I was finally brought onto the ward as my daughter’s daddy walked in with his best friend, they had cigars and some flowers. Why? He was older than I, 20 yrs old, did not know half about having a baby either, besides creating one and being excited about having a baby. I’m convinced that young people are insane. It’s right at that stage of life; we think we know everything, but clueless.
The cigars were useless in our situation; there was no celebrating on this birthday. I was still groggy from the sedation, my mind in another world as they all left when the visiting hour’s announcement was made.
I woke up the in the middle of the night, in pain and confused about my surroundings. I grabbed at my belly, trying to figure out where the pain was coming from. It hit me like a ton of bricks, as the absence of my rounded belly reminded me, that was now covered in bandages. I heard the faint cry of a newborn baby, and I let out a deep, loud moan.
There was a nurse doing rounds a few beds down, she came to my bedside and asked if I was in pain. She came back with some ice chips and IV pain medication. She needed to check my vitals, incision and bleeding as well. I tried to sit up as she pressed on my belly to ensure my uterus and blood flow was normal. As she was maneuvering around the small space, she accidentally knocked over the one thing I had in common with the other new mothers, my flowers. My Mama put the flowers in a makeshift vase, the tan colored plastic half covered with white foam plastic pitcher. I didn’t care; flowers wouldn’t make my situation smell any better.
We couldn’t plan to prepare for a day like this, not even if God himself came down to make us. The birth of our daughter would forever change our lives as we knew it. We had to grow up at that very moment. No longer a know it all, irresponsible, thoughtless, careless young adults, we were parents of a premature medically fragile baby girl.
My baby girl was 2lbs 3oz, and from the traumatic early entry into this world, she developed bleeding on the right side of her brain. She was in the NICU, on a ventilator where she would stay for the next four months. I could not see her for the first 24hrs, because I had a c-section and she certainly could not be brought down to my bedside like the rest of the newborns. If you ever watched a show about animals or had a dog that had puppies. If you attempted to take their babies from the mom, she would go ballistic, may even bite you, while knowing the love she has for you, but the love she has for her baby is something more significant. The day you separate her from her puppies by selling them, she is grief-stricken. Being separated from my baby was a pain I can not describe.
When I saw her for the first time, I was overwhelmed with guilt. It was bad. Looking back on my experience, I’m shocked that I would get pregnant soon afterward. I feel awful to this day for my immature teenage actions and have yet to forgive myself. She laid in the incubator, like some science project. She had tubes coming from everywhere, her head, naval, arms, everywhere. She looked alien-like, she came too early, she wasn’t fully developed yet. You could see her heart beating through her thin skin; she had no body fat, slick black hair on her head, but no eyebrows. Her vagina wasn’t even fully formed either. She laid there naked, with a pamper big enough for her whole body. I did this to her was all I could think while looking at her. The nurse asked me if I wanted to touch her. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to kiss her because she seemed so fragile. She opened a circular door to the incubator, told me babies fair out better from talk and touch. I reached in carefully to put my pinky finger in her hand. Her whole hand barely fit around my pinky, she squeezed it, and it was comforting, if only for that moment.
On my third postpartum day, nurses discharged me like clockwork. I was in a lot of pain from the surgery. I had a six-inch vertical incision from my belly button to the start of my pubic hairline, kept closed by metal staples. It looked like the doctor just took a knife and cut me like a pig. In pain, barely walking and heartbroken there was nothing could or would stop me from being with my baby. I am was taken by wheelchair to the NICU to visit with my baby before I went home. It was hard thinking that I would have to live away from her. The few days of being in the hospital was a comfort, at least we were under the same roof. I told myself that there would be nothing that could keep me away from visiting her on a daily basis, not even my health.
Speaking of that my Momo had an ancient family tradition stating that a new mother could not go outside for four weeks because her womb opens as well as her pores. A new mother couldn’t leave the house, because she needed protection from the fresh air, well the germs that it carries. Like no one would bring those very germs into her home, as if outside didn’t come inside. I had a csection, surgery, cut open and per the old rules, held hostage to the house for two months. I believe I was the first in my family to break that tradition. My Momo would worry about me as I went out daily to ride the bus to go to the hospital. I’m not sure how the culture came about or how much it helped with the healing process, but my healing took longer. I did catch an infection that spread to my uterus as well. Maybe, it was from something not being sterilized in surgery or just perhaps from me going out into the filthy world.
