In Between

I woke up at 5:24 this morning and stumble-waddled my way through the dark for yet another trip to the bathroom.

I sat there, on the throne, looking at myself in the bathroom mirror through vision hazy from sleep, and whispered out loud, “It’s almost over.”

As soon as the words left my lips and drifted off into space, a mix of varied emotions weaved their way up from my toes to my belly where my hands were interlaced. My fingers tensed as each emotion swept through and around me, each one squeezing tightly and then releasing me much like the contractions I’ve been having the past six weeks.

So many contractions. 2 trips to L&D. Body pumped full of medications to stop them but they’ve refused to surrender. They are tenacious and stubborn, insistent on being present. Stronger and more frequent than Braxton Hicks, but not productive enough to fully initiate labor. They last for hours, pulsing and squeezing, tightening and releasing me sometimes one to two minutes apart, at others three to five, and at their slowest every twenty to thirty. They are overwhelming and tiring at their most frequent intervals and annoying at their slowest.

They are altogether frustrating, and their constant presence since week thirty have taken a toll on my psyche. At times they are all I can think about, my nerves on edge, trying to decide if I should call the nurse line and go in or just ride them out. Confusion and doubt often set in, intermingling with the pain, setting my OCD senses tingling and on high alert. My thoughts often ruminate during the more intense rounds and I often can’t tell if I’m losing my mind, responding mentally and emotionally as any pregnant woman in my situation would, or just being melodramatic & hormonal.

The past two weeks they’ve been accompanied by nausea, cramps, back aches, loose bowels, loss of appetite and a drop in weight-all of your textbook signs of your body preparing for birth & early labor. “Your labor will most likely be very slow in the beginning, much like your last,” said my OB last week. “Which we want, because we want to keep him in just another week or two longer. Your cervix is stubborn, which we need it to be right now. Hang in there. Let’s see what happens-hopefully next week we’ll start to see some big changes!”

So here I am, sitting on the toilet at 5:24am, at 35 weeks and 7 days, staring at the start of week 36 with an aching back and pulsing thighs…nauseated….exhausted yet mind abuzz with energy….body contracting physically and emotionally….forcing myself to whisper words to counteract the anxiety that has separated itself from the emotions pulsing around my belly and wound its way up to my chest, squeezing my heart until it feels as though it will burst from the constriction.

“It’s almost over.”

“Hang in there.”

“Pregnancy is a shitty and invasive force of Nature that always biologically beats my body into submission, but it’s worth the end result.”

The end result being my third child, another boy.

*************

After the anxiety passes my interlaced fingers tighten their hold on my belly and I feel the other emotions that remain creating a sense of heat around my womb, both inside and out.

Yes it’s almost over and there is excitement. There is anticipation. There is a desire for joy to meet me at the end when I peer into his eyes and behold the mystery behind them for the first time; the first glimpse into him, this tiny stranger, an extended combination of my husband and I that has been growing and squirming restlessly within me for nine months. There is hope. There is an eagerness to begin this new season of my life as a mother to him and his brothers, a mother of three. There is a shout wanting to shoot it’s way from my soul and burst forth from my lips in exaltation at what a year it’s been for me, for my husband, for the boys individually, and for our family as a whole. This child, this boy,  is the culmination of the new life we set out to build for ourselves back in April of 2012; when my husband and I sat in an IHOP in Philly, allowing restoration to heal our broken relationship. He is the embodiment of our new life as a whole unit, and the cairn directing our steps towards yet another new way forward for our family.

I’ve had each of my children during life altering transitions and significant periods of growth in my life, and timing of this child’s birth will be no different. What he embodies and signifies in my life at this moment are special to me, just like his brothers. Brennan healed my heart from my past, he is my empathy, my reincarnated self given another chance at a peaceful and full childhood, he showed me that I was good, and clean, and capable at motherhood and life. Alex is the one who challenged me in new and painful ways that were unexpected but oh so necessary. His entrance into my life dug itself deep into my core and unearthed in me things I had yet to see, and shone a harsh light on what I need to face and finally deal with. He shifted me as a woman, a mother, a believer…with him I was forced to throw all I thought I knew and carve out a new way of living and thinking. Alex taught me how to take care of myself and make my well-being a priority-a first for me. Alex pushed me out of the stagnant, boxed up life I had been living and out into a world I hadn’t let myself explore. He pushed me up and out of the rubble of the past 29 years and into wholeness-into my real self. I am the woman I am right at this very moment because I gave birth to him.

