At 11 days before my due date, I was as graceful as a duck, as big as a cow, and cautiously optimistic about my miserable pregnancy.
I had used up all my resources to get knocked-up: surgeries, IVF, complicated donor ruminations, etc. And it had been a tense pregnancy, complete with all-day-every-day nausea, contractions at 14 weeks, a sub-chorionic hematoma, and more than a few midnight dashes to the hospital. After months and months and months of being trapped in bed, I was grateful to be seated so close to the projected delivery date. I settled in to wait for the arrival. I figured it would actually happen in about three weeks. (I had read somewhere that most first-time mommies are about two weeks late.) So that morning, when I walked in for my regular weekly sonogram and the technician told me that my amniotic fluid was too low, that we would have to induce, I was totally unprepared. Much like death, the process of birth makes no allowances for individual readiness. Prepared or not, the process moves ahead. So without an overnight bag, without my lesbian folksong playlist, without my doula, without my best gay boy-friend, without the ugly nightgown my friends had chosen for me to labor in, I was wheeled down the hall and onto the labor and delivery ward.
And so it was that on the afternoon of January 5, earlier this year, I found myself in Brooklyn, thousands of miles from where I grew up in Montego Bay, propped up in the most uncomfortable hospital bed, breathing calmly through mild contractions, watching the YouTube video of Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson's swearing-in speech, and thinking, "This is a bold-ass step for a woman who is being sworn in, for the second time, as the first female prime minister of the country labeled 'the most homophobic place on Earth.'"
Two miracles were happening: 1) The child inside my uterus, the one who had threatened miscarriage more times than I can count, the kid who kept me on bed rest for more than six months of the pregnancy, was finally on the way; and 2) Jamaica's highest office was publicly taking a human-rights stance in support of its LGBT community. I wasn't quite sure the world was ready for either of them, but stillness was giving way to progress. Our bodies were in the path of an avalanche.
As is the custom of our time, I sent a text to my closest friends and updated my Facebook status: "I'm going into Labor and Jamaica's Prime Minister, Portia Simpson, is speaking out for gay rights; #TalkAboutMotherRockingMiracles!"
I have to admit: I love the energy of the dramatic. I adore making art of life, which means I look for symbolism, for Meaning (capital M), in everything. As the contractions got stronger I wondered about the parallels that could be drawn between me, the lesbian in self-imposed exile giving birth, and the country I had fled to find freedom now birthing a new era of liberty for the ones who decided to stay, or who were left behind. The gravity of the moment made me miss Jamaica. The tidal wave of contraction agonies felt like punishment for having abandoned my post, for leaving the other soldiers in the trenches to fight while I escaped to safety. I gripped the metal rails of the bed and tried not to focus on how the prime minister's words made me wish I had stayed. I turned instead to hoping this was a real step toward freedom for the LGBT community in Jamaica. I wanted it to be. I wanted so badly for this child writhing toward its own coming to know a Jamaica that was kinder, gentler, freer than the one in which I had come of age.
Though I am not the new-age-meditative-Reiki-in-the-bloody-woods-and-give-birth-in-an-environmentally-safe-water-filled-canoe-under-a-full-moon type, in the last few weeks before the first contraction, I had envisioned a very lesbian birth. I had made a playlist of soothing folksongs written and recorded by very Lilith-Fair-type artists. My doula, Patricia, was to be present. My best gay boy, Nkromo, was also to be in the room. I had talked to my doctor about a natural birth. We all agreed that I would try to do this without drugs. I was determined to be the steady, Zen, Amazonian goddess, raising my able knees and pushing forth, birthing the way women have done for ages without complaint.
Patricia soon arrived, magical doula bag in hand. And so did Nkromo, with miso soup and a sandwich. My straight friend, Maziki, who had traveled from Jamaica to help me after the birth, brought my pre-packed suitcase -- complete with iPod containing soothing folks songs. Even with the sequence of expected events, I still believed my delivery could happen with an Enya soundtrack.
Then the first big contraction ran through me from bowel to ribcage, and I doubled over, muttering an inappropriate line from an Eminem song. I soon found that this homophobic white boy's agile use of the four-letter word I love was helpful during the most intense contractions. I would make peace with the feminists later. I set my iPod to repeat Eminem and raised both middle fingers to the gods of child delivery.
An hour later I began to appreciate what a miracle it is that women continue to do this generation after generation after generation. My own grandmother did it eight times. Inside that room I knew I would never do this again. I could neither sit nor stand, nor lie, nor cry out to escape the pain. My body was taken over by this kid's journey toward being. All I could do was breathe, and repeat that four-letter word over and over and over again. I felt as if I were being split from the pit of my groin to the center of my back. I remember hoping my belly would just tear open and release its captive, thinking that it may prevent this infernal battering of my insides.
