for miscarriage since I had fibroids. You can do everything you are supposed to do, and stuff can still go left.
I was placed in a labor-and-delivery room. The room seemed really empty as there were no extra accessories: no infant bed with a warmer, no baby blankets, no bassinet, so scale, no fetal monitors, no maternity kits, etc. This was a room for a dead baby with the barest of essentials, as the doctor had told us that the baby would not survive the birth. Even then, I was still hoping.
I naively believed that the labor would not be difficult, because I rationalized that the baby was so small. What damage could an almost twenty-week fetus do to the body?
I was given a morphine drip and a Pitocin drip. At first it wasn’t that bad, but I quickly reached my maximum drug allowance on the morphine, and it started to hurt really badly.
“It hurts, it hurts, it hurts . . .” were the only words I had for Emmanuel.
It was like it was not happening to me, and I was floating above the room just watching it and recording it in my memory for future recall. Like a person under duress, I knew my job was just to merely get through it. I was used to the worst things happening and knowing how to survive and appear normal in spite of them.
“Can you press again? It really hurts,” I asked Emmanuel.
“You’ve reached your maximum dose,” he told me.
Once I was fully dilated, the baby came, and she was a girl.
“I can see her chest moving! See! She’s breathing! She’s breathing!” I told the doctor as he held her, and I watched him gently come over to me and press his thumb over her chest reminding me that she was too small for any instruments to aid her. I think I thought if I looked at her hard enough and concentrated that she would come back to life.
She was so tiny and beautiful. I just kept smelling her because she smelled so good and so different. I had never smelled anything like it. She smelled like something from another world, and it smelled so good. My baby did not stink, and I couldn’t believe that she came out of me and that I smelled that good on the inside. Even in that moment I wondered why my sixth-grade teacher had taught us that black girls stink. I knew then that she was a liar. Since my baby came out of me smelling so good, then I must be good, too. I just wanted her to be good with me and to stay with me. I think I kept her blankets for over ten years, just to take them out of their special box to smell them every now and then.
We called the priest to give last rites, and when he entered the room, we showed him our baby, who to us was the most beautiful girl in the world. The white Catholic priest physically recoiled as if he had seen something repulsive. I thought, “I’m Catholic, and Emmanuel is Catholic, named after Jesus. Why wouldn’t he want to baptize our baby girl and give her last rites?”
The hardest was leaving the hospital and leaving her there. I kept wanting to go back and to look and touch her body, and I did. I knew it was not healthy, but I just wanted to keep looking at her and touching her just one more time. I couldn’t stop myself. We took pictures, but I kept feeling like I would forget her, and it is the worst feeling in the world to believe that you are going to forget what your child looks like because you know that you won’t see her face again. We finally decided to have her cremated because as students we were not attached to any place, and I could not imagine burying her in a place where we didn’t live and then she would be there alone and all by herself. Our daughter was cremated and placed in a brass urn, which I still have placed on an altar today with pictures of my mother, grandmothers, auntie, and uncle, all of whom have passed.
Sylvia Browne, a prominent psychic, was scheduled to come to the Twin Cities in 2001, and unbeknownst to Emmanuel, I splurged and bought tickets for us to see her. Pregnant again, I was about twenty weeks along, and we were living in an apartment in south Minneapolis. We were both working and in school. The arena where Sylvia Browne was speaking was full to capacity, and Emmanuel and I were seated on the main floor in the back. By this time, we had been together for over two years, and he was used to my fascination with Spirits. Plus, he was named after Jesus, so how could he not be as well?
That night Sylvia Browne held a lottery for all ticket holders to choose what lucky ones would go to the stage to ask her a question directly. I was not one of the lucky ones. I had two chances because Emmanuel told me that he would have given me his ticket if his number was called. I told ya’ll he was sweet. Anyway, Browne led the entire auditorium through a guided meditation, and she advised everyone to individually ask in their heads the question that we would like our Higher Power, in my case God/Universe, to answer for us.
“Will my baby make it past twenty-five weeks?”
“Will my baby make it past twenty-five weeks?”
“Please God, will my baby make it past twenty-five weeks?” I kept asking this question over and over again in my head like a mantra, a prayer. Although these questions were a part of my guided meditation with Sylvia Browne in that moment in the auditorium there in St. Paul sitting next to Emmanuel, this question had been my obsession since we found out that we were pregnant again.
“You call us anytime for any concerns that you have about your pregnancy. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and our job is to make you feel at ease,” is what the clinic nurse in 2001 told me.
This time, we had an OB-GYN who diagnosed me as a high-risk pregnancy, and I received the additional and needed medical care, compassion, and concern relative to my medical condition and risks. My OB-GYN was part of a clinic that specifically served women of color and understood the unique risks and disparities relative to women of color and pregnancy: hypertensive disorders, diabetes, fibroids, education, and poverty. They made me feel like they cared, and they listened to me and responded to my questions and needs. I knew that there were never any guarantees, but Emmanuel and I felt confident in our health care and pregnancy this time around. We felt that we were receiving care from experts who met our medical needs and actually cared about the success of our pregnancy, birth, and child.
