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Laura Burgos   |   9/ 21/ 2020   |   Reading Time: 10 Minutes

And There Was No Village

Courtesy of Laura Burgos


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.



sshepard/Getty Images


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).


The delivery of Laura's child. (Courtesy of Laura Burgos)

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 more and waited behind the blue curtain as the pit crew prepared. I had thought that they were still in the preparation phase when I heard the cheering and a technician say, “Such a big boy!” I couldn’t see anything for a few minutes and felt like the moment was happening without me. My son was eventually passed to his father and then laid on my chest. I was still in a state of shock. How did I go from a healthy, normal pregnancy, a natural onset of labor, and full dilation, to the pit crew?


I was still in a state of shock. How did I go from a healthy, normal pregnancy, a natural onset of labor, and full dilation, to the pit crew?

I was quarantined during the weeks leading up to the delivery. I was still working full-time, monitoring my blood pressure, and trying to get rest. Aside from my partner, I had no help in setting up the nursery or shopping for supplies. There was no baby shower. The village was toxic. My aunt who lived in lower Manhattan died within two weeks of being diagnosed with the virus. We said our farewells to her via Zoom days before my son was born. My village was disappearing.


I didn’t want my baby to meet me through a mask, so I chose not to wear one while at the hospital. I didn’t want him to mistake his mother for a nurse. I wanted him to see my smile of uncertainty. To smell my breath. To hear my voice unmuffled.


By the time we arrived at my recovery room, I couldn’t feel anything below my waist. The swelling immediately kicked in and getting up was painful. I felt like I couldn’t care for him. The first night was a blur. I remember the nurse being concerned about his low blood sugar. Given that both of my parents were Type 2 diabetics, I just knew this couldn’t be good. When they told me that they would have to take him down to the NICU, I was led to believe that this was standard procedure. He would be monitored, receive specialized care and everything would be okay.




Laura's child in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. (Courtesy of Laura Burgos)

Five days later, we were still at the hospital. Nothing quite prepares you for seeing the baby you just carried for almost an entire year hooked up to an IV. Hypoglycemia was the diagnosis, something I’m told was quite common for babies of his size (over 9 pounds). His blood would be drawn every three hours, through pokes to the bottom of his feet. This was to occur during “care time” 8, 11, 2 am and pm. Repeat. This is when I was able to feed him, change his diaper, and engage in skin-to-skin contact. I’m not sure if it was the meds or just poor communication, but I seemed to learn everything through happenstance. Like finding a breast pump, info packet, and a Ziploc bag of syringes in my room and having to connect the dots. I was supposed to begin pumping immediately in preparation for nursing. I didn’t know. I got off to a late start which meant my son didn’t receive a drop from me while in ICU. Why didn’t someone walk me through this? I mean, as often as nurses frequented my room to offer pain meds. Why wasn’t this a priority?


I didn’t want my baby to meet me through a mask, so I chose not to wear one while at the hospital. I didn’t want him to mistake his mother for a nurse. I wanted him to see my smile of uncertainty. To smell my breath. To hear my voice unmuffled.

There was no village present to hear me weep when I was finally discharged on day five. It was a Sunday and we (my son’s father and I) stopped at Target for formula. I was swollen, numb, and my incision hurt. I couldn’t feel my bladder and had to remind myself to urinate every so often. I cried every day that week. My failure to begin pumping immediately and develop a routine led to engorged breasts. I didn’t know what to do. I called the hospital. I called lactation consultants who were not doing home visits. I called breastfeeding clinics. I listened to conflicting suggestions from different providers. Pump every two hours. Pump five to six times each day. Place the baby on your breast at least twice per day. I couldn’t call my mother. She never breastfed. The village was invisible. I never felt so alone. I felt like a complete failure, unable to feed my child the way I envisioned.


