Waters that Bind
2021 General Nonfiction Story Contest Finalist
Copyright 2021 by Tracey Hebért-Seck
Photo by Nick
Scheerbart on Unsplash
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.
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
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.
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
understood that my water would never break. I would be baptized into
motherhood – not by fire, but by the double-edged scalpel.
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.
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.”
only way to resolve this is to get you un-pregnant.” She
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
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?”
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.
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.
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.
you’re all right?” the taller one asked in a southern
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.
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.
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
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.
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?”
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.
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
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
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.”
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.
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
On three. One, two, three.”
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.
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
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.
is he?” I murmured. “I don’t hear him.”
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.
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.
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
maternity nurse flipped the lights on and simultaneously greeted,
“Good morning, how can I help you?”
haven’t seen my baby yet!” I started.
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,
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
I pick him up?” I wasn’t sure why I was whispering or
asking for permission.
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.
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.
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.
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.
uttered, “Amen! Let it be so.”
gift started to wiggle and whine. The wail escaladed, and he
confirmed that he was small, but mighty.
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.
try feeding him. Your lactation consultant will be coming soon to
talk to you about breast feeding.” She explained.
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.
turned to the nurse in surprise and glee. “He latched on!”
told you! This one is special.” Though I was certain she told
all the new mothers this about their offspring, she spoke truth about
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.
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.
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.
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.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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