Throughout the month, I watched my baby’s head grow bigger and bigger with agony. The illness affected the control of the fluid around her brain, resulting in the medical condition hydrocephalus. She was too small for surgery, the neurosurgeon said, she had to be at least 4lbs, before they could do surgery. The doctors removed some of the fluid off her brain via spinal tap to remove some pressure off her mind. There was only so much they could transfer if any at all. The spinal tap could not be done too often, because of the increased risk for infection and possible damage to the spinal cord. So, there she laid with the fluid accumulating around her brain, expanding her skull.
Before the late 50-60s babies with this condition were given a cruel death sentence because the surgery was not invented yet. Babies typically died from fluid build up until it crushes their brain, leaving them brain-dead. Thankful, I wasn’t a know it all teen in that era… The shunt, invented by a doctor who created it for his very own child with hydrocephalus. A miracle invention that allows a child the chance to have a life. I must add, although it gives the child a chance at life, there’s no certainty in knowing if it would be a quality life.
Two months later with the help of IV lipids/fat, she successfully had the surgery. I can remember the day like yesterday because with the good news came some judgment. I was scolded for bringing a baby into the world at my age and that my actions resulted in my baby’s condition, which would be life as a “vegetable.” These words came from an old white genius neurosurgeon. The words flowed so quickly from his lips; so did my tears as I envisioned my baby girl’s life doomed to a wheelchair, ventilator, diaper changes, and tube feedings.
Another two months passed by quickly. She was ready to go home. She was discharged weighing 5lbs 5oz. The shunt is protruding from underneath her skin on the top of her bald head. Her face was thin, a deformity due to the months of her head growing at a rapid speed from the fluid. The nurses tried their best to prevent it, but she was a premature baby, whose skull was not fully formed. The best they could do was turn her head from one side to the other. She would wear bonnets, a plastic helmet-like head shaper as well as the old technique of molding her head with my hands for months.
She came home with a shunt that my 16-year-old self-had to manually pump, press twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday. I would know it was working because the soft spot area in the top of her head would sink to where I could sit two fingers inside of it.
I certainly did not have the teen mom life I envisioned, full of dressing my baby up in the latest fashions, baby pageants, etc. The reality of having a medically fragile daughter required me to bypass all that. Life as I knew it was over, as well as time for me.
She had appointments once a week for the first couple of months at Charity Hospital. My boyfriend’s mother allowed him to use her car for our baby’s medical appointments only. Outside of that, my baby and I would buy it, without him. We didn’t do much outside of the house, especially not around strangers. People were rude; I’m not sure if they were staring at me for being a young or if they were looking at my baby’s misshapen head or both.. I felt most comfortable when we were at the hospital; with other families who related to our life. For the most part, my family was great in accepting and supportive with my baby and her disability, but some had issues with me being a teen mom.
I was adapting to being the teen mom to a particular need baby as best I could with the help of my mother of course. Her daddy was involved when he wasn’t working. He spoiled both of us on his budget and new-found knowledge of credit. Our relationship wasn’t as fun as it was with our new responsibilities. I can’t recall that crazed teen I’m in love feeling after we had her. It didn’t matter if we were in love or not, we were soon engaged via shotgun proposal without the gun.
My Uncle James was in town. My Mama did not share my pregnancy with him or any male family member who did not see me on a consistent basis, but the news was out, and they heard about it. I hid from my Daddy when I started to show and big clothing wouldn’t cut it anymore. Then I stopped going around him period. He found out the day she was born, my Mom called him. He told her, he had a feeling, because I was turning down going shopping. They did not communicate much after he got married. I was a teen and could communicate effectively when I wanted to. My mom told me to tell him, I did try, but I couldn’t muster the courage to say to him, and I never told her I didn’t.
My Dad knew I wasn’t a virgin and it changed our relationship. He didn’t look at me the same as I committed some heinous crime against him. I lost my virginity two years earlier. He said some words, not directed to me, that he thought would stop me from having sex again, ever.
Just maybe if all the adults would have handled the news of me being sexually active differently, perhaps it would have prevented me from getting pregnant. I could have been put on birth control had they been more open about talking, educating me about sex. I told my favorite auntie, in confidence knowing it would stay our secret that I was sexually active and my period was late. She was a teen mom herself, married at 17yrs old to her high school sweetheart turned prized boxer in New Orleans. She made a life for herself after having a baby early, so I thought she would understand. Nope. The next day I was laid out on a table in stirrups, having my first pelvic exam, after having a positive home pregnancy test. We would find out it was not pregnant after my review.