And here I am with this one. I know what he means to me personally, as a mother, and our life as a family in one sense…but he remains a complete mystery to me in another, which I find exciting and my being twinges with eagerness to learn and explore the world through his eyes as I have through his brothers.

*****************

And yet there is also fear of what’s to follow once we make our way back out through the hospital doors, and back to our home where the adjustment and shift of our family dynamic will begin to take shape; permanently rooting itself in our lives, our family.

Will I relapse? Will I catch it before it sucks me in?  What if I can’t get appointments or calls in to my therapist and psychiatrist because of how slow and overbooked the VA appointment system is? How will I handle the hard and the overwhelming task of meeting the needs of three children, who are all at very different stages and seasons of life? My husband being unavailable due to work obligations? Fluctuating hormones and fatigue?

And the boys: how will Alex adjust to the change and new presence, both as a three year old, and as a child who struggles with change and disruption of routine on the sensory level? Will his ABA based preschool be enough of an outlet for him? How will Brennan feel, as the oldest? So much of the focus has been on Alex and his therapies these past months, I often wonder if I’ve given him enough attention, and now with a newborn….

There is fear…despite all of the knowledge, support, and awareness I have, despite knowing that I’m at a much different place in life than I was when Alex was born and suffered through that first year…there is a lurking fear that sits and stares me directly in the eyes, making me all the more aware of the reality of my illness and how stress, change, and motherhood trigger it.

**********

So I am here at 5:24 in the early dark of morning, with foggy eyes squinting through the bright bathroom lights at my pregnant self, fingers tightly interlaced across my belly. Body and mind are engulfed in emotions that jar against each other, breathing deeply and staring back at what has been, and into what lies ahead. Feeling new life roll and jab in a space that is becoming too cramped and ready to be birthed. Ready but yet not ready. Craving for it to be over, yet continue on because what’s on the other side is still dark and unseen in a few areas. On the brink yet still stuck in the space and feelings between old and new. Waiting.

To Miriam…

Dear Miriam,

My head and heart have been reeling since your death. Upon seeing your picture and hearing details emerge about your struggles mentally and hospitalization, I sat crumpled in my bathroom, sobbing for you, your daughter, and for myself.

You see, I saw your face, your brown skin, and I saw a reflection of myself-a mother battling a mental illness. Having lived in the darkness of postpartum depression I know the hopelessness, fear, confusion, and pain that consumes you from the inside out. Although I’ve never experienced psychosis, I have and do experience the chaos, scattered and fragmented thoughts, paranoia, and such that comes at times with having bipolar disorder. I know that my having such a mood disorder puts me at a much more significant risk of psychosis postpartum, and that terrifies me.  Like you, I’ve been hospitalized, trapped in my own mind, wandering the halls and monotony of the psych ward, getting help, but also wanting OUT and have some sense of normalcy back…whatever’s left of it in your life at least. I know how triggering and taxing an unplanned pregnancy can be on your psyche, even when you’ve accepted and embraced the new life growing within you. I know the disconnect you can feel once you’re holding that new life in your arms minutes after delivery and long after you’ve been sent home. I know how difficult those first few months can be, and even that first year. And I know what it’s like to need help, be in treatment, but not have anyone you can really talk to about it, no one who “gets” the upheaval your mind and well-being is in. I know what it’s like to have to make a conscious choice to fight for your life daily, and being too tired to make that choice most days. I know the stigma that comes with being sick, and taking medications. I know side effects and having to rely on meds is exhausting and at times can chip away at your feelings of self-worth, and leave you doubting your capabilities to mother, to accomplish goals and dreams…to LIVE.

I know all of these things and that is why I sat in my bathroom crying for you…for me…for your daughter, and for my unborn son squirming in my belly.

After my tears came questions: were you getting help after your hospitalization? Were your boyfriend, mother, and sisters supportive? Did they encourage you to stick with treatment-were they themselves educated on your meds and illnesses? Did you have a therapist and adequate access to other mental health resources? Did you have anyone, ANYONE to talk to? Were you afraid to talk to anyone? Were you compliant in your treatment? Did you decide to stop treatment because you figured you could do it on your own, or were you pressured to by those around you? Did anyone tell you the dangers of quitting meds cold turkey or talk to you about weaning? Were you given speeches about bootstraps and soldiering on? Did your doctor think you were getting better and miss something? Were you even properly diagnosed and given the right kind of treatment? What led you to DC that day? WHAT HAPPENED?

