The many faces of Pregnancy

32 weeks (8 mo.) has arrived which means we are very close to seeing the shining face of our growing human. For those that do not know, I am finishing up the first semester of my PhD program at UPenn and my partner James is wrapping up his first semester as a Master’s student. We just arrived in Philly from Sacramento this past August 2016, so needless to say we are far from home.

I am writing for many reasons. First, we’ve been and will continue to be fairly private about our journey to parenthood for many reasons. However, there are many moments that I have been shocked and concerned at the lack of knowledge and empathy many people have around pregnancy.

As a pregnant woman of color in the academy, I experience microaggressions almost daily from all sides: professors, well-meaning colleagues, and random classmates who should keep their unsolicited thoughts to themselves.

Myths:

  1. I have suddenly lost my intellectual capacity because I’m pregnant.

IMG_2552.JPG

I fully plan on continuing my PhD program without a break. I am tired of hearing “So, are you going back home?” or “So will you be taking time off or something?” My simple answer: no. I have dreamed of being a professor/teacher/scholar since I was a little girl. If nothing else, having a little one on the way, pushes me even further to be intellectually sharp, critical in my approach, thoughtful in my relationships and intentional about what’s to come.

The last thing I want our baby to learn is “having a child will end all your dreams,” whether through word or example. Folks, sometimes your comments are better left unsaid. So, I will continue to do it all while centering my child, our family and self care first.

Contrary to your own feelings about what this does to my life, pregnancy is not a disruption for us.

I think in people’s attempt to express empathy for the challenges of pregnancy, they simply do not know what to say. Sometimes asking: “Is there anything you need?” will suffice y’all!

2. I need all the advice I can get, especially from people who’ve never had children

Chile. Well-meaning or not, unless a pregnant person asks for advice or is expressing a concern, perhaps you should keep your ideas to yourself. I’ve had many people offer a resource, blog, article or app because they feel like I should know what they know. Some have even added me to Facebook groups on parenting without my consent.

We are already inundated with a TON of information about pregnancy and parenting. Much of that information is also framed for white women & families, which is it’s own challenge in and of itself. Again, ask rather than assume you know what someone else needs.

3. I can’t see you intently staring at my very round belly.

IMG_3873.JPG

Period. Your discomfort is showing. And if nothing else, it makes me want to stay far, far away from you until forever. Creating life is not something to be gawked at, disgusted with, or shamed.

4. Your food shaming comes from a good place.

IMG_2629

Nah. Your food shaming comes from a very personal place that I don’t need to go. The folks who need to be in conversation about a person’s food choices while pregnant do not likely include you. A partner, doctor, friends (who the person chooses to include perhaps).

As you eat your salad and question the choices of the pregnant person in front of you, ask yourself why you feel the need to say something or show your judgement?

Most pregnant folks have cravings that are STRONG and often correlate to something the baby needs. Not only is it ok to indulge sometimes, perhaps the choices are connected to something beyond just “I am craving this right now.”

The worst thing you can do is shame a pregnant person for their beautiful, growing body. Body types vary, fitness levels vary, health plans vary. It is not for you to decide for anyone else but yourself. K, thanks. bye.

5. Your concerns about my marital status aren’t cloaked in racial, gender and age bias.

IMG_0048

Yeah. So when my partner shows up to doctor appt. with me, the shocked looks on your faces are infuriating.

You asking “When’s the wedding?” isn’t cute. We have plans, not based on your timelines, expectations nor traditions. K, thanks. bye.

When you discover we are both graduate students at an ivy league, in a happy, healthy relationship and looking forward to our little one arriving, your “Wow. Good for you both”  really means you cannot believe that the two of us are in fact all of these things, young and Black.

6. Your desire to know the gender/sex of our baby isn’t alarming.

Y’all. What is it about this obsession with knowing the sex/gender of our child? You should be happy for a healthy baby regardless. We challenge you to shop differently, think outside of the box and consider the fact that sex assigned at birth and gender are totally different things.

We are taught/learn very specific ideas about gender that are often violent. We do not want our little one feeling like certain modes of expression, professions, interests, etc. are off limits because of their sex assigned at birth. Please stop projecting your “values” on others.

