18 Years a Mother

I thought we were going to die.

But before we did, I figured I’d get some orange juice to quench my thirst and hopefully quell the raging headache pulsing through the vein in the left side of my face. Orange juice has no cranial healing properties, but I couldn’t be expected to be rational in the moments leading up to what I was certain was my impending death. I thanked the smiling – but concerned looking cashier at the Publix on Hammond Drive and made my way to Northside Hospital to find out exactly why my feet were swollen and red and why my baby hadn’t moved in almost 24 hours. I had already decided on my first unborn child’s name a few weeks before. Research and many contemplative hours led me to an Arabic name: Nadjah. It means “Be successful”.

Nadjah was dead in the womb. I just knew it. And if the doctors pulled my lifeless baby from my body, I knew I would die too.

The admitting nurse in the ER was kind. 18 years later, I still remember her face. She was a tall, athletic girl with a dirty blond pony tail. It’s such an ugly, unkind description to append to a person who was objectively sweet… but “dirty blond” is what white folks have deemed an appropriate appellation for this hue of hair. She took my vitals and asked me some routine questions. To conceal my terror, I tried to engage her with mirth, but I was in too much pain. Someone had hooked up a monitor to my belly and I heard Nadjah’s faint, but steady heartbeat. To say I was relieved is a gross understatement.

“When do you think I can go home?” I asked optimistically.
The nurse chuckled as though I’d made a joke on amateur night at The Improv. “Ohhh, you’re not going home until you have this baby.”
“But I have to go home tonight at the latest,” I objected weakly. “I have work tomorrow and I don’t have any PTO!” I could see it now. Barely 5 months into my job and I was going to get fired, and then I’d owe my company money for unauthorized time off. I was spiraling mentally, and that wasn’t helping my blood pressure – now at 210/170 – to descend.

Nadjah in the NICU. Photo credit: Adwoa Gyekye

As you all well know, I didn’t die and thankfully, neither did my baby. She was born 8 weeks early and has been defying the odds ever since. Nadjah and her nonsense have starred on this site for many years and yesterday she turned 18 years old. I am the mother of a legal adult, y’all. How did we even get here? Here’s how:


It Took A Community
Remember when I was tripping over my lack of PTO (paid time off) and time for maternity leave? That was no unfounded concern. I had not been in my new position long enough to earn those benefits. It was thanks to the generosity of my colleagues at Sprint that I was able to take the time off to heal and look after my preemie baby. We were a small department of 5 people at the time, but each of them donated a portion of their vacation time to my PTO bank. I later learned that two other people in another HR department had done the same. This initiative was led by my manager, C. Davis, and I will always remain grateful.

It Took a Godmother
Every Black girl needs a fairy godmother, and Nadjah has the best you could ask for. My BFFFL, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, has bought her gifts both sensible and completely impractical (my favorite was a toddler-sized white Mary J. Blige-esque coat that Nadjah just loved to slip into); has taken her on international trips; has advised her and resourced her with work opportunities. At every phase in Nadjah’s life, from utero to new adulthood, her Auntie Sisi has been there to support her.

It Took a Sister, a Cousin and a Network of Crazy Aunties
As much as a child needs support, so does a mother. I couldn’t have been the type of mother I get praise for being without the underpinning of the amazing women in my life. My sister has been my fiercest advocate and ally in this child-rearing business and all matters. My cousin, Susan, whose love I cannot imagine living without, has always been open with her lived experiences. I have avoided some of the mistakes she’s made and repeated a handful because I needed to “touch fire to see for myself” as the elders say. When I was depressed and dejected about being pregnant out of wedlock, my Aunt Carol instructed me to send her “a picture smiling and make sure we can see your belly!” It took a few weeks before I could muster the enthusiasm to photograph myself in a state that culture, religion and upbringing had told me was shameful and wrong, let alone smiling! However because of that uncompromising directive I have one picture and one picture alone to document my pregnancy with Nadjah.

My baby sets off to start adult life. Airport goodbyes are the worst.

It Took a Good Man
Nadjah is unabashed in her declaration that Marshall is her favorite parent. I have no quarrel with that. If I had to choose between myself and my husband, I’d crown him the better parent too. Whether she knows it or not, she owes her health to him. When I was pregnant and too depressed to eat, he brought fresh fruits and vegetables and made healthy meals. When my self esteem was low, he prayed for and with me. Though we were not married at the time I was carrying this baby, he would come over on the occasional afternoon (always mindful to be out of my apartment before dark!) and talk with Nadjah. She would “talk back” and kick/punch/writhe in response to his voice. He has provided her with 18 years of consistency, wisdom, guidance and bear hugs all of which have helped shaped her into the talented young woman she is today.

What Does Our New Future Hold?
Being the parent of an adult child is an odd, terrifying sensation. The truth is, I’m more apprehensive about my role now than I was as a new mother. How much will this adult need me? How much interference is too much? Do I save her or let her “touch fire for herself” when I can clearly predict when the path she’s on is askew? She is, accordingly to the law, and adult after all. Of course we both/all know that she did not experience some radical change between December 14th and the 15th, but even she admitted to me this morning that she only now realized just how much power she has gained in 24 hours. Of course I want her to have power…I just want her to exercise it wisely.

I have concluded that any hand-wringing I might do on the subject is fruitless. She is who she is, and the foundation my community, her Other Mothers, my husband and I have laid for her will contribute towards what type of woman she turns out to be…but it will not determine it. Part of her gaining her own power means recognizing that I must relinquish my own. I think the part that scares me about this aspect is that I see how so many parents struggle (and fail) at letting their adult children be adults. My parents were no exception to this failure, and it further strained our relationship for many years.

I cannot predict what our future looks like, but I hope it will be as exciting and joyful as these first 18 years have been. What I can say for certain is that while I complain about the damage childbirth has done to my mind and body, I would gladly give either up for this child again and again.

Finally, though the age of the “mommy blog” burst onto the Internet with the power of lightning and faded just as quickly, I hold onto this space because of the community we have built here. Today, it gives me the opportunity to thank each of you personally for the contributions you’ve made in my life online and off. (Even you lurkers. It’s good to know you are still here!) Our meet ups at museums, conversations over coffee, road trips, birthdays, shared losses and cheered on successes have meant much more to me than you will ever know. I believe I have been a better parent – and better person – because of the gifts you’ve shared with me. So in that spirit, I thank you for helping me bring this baby into adulthood.

Only 3 more kids to go! 🙂

How are you preparing to parent your adult children? Or if you already are, how have the dynamics changed between you and that child? How have you been altered by these new parameters? Discuss!