That night, I was awakened by someone shaking the bed. We had graduated to a full bed, and I was lying flat on my back, and my right side was on the edge. I looked to my right, and there was the same black man with the brown pants and sweater that I first saw in the summer of 2000. He had returned, but this time he was not alone. There was someone standing next to him to his right, dressed in a glowing white robe like a Roman toga.
Again, I seemed not to lift my eyes high enough to see their faces. The person in the white robe had an open book in his hand, and he lifted his right hand and pointed directly to my stomach while the black man in brown looked at the man in white. The black man in brown then jumped into my stomach, and my whole body shook and vibrated from my tummy throughout my entire frame, and a feeling of complete peace and knowingness fell over me. I knew then that I had watched my child’s soul enter her body and that the baby I was carrying, right then and there in 2001, was going to be all right.
I looked to my left, and saw that Emmanuel, Jesus, had slept through the entire thing. I realized in that moment that back when my bed shook during that hot, muggy August night in 2000, my daughter’s Spirit had come to tell me, “Mommy, not yet.” She was letting me know that it wasn’t her time but trying to explain to me that she would return, and on that night in 2001 her soul did just that.
As bad-ass as I pretended to and wanted to be, I decided that I couldn’t be a fifth-generation recovering Catholic with a Catholic baby daddy named Jesus and not get married. With an eight-month-full belly, Emmanuel and I were married at the Hennepin County Courthouse. My baby brother, Ronnie, and my sister with the heart-shaped uterus stood as witnesses. Our daughter was born thirty-three days later at nine pounds and twenty-one inches long. I prayed during my twelve hours and seventeen minutes of labor that I would see my mother, but I didn’t, and I named my daughter after her anyway.
1 See P. R. Lockhart, “What Serena Williams’s Scary Childbirth Story Says about Medical Treatment of Black Women: Black Women Are Often Dismissed or Ignored by Medical Care Providers. Williams Wasn’t an Exception,” vox.com, January 11, 2018, https://www.vox.com/identities/2018/1/11/16879984/serena-williams-childbirth-scare-black-women.
2 According to Reeves and Matthew, “The infant mortality rate for black babies is twice that for whites. But this is not a poverty story. Babies born to well educated, middle-class black mothers are more likely to die before their first birthday than babies born to poor white mothers with less than a high school education.” See Richard V. Reeves and Dayna Bowen Matthew, “Social Mobility Memos: Six Charts Showing Race Gaps within the American Middle Class,” Brookings.com, October 21, 2016, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2016/10/21/6-charts-showing-race-gaps-within-the-american-middle-class/. Also see K. C. Schoendorf and C. J. R. Hogue, “Mortality among Infants of Black as Compared with White College-Educated Parents,” New England Journal of Medicine 326, no. 23 (1992): 1522–27, EBSCO host.
3 Pretty in Pink, directed by Howard Deutch, with Molly Ringwald, Jon Cryer, and Harry Dean Stanton (Paramount Pictures, 1986).
4 Melissa Harris-Perry, “Crooked Room,” in Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America, for Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Politics When Being Strong Isn’t Enough (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2011), 28–50.
5 Musa Okwonga, “The Nod: A Subtle Lowering of the Head You Give to Another Black Person in an Overwhelmingly White Place,” Medium, October 16, 2014, https://medium.com/matter/the-nod-a-subtle-lowering-of-the-head-to-another-black-person-in-an-overwhelmingly-white-place-e12bfa0f833f.
6 According to Elizabeth A. Stewart and colleagues, “Multiple lines of evidence suggest that uterine fibroids have a disproportional effect on African-American women. African-American women have a higher cumulative risk of uterine fibroids, a threefold greater incidence and relative risk of fibroids, and an earlier age of onset. In addition, African-American women are 2.4 times more likely to undergo hysterectomy and have a 6.8-fold increase of undergoing uterine-sparing myomectomy. At the time of hysterectomy, African-American women have higher uterine weights, more fibroids, a higher likelihood of preoperative anemia, and more severe pelvic pain. Data also suggests that African-American women may have biologically distinct disease.” Elizabeth A. Stewart, Wanda K. Nicholson, Linda Bradley, and Bijan J. Borah, “The Burden of Uterine Fibroids for African-American Women: Results of a National Survey,” Journal of Women’s Health 22, no. 10 (2013): 807–16, PMC.
7 Sylvia Browne (1936–2013) was a psychic, medium, author, and spiritual teacher.
8 Kiera Butler, “A Surprisingly Simple Way Black Women Can Reduce Pregnancy Risks,” MotherJones.com, July/August 2018, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/08/simple-way-reduce-risk-black-pregnancy-premature-birth/.
9 Linda Villarosa, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies Are in a Life-or-Death Crisis: The Answer to the Disparity in Death Rates Has Everything to Do with the Lived Experience of Being a Black Woman in America,” New York Times Magazine, April 11, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/11/magazine/black-mothers-babies-death-maternal-mortality.html.