My Nola Life: Growing Up Fast…

My girls and I have been back in Minnesota for almost two weeks now, for the first time in a year, since we moved back to New Orleans. After 20+ years of living here, Minnesota does not have that I’m home feeling. It’s like I never bonded with anything here.

I’m not in a rush to see someone whom I haven’t seen since I left. There’s no cuisine that I have to have or any food cravings for anything here. Like right now, I need a hot sausage po boy and a pig lip.

There’s absolutely nothing I miss up here, except for my family, my kids and a few close friends.

Being here has me wondering why I left New Orleans years ago and why I lived here for so long…

Minnesota is beautiful. You can witness every season here. The land here is full of lakes, trees and people from all walks of life.

The state is very diverse.  I believed there’s just about every culture represented here. There’s a huge Hmong and Somali population as well as Mexican. Each group I named have their areas of town, not saying other cultures don’t live there too, but for some reason, they all live within their communities. For instance, in Minneapolis, Lake St is full of Mexican businesses and in St. Paul, University Ave has Hmong companies up and down it.

To say there are so many cultures here, what Minnesota lacks is culture and soul, like New Orleans. I believe what makes New Orleans come alive is the people; they interact with you, they go beyond the basic eye contact. New Orleanians make you feel welcomed, at home and loved. The people here are just here, operating within their own worlds.

Minnesotans are just what they claim to be, Minnesota Nice. If you have to put a word before nice, then you’re not nice.

Minnesota is a place you come to escape other places, somewhere you go for solitude while living amongst people, even your own family. It’s not that escape place where you go to get away or to regroup or feel better. You come here to work, open a business, go to school, etc. You can’t have the multitude of races and cultures here and think they came here for love or a dream of meeting Prince. People come here for opportunity, a piece of the American pie, to live life more abundantly. I know that’s the reason my family came to live in Minnesota.

My uncle, James Shelton made his way up here in the early ’50s from New Orleans to escape the poverty of  Jim Crow. After he settled into Minnesota life, he welcomed the rest of us who wanted to get out of New Orleans for the betterment of ourselves. He was an Affirmative Action Administrator at St.Paul Public Schools for over 20+years. He also served in the community, especially in the area of civil rights. He assisted family members with employment, housing, and the list goes on.

My Uncle James helped me attain my first real job as a teacher’s assistant at a school on the Eastside. He also was my first landlord. I lived in one of his apartment complexes in St. Paul. Shoot, he helped me with my first real everything positive here in Minnesota. Seriously, he set the stage and paved the way for me to be all that I am now!

We had a wonderful relationship. Everyone loved him as well; he had that type of charisma. I would go over to his house to cook some of his favorites or just stop in for a quick chat, if I saw his pickup truck parked outside of his garage, letting the neighborhood he was home and the company was welcomed.

I loved his big ole country kitchen. There was a center island with a pot rack hanging from the ceiling. I felt like I was on set of a cooking show. My Uncle somehow brought a house for a $1 in the country of Louisiana, had it shipped here and put on his land. Pure genius I thought, plus the big ole yellow house felt like the south, even smell of it.

My Uncle James stood for the advancement of our people, all people.  He took time out to educate us on not wasting our talents, minds, or time. He was a great uncle, man, and a role model. He may have been the only connection I had with Minnesota and perhaps with him being gone that feeling went with him as well.

I remember getting off the Greyhound Bus in the summer of 91 like now everything was bushy and green. So green you can smell the grass and the flowers in the air.

 As I waited for my cousin to pick me up, I remember looking down the hills of the street that the bus parked on, University Ave. It looked like it never ended. One of the first things I asked her was how many miles long was the street, and if it ever ends. I was so shocked when she told me that the road could take me to Minneapolis. I was in awe, hopeful, curious, and ready for my new life.

I had my high school diploma and certificates I earned, in hand as I stepped into my new life in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

My Mama kept my baby girl at the time. The year prior, I buried my second daughter, My’Tae Antionette. Yes, I had two babies at the age of seventeen years old. I gave birth to both of them at twenty eight weeks. I would find out years later that I had a tilted womb, and it affected carrying my babies to term.

My first daughter was born via emergency c-section. The night prior, I pushed the washing machine and refrigerator by the back door. The home invasions rate was so high then, due to the crack cocaine epidemic and burglaries increased in our neighborhood. I was scared.

My Mama went to work early that morning, but before she left, I recall telling her I was “peeing a lot.” At sixteen years old, I didn’t know that it was actually my water bag breaking… I went to the bathroom one last time, saw blood in my urine and I called my Momo, my grandmother.

