Waters that Bind 


Tracey Hebért-Seck

2021 General Nonfiction Story Contest Finalist

 
© Copyright 2021 by Tracey Hebért-Seck

 
Photo by Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash
                                            Photo by Nick Scheerbart on Unsplash
  
This a non-fictional account of my son’s birth. In 2012 at 41, I anxiously awaited the birth of my first child. It was already considered a miracle, an answered prayer that I had conceived. As I retell the events, the glee and excitement of this birth is juxtaposed with the medical provider’s concern about the implications of preeclampsia at 36 weeks. This composition recounts the events, emotions, and musings I experienced while waiting to meet this child for the first time. This explication is a gift to my son who continues to flood our lives with waters that renew and refresh.

I drank freely from the Well that never runs dry. I imbibed, such that waters flowed from and around me. The streams led me to Love in the second chapter of life, verse and age 41. I boldly trusted that a life would one day bloom inside my womb that had been characterized as geriatric. Against forceful tides and defying medical odds, my body had yielded and chanted, “Let it be done to me as You say.”

I had been told of the risks. However, existing in the world and living authentically as an African-American woman had always been ‘risky’ business for me and the long line of courageous female sages who had come before me. I was standing on their shoulders as I walked on water.

Water.

At week 36, Dr. Evans explained that natural birth would not be an option. Her words collided against me like the forceful, crushing Ghanaian waves at Cape Coast. Her monologue about a Cesarean birth pulled at me like the undertow that carried my ancestors away from the shores of home – the place of community, familiarity, predictability. Dr. Evans was known for her empathy and compassion, and she attempted to reassure me, but the tears welled up, and the levees broke.

I wept.

I understood that my water would never break. I would be baptized into motherhood – not by fire, but by the double-edged scalpel.

The baby is fine. We are worried about you now!” Dr. Evans, whom I had chosen to accompany me on my journey to motherhood, rubbed my shoulders. The scratchy, sterile lime green, hospital gown reminded me that it was borrowed – that some other woman had tread these waters I was swimming against before.

Preeclampsia.” She said. My mind went back to Latin as she lectured. “Pre” – meaning before. “Eclampsia” from the new Latin signified “convulsions in those giving birth.”

The only way to resolve this is to get you un-pregnant.” She concluded.

My ego demanded a starring role in this cinematic feature. Ego demanded initiation into Eve’s sorority through the same painful process as other women. I was woman enough, strong enough, brave enough to give birth without pharmaceutical assistance. The ever-organized ego thought about the Lamaze class scheduled for the following week. Ego, the advocate, insisted on a second opinion, then a third. After the third masked, medical male said, “C-Section,” I, the to-be mother, returned to my butterscotch toned, gentle spirited gynecologist and asked to be induced.

She reached for my hand and said, “We will try that. If the baby doesn’t come on his own in the next forty-eight hours, you understand the only choice that is on the table?”

Though the water did not flood from below, there was a deluge from above. The life within me that I had come to know and love would be introduced to the world – not with us working as a team. We would not breathe and push and sync our timing. No. An outside force would tear, rip, separate and pull him away from home – a place of warmth and care – that was his for months. Outsiders would control when he came into the world and how. The first warm lights he would feel would not be the beam of love from me but would be a neo-natal warmer. I sought holy water to cleanse my thoughts of how this would be his genesis into the world as a black male.

Women before me had waded in waters. Some fought against the streams of oppression, dehumanization, and forced breeding, in search of a freedom that would bring previously unimaginable choices. There were also women who tread in waters, sending gifts and prayers that buoyed on the Atlantic waves to Yemoja. Some supplications requested that the goddess would quicken their wombs with life. As I waited for nurses to return to induce labor pains, I petitioned the same Giver of Life who had entrusted me with the little being inside of me. At 36 weeks, he didn’t have a lot of space to maneuver, but his little kicks, pokes and knocks reminded me that he was still cushioned, protected, and nourished by Life giving water.