7. It’s ok to chalk up a pregnant person’s feelings to “hormones” or laugh at their expense.

IMG_2470

I manage depression and anxiety constantly. Being pregnant, this is no different. There have often been times where I have tried to express to a friend or people in community that I was in a depressed space (at that pt. for months) and the response was: “awww. how cute. hormones.”

I’m sorry, but depression and changing hormones are an intense combination.

The reality is, every pregnancy is different. We hear the most about postpartum depression but antepartum depression is also a thing. A pregnant person’s brain undergoes chemical changes during pregnancy- the body’s way of preparing them to multitask and keep a child safe. Those chemical changes last almost an entire year or more after the baby is born.

Dismissing a person’s feeling can be more damaging than you ever know. I’m incredibly grateful for my friends who affirmed my feelings of fear, exhaustion, anxiety, sadness, and utter joy from one day to the next. For a partner who never made me feel badly about my constant emotional flux.

Happy to say I’ve come out of a dark cloud after 2-3 months, but those months were incredibly hard. The academy and being far from home did not make that any easier.

8. There are a lot more physical changes to the body than a growing uterus (it’s not actually our belly!)

Just google this one. You’re welcome.

 

I could go on, but I hope at the very least this charged you to stop and think about your own actions when interacting with, discussing or exploring topics of family or childbirth. Sending love and positive energy to all the soon to be parents out in the world, the parenting hopefuls, the noxnbinary/non traditional families and even those who cannot or will not have the chance to birth a human. I see you. I affirm you.

(Mis)carried Away

IMG_4194

 

So let’s be real. It’s taboo for women (especially women of color) to discuss certain topics, especially anything pertaining to the body: periods, sex, desire, marriage, sexuality, rape and our BODIES. I’m here to say “fuck that.” I’m exhausted by a world that tells me to keep silent about topics that are  critical to my survival and healing.

So here’s a new story most of y’all don’t know: I’ve had two miscarriages this year. WE had two miscarriages this year. No, I am not writing for “I’m sorry,” or “Are you ok?” In fact, that’s the last thing I wish to hear. Instead, I write to express that no matter what image you carry of me or other women in your life, we are all carrying stories & trauma linked to our bodies and sometimes being a “strong Black woman” is not enough.

The first happened back in February. We tried and got pregnant the first time around! We were elated and though our relationship was new, we were so thrilled and ready. A week later, after several doctor visits, I began bleeding more than one should. Within a week the doctor told me I had an early miscarriage (I was about 4 weeks along) and that within a few months we could try again. Try again? All I wanted to know was why it happened and my answer: “It happens to most women. And they go on to have healthy pregnancies.” Great. That helps. I wanted to be told it was normal and I would be seeing a healthy version of ourselves in 8 months.

We were careful after that, but happened to get pregnant again, a week before James’ 26th birthday. Scared, nervous and hopeful, we were extra careful; a week later, I became incredibly exhausted, emotional and the bleeding started again. My spirit knew it was coming, I woke up that morning weeping and expressing “I don’t want to go to work today. I don’t know why. I just don’t want to go.” But I went. And it began a few hours later. My second miscarriage that is…

When I tell you I didn’t want to live anymore, I mean it.

Somewhere I had learned that my womanhood was dependent upon my ability to create and carry life (internalized patriarchy racism, etc. etc., yes). The entire summer was an internal battle: Am I woman enough? What did I do wrong? Am I ever going to be able to have children? Am I paying for the sins of my family? Am I paying for my own sins? Am I really ready for the next journey in life? I’m approaching 30, is that why? I must not be healthy enough. I need to take more vitamins. I need to run more. That’s it. I was looking for any reason to justify it.

We loved our children. We still love our children. We named them: Nia & James Jr. And we still want to try again. Yes, according to the doctors I am still healthy & there was nothing I could have done. But that’s hard to accept when even in a week’s time, we both started planning for a new addition to the family, just to be told they’re gone.

