Of all the roles that I play in life, for me, the most important one is the role of a mother. As far as I can remember I knew that one day I wanted to be a mother. There were so many things that my parents did that I made a mental note not to do. There were also that many more things that I learned from them. From my dad, I learned about making everything a life lesson. From my mom, the love of God and sacrifice amongst other things.
When people talked about being a mom for the first time there was joy, laughter and euphoria. There were cute little onesies, baby showers and choosing names. Rarely was there discussion, and if there was I never heard of it, of the hardships and unexpected challenges that comes with being a parent for the first time, specifically a single parent, especially when experiencing a C-section. When I gave birth to my beautiful girl her father and I were separated and I was living at my mother’s home. There were a few things at play for me. One was the realization that I was doing this alone. Two, the pain of a C-section birth with limited support to assist. Three: mourning the loss of my father, four: sleep deprivation and five – my mom couldn’t provide the support I needed.
I was 25 years old when I found out I was pregnant. At the time I had just gotten my own apartment a year prior, was single, enjoying my life as a money making, Jimmy’s Bronx Cafe – happy hour going Afro-Latina. One of my sisters and I lived a building away from each other and I was having the time of my life. Now that I had the money I was hanging out, going on trips with friends, enjoying life as you should be at 25 years old.
For my birthday that year my family and I went to a local Italian restaurant to celebrate. We went out for everyone’s birthday back then. That was before the 14 grandchildren. While we waited for everyone at my parent’s apartment, my father became so frustrated that he took off his clothes, went into his walk in closet and put on his red, long sleeve pajamas. Once my dad made a decision there was no turning back. I pleaded with him and told him this was a significant birthday for me. He said he would rather eat some platanos and leftover chicken.
Unfortunately he didn’t go but it didn’t stop the celebration. There was so much to celebrate. I had just left a job as a supervisor at a preventive agency to become a school social worker. A week into the job and I already had a day off, Columbus Day that always coincided with my birthday. For the most part I was enjoying my life, I had my own apartment, a good income, a great group of friends, a great career, and I wanted to celebrate. I had a hunch that there was something different about that particular year. I knew that my life was going to take a significant turn but didn’t know how. Sometimes I get that feeling when something is about to happen but I hadn’t shared it with anyone at that point.
After a few glasses of red wine, I began to cry. I was thankful for where I was in life but felt like I still wasn’t where I wanted to be at 25 years old. I was proud of where I was in my career but imagined being married with children at 25 and the way things were going for me at that point I was nowhere near that goal. A month later I lost my father to the flight 587 plane crash and I was devastated. I was suffocated by his death. That’s a whole other essay. And like a bad joke, a month to the day after my father died, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter. I reconnected with my daughter’s father, my childhood sweetheart, a day before the Flight 587 Tragedy, and we were discussing the hopes of starting a family. Unfortunately my partner was not as excited as I was and I felt deceived.
Although my mother wasn’t pleased that I wasn’t married, she was excited that her first grandchild was on her way. In fact, the entire family was overwhelmed with joy that after so much sadness and disappointment regarding my father, new life was going to bless the family.
Unfortunately the hope of having a happy family did not happen. Her father and I couldn’t quite get it together and I decided to hand in my apartment and move back in with my mom – to keep her company and to save money. As the months progressed my mother’s back issues took a turn for the worse and she had an operation a month or so before my daughter was born.
When the time came for her to be born I was ecstatic. I was so scared and ecstatic. I had never taken care of anyone’s infant so I didn’t have a clue on how to take care of a baby. None of my friends had had any children at that point so I was alone in the journey. The contractions were painful and inconsistent. She was a week late so I was taken to the hospital where the doctor gave me pitocin to induce the labor. The contractions were painful and after monitoring me the doctors observed that my baby girl was in distress and the doctors said a c-section was necessary. My heart sunk. I heard those things were painful. Next thing you know, they were sticking a huge needle in my back and I couldn’t feel anything below my waist anymore. In fact, it felt good. Real good.
