By: Staceyann Chin | November 17, 2011
I’m writing this from my hospital bed in New York City, encased by two sturdy, raised, side bedrails and a rolling tray with ginger ale, orange gelatin, (whatever that is) and some beef broth I kno
I’m writing this from my hospital bed in New York City, encased by two sturdy, raised, side bedrails and a rolling tray with ginger ale, orange gelatin, (whatever that is) and some beef broth I know from experience tastes like day-old bathwater. My glasses are somewhere around, perhaps buried in the rumpled white sheets I have managed to tangle round and round and round my bare restless legs. I am wearing the stylish, backless, cotton gown they give everyone to wear when they are admitted. Too lazy to search for the glasses, I’m squinting at the computer screen and trying not to feel sorry for myself. After all, I did this. I chose this lonely, single path to motherhood. And regardless of how certain I feel most of the time, I can’t escape these moments when I am overwhelmed by the many obstacles I continue to face as I press forward, pregnant and without a partner.
This is my sixth visit to the hospital in three weeks. The nurses on duty have become old friends. We greet each other by name when I arrive at the Labor and Delivery ward at 4 a.m. or midnight or 10 in the morning or 5 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. We make light of my knowing the routine. They rub my feet and remind me that they last told me not to come back until I am at least 35 weeks along. We all laugh, but we all know how critical it is that I come in when there is blood or contractions or any of the 900 things that can go wrong when you are in the process of making another human being to deposit onto the planet we are so rapidly trying to destroy with the amount of plastic and oil and chemicals we pump into it everyday.
It is almost midnight. I cannot sleep and I am weak with loneliness.
One set of friends dropped me off yesterday. Another will pick me up tomorrow. Yet another will spend the night to make sure if the blood gushes again in the dark I will have company to make the hurried but familiar trip to the hospital. They all make me food. Some do it well, while others can only be thanked for making the effort. No one is doing this because they have loads of time to spare. It is a labor of love, and hard sacrifices. So I only have them in patches. No one is here all the time. It is no one’s duty or obligation to be here. Some people have offered rooms and beds in their own homes, but I spent too much of my childhood as a guest in other people’s homes to leave my own, especially at a time when I am so prone to emotional thunderstorms. I should feel lucky I have these women who have stepped into where I have always imagined other people have family biological members residing. But their deep kindness tugs at old wounds. The necessity for them makes me ashamed of not having a family of my own. I feel in deficit somehow, as if I lack something that everyone else seems to have with no effort.
Perhaps this is why I have such unending relationships with ex-girlfriends. It is the hardest thing for me to lose people. I hold every past love in a box, deep in the recesses of my little girl’s heart. I bank them as permanent, as people who loved me, as people who will always love me, as people I cannot afford to stop loving. Each of them represents an aunt, a grandmother, a mother—someone who never left.
There is one for whom I nurse a particular weakness. I call her late at night, text her all the time, flail, weep, reach for her. Years after we severed the ties that made us mirror images of each other, we still remain connected. And in this time of great challenge I reach for her more. She, I suspect, because she loves me, is kind. But she is busy. I find myself angry at her kindness and resentful that she is so busy when I am trapped in my queen-sized bed at home, or this adjustable bed with grey rails surrounded by machines that constantly check my blood pressure and uterine contractions and the rapid heartbeat of this fetus I already love enough to make me pee my panties with fear when I think of it.
All this is heartbreaking for me to admit. Who wants to be a repeated cycle? I worry I will be like my mother, without even knowing it. I worry I will be too attentive or not attentive enough. I worry I will worry too much. I worry how much of that worry I will bequeath to my unsuspecting child. I imagine being so overprotective I raise a kid who will still need my boob to go to bed while she is a senior in college. Or one who will be so sick of my mothering that she doesn’t call on my birthday or Christmas, which happens to be the same day of the year. I have flashes of my future self weeping in some old age home telling all the other old ladies how much of a firebrand I was, reeking of urine and smelling like regret.
Love has always been hard, if not impossible for me. At first, the way I love appears tsunami and scares, flatters, and finally consumes everyone it touches. Then it quietly retreats, like a turtle with its arms and legs pulled into an impenetrable shell. Sustained vulnerability is not my way. I choose always to love, but in stints. And when it gets too much I have to pull away, just so I can survive should you decide to be the one to exit first. But something tells me that loving this child is already different. I do not have the option to retreat. I wouldn’t know how to do that, I think.