I know that because you are no longer with us to tell your story, we won’t ever really have the answers to these questions-we won’t ever know the full truth. My heart aches with this knowledge. My heart breaks that the events that took place unfolded the way that they did and that your life was taken.

Since your death I’ve seen lots of discussion in the media about the state of your mental health, and lots of misinformation and a lack of distinction between postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis, which is what it appears to be that you suffered from. I’ve seen anger and outrage over how the police responded to your actions, and calls for an investigation on their use of force policy. I’ve seen what happened to you become politicized and I’ve seen people make ugly, disgusting comments about you, a woman they’ve never met.

I’ve seen all of this and all I can think about is your precious daughter. When I do anger wells up in me and boils, but not for any of the reasons I see it embodying others. My anger is with our community, with our people. I’m angry that within the black community there is no focus placed on our mental well-being and on mental illness. We fight to quell violence and hardship in our communities but do little to nothing to fight for resources that can help us deal with the mental impact violence, abuse, and hardship has on us. We don’t talk to our children about mental illness, other than to point to “Crazy Ray” who lives down the street and further cement stigma about mental illness in their minds. We are misinformed and uneducated. We are ignorant. We think therapy and medications are for whites only. We are held hostage by a code of silence that throughout our history has kept us safe and helped us survived but is now killing us. Our churches tell us to pray more, have more faith, live right, strive for prosperity…but say nothing about the mental illness that is often quietly sitting amongst us in our congregations.

We will fight for Trayvon and for our black boys. We will march against those who believe it’s better to close our schools and build more prisons. We will rage at police brutality and systemic racism across the board. But when it comes to our mental health and the facts on mental illness we are cold…silent…apathetic…hushed…disbelieving and ignorant of the science and biological roots of mental illness and how vital a role environmental factors play in the manifestation of illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Our national black leaders and organizations speak little on this issue and make no demands for change. I would go as far as to say it’s not even on their radar or list of priorities. Narratives and dialogue on mental health in our communities is driven and dominated mostly by white advocates. Those of us who live with mental illness and choose to face the stigma within our community and society at large often aren’t given the same platforms and amplification as white advocates. Our outrage and concern for other issues drown out suicide prevention and mental health awareness. Campaigns and efforts are not targeted at us, in OB offices we don’t see our faces on pamphlets on PPD or other perinatal mood disorders, and our doctors rarely screen us effectively for it. Medicaid provisions often keep our single mothers from being able to get adequate treatment and access to resources on the mental health front. (I speak from experience)

All of this…has me angry. Has me raging on the inside, and pushes me to do more with the space I have here. As a woman and mother of color with bipolar disorder who has survived PPD,  I look at you, your daughter, and what happened, and the role mental illness probably played in this, and I rage and I feel a responsibility. To your memory and most importantly to your daughter I feel an obligation to do more, say more, fight for better within our community. Others can rage and decry the actions of the police if that’s what the feel is important. I will rage and decry the lack of education and honest dialogue about mental illness on a national level and within our own community. I will rage and push for you so that your daughter and other women of color get educated and aren’t ashamed to get help. I will rage against the “strong black woman” archetype that keeps so many of us from acknowledging we need help and treatment on this front. I will speak up, I will fight, I will advocate for you so that your death will not have been in vain.

I will do this because I know, Miriam, what it’s like to be touched by madness and struggle to survive in its death grip. I will do this because your story and your death have shown me that its past time we rise up, get real, and take responsibility for our mental health….and take action.

I will step up Miriam. I will continue to speak in the vacuum until our stories and experiences with mental illness are heard and taken seriously instead of dismissed or trivialized.

I’m so sorry we lost you. I’m so sorry you lost yourself. I’m so sorry your daughter will no longer have you. I’m sorry we couldn’t do better by you both. But know that now? We will.

It’s Okay

It’s okay to have a mental illness…

…to need medication, even more than one, to manage it.

….to see a therapist for it.

…..to feel weak for having such shitty brain chemistry.

….to hate it for the impact it has on you, your relationships, your quality of life, your self-esteem, your perception of yourself and your worth.

….to be grateful for it for what it has taught you about yourself, your limits, your capabilities, your strengths…and for how it’s changed you.

…..to be scared because you have it, and to worry about everything that comes with it from the stigma it carries to the side effects of the medications you take.

….to be a parent with one. To want to have children, and have one, or many, despite living with one.

…..to take the safest medications possible for it during pregnancy and breastfeeding if that’s a choice you and your psychiatrist make.

