A place where Black Mothers can celebrate excellence and motherhood.

9:22 AM

Except Me, The Exception

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" You have all the signs and symptoms of major depression." That's what my therapist said to me at the end of November. Everything was so dark for me. Inside this black hole, I could feel the sunshine on me but I didn't see it  -- I saw no tunnel end actually. I winced in pain at the thought of getting up to brush my teeth, shower, or comb my hair. 'I'm just really enjoying how beautiful my skin looks.' I would tell people instead of sharing that it took me two hours to get myself out of bed and floss so there was no way I could put on makeup like before. I would stare out for long periods of time and laugh at the thought of an unexpected death.  And then sometimes life was an 'out' of body experience. There was no in-between.  I was in no space to acknowledge how low I had fallen. Everything looked so good (to me) on the outside but on the inside, I was crumbling. I had just enough energy to take care of my girls.  While I received many opportunities last year, I struggled. Every new opportunity I proclaimed with excitement and internalized with fear. I moved out and didn't mentally prepare for how that would impact me after living in the same house with my parents for almost 26 years. I lost a mother figure, and several family friends that watched me from infancy to adulthood and I grappled with their transition to the afterlife. Because moving out and losing them meant that my parents are getting older and I am not sure if I can handle that.

 The job that I believed to be a  'hangout for healing' turned into a war zone set in a dystopia. I woke up in tears daily, sometimes not getting up until the time I knew I should be walking in the office. My stomach in knots at the thought of having to be employed there second after second, minute after minute. If my fear wasn't directed at losing my job until I found better it was directed at the thought of losing my place... That I couldn't bear to decorate because I could lose it any month now and will my parents let me come home? Or my favorite inner-thought, "Girl you know damn well we ain't smart enough for no Doctorate! You only did that 'cause you insecure."

I had it so together on the outside but was living in pieces internally.  My mother, God bless her soul didn't want to hear it. 'You know, I used to get like that too but it's just the holidays. It's just the holidays.' I don't know what infuriated me more, my unexplainable depression or my mother -- drawing a parallel between mine and her behavior while simultaneously erasing me. I gained 35 pounds in six months bringing me to a total weight of 295 pounds. Nothing made sense anymore. Daily victories I hardly acknowledged. It was the big things that in all actuality were not big things but my anxiety and depression made me stare at everything with funhouse mirror glasses.

I shared with my job but to be honest, I received the exact reaction I envisioned. I made a note on the reaction to my depression versus my colleagues', the only white woman in the office. It was clear to me then that I was going to have to fall on everything I know and use it to get me out of the darkness. Otherwise, it will kill me and declare I enjoyed it. Nathaniel Branden defines self-responsibility as the willingness "to take responsibility for my actions and the attainment of my goals...for my life and well-being." I was willing to take responsibility and hold myself accountable to be better but first I had to acknowledge the fact that oppressive systems that impact Black girls and Black women, also impact me.

Right before the winter break, we had a training on Misogynoir from Maryland Network Against Abuse. Misogynoir, a term coined by the brilliant Moya Bailey as, "Misogyny towards Black women  where race and gender both play roles in bias." A good example? A Black mother that smokes cannabis is an irresponsible drug addict while a white mother is simply embracing a 'radical form of self-care'. If you're a white mother that smokes weed, you get a segment on 'Goodmorning America', if you're a Black mother you get a visit from CPS. See also: labeling little Black girls as 'fast' when older people prey on them sexually. The information and reflections from myself and the other Black women in my office lovingly called me in to understand the ways in which historical acts of violence rooted in Anti-Black woman reinvents itself impacting women in each generation of Black families. Through acts of sexual violence, physical, emotional and spiritual abuse, Black women were reduced down to nothing more than their capabilities and regarded as an object, belonging from man to man.

"You gotta choose yourself every day. Why would you wait until Friday to take care of yourself? Take care of yourself right now." 

One day I woke up and felt a strong urge to meditate. So I did and then I decided to turn over and pray, and I did. By the end of the week, I had drawn close again to my journal, even reading a page or two from the work of Dr. Iyanla Vanzant or my favorite Black Feminist and cultural critic Bell Hooks. I was making the choice to come out of my black hole or 'The Valley' as Dr. Vanzant says. I would complete one task and begin to add three more things to my mental checklist, exhausting myself before I physically got there. I would remind myself, "One thing at a time." And then finish my current task, each time feeling more accomplished than the last. I learned recently that survivors of sexual assault and abuse have a hard time with boundary setting. I noticed when it comes to people I love and want around -- I didn't have any. So I later learned from a dear auntie-sister-friend of mine, that setting my boundaries is a way to communicate with the people who love me, how to love me. My job was in response, to reciprocate by honoring their boundaries and continue my inner work for my well-being.