My grandmother was getting ready for work as my Mama was going in. She picked me up, brought me to Charity Hospital, waited with me, prayed with me, told me “God doesn’t give you no more than you can bear Deatra, you have favor with the Lord, you just have to call on him.” I can see her face now. She was a beautiful, humble spiritual, loving woman. She wore a beige,  pass the knee-length skirt, white blouse, a gold necklace with a Jesus crucifix dangling from it, black stockings and black string up shoes. One would think she was on her to teach a women’s bible study or was head of the Christian Women’s Etiquette Ministry. How to dress to impress God, would have been the topic of the day.

She was a Nanny and housekeeper to a wealthy family in Metairie. In addition to taking care of their home and kids, she had nine grown children of her own and twenty-two grandkids at the time. How she did it, I do not know, but she leaned heavily on her Lord and trained us up to do the same.

The doctor’s examined me, asked my grandmother to step outside of the curtain, like it was some sort of soundproof wall, to tell her that I was in labor, my water bag was torn and leaking. He said he might need to do an emergency cesarean section, if I did not dilate in a few hours or if the baby becomes distressed. He had her sign a consent for surgery before she left. Apparently, back then there was no need to talk to me being sixteen and all, being pregnant didn’t make you grown. I was actually treated like that for the next years to come.

Momo came from the magical soundproof curtain to tell me what I already heard.  I knew she needed to go to work to get the children off to school and would be back later, but I didn’t want her to leave at all, but she had to. She saw the terror and tears in my eyes. I couldn’t be a big girl, not with my Momo. Plus, she knew my heart. I was a part of her heart and soul.

In addition to being my grandmother, she was my mentor, therapist, spiritual guide, and girlfriend. We would add girlfriends to our titles as I grew older. I’m so grateful that we were able to share so much. My Momo never judged me or turned her back on me after I made the wrong decisions. She actually, stood up for me on many occasions when others would attempt to banish me off to hell for being a pregnant unwed teen. Knowing she was something greater than just my grandmother, knowing that she was a woman as well felt freeing. So, I silently cried to her, letting the painful tears flow as she wiped them away with her soft hands.

My situation changed for the worse. My baby was coming that day. There was no stopping her entry into the world, and there was nothing under the sun that could, nothing. I had an ultrasound that detected she was under 2lbs, and that was not good in the 80s. The doctors were uncertain if she would survive the delivery or how long she would period. The outcome was severe. I was looking at the possibility of waking up to a dead baby… Maybe, the c-section was best for me, after all. I do not think I could handle, delivering vaginall, going through all that work to bring life into the world only to endure the heartbreak of a stillborn. This thought played out in my mind as the reality of my situation became real.

It was prayer warrior time, and my Momo was just the right warrior. She took out her holy oil, anointed my forehead as she prayed again, this time adding Psalms 91, her favorite scripture, which would soon mine. She ended it with us coming together in agreement, said Amen in unisync, kissed me on my forehead and my Super Momo went off into the day to care for someone else. I wonder if she ever had time to see about herself? I know she sacrificed so much for us all, which was more than likely herself. I hope she knew how grateful I was for all she had done for me.

Charity Hospital was the only public hospitals in New Orleans. The census was very high with very little staff, the nurses had no choice, but to run a tight shift. Don’t throw their schedule off by not a having a bowel movement as scheduled. They passed out laxatives like they were candy to ensure that your bowel movement evacuated your body by postpartum day three, which was discharge day. “Ms., I’m sorry, but you had a bowel movement, and it’s time for you to go. I’m so sorry you in pain, baby, but we sent you home with a lil something, you have to go, Medicaid will not cover you pass the poop day” lol I heard those words spoken at Charity. Lol, you had to be dying to stay beyond the preset timeframe. It was all for good, but they were so rough, and some were mean.

Charity Hospital maternity department was an award. There was about 20 of us in the room a huge open area with privacy curtains and no private bathroom. The room was big and bright but had this grey cast like over it even with those huge windows covered in metal bars. Maybe, it was me, but it looked depressing. No colors, no pictures or artwork, just grey. Nothing was screaming, “Congratulations!” or anything.

The shared jail like the bathroom was down the hall. How convenient..not only were we women, but pregnant women and new moms. Women, we spend the whole day in there just to pee at times like this. How you delivered determined how you made it down the hall to the bathroom; alone or escorted by the nurse, who enforced rules. While you were a patient, the nurse took care of you, but she controlled the flow of your whole stay at Charity, like making you walk when you are in pain, scheduling when can have access to the tub room or pushing down on your belly to make ya pee.  

The new mom’s had their families, and some even had their newborns at their bedside, while I laid there alone, in pain physically and emotionally. I wished I could just disappear, go blind, deaf, or even all of them at once would have been a help to my soul. The images of their happiness and hearing the cries of the new babies was tormenting me, as I waited for our faith, mines, and my baby.