Two gregarious African-American nurses appeared. They were mid-way through a lively conversation when they entered my room. They saw the state I was in and ended their tête-à-tête and tended to me.

Sweetie, you’re all right?” the taller one asked in a southern lilt.

The streams descended like ribbons, and I could not respond. All was not right. The shorter one had a round, milk chocolate colored face and a freshly cut natural. The top four buttons on her white uniform moved like an accordion’s bellow. She pushed a squeaky silver cart to the side and approached.

Mommy, you’re going to be all right and so is this little prince.” She handed me a rough tissue, and I caught the droplets that cascades down my face. She explained that her colleague would need to insert a catheter to relieve any bladder pressure.
Now the worst part is placing this medicine in your cervix to see if we can get you going.” These sisters, who doubled as nurses, used their elbows to push by knees back in an outward lotus position. I winced. Plastic tubes and human digits prodded and poked, and I gasped for air and clenched my teeth. I closed my eyes tightly, and tears rolled down my temples and left traces on the sanitary, fluffed pillow.
 
During the 48 hours I was allowed to stew, I willed blood and water to appear. I asked to walk down the maternity halls, where I heard moans and then the eruption of a newborn’s wail. I sang, “Life, life, flowing out of me!” But life remained in me, and I accepted that I would not be inducted into the motherhood hall of fame this way. My family members and friends prayed over me and spoke words of vitality into me. A community was abuzz in joyful anticipation for this new life.

22:30 shone brightly on my cellphone when Dr. Evans entered my room with a smile. She flipped through the pages of medical chart, and asked, “Are you ready?”

Was I ready to remain completely still for the spinal block? Was I mentally prepared for losing feeling and control from the navel down of the temple that housed this life? Had I processed that I would be cut across my abdomen and uterus? Could I navigate giving birth and not being able to see or hold my baby? The conversation among family members and friends hummed, but I instinctively knew that once wheeled out of this room, my life would be transformed. I would join the ranks of Dahomey Amazons who were steadfast in their objective. My mission, since I had chosen to accept it, would be to protect the life to which I was about to give birth.

As the wheels turned down the quiet corridor, I still felt the wetness on my cheeks and forehead from the kisses that had been bestowed upon me. One right turn, and we entered a room that felt more like a butcher’s freezer. Dr. Evan was the only woman and the sole smiling medical provider there. The cornsilk colored anesthesiologist with a bulbous red nose barked, “Step up on the table.”

I had transparent, plastic tubes draping from my arms and lower body, yet with the help of Dr. Evans and a Latinx assistant to whom I could have given birth, I managed to step up on the medical foot stool. My naked buttocks splat down on a sturdy white sheet that seemed to be over starched. The crumple sound and sanitized smell washed over me.

Don’t move!” the anesthesiologist commanded in his loaded Texas accent. He punctured my lower back, and I gasped. Dr. Evans grabbed my hand and squeezed. She bent down, and her warm smile smoothed me. She whispered, “Take a deep breath.”

I exhaled.

Again,” she gently reassured, and we breathed deeply together. As I exhaled, my lower back burned as lightning rods chased the nerves down my hips, thighs, and calves. I inhaled, and activated carpenter ants marched in a coordinated frenzy along the legs that had once kicked and splashed in the waters of Gorée Island.

Now relax.” This doctor, who had shared that she delivered her last child by Cesarean birth, placed her hand between my posterior deltoids, and I released my weight, my control, and my resolve into her hands. As I plunged deeper, the angst was washed away, and I saw light.

Ready? On three. One, two, three.”

The team used the sturdy, stuff sheets to lift me onto the adjacent gurney. The young assistant chose that moment to tell Dr. Evans that he had heard a lot about her and that he was honored to be working with her. She returned the compliment. Fortunately for the both of them, the thick, drab, drape that divided us obstructed their view of my flustered, fatigued face.

Though my lower body was numb, I sensed that my flesh was being separated. Her movements were adroit, and her incision was deft. There was a tug. I moaned from the pressure. There was a pull, and life left me at 23:20.