To do that, I had to point out the misogynoir is in my life. I had to put his ass on display and draw as much attention to him as I could because the bottom line is -- he doesn't belong here. I had to point out the fact that I, internalized and projected capitalism in many ways. I had to be honest that such influenced my poor outlook on accumulating things and how it fed into my greed versus my virtues.
It started at work. I said very little and when I did, I made sure my comment stuck to who it needed to stick to. Clear and direct yet without a name. I would respond with a question instead of disagreeing and most importantly, I sat back and waited for things I said several months prior start to become reality. And it did.

Every form of misogynoir I experienced, I wrote off as 'feedback' or a character flaw that others were pointing out. I didn't have it in me to make the case that the comments were grounded in colorism,  misogyny, racism, and ableism. It was hard to point out the misogynoir when it had taken a liking to other Black women around me that would usually grab it by the neck, call it a piece of shit and then do away with it. So naturally, every critique that I gave read as an attack on their 'character' and not the very system designed to make us believe we are at war with one another. The biggest culprit got to sit back -- unbothered, mediocrity still intact. Meanwhile, I didn't have enough confidence to open up a jar of pickles. So, I stopped writing, which meant I stopped blogging and then everything fell apart.

Right before the new year and my vacation (that was much needed), I wrote down five things that bring me joy and those are the five things that I will focus on this year. Continuing to grow Millennial Mocha Moms as a brand and a place for Black and Brown mamas. The second is to not only thrive in my doctoral program at the GREAT Morgan State University but excel. The other three are a secret *winks*. So here I am, in the new year learning my boundaries and making a conscious effort to choose myself. To do things that take care of me. I am intentionally less available for work and other projects that could cut into the time I set aside for myself. The things that threatened my existence have limited to no access to me and have to prove their necessity in my life.

 Everything is a choice. Being dedicated to service does not mean you forget to service yourself. Some days it's hard to say no and other days it flows off my tongue with ease.  Before the end of the year, I made a commitment to strengthen the value of detachment and find its place in my life. My work is tied up in my identity yes, but that does not mean I have to carry my work home. I am enjoying my apartment now, especially since your girl has her own racial justice and conflict management consulting firm. In a few weeks, I begin my first semester and I am excited about the opportunities that will come from my new endeavor.

Im happy to come out of my low point in my valley, to claim the things I am owed, stare the systems that oppress me down and hold them up high in shame.  I realize now there is power in acknowledging the impact and declaring victory over whatever comes my way because God made me more than the standard, I am the exception. I'll be here all 2019.

What are you stepping into for 2019?

9:00 AM

Oxygen Mask by Brittany Brady

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It took me a long time to sit down and write this, to really reflect on a moment that was one of the most terrifying and love affirming of my life – the birth of my son.

My husband was out of town on business and was sad about not being there for my doctor’s appointment. He had only missed one other appointment and at 34 weeks, it was a quick check-in with a blood pressure check, urinalysis, and so on… nothing major to miss. His flight home was canceled and so he drove to a nearby city (2+ hours) to catch another one because he wanted to be home so badly. That’s the kind of man he is, willing to do whatever he needs to be the person he desires. He holds himself to a consistent standard of excellence and it is one of my favorite things about him.

As I went to the appointment he reminded me to mention the swelling I had and the random bruises on my leg because in almost every appointment, he would remind me of something to mention. At prior appointments, the nurse would check my vitals and comment “nice” or “great” when going through each step. On that day though, she stopped as soon as she checked my blood pressure. I asked “what’s my blood pressure” and she replied “I will let the doctor talk to you.” It seems that I developed pre-eclampsia (yes, the same thing Beyonce had although she calls it toxemia )  in a week’s time.

I started going to therapy when I found out I was pregnant in an attempt to develop a rapport with a therapist prior to motherhood to ensure that I am able to take the best care of myself, to take the best care of my son. I wanted to address anxiety surrounding the season I was in and entering motherhood. In the event that I had postpartum depression I wanted to be sure the diagnosis could be accurate so I would not fight it because I know myself and know that I would’ve taken convincing because I plan like that. My husband and I had gone to a few birthing classes and he watched almost an entire series on the Pampers channel of YouTube. We had already had one baby shower and had been very blessed with virtually everything we needed for the baby and already had his bassinet set up and a few essentials because again, I plan. But what I did not plan for was a condition that could have cost me my life and being immediately admitted to the hospital after the doctor told me that the condition was severe and that I would not be going home. 
 Photographer: Denzel Golatt