And so far this child has demanded everything from me. So sick have I been that I am still a bit stunned by the experience. I keep waiting to wake up from it. I can hardly work. Hence I am broke (never mind that being broke triggers all those years I was the beggar child on everyone’s charity list). I am on bed rest, so no gadding about, no trips to Jamaica when I please, no exotic runs to South Africa, or New Zealand. Even a trip to New Jersey is a mammoth challenge, both financially and physically.
I am always in bed. That’s it. Lying on either side of my body, because I cannot lie on my back or stomach, wondering if pregnant women get bedsores. I could Google it, but I have put myself of restricted google privileges. Knowing too much can be as bad as knowing too little when consulting with Dr. Internet. I cannot watch movies; my ability to concentrate is severely compromised, so I am left to wander through the inane and often sexist world of sitcoms.
I keep track of the Occupy Wall Street Protesters. They inspire me, but I’m still not sure what they are protesting. Every interview breeds new reasons. Some of them actually say they don’t know. But I admire their gumption. I wish I was well enough, or brave enough to go get arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge with them or to be pepper-sprayed for a belief not even concretized in my brain. I feel old next to them. Navigating this process of pregnancy makes me feel ancient. My body feels like any day now it might atrophy from the lack of movement.
I am not in control of what is happening here and I don’t know what to do. My body has never failed me so miserably. It has always done what I have asked of it, and without much fanfare. I am not a person who visits hospitals, nor lies in bed because she has to. If I am not making love or sleeping or lazing, I am out traveling or courting or creating a rumble somewhere. This quiet immobile grey threatens to stretch longer than a night, and I am frightened of how much I am committed to doing it. And even more terrified of how much want this baby. I wish I could control how much I want a safe arrival for my little warrior. We’ve had so many mishaps. And every time, the ultrasound reveals its’ heart beating fast and furious, fueling blood and vitamins and minerals across the amniotic divide that connects our separate ecosystems. That connection, that divide makes mush of me. I cannot explain why the tension of our separation, or togetherness, leaves me unsettled, but willingly so.
I am not used to such tenacity in the face of such adversity. Literally, this kid has dug its heels into my guts and is holding on for dear life. Usually, after this much frazzle and fuss, the women I have loved leave. I expect them to leave, and they do, unwillingly, but they eventually leave; that I know how to survive. It is this staying that makes my heart palpitate and my breath twist like a hungry tapeworm in my intestines.
The 38/40 weeks of preparation that mothers are given to contemplate the arrival of a child is either brilliant design or torturous madness. In the 25 weeks that I have been pregnant I have examined every decision I have ever made. I have gone over every mistake, triumph, and missed opportunity. And I am here, long past midnight, wondering if I have what it takes to raise a happy, well-adjusted human being. Every failure highlights itself as proof that I am ill-equipped. Every friend who has not shown up for me makes me question my judge of character. In these moments I wish I had someone with which to share these questions, these concerns, these fears that only become more and more real with every week I spend expecting.
Was I a fool to do this alone? Was I naïve to think that what I need would materialize? My closest friends are oceans and oceans away. Skype and phones and all the other clever inventions of our age are not good substitutes for flesh and fellowship and food given freely in the wingspan of a hug, or a pat on the hand, or a history co-piloted for decades in a culture common to people who have lived it all their lives. I miss my island home. In this my time of greatest uncertainty, of wanting something I do not yet know that I will have, I so long for my Jamaica. Quarrel or no, homophobia and poverty, violence and corruption, I miss the place where my grandmother lived and worked and delivered me and died. Grateful as I am for the freedom of my voice, and my career and the room to chase some of the most beautiful women in the world, I ache for mangoes that do not taste chalky when I sink my teeth into the orange flesh. I yearn for the commonness of dogs meandering unfettered from yard to yard, for children who yawp the language I first spoke when I began to question the world I was born into. I miss the too-loud speakers on the sidewalks, the men who drink rum more than they drink water. I miss the texture of the culture I know I am romanticizing. Deep inside me, I know the answers to these questions will take years to come. And I know they do not all lie in the place I am from, but tonight I am eight years old again, feeling lost and wishing things were as easy as wishing, as simple as walking some yellow brick road towards the familiar. Tonight I want these answers to find me now. From this sterile hospital bed in New York, I wish I could click these heels gone soft with inactivity, and take my child across these troubled waters to find both our hearts at home.