Ahhh! He’s precious.” I heard Dr. Evan’s gentle voice, mixed with my mother’s jubilant cheers. But I didn’t hear the gurgles and whines of a newborn.

Where is he?” I murmured. “I don’t hear him.”

I turned my head to the right and saw the backs of powder blue, disposable medical gowns. The two gowns were slightly bent, and light rays emanated from the corner where they had taken the premature splendor. Dr. Evans finished her first pierce and yank sewing rotation where my lower abdomen and mons pubis met. She continued her work, then, I heard him…my son. He slightly whimpered and sucked in a quick breath of air, and he let out a wail. My doctor finished the puncture-pull process. I was told that my son would be in the neonatal ward, and they would bring him to me as soon as possible. My eyeballs itched, while my lids bounced slowly up, then down. Up and down – then down and sealed.

I awakened five hours later in a body to which I was unaccustomed. My legs were in a V formation, but they were motionless. Where my belly was, just hours prior, round with new life, it was a semi-circle of swollen muscles and skin. I touched my belly, and it was still numb. My left hand was inflated, and the area where the IV entered my veins throbbed. Though I had always been buxom, my breasts had taken on a new dimension. My hard, full breasts were a new feature, that sent me into overdrive. My baby had been alive, outside of my body for hours and had not eaten.

I clumsily reached for the buzzer and pushed the button repeatedly. “How could they let me sleep while my baby is starving?” I accused and judged angrily. “They have forgotten about my son!”

The maternity nurse flipped the lights on and simultaneously greeted, “Good morning, how can I help you?”

I haven’t seen my baby yet!” I started.

She pushed a metal cart in front of her. “They will bring him to you as soon as possible.” The polite, petite tortilla hued nurse gave me what sounded like a standard response given to all new, nervous mothers.

That is what I was told five hours ago. No one has come and given me an update on him, and I want to nurse him. Could you please bring him to me?” I wanted my baby. I imagined that he was left alone in the care of effulgent technology that was supposed to substitute for his mother. These were his first hours in the world, and he was not with me.

I see.” She said empathetically. “I’ll call down to the neo-natal ward and see what I can do.” She added, “While I am here, let me go ahead and take your vitals.” Shortly thereafter, she furled her brow and said, “Your blood pressure is still high. Mommy, we need you to relax. Okay?” She placed her stethoscope around her neck. Before closing the door, she said, “I’ll call the ward right away.”

The darkness of my room lay heavy, while monitors glistened and drips dropped, replacing fluids that I had somehow lost. As I waited impatiently for the gift the Creator of Life was only lending to us for a short while, the transience of human existence struck me. My sister circle had told me that I should cherish the morning sickness, weight gain, stretch marks, sleepiness, and sleeplessness, because those chapters of pregnancy read like haikus. Each one is meaningful and structured, but abbreviated. I was a woman who had a committed life partner who longed to be a father. My bond with other females could not be broken, because I was endowed with a mother who knew how to befriend and love other women unabashedly. My camaraderie with the brothers flourished as they reassured me that I was the exact kind of person who should be a mother to a black boy. There was never a moment when I was without blood and water bonds.

Yet birth conjures up an undeniable reality for women – there are some paths that only Your Giver of Life and you can trek. In those pre-dawn moments, it is a mother who willingly takes on anguish and physical suffering in hopes of bringing forth new life. During the birthing process, woman mutates into Mother, and she accepts that the being she ushers into this realm is tethered to her for a short while, though she is forever yoked by her love. For Mother, the chosen yoke is easy and the burden is light, because she loves. The ability to love and to give life bring Mother into a profound and unique intimacy with the Creator, because the same essence has been poured into her. As I waited to meet my son, I thought about how my own flowing waters of Love had found their way into this small creek. As his mother, I thought about how I would coach, coax, and redirect that small creek as it becomes a river. Then one day, I will watch as the river swells and gushes into the ocean. Yet unlike the Creator, I will never utter the words, “It is finished.”