….to be jealous of those who don’t have one, of their “normal” states.

…..to be resentful of your spouse because they don’t understand what it’s like for you to live with it daily.

…..to hurt for your spouse or loved one because you know what it’s like to live with it daily and you wish you could shield them from that part of you, spare them from seeing how deep your darkness can go or how high your brain can fly, and spare them the hurt the difficulty and weight of how heavy and distressing it can be to witness.

…..to love your spouse or loved one for standing by you as you manage the ups and downs, the nuances, the cracks and crevices of it.

….to be honest with your kids about it.

….to be yourself, to live your life fully, to create the life you want to live despite having it.

……to not let it define you.

……to embrace the parts of it that can help you grow, and learn, and empathize.

…….to feel strong because of it.

……to love yourself in spite of it.

It’s okay to have a mental illness. Don’t let anyone shame you for it. Don’t let stigma keep you silent and held hostage by it. It’s okay. As hard as it is, as dark as it can get, it doesn’t diminish who you are or what you’re capable of. It’s okay. It’s not your fault. Ever.

So take a deep, full breath, and say it out loud: “It’s okay.”

 

How WIC Saved Us

I’m going to keep this short and to the point. 

No ranting. No giving you my opinion of the GOP or politicians in general. I’m not going to be political about this because there really isn’t a point, and there are millions of others out there saturating the Internets with their opinions, anaylysis, anger, bias, and what have you. 

I’m not going to give you politics. Instead I’ll give you something personal and leave you with a plea for tangible, effective action. 

When I separated from the USAF in Nov 2006, I was 7 months pregnant with Brennan, who you know is my oldest, my boy genius. Having been a military cop in service, all of the jobs I had applied to in early 2006 in preparation of my discharge were security or law enforcement related: Capitol Police, Metropolitan Police Department, and positions at various security firms in the Maryland, DC, and Virginia. My plan was to go to college and work full-time, doing bartending and security until I graduated w/a degree in Communications & Journalism.

I had to terminate my applications and job search in June 2006 when I found out I was expecting. I started trying to scramble to come up with a back up plan when Brennan’s father refused to “be a part of something he didn’t agree with” because I refused to get the abortion he wanted. He shut me out completely, as did many members of my squadron, so while I had a few friends remain by my side I was basically alone to fend for myself. Going back home to my mom & stepdad’s in NJ wasn’t an option either. So I scrambled, tried some things that didn’t work out, some smart, some completely stupid (ie an engagement to a complete idiot I shouldn’t have trusted) and upon discharge I was practically homeless, staying with friends but not having anything permanent in place for when I had Brennan.

Finding a job at 7 months pregnant was impossible in the civilian sector. I was too far along. No one was going to hire me only to see me go on maternity leave 2 months later-I was told as much during interview after interview, phone call after phone call. 

After serving 4 1/2 years, I was entitled to unemployment for at least 9 months, but once it was discovered that I was pregnant I was denied because it meant I couldn’t really look for work, which was a requirement. I had to appeal and it took exactly 71 days before the decision was reversed and I was afforded $592/month. My first check came 2 days after I had Brennan- February 24, 2007. I didn’t even have a bank account anymore and had to cash it at a check cashing place.

During those 71 days, those last months of pregnancy, I had no money. NONE. My friends did what they could to help. I also had no prenatal care. My disability and compensation claim with the VA had just been filed and wouldn’t be processed until March of 2008, so I had no way of even getting healthcare services through that system, and at the time, they didn’t cover prenatal care anyway from what I had been told. I applied to medicaid and for other social services, but the application and approval process took nearly 60 days, despite my being in what they considered an “emergency” situation. The only application that processed fairly quickly was my WIC application.  

I had no health care. No money. No job. Barely had a place to stay-a friend’s couch. But I had WIC. My WIC experience had some negatives to it, which I’ll discuss at another time, but I can tell you right now, were it not for WIC I wouldn’t have had anything to eat during those months right before Brennan arrived. 

Thanks to the WIC program I could use vouchers to buy bread, milk, eggs, peanut butter, cereal, juice, beans, and fruit from the one farmer’s market in Prince George’s county, Maryland that I could take the bus too. (I had a car, but didn’t drive much, because gas=money I didn’t have) 

That was the ONLY food I ate. If I found a dollar in change, which happened I think 2 or 3 times, I splurged and bought a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s off the dollar menu. Twice, a friend took me to grab a bite to eat, but that was it. My WIC vouchers were how I ate the one (small) meal I had every one of those 71 days I waited for an appeal on my unemployment case. Yes, I had ONE meal a day. At 8 and 9 months pregnant. That was it. The fact that Brennan was and is healthy is pretty much a miracle if you ask me. 