On our way home I made a smart remark as if I was on her level. She held out until we all were in the house to remind me that I was only a teenager. A teenager, raised by a mother, father, her and family who expected me to know and do better. I was an honor roll student, we lived in nice neighborhoods, went to church often, and even though we didn’t live with my daddy, he did take care of us. I should have known I was going to catch a whipping, but I was grown, so I thought. Plus this was around the time when parents were told how to parent, by professionals who knew nothing about their family. I would call 911 if they thought of hitting me, but with what phone. The house phone? The cord would be used as a belt after I told them I would call the police and tell my Daddy and Uncle on the mean which asses. And those words would soon be the cause of what I felt was a whipping experiment. It makes me think of the movies when the warriors get to choose their weapons. My Mama didn’t do much whipping that day, but her job was replacing belts I pulled away and at times moving items out of my aunts view that she thought would cause too much damage.. I noticed she was eyeing a mop but must have thought she didn’t want to kill me, yet. I was hit with belts, cords, a switch and lastly a mop stick. I think I shouldn’t have tried to hit her or pulled and broke the belt because it turned from a whipping to ass kicking. My uncle was there, but he didn’t make it to the back until I let out a high pitch scream from getting punched in the mouth. My nose and mouth were bloody, as well as my knee was hurting after I was popped on it with the mop stick. He said, “That’s enough, she learned her lesson” as he picked me up off the floor and carried me to my room and put me in my bed. They left, went to the bar after whipping my ass and that enraged me even more. Typically, after you catch a whipping your Mama would come check on you, tell you how much it hurt her too, check to see how that well looked and say ” see ya behind shouldn’t have moved, now you got a bruise on yea back, go soak in the tub. Give me a kiss and don’t do that shit ever again.” But my Mama left me as if they went out to celebrate winning a boxing match, but I would show them that whipping didn’t teach me nothing, but it get away from them. So I jumped in the tub, packed me a bag and limped my way to the bus stop. I sure did. I ran away and went to my boyfriend house.
He wasn’t the boy I gave my virginity to. He was the second boy I had sex with by the age of 15, that resulted in my first pregnancy scare. He lived across the river with his mom, who was always at work. She was a single Christian mother of two boys, well one was a grown army man and my 17yr old boyfriend. They had a good relationship. He was a good son, she trusted him and gave him run of the house. She would allow me to visit, but never after 7 pm. She was cool with us being in his room too. His room had a sliding door that led to the backyard patio area. It was a good setup for a teen on the run, such as myself.
He would pretend to walk me to the bus stop, only for me to come back in through his bedroom window. I was able to hide out for a good week before we were busted. It was late in the evening when she came in to find us fully clothed in bed. She worked later than usual, and we usually heard her car pull up. He left the door unlocked by accident, and she was popping her head in to say she was home. She said “yall get up and meet me in the living room” in a stern, but low voice. She sat in her chair, tired, still in her housekeeping uniform and shoes holding a large Bible in her lap. It was a sin for unmarried people to sleep together was first on the list. He was a young man, I wasn’t her daughter, so having him having sex wasn’t an issue. It came with the territory of having sons. She went through a similar situation with her older son, fast girls being in her house after she was nice enough to let them come over in the first place. She asked me, “Didn’t I tell you that you needed to go home at 7 pm when you started to visit?” Yes, she did, and I had a good excuse about why I was living in this woman’s house for almost a week without her consent or knowledge. I thought so anyway. He told her he was in love with me, that he knew it was wrong to have sex and that he was worried about me, so he said me to stay.
His mom was very helpful to be given the circumstance. She didn’t yell, tell me to get out or call me any names. She hugged me. She had empathy toward my situation because she related to it. Which may have been why she was so mad at my family for whipping me. She was a teen mother in the 60’s; her very own mother put her out on the street after finding out she was pregnant at 17yrs old. She considered calling CPS after I told her the story of my whipping, but I asked her not to. New Orleans police would have put me in jail for calling after hearing I caught a beating after a teen pregnancy scare, getting flip and attempting to hit my aunt back. If we were in Minnesota, maybe, but not in New Orleans. She called my Mama, they chatted privately and set a time to meet the next day with us to talk about their teens having sexual intercourse with each other.
The plan was for her to drop us off at my auntie’s house the following day before she went to work and for her to come back after her shift. So we were all set for could this so-called meeting. My Mama asked to speak to me. She said she was worried about me and that she would see me the next day. His mom was too tired and stressed to bring me home, so it was agreed that I could stay the night in his brother’s old room. All doors remained opened that night; we couldn’t be alone after this, not even to watch TV together. I didn’t sleep well, worried about how these women with different views will interact with each other without a significant disagreement. Especially, if she mentions that she didn’t agree with them whipping me. My grandmother had seven girls and two boys. The situation played out in my mind, worse than your teacher telling your parents that you are acting out in school, because of something going on at home.
