The emotional and mental anguish of August
August has been one of the hardest months for me for over two decades. My emotional state sinks to its lowest, and for years there wasn’t anything that has ever helped or healed my brokenness. I wish I could say it’s something simple like hating for the summer to end or noticing I’m always broke this time of the year. One thing I know it reminds me of my loss and the guilt that I carry. I have been haunted by the need to answer the question of “How many children do you have?” That very question has always led me to second-guess myself as the thought of answering wrecked my heart and soul. Before Niyah came, my response was, “I have two children, a boy, and a girl.” I would try my best to hold back the tears, hide all my painful emotions as I told myself, “I have three children, two girls, and a boy.” And I would apologize to my second born, my daughter My’Tae Anitonette for not including her in my response. I would whisper to myself in hopes that her spirit floated near. I didn’t feel like dealing with all the questions that are followed. I found no bandage or balm to heal the bleeding wound that was left open to fester for years.
I became distraught with their “I’m so sorry for your loss. How did she die? Why are you still grieving after all these years?” These are the sensitive, yet insensitive questions that so-called caring people ask, most of them mothers themselves. What hurt the most was when I would tell my family, “It’s My’Tae’s Birthday.” The anguish of needing to remind the closest of family did me in. It would take for me to say it at least four times “My’Tae’s and my baby, who died” for them to remember her. My Mom, My Momo, her Dad, and his Mom would be the only family members to have met her in the 39 days of her life, so I couldn’t blame them for not remembering. But I wish they could have remembered my loss. People were too uncomfortable to deal with and the emotions of their questions were unending. I’m pretty sure most of the time I was overly sensitive, but their awkwardness with me after they sensed their words and actions may not have been filled with the needed compassion is what pained me.
I found an escape from it, by silencing myself. I stopped telling them about my baby girl or the uncountable amount of brain surgeries that my oldest daughter endured to save myself the unneeded hurt or see the big ass foot in their mouths. their asking seemed to destroy the beautiful memories of her floating around in her world of my womb for twenty-eight weeks and the forty days we shared in this world of ours.
I was told we were doomed, but I’m here today to prove that we made it. And though I lived with the shame I sought out high schools for pregnant girls in New Orleans and by the time I was seventeen I was a high school graduate and was in college that same year. I decided it was time to free myself from the plague of the judgment of others. I could no longer live in shame of my young past and mistakes as without them I would not be the woman I am. I found myself in the mirror not seeing shame, but the beauty in life’s lessons and survival. I saw a now forty-year-old woman who overcame the life sentence of living with a grey cloud drowning me in a flood of guilt and shame because I was a teen mother. My reflection revealed to me that I was more than just some fast tail badass teenie copper, but I was a loving and dedicated young mother. After, no while they were in my belly I found ways to ensure that my mistake would not prevent me from giving them a good life. I decided today was the day to come with the veil of shame removed from my face and tongue is unleashed to my most cherished gifts of motherhood.
This will be my first time speaking of this ever in life, and as I share, I hope I can free myself from twenty-eight years of guilt and pain. I have asked God and My’Tae for forgiveness, and I believe in my heart that they have. Over the years and most recently this week, I had the same dream about being pregnant, giving birth, and burying my baby over and over again. In the dream, a woman’s voice told me I was too young to anything about sex as if chastising me. Then another voice would say ‘Oh yes she does because she is big and pregnant and all we can do is love her and help her be a good mother.” A baby girl would be handed to me and my tears would drop unto her cheeks and turn into butterflies. These dreams granted me the forgiveness I needed, but at times I the nightmares of giving birth to stillborn babies or being in labor only for the doctor to tell me there’s no baby found their way in…
Twenty-eight years ago, on August 10th, I gave birth to a one-pound fourteen-ounce baby girl, and I would name her My’Tae Antoinette. I was eighteen years old, and my oldest daughter, who was eleven months old at the time laid in a metal crib at Children’s Hospital with tubes hanging out of her brain due to shunt infection. Both of my daughters were born precisely at twenty-eight weeks. My son was successfully forced to stay until my thirty-second week of pregnancy, but keeping him in almost cost his life, but that’s another life story. For whatever reason, my womb was not equipped to hold a baby past twenty-eight weeks, I would either start having contractions, or my water bag broke. With My’Tae, I would find out at the hospital that the pains I was feeling were contractions.
On August 9, 2000, we were waking up from what was our third-week at Children’s Hospital. That morning she was sc She was weeks away from her first birthday and her first four months of life were spent in the hospital and we were hoping she would not have to celebrate her first birthday here. So, sleeping on had been there for weeks after developing a VP shunt infection. I was twenty-eight weeks pregnant. (My oldest daughter’s life is a miracle story by itself that I will share with ya’ll) But she had to have been on her forth week or longer of our inpatient stay and we were hoping that day would be the day for a negative test result to come back in order for her to have surgery that morning. A negative/bacteria result was needed in order for my daughter to get a new shunt placement and August 9, 2010, would be the day. I washed my baby’s hair and skin with the iodine and became sick to my stomach, but I shook it off because it was just about time to go down to the surgery center. The nurse would come in to do the surgery checklist and would tell me that I wasn’t supposed to wash the iodine out of her hair. As we went over the list, she handed me another bottle of the dark brown smelly solution that had me gagging as I massaged it in her thick curly baby Afro.