WIC is considered “non essential” during a government shutdown, meaning applications aren’t processed, case managers don’t work, families can’t stop by WIC offices to pick up their monthly vouchers for formula, milk, and food. Any breastfeeding support a woman is receiving via her WIC office stops. Families who rely on WIC to help them purchase specialized and expensive formula to feed their infants with health problems? Same thing. Do you know how many school aged children rely on WIC for breakfast? With SNAP benefits being decimated last week, imagine being a parent already struggling to put food on the table and now facing the reality that two very crucial resources you depend on have been gambled away, gutted, halted.

 Whatever your political leanings are I urge and beg you to flood your food banks and organizations that partner with WIC offices with donations of food, baby formula, and baby food. Diapers even. Grocery store gift cards. A monetary donation, which help food banks even more sometimes than donations of physical goods. Whatever you can. Hunger is a real problem in this country and we need to take it more seriously than we do.

Politicians can play their games, claim victories for their childish and stubborn agendas, and we can’t do shit about it but gnash our teeth, word vomit our frustrations, theories, and opinions on social networks, and vote…two years from now. That’s it. This shutdown is out of our hands, our control, and beyond anything that WE the people can tangibly do to fix….BUT we can do what Congress isn’t right now and serve ourselves, serve each other. WE can be for the people and by the people. We CAN do something, have some control in this situation-and that’s by ensuring our neighbor, our coworker’s kid, our elderly, our servicemembers, our disabled, OUR people, are fed. 

We can do that….can’t we? 

WIC saved me and mine during a very horrifying and unsettling time in my life. Help me do for others what it did for me. Donate to an organization or food bank. Please. 

Exploitation vs. Appreciation: Can You Tell the Difference?

First, take a few and read this from NPR Music: “When Pop Stars Flirt With Bad Taste”

Cultural appropriation.

Done “right’: tastefully with an obvious appreciation, understanding and respect for a culture’s influence on them & their artistry:

Justin Timberlake MTV Vanguard Medley

Done horribly wrong with a privileged, misconception of a particular culture and it’s influence on pop culture in particular:

While it’s not a brand of sexuality I prefer or even find “sexy”, I could care less about her vulgarity, foam finger simulated masturbation, “twerking” or anything else she does as a means to express her sexuality on stage.

My issue is that she’s purposefully adopted a so-called “black & urban” persona, and  a “black sound” with her new music & identity-but they’re rooted in stereotypes and misconceptions about black and urban culture in general. And she’s profiting off of it. No one’s calling her on this OR the Molly drug references. Rick Ross and other hip-hop artists were (rightfully) boycotted and lost endorsements and forced to apologize for talking about date rape and Molly in their songs…but a white girl does it and she gets a pass. Instead everyone’s screaming about the need for her to put some clothes on and her tongue back in her mouth.

Miley rocks a gold grill and twerks: she’s just expressing herself.

Black woman does the same: she’s rachet and ghetto.

Double standard? I think so.

Reminds me of when wearing “weave” or extensions was fake, ghetto, and caricatured by white people until celebrities like Jessica Simpson and Britney Spears made it known they wear them…suddenly you could buy weave and clip in ponytails at CVS and Wal-Mart and it was “fashionable” and desired.

If you want to talk about Miley Cyrus, then ditch the slut shaming and discuss something that’s actually a problem.

Cultural appropriation. Appreciation vs. Exploitation. Can you see the difference?

95

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.”

“We can’t afford to be killing one another.

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin. Or his background. Or his religion. People must learn to hate. And if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

I was in 3rd grade, living in New Mexico on the day you were set free. My teacher told us about your life, answered our questions about apartheid, and I watched news coverage that afternoon of you walking out of jail: FREE.

My heart has always been in awe of you since that day, and on your 95th birthday, I find the words I’ve read in your books and speeches rising up to breathe hope into my heart once more.

Hope for freedom of all peoples.

Hope for my sons and all brown boys growing up here in America.

Hope for Martin’s dream.

Hope that the world will not forget you, your legacy, and what you stood and fought for when it comes time for you to finally leave us to carry on the work you started here on Earth.

Happy Birthday Madiba. May your light forever lead us in the fight for equality and compel us to serve our fellow man.

