Thursday, January 13, 2011


Disclaimer: I've never directly written about the birth of my career as Mommy.  At least, I've never done so publicly... But somehow, this prompt was the catalyst to a two-hour writing session and I'm glad it chose me this week.  It's long. It's not my usual "blog style." Still, it's me.
From the moment I knew I was expecting, I was in this surreal delirium. It was the euphoria of pending motherhood. I was madly in love with my guy of two years, I was finishing up my Master of Journalism degree, and the future looked amazingly boundless. I just knew the “world is yours, Rachelle” (said in the ultra hot accent of that gal in ‘New Jack City’).

When I was sure, absolutely certain, I was pregnant (and the student medical center blood test results were in front of me), the elation began. A baby! New life from our love! I’m going to be a Mommy! And then, I called him.

I don’t know what words I used. I was standing in the hallway, next to my bedroom and the living room, and across from the bathroom. And while I was excitedly running through the hundreds of beautiful, intimate, overjoyed responses I’d received in my mind, the man on the other end of the line was silent. And then my heart was shattered.

“You tricked me.”

My legs shook a little beneath me, and I moved toward the bathroom and sat on the closed toilet.

“You roped me in.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. I struggled to push the rising lump in my throat back down.

“I never knew someone who said they loved me would do me like this.”

My cheeks, drenched. Nose, running away - - doing what I wanted to do but couldn’t with such ease that I was envious.

“Just do me a favor. Get rid of it.”

And then I was angry. I’m sure I defended myself. There was no trickery here. I didn’t aim to ruin his life. And I wasn’t ending the one inside me. Then, the dial tone told me I was alone; more alone than I’d ever been in my 22 years on earth.

In the weeks that followed, I worked hard to finish my photodocumentary thesis project. I spent hours in the darkroom, my therapy. Inside, in the blackened and tight space, I watched as the enlarger’s light burned images: my pictures. Immersed in liquid magic, each white paper became an image of life. I was the creator, the one in total control of each piece. I had the power to select which negatives would take on new life, would be shared with the world, and which would remain mere beginnings of pictures, never to touch the world or have an impact. I relished in my power.

At the woman’s clinic I was referred to, I sat fidgeting in the waiting room. My fingers idly flipped pages of wrinkled and torn magazines left for patients to peruse, but I saw not a single article, picture, or ad. I checked the time. My foot began to tap involuntarily, as I’d set my leg on a nerve point.

“Rachelle? The doctor’s ready for you.”

I gathered my referral paperwork and my insurance cards, and walked hurriedly toward the already retreating nurse. In the room, the nurse instructed me to disrobe, nodding at a soft fabric hospital gown on the examination table.

I don’t remember her name. She came in all smiles, instructed me to lay down, and talked to me in a soothing voice that put me at ease. Then she typed something into her machine, and suddenly, the soft whirring ultrasound machine sprang to life. “There’s your baby,” she said, pointing to a tiny white bean on the screen. She printed several shiny screenshots and handed them to me, “For the baby album: the first portraits.”

I left with my baby’s pictures in my hand. The sun was shining brightly when I emerged from the clinic.

My mother says that my pregnant personality was pretty sickening. Not because I was crazy with hormonal mood swings or giddy with nesting, preparations and such, but because I wanted so badly to be pregnant.

In truth, I was clinging so tightly to this unborn baby because I felt like she was the consolation prize in yet another failed relationship in my then-brief adult life. The baby was evidence that I loved and was loved, passionately. It was the single remaining gift from the spoils of my broken heart.

With each passing day, I was more excited. I bought a heart monitor at a baby store that promised to allow me to hear my child’s heartbeat inside my tummy. Big mistake. The few times I tried it, I heard only my own increasingly fast heart pounding into the headphones as I frantically searched for a second, quicker beat. I’d panic then, and spend days wondering if there was still a life inside me.

I insisted on photos of my (non-existent) pregnant belly. I’d clutch my shirts tightly against my abdomen and arch my back to emphasize the soft roundness of my stomach. Mom would stifle her laugh, knowing I was not much more “pregnant-looking” than the last insistence. It was important to me, and she supported me.
happily expecting
My father was seemingly absent during this time. In truth, he was right there, getting up early for work and returning late from meetings. He allowed me space in this new phase of life – one that he’d never dreamed would happen quite like this for his daughter. He honored my request to keep silent about my pregnancy, and in an extended family that shares everything, that was no easy commitment.

Nanny dreamt of fish. Then, on a visit to New York, she saw something in my usually pudgy girth that looked amiss, and she said, “When are you due?” I was six months along then.

For my birthday, he flew me out to California for a visit. I think he wanted to see for himself that I was, indeed, pregnant with our child. We went bowling. We went to the beach. He took a picture of me holding my shoes as I waded into the water. I was looking back at him, smiling. My shirt was blue plaid, my stomach protruding. Conversation was superficial. The friendship, the love I cherished seemed on hiatus. I flew home to my family.