The next day we made it to my auntie’s house. My Mama and auntie were overly nice. My auntie let out a drum roll of ”Hey, baby how is ya doing? I see your lip is better now, I’m sorry I whipped your ass, but you gave me no choice, baby. Oh, your knee hurt, awhh, go get some ice and go sit in the boy’s room til we ready’.” I stood there trying to figure out why. Why can we both go to the boy’s room? I figured they were upset with themselves for whipping me. My auntie came to the boy’s room, told us to come into the kitchen to get a piece of pizza. After we grabbed a piece, we went back into the boy’s room to sit on the floor. “Oh, Y’all can sit on the bed, it’s ok, just don’t lay down.” What we got off the floor sat on the edge of the bed. I had a funny feeling; something was not right, they were too nice. My family is a great host, maybe that’s it, being a gracious host. We were having a meeting with a woman they never met. His Mama wasn’t there yet, so the red carpet didn’t have to be rolled out just yet. So, why was it? We should have stayed on the floor.
My Daddy and Uncle came in like mobsters who have finally caught a snitch, Us. A snitch, who would be used to make an example out of his actions for others to learn from. My uncle, the boxer looked as if he lifted my boyfriend with his pinky finger as he lifted him off the bed, floated him some way to the kitchen and sat him in the chair. I wasn’t told to move nor did I get flown to the kitchen, so I stayed right there on the bed, biting my fingernails. They lived in a shotgun house, the kitchen was right by the boy’s room, so I was able to see my boyfriend from the bed. He had his leg crossed over his knee bouncing it with worry, as my uncle yelled at him. As he sat in the chair all I could focus on was the word SEX written in black marker on the side of his shoe.
No sooner than I could blink, my 6ft 4in 250lb Daddy still dressed in his business suit; his white button down was unbuttoned with no tie, black dress pants and shoes stood in front of me like a tree with a massive roll of money in his hand. My uncle was pissed off, informing my Daddy that “This teenie Bopper had the nerve to be fucking sitting on my son’s bed!” Teenie Bopper? I thought to myself, what is a Teenie Bopper? Whatever it was, it was bad, and my boyfriend was one, and I think I was too. My Daddy is the reason; I noticed my boyfriend shoes, he was an impeccable dresser, kept himself, my sister and I dressed in nothing, but the best. So at 15yrs old, I knew he was going to look this boyfriend of mines up and down with disapproval.
He stood over him, like the un-jolly green giant, that would be the description of the Hulk, right.? He stood over him like the Hulk, kicked his shoe down, said: “So, you know how to spell Sex I see.” Let me give you a pen so you can write Jail on the other one” “what are you doing with my child” “that’s my daughter, you know that is my child” “I have to provide for her, and you are getting the out her life young man!” He wasn’t yelling, but extra loud and he didn’t want him to respond to anything he asked, but the questions continued. He asked if he had a job, a life, and career plan. He did, he worked at Hank’s Seafood. I’m unsure if he told him, because all I heard was, yes in a low whisper. My Daddy slammed the role of money on the table and told him, “You will get out my daughter’s life, do you understand, young man, you are not good enough for her!” They escorted him out the door; it was officially. I wouldn’t see him again but in passing.
A year later, we happened to be on the same bus; he was with another girl. We caught eyes, and both looked away. My Daddy accomplished what he set out to do, but little did he know there would be other boys. He also made the mistake of not talking with me at all about boys or sex. I’m unsure, how he thought I was going to stop liking boys or never have sex again..? So, when I got pregnant, he was clueless about why. He felt his actions towards my boyfriend were somehow enough for me.
Hearing and seeing all that only worsened my perception of what a father’s and a man’s role was in my life. My Daddy showed me love with money as I changed from his little daddy’s girl to this promiscuous teen girl. His form of preparing me for boys, sex and relationships was “show me the money,” but money wasn’t what I was missing or needing. Maybe, if we welcomed to spend the night at his house like we used to before he got married, he would have seen my bulging belly. I was tall, athletic and slim, hiding my stomach came easily, plus I didn’t show until I was almost six months pregnant. Thanks to new hip-hop trend my choice for big baggy clothes didn’t cause alarm to him. If only he could have supplied me with a lil quality time, while I had all these wild crazy hormones flowing through my body. Just maybe, I would have stopped having sex until I was older. His silence towards me about being sexually active only left me craving attention from any young man with a few coins.
So, when the next family meeting happened after the birth of my daughter, my daddy declined to come. He was left to question himself on how I hid my pregnancy when he would come to pick us up to go shopping and on outings. We would not talk directly until he came to pick me up from Charity Hospital after I tried to commit suicide after I buried my second born baby girl.