I needed help. I wanted the wisdom and reassurance of the village. They texted and called to see how I was doing. I told them that motherhood was hard. They told me it would get better. Before I could ask how, calls ended, and text exchanges stopped abruptly so that the village could attend to their own personal needs during the never-ending health crisis. A single villager friend did visit in the days following my return home from the hospital. She brought food and baby supplies, gifts, and gadgets. I was grateful, but the goods came with a caveat. I had to answer a barrage of questions about the baby, i.e. eating habits, progress updates. I know the villager friend was well-meaning, but I felt my motherhood being assessed, scrutinized. I began to loathe her. I no longer readily welcomed her unannounced visits and advice. Still, I would call her when there was an emergency or when I felt overwhelmed beyond comfort. Then the moment would pass, the baby survived, and I would return to selectively responding to her inquiry-based text messages. I didn’t want the village to evaluate me. I only wanted their acceptance.


I didn’t want the village to evaluate me. I only wanted their acceptance.

My trips to the breastfeeding clinic, as well as my follow up visit to my doctor, included the completion of a postpartum depression survey. My OB-GYN said I was borderline. The breastfeeding clinic team was worried about me. They would later tell me how sorry they felt for me the day I stumbled into their office falling apart, clueless about breastfeeding and battling low milk supply. I completed the surveys as honestly as I could. The last question always asked if I had thoughts of harming myself or my baby. Physically, no. Absolutely not. Yet, I fantasized daily about jumping in my vehicle, driving away, and not looking back. I suppose that counted. The survey designer should have made this an open-ended question, I guess.



The nursery where Laura's child will spend their first months. (Courtesy of Laura Burgos)

The first time I ventured out of my one-bedroom apartment was to take a walk. I thought it was rather cool outdoors and bundled my baby boy in a blue Gap hoodie. He looked like basket riding E.T. I snapped photos and felt like a real mom, confidently behind the wheel of the stroller. I had evidence to share with the village someday.


I returned to work, remotely, twelve weeks later. I wasn’t the same. I am not the same. I frequently talk myself out of quitting so that I can focus solely on mothering and be absolved of the feeling that I am deprioritizing my own child. Each Zoom meeting marathon riddles me with guilt. I remember a woman once telling me that she would not have accomplished all that she had if she had decided to have children. I try to shake this sentiment out of my head, refusing to believe that my career growth has been stunted. If anything, becoming a mother will make me a more empathetic leader. A more caring and gracious team member. Perhaps, a more nurturing mentor.


Yet, I can’t help but wonder the impact that the absence of my village has had on how I welcomed my baby boy into the world, how I accept this new aspect of my identity, and how I determine how to move forward in a time of great uncertainty. I envy the women who are surrounded by mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and aunts. I was surrounded by Zoom, Instacart, Amazon, and Apple. They were the transactional residents of my village. They were on call for me.


I envy the women who are surrounded by mothers, sisters, grandmothers, and aunts. I was surrounded by Zoom, Instacart, Amazon, and Apple.

My son is now five months old. I’ve risked his life on occasion, longing for the village and welcoming villagers who traveled distances into my home. Some were tested for COVID-19 before their arrival. All were allegedly practicing social distancing. None were children or had young children. I worry constantly about the absence of children’s voices, their laughter, their joyful spirit from my son’s daily life. He has yet to interact with another infant. To exchange stares, touches. To hear a cry other than his own. Establishing his village is now far more important than hearing from my own.


And so, I am doing my best within this new normal. I don a mask and take him to the community pool when it is mostly empty. I push his stroller through busy parks so he can hear and see children of all ages playing. I registered him for an infant sensory art class with the local parks and recreation department. We venture through botanical gardens, sculpture parks, and walking trails...all with the hope that we will find ourselves within the safety of our village at a time when fear continues to hold the village hostage.



Laura's pregnancy ultrasound (Courtesy of Laura Burgos)





Laura Burgos

From Staten Island, N.Y., Laura obtained her B.A. in Telecommunications from Penn State, but switched paths and obtained her M.S. in Elementary Education from Brooklyn College and a Doctorate in Education Leadership from Harvard University. She is the Director of the Investment Practice Group at Venture Philanthropy Partners. She supports cross-sector partnerships and invests in high performing nonprofits to improve education and health outcomes for children and youth. Laura climbed the Seattle Space Needle in 2017 as part of a fundraising event for cancer research. She also deejayed and hosted a rap and R&B radio show called "Tight Tuesdays" under the alter ego "Mic Mistress" while in college.

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