I needed company. I could not get up to use the phone to call my then-boyfriend, my little sister was at school, and my cousin was in Minnesota. I was told if I get up, I would risk my baby falling out of my womb and onto the floor. The nurses said to me that, and I didn’t need the company that bad. They were so raw, and I actually believed the nurse who told me that. So, I didn’t move at all. I didn’t sit up either. I was scared even to use the bedpan, so when the nurse came to place the urine catheter, I was relieved in more ways than one.

I noticed a young woman who was maybe in her early 20s, with a huge belly that made her walk with a wobble. She was alone as well, but not for long; her mother was on the way. She was average height, with a small frame and was very pretty. Her black hair fell along her cheekbones styled reminiscent of Salt & Pepper’s hairstyles.

My curtain remained open after my grandmother left. She gave me a soft smile each time she passed my so-called room, with the magical soundproof curtain wall. She was in the beginning stage of active labor. The nurses had her walking to bring on the heavy hitters, a pain I would feel soon, but not with this pregnancy.

I would find in speaking with my new friend, that I wasn’t the only one hurting and alone. Her name was Keisha. She was twenty-five-year-old widow, married her high school sweetheart, whom she lost as he served in Kuwait seven months ago. She would give birth to their one and only baby boy. It broke my heart, hearing her share her loss. I’m unsure how she seemed to be so at peace on a day like this, but she was. She was more alone than me, my boyfriend was alive and well, although my baby’s destiny was uncertain.

Keisha mentioned that she felt compelled to talk to me after hearing my Momo pray with me. She sat with me for what felt like an eternity, but no more than a half-hour passed. She told me her more about her life as if it was someone else’s and not her’s. She cracked jokes and gave me the laws of the land at Charity Hospital. It all flowed out of her mouth with the purpose to comfort me. She asked, me how I was feeling, as she touched my belly to say, “Hey, you in there stay put.” We both heard all the talk about my baby and me, so we knew my baby could not stay put. Once again, she was trying to lift my spirits. She was a complete stranger, but she saw I needed a friend.

I started to cry as my nurse entered my room. Keisha pulled a few Kleenex out of the box that sat on my flowerless and balloon less stand. She asked if she could help me with anything, such as a phone call. She laid her hand on top my hand patting it, to console, me as she rose to give me privacy. The nurse needed to recheck my cervix. Keisha told me not to be scared and to focus on the words my Momo left me with. She added that she felt those same words and prayers were meant for her too. With a huge smile on her face that I felt in my soul, she walked off slowly, shaking the dimes in her hand to take my calls.

I would give my daughter her name as a middle name in honor of her kindness and compassion, which was very much needed.

My boyfriend was at work like everyone else. That’s New Orleans people for ya they all work, they work hard, and they worked more than full-time. Keisha, poked her head inside my curtain to tell me he could not make it until after work, which was 4 pm, the same for my Mama. It looks as if I was doing this alone.

Another nurse came in with a Lil cart, sat it on the metal table, and set out various supplies. She placed an IV in my forearm, gave me some medication to help with pain and relaxation. She told me I needed to be prepped for possible surgery. She pulled the sheet down and pulled my gown up, with no warning, exposing my naked body. She grabbed this weird razor off the table, along with this sort of cleaning brush, phisoderm and iodine. She quickly, but thoroughly washed and shaved from my belly to my pelvic region. I asked me a few more questions, took my jewelry off, but a bonnet on my head, and I was ready for surgery.

Before she could finish my baby monitor started alarming, the nurse pushed the code button, and everyone came in a flash. They all had one hand on the bed and the other on me as they carted me off to the OR room. My babygirl’s heart rate was dropping and fading fast. I saw my IV fill up with a white fluid which had me feeling somewhat loopy, maybe that was a good thing because I would have panicked had I not been medicated. All I saw was blue mask, eyes and this space ship type light hanging over my head as I heard the words “We losing the heartbeat, we have to do this now, come on let’s get her out!” as if it was said in the distance and not in reference to me.

No more than 30 minutes passed since my Momo left. I thought to myself that God didn’t have time to hear our prayers. I was about to birth a deceased baby.

I woke up, dazed and confused in the hallway. Apparently, waiting for my non-private side of my curtain to be cleaned. My Mama was at my side saying, “I saw the baby, she’s a girl, she’s so small, she can fit in my hand.” I thought she was telling me she held the baby with her hands, but no my baby was as big as a canned cold drink.

To this day my Mama recalls when she saw them come by with my baby girl, pumping oxygen into her lungs via a resuscitator, which was bigger than her whole body and looked to be covering her entire face. My Mama said it felt as if the walls came in on her and crushed her, as she stood in shock, seeing my tiny baby.



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