No, I did not complete my master’s thesis. Yes, I neglected the supporters of my journey. And my students. And my friends. And my bills at times. And all my other responsibilities. Yes, I neglected my family. Yes, I let down my “customers” who were waiting on a copy of ‘Hope Dealers.’ Yes, I neglected work. Yes, I cried. A LOT. In fact, I wept. Often. And occasionally still do. I really want to be a mother. A great one.

I know this post is complex. I know that trans women or women who choose to not have children, women who are told they cannot have children, women who are not well enough to have children, young moms, etc. go through all this and more. I hear you, see you and feel you. I love you.

What we heard from family “maybe it’s meant to be. The timing must be wrong.” Others, just offered to be there if I needed them (the best type of support one can offer in a time like this). My closest friends offered to pull out all stops: bring me food, spend time, etc. While I was longing for connection during these times, I was a shell of myself.

My partner? Amazing. James did all he could to love me and support me through, though he was also processing his love and pain. I think he still is. And I wish I could help him heal too, but we all have our own journeys with our higher self and our Gods, Goddesses, Universe, or absence of a deity.

I say all this to say, if this story is familiar to you, I am deeply sorry for your loss. I love you and I have hope that your joy will come in many forms. While we have decided to wait and consult a doctor before moving forward and trying again, in the future we will also consider adopting or being foster parents. So much love we have to give, and I know without a shadow of a doubt we will be great parents.

In the meantime, we continue to chase our dreams so our future children will know not only how much they mean to us, but how salient their dreams are: we will show them by example what it means to chase their dreams.

Sending love & healing. Thanks for reading. More to come in the future as I heal & grow.

 

 

Say Their Names Infographic

Family, this infographic comes directly from my thesis appendix and is gathered from The Guardian’s website, on the platform called The Counted. The counted categorizes Police Killings based on demographic information like race, location and details of the encounters like how the murder occurred, if there was a weapon involved, etc.

It was difficult completing this and it took a countless hours to finish. Alas, here is the list. Again, these are only names that have been reported to the website The Counted, so if you have more that I can add to the list, please email me or find me on social media: all of my handles are found at the end of this document.

Peace and love to my Black family. We are still great. We are still magical. Let’s love each other radically and WORK. All I want to do is be free.

new-piktochart-conflict-copy.png

Dear sister friend

image

Dear sister friend…

They say the sense of smell is the strongest connection to memory. Eight months later as I approached a court case intended to protect myself from threat after threat. I caught a whiff of a vanilla candle and I broke down into tears. Because I once loved him, and part of me still did. That candle, embodied our connection.

I know just how you are feeling. It’s called survivor’s guilt. Yes, he is still alive. But you know for at least a little while, you both died emotionally, spiritually, and in the case of depression or addiction, physically. It’s not quite as easy as many who aren’t in your position make it appear to be… “Just leave,” they say “He doesn’t deserve you” they say… but you’ve built a life. Imagining that life without the ying to your yang, no matter how bad, is difficult. See, the scent, the vanilla candle, reminded me of the nights I came home to a warm bath, a cooked dinner and my favorite candle light. But those nights also meant something horribly wrong happened. Something that would cause me pain. Tears. Most days, a pain I chose to bury…for the sake of love, for the sake of the candle.

Dear sister friend…

It’s okay to miss the man who abused you emotionally, mentally, and/or physically. Why? Because at some point, he was not your abuser. At some point, he was the man you were madly in love with…at some point, he was the man who loved you too.

Dear sister friend…

You did not cause him to change. He was that way, long before you knew him. He didn’t love himself more than he loved you, and there was no way to know.

Dear sister friend…

It is okay to grieve for this man who was abruptly removed from your life, this man you once loved and perhaps you still love. It is natural. I want you to know it is okay. It is important to grieve the loss of the love you have built despite the wrongdoings. You cannot get to healing without accepting the love. You loved him for a reason. Deep down you see what no one else can. The problem has always been that he cannot. And so, my sister friend, you must grieve, and move on. Move on for you. Move on for him. And stay there…in the moving on. It WILL get easier with time.

See the vanilla candle made me cry. Now, it is what I light to bring new and refreshing energy back into my space. Now, I can write to you, I can write to me. I can write to all of us.