As I sat in triage, I was alone. I’m rarely alone. I’m married and have a million friends but for that moment, I was alone and thanks to therapy I know that was purposeful. A barometer, if you will, of my growth to that point and a reminder that “whatever I am given I can handle” like my therapist reminds me. I told my husband and family I was being admitted and was feeling pretty strong until I was lying in that bed, alone. I called my father and wept and he cried too, I think. They planned to come on the first flight they could. My sister, a physician, was doing the same. I told my good friend Geva that yes, I did need someone to come. She’s an amazing woman who would leave company to be by my side. Yet another reminder of how God can orchestrate things to be exactly what you need in that moment because Geva happens to be a nurse. I had no idea how sick I was but she did and stayed with me until another friend, Tia, could come meet me. I was not alone anymore. 
It was close to when my husband arrived that the doctor told me that the baby would either come that day or in the next two weeks but I was definitely not making it until my due date of September 11th and this was on August 3rd. They took me to a perinatal specialist, who I ironically already knew because my son had a choroid plexus cyst as he was developing. When my primary doctor, a Black woman, saw it she told me that she did not want me to freak out and google but she knew I was going to freak out and google. She said that it is like a mole, something that should be monitored but generally nothing to worry about. She was right but it took me to this specialist anyway who my husband and I call “Mr. Rogers” because his demeanor is that soothing. Seeing him, on that day, made me feel better and reminded me that I could not have planned any minute of this occurrence this well. He looked at the baby and calmed me and said the baby looked great, in spite of being on the small side. I wrapped my mind around delivering premature and what that may mean for myself and the baby. 

Photographer Denzel Golatt

My blood pressure continued to rise and it became apparent that I would need to deliver the baby because I was at risk of stroke or seizure. My kidneys and liver were also in danger because of how high my blood pressure was. It should be mentioned here that the doctor I had was not my primary doctor. I purposely picked my physician because she was a Black woman and you hear so many stories in the news about Black women not getting adequate maternal care. I was of the mind that a Black woman would not doubt a Black woman’s pain and could give me a high standard of care. However, she is part of a physician’s group and I was at the part of the pregnancy where I rotated through different doctors. This was actually my second time rotating to this doctor because he happened to be the one with availability and I remembered liking him. He has not disclosed to me but I believe he is a white male with some of the best bedside manner I think exists. He tried everything to get me to deliver vaginally and after 24 hours he told me that I would probably need a c-section. I want to emphasize how incredible his standard of care was and how much he tried to get me to do what I originally planned, so much so that some of the nurses kept mentioning how careful he was being. It was actually me who had brushed off every symptom I had. The blurry vision was because I needed to wear my glasses. The swelling was typical of pregnancy, I thought. The mild headache was ignored because I suffer from migraines. Thankfully, I was under the care of doctors who informed me that none of these things were coincidence and took my life very seriously. I am grateful that this was my experience and that he was not attempting to rush me or brush me off. I felt the sincerity of my entire care team, every doctor and every nurse. 
Within 5 minutes I was in the operating room with my husband holding my hand as they began the incision. My son was born at 10:49 a.m. at a whopping 4 pounds and 9 ounces. He was able to breathe on his own and was ready to be discharged from the NICU before I was even dismissed from the hospital. My parents stayed with me and my husband stayed by my side. My sister was present for the birth of her nephew/godson and there to answer any medical questions I had. None of this was planned. My family was not originally going to be there as I birthed my parents’ first grandson. My mother stayed with me as I recovered from the c-section and high blood pressure, giving me the 40 days postpartum to be cared for and rest like I desired. My son is healthy and happy and not born in September like my husband and I, giving him August to celebrate on his own. I could not have planned it better and I would not have planned it differently.
As I laid in the hospital bed, the morning that I would give birth, all I could think about was how badly I wanted a cheesesteak and how much I wanted my son to get here safely. They put oxygen on me because they stated that the baby was starting to lose it and with the oxygen mask on my face all I could think of is when they tell you to put yours on first on the airplane. My commitment to addressing my anxiety and getting better during pregnancy is the only reason I made it through the entire ordeal without a panic attack or a breakdown. I felt peace. I had my coping mechanisms. I was in a good enough state (be clear, I was terrified) that I did not let fear rule me but I was open to what life was presenting me in the moment. I was helpless, literally helpless, but not weak or defeated. I knew there was strength and purpose in my forced vulnerability and I gleaned every lesson possible from every moment of the experience. I put my oxygen mask on first and we all made it through just fine. 
Photographer: Marrica Evans 

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