By November, the toll of my pregnancy was weighing heavily on my 4’10” person. A pain just below my chest insisted on plaguing my days with sharp stabbing announcements of its presence several times each day. The medical facility I chose when I returned to Virginia operated under a ‘select the midwife’ circuit that had me seeing someone new almost every visit. Each time, I was told the pain was because of my height (everything is running out of space with that healthy baby of yours growing!). I went into labor right before Thanksgiving. The midwife on duty used a drug to stop it.

Early in December, I was substituting at a middle school to make a little money for myself and baby girl. I’d chosen her name – Laura, in honor of my mother, and Chioma, an Igbo name selected from the two I’d asked him to give me. Crowned with honor, Good God would be her name. A snow storm closed the schools and I was relieved of my substitute obligations. My legs swelled and I resembled a Tweedle from Alice in Wonderland. I begged Dr. C, at this point finally only one person, to end my misery. He scheduled an induction for December 19.

Mom went in to work, as usual, on Dec. 18. The schools had reopened, and Dad was also back at work. I felt too sluggish to do anything. And then a dull throb in my back turned into an agonizing pain that grew increasingly unbearable as I lay on the couch watching Discovery Channel’s 'A Baby Story' and countless other reality TV shows. I called Mom and asked her to drive me to the hospital, labor day had begun on its own. [My Chi does not like to follow other people’s timelines.]

The clock was gold. Huge numbers. The hands hardly seemed to move, but the hours spent waiting stretched. I slept. I woke. Nurses and doctors rattled off numbers. My brother sat in a corner, unsure of what to do to help, so he just waited.

Rachelle, the baby’s in distress. We’re going to have to do a C-section.
mommy sick

A cold room. I’m suffocating. My Mom’s voice is above me. Despite the lights, it seems so dark. I can’t see anything. Mom, he’s squishing me. And then, nothing…

Tav, I can’t see the paper. You’ll have to write it. I struggle with the birth certificate paperwork, willing my eyes to focus on the words and lines dancing across the paper. Spell her name, Rachelle.

L-a-u-r-a-C-h-i-o-m-a… uh… U-k… I don’t remember how to spell his last name, her middle name. Mom finds the paper where I'd written her name in my travel bag and finishes the documents.

Endless nurses. Doctors. Name the president. Now who was before him? And before him? I don’t know.

My daughter is here. In this world, but not in my room. A nurse wheels her in in a portable incubator. I hold her, try to focus on her precious face. It’s a blur.
I fall asleep, and next time my eyes flick open, she is gone.

In the corner, my father is on his laptop. Yet another doctor looms over me. A nurse pushes buttons. Machines beep. Someone is reciting numbers. Mom, why is she speaking a funny language? That’s not my birthday. Dad makes an entry on his hospital log: transfusion at...on…
Christmas. Why am I still here? Where is my baby? I want to go home. I sleep. In the corner, my baby brother spends his break from school in vigil in my room. The church’s food donations, Christmas dinner.

The nurse pricks my finger, squeezing a small drop of blood from the wound. It spreads into a large puddle on a paper stick, consuming the white with its darkness. That hurts. Why are they doing that? The nurse disappears.

There’s a war in my room. Helicopters. Troops. News reporters. My hospital bed bumps along a corridor and lights flicker through my closed lids. And then, it stops.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to begin. This is not the introduction into motherhood I’d planned. I’m yellow – eyes and skin. And yet a friend’s wife, meeting me for the first time, calls me beautiful.

He visits, then, just before New Year. Dad teaches him how to change a diaper. He holds his daughter for the first time. I realize that the smell of the flowers in the room is nauseating.

I'm diagnosed.  I hear the medical jargon; it's some rare condition they've never experienced.  Then, finally, they release me.
LCUJ 12.28.02
The staples were a bad idea. Dr. C and his colleague (the owner of the practice, Dr. A), figured that out too late. Specifically, Dr. C. figures it out when, three days after my release from the hospital, he attempts to take them out in a follow-up appointment.

The wound opens then, terrifyingly raw. Dr. C.’s eyes widen, he quickly closes his jaw, which opened ever-so-slightly as the wound spread larger with each metallic clank. He rushes from the room. I’m told to walk down to emergency (the hospital adjoins the clinic) and I’m readmitted to the hospital.

We can’t close the wound, there’s too much risk of infection. And I am left bandaged, my abdomen split in two.

A wound care specialist is assigned. Seaweed packs. Look, it’s like a mouth. She says it, and I am humiliated. Little yellow girl with a mouth where her abdomen used to lay flat and sexy.

I am scarred…
NOT the end.
Photos by various family members (LAJ, OEJ)
*Written 12/10/2011 for MamaKat's Pretty Much World Famous Writer's Workshop


waytenmom said...

Who cares if it was long? I struggle with that occasionally because I know people only have limited time when reading blogs but when a story's gotta be told, it's gotta be told! Your daughter is beautiful, and she is fortunate that you cherished her from the very first moment.

Jamie Bishop said...

You left me wanting the rest of the story!!!

New following; stopping by from Mama Kat's.

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to read the rest of the story..