Because… I know I did what was best. I saved TWO lives. Not just one. And now, all I hope it that he leaves me alone and stays in his space, as I have mine.

Dear sister friend.

It is okay to begin again.

Dear sister friend, I love you. I am here for you. And I will help you as best as I can. You can do it. How do I know? Because, I did it.

Dear sister friend, love yourself first. You deserve it.

Love,

Janay

Black Rage. My Rage. A personal reflection

I’ve been grappling lately with the concept of rage. When does anger get classified as rage?

What does anger and rage look like expressed from a Black body?

How and/or is this more deeply feared than anger from other groups?

I’ve been reading the text Killing Rage ending racism by bell hooks which has prompted me to question this concept deeply.

In her first chapter she discusses the danger of silence for ourselves as Black folx and the potential to end racism. Specifically, she addressed the systemic/structural ways racism has silenced the anger and rage of Black people.

“To perpetuate and maintain white supremacy, white folks have colonized black Americans, and a part of that colonizing process has been teaching us to repress our rage, to never make them targets of any anger we feel about racism. Most black people internalize this message well.” – bell hooks

So, why am I writing about this? Recently, someone said to me “You carry a lot of anger!” I laughed it off, because most of the time I’m operating in a calm, peace and light bearing manner. What I realized in that moment however, is that for the longest I have repressed anger. Why? It is an emotion I do not know how to deal with well, I’ve always seen it or understood it as expressed through fighting or violence, a response that is not necessarily natural to me.

As I reflect on the words of my close friend, I recognize that I fear my own anger. I unwillingly release it through uncontrollable tears when I fail to articulate it directly to the source causing the anger. What does this mean? It means that I carry unresolved trauma, due to my uncomfortability with the emotion our society has labeled “anger.”

Where did I learn to fear this? The news that depicts angry Black people as primitive, relentless and savage? Religious dogma that teaches turn the other cheek, when in fact God, in most faiths demonstrates righteous anger? In a home where women were secondary, invisible, or silenced? Do you silence your anger? If so, why? How?

Today in trauma training we were asked to map out a “river or life,” where we identified particular instances of trauma in our life trajectories. As I drew an image resembling both trauma and resiliency I didn’t feel much. Even in discussion, I did not express a response. It wasn’t until my parter acknowledged my progress in dealing with such a recent trauma (2-3 years) that I began to cry, shake and become angry. I had to take a walk. In this walk I wrote the following:

Most days, it no longer crosses my mind.

YOU no longer cross my mind.

And for that, I am grateful.

Because to walk through the nightmares again

& again

& again

makes me shake.

It’s been over two years!

It’s only been a little over two years…

Some days I applaud myself for the growth, those days I’m not thinking about you.

Some days I have to work much harder.

Because part of me, deep down inside is still afraid.

I am making up for time I feel was stolen from me,

Under a false premise, a walking, talking, breathing lie.

Sure, you were carrying trauma too.

Sure, I made decisions with you.

But Fuck all the feelings.

Fuck all of that.

You fucked me up and you got me fucked up.

Yes. I’m still angry.

No. I will not forget. I cannot forget.

Yes. I still feel your trauma too.

No. I never wanted any of this to happen to you.

Yes. Some days I wish I had just hit you.

So you could feel

Just an ounce.

A thread.

An instance…

(deep breathe)

But that’s exactly what you wanted

A reaction, connection. The feeling behind the crazy passion.

I refuse. To give that to you.

I hope you leave me alone for the rest of my life.

I can’t even visit home comfortably anymore…

Because when I’m home there’s an ever present FEAR you will pop up somewhere near

And if I EVER see you again…

I pray for us both that does not happen

For they say anger is not the way

I say my anger is righteous and you should hope it stay that way

Yes. I’m angry. But most days I choose serenity.

Because I’m done, have been done, for years, giving you THAT energy.

-A survivor.

-Peace Queen

-J Mae

I write this, to tell you. Don’t let anyone diminish your anger. You’re not just another angry Black person. That mess comes from some mess. And in order to heal, release it to the creator, and create change, we have to revel in that RAGE. All power to the people.

image