Ten hours in, now January 6, I was only five centimeters dilated. Halfway there. But I wasn't sure I could endure another 10 hours of this.
Patricia had mixed her own oils and was using them to rub my shoulders, my arms, my legs. She kept reminding me to breathe. I felt like asking her, "What the hell you see me doing? I look dead? Means, I'm still breathing, right?" I might have actually said it out loud, but she is too kind to remind me about it.
At one point I looked up and saw Nkromo blowing on my toes. "What the devil are you doing? What you think that going do?" I asked. He stopped immediately and moved to rub my shoulders instead. Half an hour later I shrugged him off: "What you doing that for? Why you don't just go blow on my damn toes?" And miracle that he is, he shifted positions without a word and calmly asked me what I thought of Portia Simpson's statements.
I took a breath, waited through a contraction and considered his question. "Well, her position contradicts, almost point for point, the position of the previous prime minister, Bruce Golding. Is almost as if she responded to him in a debate. Read her statement again for me?"
He brandished his iPhone and read, "Our administration believes in protecting the human rights of all Jamaicans. No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Government should provide the protection..."
"Yeah, man, she pushing the movement forward. Things really changing now." I said, arching my back and clenching my teeth. "And if Jamaica can give birth to a government-sanctioned gay-rights movement, I can certainly push out this child."
At 17 hours I was only dilated six centimeters. Moreover, the little one's heartbeat was slowing. My doctor reluctantly suggested an epidural. It might give me some much-needed rest from the tiring contractions, he pointed out. I sat up and tried my best not to move while the anesthesiologist explained that there was a slim chance that I could become permanently doubled over from the procedure. I remember wondering what positions I would have to assume during cunnilingus if I were unable to straighten up. Four hours after risking my already-compromised posture, 21 hours after the first contraction, I hadn't dilated beyond the six centimeters.
An hour after that, 22 hours total in labor, the entire staff came rushing into my room bearing tubes and needles and worried expressions. The baby's heartbeat was spiking. They injected me and massaged my stomach and attached a monitor to the little one's cranium. We waited for the too-rapid heart rate to slow. Everyone assured me that all was well, that baby was just a tad stressed by the long labor.
Ten minutes later they rushed in again. Change of plans. We have to do a C-section, they said. Things weren't progressing, and baby was showing signs of deep stress.
I lay there while they administered the appropriate drugs, praying, making deals with the devil, meditating, begging my child to arrive safely. I didn't care how it happened, nor the cost; I only knew I wanted a safe landing.
I was still spitting up, retching, when they wheeled me into the operating room. As they erected the curtain that would prevent me from watching them slice then tear me open from hip to hip, I heaved so hard they decided to give me something for the vomiting. It was the oddest sensation, feeling them lift and pull my body, opening me to retrieve this child. It was a positively out-of-body experience.
When she arrived, her eyes were wide open. I hope it foreshadows a journey of seeing, of clarity as she learns to walk, to run, to bolt into the complicated identity of being both Jamaican and American and the daughter of a woman who loves Jamaica but cannot yet find a way to be completely at home there. I decided then and there that I would begin to spend long stretches of time on the island of Jamaica. I had to make a way for her to have her own relationship with the place.
My daughter, Zuri-Siale, now travels the globe with me: a night in Atlanta, two nights in Seattle, Wisconsin, and three weeks in South Africa. We have just come back from a month under the sun in Jamaica, where at a home in the hills called Bonsai, Zuri had the most moving, meaningful, dramatically beautiful welcoming ceremony, surrounded by a strong village of eclectic Jamaicans I hope she will claim as integral to her global family. We were lucky to also have some of our friends from Brooklyn with us.
And while we were there, two Jamaican lesbian couples got married. One wedding actually took place on the island home from which I fled, the other in New York City, the place I now call home. Both weddings were positively featured in the two major Jamaican newspapers. It seemed significant to me, my journey, that these seemingly dissimilar realities had these Jamaican lesbian weddings in common. It evoked a bridge of some sort, a connection, a way to claim both places as home. Being lesbian and being Jamaican didn't have to be separate anymore; inside me and outside me, the two, in the media, in the lives and loves of other Jamaicans, were becoming one.
And still the avalanche rumbles on.
Last week, one of our most beloved (and attractive, meaning they can't say she is lesbian because she can't find a man) female singer/songwriters, Diana King, came out as lesbian to a largely supportive fan base.
Additionally, I've fallen for more than just my island. My movement toward Jamaica has yielded love. The time there has provided opportunity to chase an old rainbow. So I am embroiled, yet again, in a fierce love affair with a Jamaican woman I have loved for nearly half my life.
It's been a good year to be a lesbian from JamRock. #TalkAboutMotherRockingMiracles.
Stay tuned. Will let you know how it is unfolding.
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