This story is donated to DC Public Library’s “Archive This Moment DC” collection.
It began exactly how I fantasized it would.
My water broke at 2 am as I awoke to use the bathroom after binge-watching Season 5 of ‘Power’ with my partner. I expected one large flush, but it came in waves and I was glad that I had hoarded some adult diapers during a trip to the emergency room earlier on in the pregnancy. (I wasn’t having complications but was suffering from severe constipation.) My partner ran to get his car and I beamed with pride at the fact that I had packed a comprehensive labor bag as I dialed the hospital to let them know that I was en route.
We arrived at the Women’s Hospital in Fairfax County, Va., convinced that despite COVID-19, I would receive the best care, and everything would be okay. After all, this was one of the wealthiest counties in the nation. Given that it was now 3 a.m., we entered through the main entrance after being buzzed in, bypassing the single-file daytime temperature check, sanitizer squirt, and mask distribution that the hospital had set up a month or so prior in the sky bridge connecting the parking deck to the hospital. The fact that my water had broken on its own, nearly a week before my due date, and there was no need for my pre-scheduled induction brought me a small sense of pleasure in what had become a joyless journey into motherhood at age 41.
In the weeks before, the village I was promised that came with bearing and raising a child was destroyed. First, I was sequestered to my living quarters as my work office became off-limits. The office baby shower, the only one planned for me, was deleted from the master Outlook calendar. Next, the infant CPR classes that I still wanted to take were cancelled until further notice. Even the grandparenting class I had registered my mother for was cancelled. And so was she. The expectation that she would be by my side as I, her oldest of two daughters, would deliver her second grandson and the first grandchild in sixteen years was no longer feasible. Flight cancelled. Sip and See invitations cancelled. Prenatal yoga cancelled. It was as if someone came and turned off all of the village’s basic utilities. Prenatal appointments alternated between video calls and in-person visits where I arrived alone and masked, keeping my distance from the check-in counter after being pre-screened by phone the day before. No, I hadn’t traveled outside of the country. I was eight months pregnant. No, I hadn’t been around anyone with the virus. I could barely walk. No, I hadn’t experienced any flu-like symptoms. I also wanted to add, “No, I haven’t eaten a bat recently.”
All four of my grandparents were born in Puerto Rico. Well before the island became a United States colony, indigenous people known as the Taíno lived on the island. It is said that they were a feminist society where one’s lineage was traced through their mother. Chief roles spanned across gender and it was common for several families who were related to live together in the same household. This was the village. I imagined myself being pregnant and having the support of the entire clan, the ease at which every member of the tribe would assume a role in ensuring that I was cared for, comfortable and protected. I imagined that, as a woman preparing to bear life, other tribe members would readily sacrifice their own safety to ensure that of my own. I wouldn’t have to ask for help, schedule it, or allow an outside entity to define it. During a crisis, I would have expected the village to strengthen itself around me, forming an impermeable protective layer. For the village to disappear would be inconceivable.
I imagined myself being pregnant and having the support of the entire clan, the ease at which every member of the tribe would assume a role in ensuring that I was cared for, comfortable and protected.
By the time I was admitted to a pre-delivery room, I was told that I was already 4 centimeters dilated. My contractions were mild, and I was feeling hopeful about accomplishing my goal of natural labor, just as my mother had with both of her daughters. It would be my rebuke of the assumptions made by some of the medical professionals I had encountered who assured me that a c-section was likely. I would be sure to share my natural birth story with the office assistant who, weeks prior, casually asked me if I had scheduled my cesarean as if it were a routine dental visit. I would be victorious in delivering a big, beautiful Brown baby in a top tier hospital not all designed for Brown women. I would rave to my circle of friends about the benefits of having a doctor who was a woman of color (I was intentional in selecting my doctor given the mortality rates for Black and Brown women).
Ten hours later, and about four fruit popsicle varieties in, I caved into the lower back pain which had exacerbated what were really bearable contractions, and agreed to an epidural. I felt like the nurses were proud of their ability to talk me into this like they were secretly high fiving themselves for prescribing numbness. As soon as the injection kicked in, I regretted it. I felt nothing from the waist down and it terrified me. I had never experienced major surgery before. Never even spent the night in a hospital. When the doctor and nurse cheer squad began coaching me through the pushing process, I felt nothing. I couldn’t tell if I was pushing as hard as I could. It was an exercise in futility. Literally. Soon enough I was told that the baby’s heart rate was dangerously high, and a cesarean was strongly recommended. I was scared. I didn’t have time for second and third opinions. It felt like a setup. Drug me so that I can’t feel anything, make it difficult for me to push naturally, then coerce me to select an emergency surgery.
Before I knew it, I was wheeled to the operating room. It was like a scene from a Nascar race. You know, when the pit crew comes out and changes tires, parts, completes quick repairs. I was told that I would feel some tugging but little to no pain during the procedure. I was drugged some mor