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Now What?

Not guilty.

Now what? What do we do now? Where do we turn? Who do we turn to, except each other to grieve and travail as despair and fear grip our souls mamas?

What do we do women of color? Jim Crow’s ghost is laughing at us, reminding us yet again that it is a crime for our men to even exist, reminding us yet again that ever since they were first chained to ships bound for these shores, our men are not worthy of life and freedom.

Black & brown manhood has once again been demonized, criminalized, and deemed a threat to humanity, and allowed to be stalked and hunted like prey by predators blinded by fear, insecurity and delusion.

Profiled in broad daylight.

Hunted in the dark.

Statistics.

Killed by them and by each other. Every. Day. By the hundreds.

What do we do now? What do we tell our babies? How do we raise our sons? How do we dress them? Where can we send them to keep them safe from urban violence and from the suburban neighborhood watchman with a gun?

What is enough? Education? Income? Manners? No…seems like it was for awhile but that got ripped from us tonight. Again.

How do we change the system if we can’t become it because they’re closing our schools and putting our men in prison? How do we fight systemic legal and cultural oppression?

When will our voice be heard? How much longer do we have to go on killing ourselves everyday? How many more of our futures must be killed and destroyed by violence? By systemic and cultural oppression?

When will our anger be deemed righteous and worthy enough to receive and initiate effective change for ourselves and our men? Our baby boys?

Not guilty. What do we DO now? Except hold our sons and feel the crushing weight of guilt for bringing them into a world & society that doesn’t value their personhood shatter our hearts?

I am a wailing woman tonight. A woman travailing in despair for the lives of brown boys and brown men in this country. For my sons. For my husband. For my brother. For your men, your sons.

What do we do? What do we tell them to encourage them to be who they are when who they are is on trial every day? Misunderstood, demonized, criticized, devalued, and dehumanized on a daily basis?

What do we do besides hold our babies tonight and feel hopeless and terrified to send them out into the world and see pain and maybe death too soon in their future?

How do we fight? Where do we fight? WHO do we fight? When will our fight for them and their fight for themselves matter?

When will brown men and brown people matter in this country? We haven’t since Columbus set foot on this continent. We have been fighting genocide and for our existence for that long. When will the fight for survival end?

A brown man can be sent to jail for fighting and killing dogs. But if he fights for his life after he’s stalked and confronted? He goes on trial for his own death and his killer is handed the gun that ended his life as he goes home. Free.

Not guilty.

What do we do?

America’s Not Here for Us

“Mom-are we still slaves? Do people still hate us, African-Americans?”

Brennan asked me this last week while driving home. A few days before while shopping in HEB, he asked me questions about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, the Civil War, why “brown” people were slaves…the same questions he’s been asking me since he learned about all of this and Martin Luther King Jr in kindergarten this year. In the store, I answered them as best I could, bearing in mind to keep it age appropriate, yet honest. I don’t believe in glossing over or hiding history from my kids or relying on the public education system to tell one version of it.

However when he asked me in the car if we were still slaves, if people still hated us, I faltered. The only immediate response I had for him was “let’s talk about this later with Bertski, ok? I think we should talk about it together, alright?” He agreed and went back to watching Fantastic Four, going back to being the innocent 6-year-old boy I wish he could always be but know he’ll grow out of.

I faltered at answering his questions because they caught me between two parts of myself that both bear a particular responsibility. As his mother, I carry the responsibility of trying to keep him as innocent, carefree, and sheltered as possible while encouraging him to grow into who he is, be inclusive with others, and have some responsibility for how he carries himself and interacts with the world around him. I want him to enjoy the freedom that comes with being a child…yet teach him what he needs to know about the world around him in stages of understanding that aren’t marred by the ugliness that can come with increased knowledge about the world he lives in and life in general.

But as a woman of color raising an African-American son who has a Puerto-Rican stepfather and half-Puerto-Rican brother, I (and my husband) also bear the responsibility of teaching him about things like racism, white privilege, equality, how black and other brown men have been and still are perceived in American society, and really just about being a person of color PERIOD in the United States of America. I have to explain to him why “peach” people think he looks suspicious even though he might be doing the same exact thing they are-walking through a neighborhood, shopping in a store, hanging out with a group of his friends, wearing his favorite hoodie.