We were rushed into the operating room and it was the weirdest thing. I felt the doctors slicing the skin under my belly. I felt the flesh opening up. I heard the stuff coming out. As I laid, face up I turned to the side and saw my father’s face and felt his comfort. Soon I saw her and she was the most beautifullest thing in this world, as Keith Murray once proclaimed. And she looked just like the baby my father described that he saw in his dreams a week before we lost him. She was placed on my chest momentarily and tears flooded my face. I couldn’t believe I created her.
When the anesthesia started wearing off the pain was alarming. I couldn’t even walk to the bathroom without the nurse’s help. Me, an independent woman, who did everything by myself. I needed help and it was uncomfortable. The nurses and doctors kept reminding me that since this was not a “normal” delivery that there were some restrictions and limitations. The doctor said I could not drive for at least a month. If there was one thing I hated was restrictions and limitations.
When I made it home a few days later something came over me and I gave myself permission to grieve. I cried and cried and cried. I think I cried for two days straight. In the pictures of the baby’s first day home, you can see the bags under my eyes and the tears as well. I cried because I missed my dad. I cried because my mother was in pain due to her back surgery and I couldn’t help her and in turn she couldn’t help me. I cried because I was a single mother. I cried because I didn’t know what to do and I wanted the best for my daughter.
Thankfully God sent me a beautiful angel disguised as my next door neighbor, Lisbeth. She was so young and in middle school but she was my lifeline during that time of my life. She would come over after school and help me with the baby’s laundry and would help me clean my room. I never had to ask. Ever. My mother’s home attendant helped me also. My siblings were the best. They came over at least once a week to help. Night time was tough. I hardly slept and between helping my mother with her back issues, while still in pain from the C-section I found solace in prayer. I would sit in the rocking chair, hold my beautiful darling and I would sing affirmations to her in a song, “Tu eres Linda, tu eres bella, eres mia, mi Nyilah.” I was also affirming to myself as I was in a dark place at that time.
On the worst days I felt so guilty. I felt guilty about wanting to go back to work. I felt guilty about wanting to go hang out with friends. I remember it wasn’t until I saw an episode of Oprah where they talked about postpartum depression that I realized what I was going through at the time. No one I knew talked about the pain that came with motherhood sometimes. The pain of a C-section was unbearable. I was stressed out. I was sleep deprived. I was in pain, a whole lot of pain. There were no more of those little blue pills to help my pain go away. Breastfeeding was going awful. At night, I cried myself to sleep when no one was watching. I was grieving a relationship that wasn’t. I was grieving my father. I was dealing with a criticona mother that couldn’t help me but sure had a lot to say. I loved my daughter more than I imagined. I didn’t even know it was possible to love so deeply. It was loving her that helped me heal. Eventually, the sadness made an exit and in came, joy and peace. Although her father and I got married, it didn’t work out. After another child, we decided that we weren’t meant to be together. Through prayer, prayer, and more prayer, we are excellent co-parents today and he is an awesome dad.
Of all the roles that I have, the one that I hold with so much honor and prestige is that of being a mother. I love being a mother. I love the gift of being able to help shape one of God’s gifts to the world. I am now the mother of three. Amiri came three years later and the pain was just as bad but this time I had Nyilah’s little face to cheer me and her little brother on. Demetrius, is truly a gift. I didn’t birth him but was blessed with the honor to parent him in 2013. It hasn’t been a rose garden but I must say that being a stepparent has its challenges and rewards. I wouldn’t change anything about how I became a parent because it was in that experience that I strengthened my relationship with myself, with God and with my children.
I am sure I am not the only one that went through this experience and I also know that this isn’t a topic that is talked about as frequently. These feelings are normal and they are real. It is so important to surround yourself with life affirming and giving individuals to help lift you when you, a strong, independent woman can’t do it anymore. People ask me all the time, how do you do it all? The truth is I don’t do it all all of the time. Sometimes, the car gets towed. Sometimes you forget to send your kid with lunch to a school trip and sometimes your dissertation proposal takes a back seat. Sometimes there is a ball that drops. But I am so grateful to have a great support system to keep me in check. I love my village!
When God grants my husband and I the opportunity to parent again, we will do so with open arms, with God’s blessings and with all the love in the world.