Invincibly beautiful. That is the description of my birth story in two words. A water birth. I pulled my son from the water, and in that first meeting, him quiet and curious, we nestled skin to skin across my chest. My juxtaposition: contentment mixed with exhaustion. I labored 14 hours, pushed 50 minutes with my doula and close family by my side. The oasis at the nationally recognized Roots Birth Center in North Minneapolis was unforgettable.
As beautiful as it was bringing my son, Kaiden, into the world, a shadow of fear also arrived. A full-term and healthy baby should not be much to worry about, right? I birthed something incredibly precious and yet, like my enslaved ancestors, somehow he felt like he did not fully belong to me. I have wrestled with the feeling that the world is undeserving of Black women, and therefore undeserving of our Black children. I feel this way having experienced the impacts of systems that intersect education, criminal justice, health care, and income and employment, which are not engineered to see our full brilliance.
Four years ago, in grieving the loss of another murdered Black woman, I wrote a poem. An excerpt:
The world doesn’t deserve Black women.
They would rather imprison.
Our wombs we carry generations
Yet, even bonded love
That white gaze
As Black birthing people, our birthing choices are much the same as anyone else. However, there is something rather peculiar in our journey, something I liken to an involuntary surrogacy. Black birthing people could be viewed as surrogates who carry and birth children who go on to joy-defeating and short-lived experiences. How is it that Black women choose to have children who face a greater likelihood of prematurely losing their innocence?
I attended too many funerals this year for Black children who should be alive today. The unfortunate reality: the way we raise our Black children has little bearing on whether they live or die unjustly. A mother’s love can only protect so much.
At one funeral, Karen Wells, the mother of Amir Locke, described laboring for 10 hours and how her son was killed in less than nine seconds. It was her words “how dare you” that made me sit with my ideas about reproductive rights. What right to life as a Black mother do I really have? What right to life does my son really have?
It does not matter if you raise a “good” Black child with a clean record or a “bad” Black child with a troubled one. As Ibram X. Kendi wrote, Black children are stamped with the guilt of being young and Black in America.
I am at a loss about how to give my kid “the talk” because all the ways he could die, just because he is Black, seem endless. I know I can send him to the best private schools, and I can even shelter him in the finest racial-covenant-designed neighborhoods. I can always do more, but I cannot teach the world to love him.
What would it look like if teachers honored Black brilliance? What would happen if the world protected Black children? What ease would we have browsing retail stores without feeling suspicious gazes? What if we put real policy and accountability behind justice-driven hashtags? The reality is there is only so much I can control, and there is simply no playbook for the level of radical acceptance Black mothers contend with to protect their children.
Last year, when my then three-year-old looked through the car window and said, “Mom look, ice cream trucks!” my heart sank and I took a deep breath. One day when he is older, I will tell him about the military Humvees that proceeded through downtown Minneapolis and how Gianna’s dad, George Floyd, ignited something in the world, even if just for a moment.
I am optimistic true change is possible, even if it is just me choosing to love bigger and bolder — choosing to show my son he is an asset, that he deserves to be fully loved and cherished simply for being the beautiful soul he was born into. Ultimately, I hope my son knows he will never walk alone; he will walk with his ancestors by the thousands behind him.
I know I birthed something beautiful and worthy: a loveable Black child, like all the ones living and all the ones resting in power now. May Kaiden continue to know he deserves to always be here. And yes, me too.