As a mother I have to worry about my child’s quality of life, his education, his growth as an individual, how he treats others, help him shape a worldview that is hopefully inclusive, healthy, well-rounded, educated, rooted in morality…I have to help him navigate the nuances of engaging with the world around him and the people in it, the ups and downs of life, and everything that comes with being a man. But as the mother of a brown boy in the United States of America in 2013, I also have to worry about how to keep him out of prison, where a disproportionate amount of black and brown males are sent to and reside these days, more so than their white counterparts. I have to worry about him walking down the street or driving in his car and being profiled simply because he is a black male. I have to teach him how to carry himself, talk and express who he is in a certain way so that he’s not viewed as “threatening,” “a thug” “a criminal”….”an animal” even.

I have to teach him how to work that much harder than his peers just so he can *maybe* stand a chance at having the same benefits they do. I have to teach him that he can be more than an athlete, a rapper, or some other occupation white people have deemed “ok” for brown people to succeed in. I have to teach him that even if he became the President of our United States, he’d still have to prove himself worthy, articulate, capable, and not some terrorist hell-bent on destroying the country. I have to basically teach him that when he’s done his very best, to dig deeper and push harder to do even better because our society (unfairly) demands he be more than just a human being like his white friends. I have to make him aware of how our society views him, but still encourage him to not let this societal perspective define him and who he wants to be as a man and a citizen of this country.

I have to teach him that because he is not “peach” others will deem him unworthy and dismiss him just by looking upon his face; that they will still feel they have the right to call him a nigger because “that’s how they were raised,” they “don’t mean any harm by it,” their black friend says “nigga” and Jay Z & Kanye have a song called “Niggas in Paris.”

I have to teach him that people will often not see him at first-they will see a preconceived, stereotyped version of him that has been engraved upon their consciousness by their culture, the media, and sadly, even those who “look like” him. I will have to encourage him to remember that although white folks have always been taught on some level that black & brown people are inherently, at their core, evil, bad, incapable of being good, lack value, and lack intelligence that he is NONE of those things. I will have to constantly remind him that no matter what is said, what laws are enacted, no matter how many jobs or promotions he’s denied, he DOES indeed have rights, he IS more than a stereotype and is not less than his boss, his friend, his classmate…

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I thought about all of this as I sat in the shower this morning, hot water mixing in with the tears streaming down my face, my heart heavy. I thought about his questions to me last week, and whispered, “Yes-yes we ARE still slaves and yes, people do still hate us, my son…even our own people are still oppressed with the self-hate fostered in us when we were just property.” In 2013, 40+ years after desegregation and Martin Luther King Jr’s speech on Washington’s monument, we. are. still. slaves. We are free, yes, and slavery is illegal…an amendment in the Constitution says so. But systematically? In people’s minds? In our OWN minds as people of color? No….we are far from free. No we are not free, and since Obama started his run for office back in 2007, the hate for the color of our skin and our culture has been getting louder, bolder, and more vile than I can remember hearing and experiencing growing up. Yes. We ARE still hated, still thought of as less than human.

As my heart weighed heavy with this answer, the thought that came next was “I’m brown. I am a woman. America’s not here for me. I have brown sons, a brown husband. America’s not here for them either.”

Somehow, in 2013, America is still not here for people of color. For men of color. And for women of color? Well…“For some folks being black and being a woman makes us less of both.” -A Letter to Rachel Jeanteal (Note: You WANT to read this….and this.)

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America isn’t here for me and my family because our skin is brown and we are a mixed multi-cultural family. Response to Cheerios latest commercial is just ONE of the recent events to reinforce this belief for me. Add SCOTUS’ gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the defense of Paula Deen’s use of racist language, her blind eye to discrimination and harassment in her own establishments, and the reaction to the George Zimmerman trial to the equation and that’s what it all adds up to, doesn’t it?

So my question is this: Who IS America here for?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not you, citizen. Not unless you are white, straight, rich, Christian, AND male, the 2013 America is not for you and is barely better than what it was in the past.

If you are poor….

If you are gay….

If you have a mental illness…

If you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or any faith other than “The Bible is the innerant and literal Word of God” Christian…

AMERICA. IS. NOT. FOR. YOU.

White, male dominated America doesn’t care about you as a human being if you’re brown or gay, and doesn’t care about your rights and freedoms to make your own choices about your body and reproductive health if you’re a woman-even a white woman.

America only stands for life…ONE kind of life. One that is privileged, entitled, elitist, and democratic only in theory.

FUCK THAT.

You want to stand for life, America? You want to stand for life American Church?

Stand and fight for the millions of children living outside of the womb who are hungry, homeless, abused, in foster care, neglected, and living below the poverty line.