Mommy, your little prince is here!” The click caused the darkness to scatter, and a transparent, rectangular bin glided toward my bed. My heart pounded, and my breathing was labored in anticipation of holding, kissing, and feeling the little person who had been inside me for 36 weeks. I propped myself up and rested my chin on the clear newborn hospital bed. It was my baby. This 5 lb. 2 oz living soul had come from within me. I saw that he was a combination of me and his father. It was already evident that genetics had decided to give him his father’s thick eyebrows, and my cherry top nose. The only part of him I could see was his dark salmon colored face, because he was swaddled tightly and donned a blue and pink striped head covering. I blinked tears away and chuckled as I thought his functional chapeau caused him to resemble Papa Smurf. He was sleeping peacefully, perhaps tired from his travels from the old world to the new.

Can I pick him up?” I wasn’t sure why I was whispering or asking for permission.

The nurse came closer. “Absolutely! Let me lift him. Mommy, just remember that you should not be lifting anything heavier than him.” Her tone was gentle, and her accent confessed that she was of Filipino descent. Any other time, I would have engaged her and asked about her transition to life in Texas, but at this moment, the only new person I wanted to meet was him.

The nurse lowered “the gift” into my arms. I lowered my face to him, and he smelled like heavenly beings had powdered with angelic dust. He squirmed when my lips touched his velvety forehead.

He is beautiful!” I confessed. I stared at this miracle in disbelief. The overthinking and fears were carried away by springs of water. I was falling in love.

The nurse approached and leaned in. She smiled and said, “Ahhh! He will be a leader. He will do great things.” She nodded her head back and forth as if to agree with an unseen oracle. Tears streamed, and I smiled in agreement.

I uttered, “Amen! Let it be so.”

The gift started to wiggle and whine. The wail escaladed, and he confirmed that he was small, but mighty.

Maybe I should nurse him.” Though it came out as a statement, it really was an inquiry, because up until now, anytime a baby cried with me, I checked the diaper first. Now as new Mother, the first question was whether a feeding would solve the problem.

Mommy, try feeding him. Your lactation consultant will be coming soon to talk to you about breast feeding.” She explained.

I removed my left, large pendulum breast and brought my baby’s whole body toward me. I held my nipple and areola between my index and third finger. I touched his tiny lips with my latte-colored nipple that had doubled in size during the pregnancy. He opened his mouth, and I pulled him closer to me. I stuffed the entire brown orbit in his mouth, and he suckled.

I turned to the nurse in surprise and glee. “He latched on!”

I told you! This one is special.” Though I was certain she told all the new mothers this about their offspring, she spoke truth about my son.

Later in the morning, family and friends baptized my son in the name of our resilient ancestors, our communal bond, and his earthly purpose. My son, whose name means “His Gift”- drank from his Mother and symbolically consumed from a host of griots, warriors, protectors, sages, and guides. These members of the Diaspora drew on the wells within and poured into my baby. They gave him springs that he would need to refresh and heal him as he sojourned on this side in a black male’s body. Elders whispered in his right ear and told him who he was and Whose he was. The same women who prayed me over on many occasions, declared that my son’s way had been made straight and that Light would shine upon his feet.

A decade into the motherhood journey, and I am still humbled that my son chose me to be the medium who would welcome him into this dimension. Though I am his parent, he is my teacher. He reminds me that though he may drink from my waters, he must decide the direction of his own streams. He is a child with an old soul, and he refuses to allow my tidal waves to throw him off his course of reaching his ocean. As I watch him grow, I rest easy in knowing that he too has chosen to drink from Eternal Springs.


Tracey Hébert-Seck, née Hébert, has worked professionally in international development for over two decades. Thanks to her work, she has lived in Africa, Central America, and Europe. In the past, she fancied herself a writer here and there on this and that. As an African-American woman living in communities and worlds outside the one she grew up in in Texas, she is now writing to share with audiences the magic that exists in us all.
                                                                                       


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