You want to stand for life? Stand for the kids in Chicago, Philly, D.C. and even in rural areas where our public schools are failing and having funding ripped from them.

You want to stand for life? Then fund schools. Fund innovation and technology. Fund the arts. Supply food deserts. Fund your local food bank. Stop taking money from schools in the inner cities to build $400 million prisons. (I’m looking at you Philadelphia)

You want to stand for life? Get real about who can purchase a gun, what kind, how many, and how much ammunition they can have. Get real about gun safety and gun control. Care about violence in urban areas just as much as you do in the suburbs where you live comfortably encased in your “hard-earned” privilege.

You want to stand for life? Volunteer at a Veteran’s home, clinic, hospital or service organization. Spend some time giving back to those who sacrificed their time and lives so you can make your “stand” for life.

Want to stand for life? Man a suicide hotline.

Want to stand for life? Stop enforcing your way of life on others and allow them the same benefits and rights you enjoy. Church? We aren’t a theocratic nation-people can marry, love, and believe who and what they want.

Want to stand for life? Support SNAP benefits and your local food bank. Feed and clothe the homeless, whether you think they deserve it or not.

So you stand for life? Do you stand & vote for deep cuts to food and other welfare programs?

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Stop demanding hungry people sit through your tired ass, patronizing sermons to get the bags of food you offer every week. (I’m looking at you Black Church)

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be just as mission-minded here in our country as you are in others.

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be inclusive. Extend your outreach and support to those with mental illness. Stop the sexual and emotional abuse happening in your congregations and institutions.

Hear me: if you stand for the unborn who you claim are more worthy than the women impregnated with them and than those who are already living? If you’re an apologist for racist behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and ideals? If you aren’t here for my rights as a woman and mother of color? If you aren’t here for my mixed family who works just as hard as your privileged ass despite the systematic racism we encounter in various ways every fucking day?

Well then, I’m not here for you. Or your God, or your so-called God-blessed America.

I’m here for a much different country. Maybe I believe in a different God and perhaps I AM living in the wrong “democratic” nation. Guess I should take my black ass back to where I came from, huh?

I’m…Climbing…Out…

I am a Warrior Mom.

I have sat in the darkness of postpartum depression and anxiety feeling hopeless and lost. I have felt them rip my identity as a mother and a woman apart, leaving me feeling like a shell of a person, empty.

I’ve hid in closets, and cried on my bathroom floor because being near my children felt impossible to handle.

 

I’ve endured thoughts so intrusive I still can’t speak of them to anyone, let alone myself.

I lived with guilt over my inabilities to play, laugh, and hold my children-it feasted on my insides for months….and still comes back for more when I find myself on the low end of the bipolar mood spectrum.

I still live with shame over the rage that engulfed me for over a year, often over the trivialest things, in the most unexpected of moments. The screaming, the yelling…If there’s one part of my experience I wish I could erase it would be that.

And yet, in spite of the darkness I lived in after Alex’s birth, despite how sick I was, I survived. With support and treatment I overcame. I climbed out of that darkness. I became a Warrior Mom.

Tomorrow, I’m celebrating that accomplishment with over 100 other women across the United States and in 6 other countries.

My family and I will be heading to Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve here in Austin for a 2 mile trail hike. With each step I’m sure I’ll be emotional as I look at my boys and my husband around me and reflect on my experience with PPD…and I’ll again be overwhelmed with gratitude for Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone.

If you’ve been a reader for any amount of time here, you know how much I credit Postpartum Progress and Katherine Stone with essentially saving my life and helping me come into my own as a mother. In January 2011, it was THE lifeline I needed that started to pull me out of the darkness of PPD & anxiety and eventually led to my diagnosis of bipolar disorder. You can read more about how Postpartum Progress helped me here and at the end of this post if you haven’t already.

3 weeks ago I joined fellow survivors and even those still fighting PPD in a campaign to raise funds for two very specific projects Postpartum Progress is working on. In those 3 weeks, we’ve managed to raise over 36K, and basically create a movement to honor our experience and give hope to others still finding their way out of the darkness Postpartum Progress helped us come out of.

We are Warrior Moms. We are climbing out and pulling others up with us today, the longest day of the year, to stand tall in the light of hope. I’m honored and humbled to be a part of something so significant with the most amazing women I’ve met in my life.

Let’s do this.

To learn more about Climb Out of the Darkness, what the donations are funding, and to donate to our hike on Saturday click here