Down in the preop area, the neurosurgeon came in to go over the surgery again per my request. She hadn’t been hospitalized or had surgery since leaving the NICU at four months old, which felt like a long time at that moment. He would describe a new shunt that didn’t require any pumping, which was a blessing. The old shunt needed me to pump it three times a day, and I was always worried about pushing it too hard or her laying on that side of her head and so on. I honestly felt it was my fault that the shunt clogged up, but the neurosurgeon reassured me that it wasn’t. He told me that he would have to cut off all her hair to ensure that nothing entered into the site because it would mean another external shunt.
My mouth must have hit the floor because the next thing he said was, “But let’s see. It may not be all of it, but be prepared to see the surgery site, which will be stitched and stapled closed.”
They would allow me to stay with her while they sedated her in my arms. The whole room seemed to get smaller as I looked at my baby as she appeared to be sleeping forever. Tears flooded my cheeks as I gave my baby to the nurse. I was afraid to leave. I felt a hand on my shoulder; it was the nurse from the floor. She guided my body out the doorway, wiped my tears while placing tissues in my hand, and she said they told me that they would take care of her, and I had nothing to worried about.
The operation would take three and a half hours, and I wasn’t feeling up to stay in the waiting area with her Dad and my Mom well not for that long anyway. I was tired from staying up or being wakened throughout the hospital stay. My daughter was supposed to be leveled, or it would affect the pressure on her brain, because of the flow of cerebral spinal fluid. I sat and chatted a bit but couldn’t get comfortable and decided to take advantage of no one being in the room.
I could get comfortable for nothing, my back was hurting, and the baby was moving about in my belly. I remember seeing her footprint right under my rib and thought it was odd because her head was there a few days ago. I now know what that movement means, but at seventeen, I was clueless.
I felt the sudden urge to pee, I sat on the toilet for a few minutes, but I couldn’t go. I felt myself straining to make myself pee and I something told me to stop and get up. As I touched the doorknob to the bathroom door, this pain, this awful, horrible pain took over my body. I wanted to scream but I couldn’t. It stopped long enough for me to make it over to the sink. I gripped the candy cane faucet nearly pulling it from its place while kicking the wall. It stopped, and I turned on the tap, splashed some cold water on my face, dried it with a towel and started to walk out the bathroom again, but a wave of pain hit me. I stuffed the towel in my mouth, held on to the door frame, kicked it to the point of hurting my toe, which prompted me to jump. I stumped the floor, I jumped up and down and cried silently. And out of nowhere, I felt the need to stop.
An older housekeeper came into the room to clean; at this time, I was leaning against the wall gripping underneath my belly, along my pelvic region. She came over to me and asked was I OK as she pushed the rocking chair right beside me. I told her my body was having these bad pains that felt like they were going to kill me. She asked if I thought I was having contractions. And I told her I wasn’t sure, but I was in a lot of pain with little breaks in between. She pulled the call light, and a nurse came in. Mind you, and I’m at Children’s Hospital in New Orleans with the nearest adult hospital miles away. After I described what happened after I tried to use the bathroom, she called in an older nurse, and they concluded that I was having contractions. The housekeeper stayed with me while the nurses either went to call my family from the surgery waiting area or call to see about getting an ambulance for me.
At the moment I felt every bit of dumb, fast ass, irresponsible teenager and agreed with all the adults who thought so. Not only was I a promiscuous teenager, but I was a seventeen-year-old mother with one on the way. How ignorant of me. I knew how to open my legs to have a penis go in my vagina, but I didn’t realize the effects of sex. I didn’t know what contractions were…Yes, I could blame my ignorance on my first daughter being born via c section because my water bag was leaking. I never had a chance to make it to the child birthing classes not did any woman in my family describe what “contractions” felt like.
My Mom came in, and I told her what I was feeling, and she agreed that I was having contractions which had stopped coming back to back. She never experienced labor pain due to her water breaking and getting an epidural immediately after. But she helped me through the ones to come, rubbing my back and helping me breathe. My boyfriend was on the phone with his Mom trying to keep himself.
The charge nurse came back in with a bottle of lavender oil and the bad news about the ambulance. There were unable to transport me to the hospital, not could the staff ride with us or bring me to the hospital. To this day, I do not know why 911 was not an option, but I remember back then we had to pay upwards of $700 for an ambulance. But she did offer us a taxi cab voucher compliments of Children’s Hospital.
Good thing my boyfriend’s Mom recently gifted us with a car. My Mom stayed at the hospital, my oldest daughter was still in surgery, and my boyfriend sped to Touro Hospital. It was planned for me to deliver at Touro, but definitely not at twenty-eight weeks, but at least I would have my own doctor caring for me.
August 10, 1990: My’Tae is here
Upon arrival at the hospital, they took me directly to labor and delivery, put me on the monitor and confirmed that the pain I was experiencing was concentrations. The nurse called in my doctor, who specialized in high-risk pregnancies, and it would be just my luck he was minutes away. After we went over my timeline minus my inexperienced reactions to the pain, he examined me. I was dilated to three centimeters, 50% effaced, and the baby’s head was in the birthing canal. The flipping and turning I felt was the baby positioning for birth.
The doctor’s plan was to give me an epidural, terbutaline a medication used to stop contractions, an injection of a drug that would help the baby’s lungs mature, sew my cervix up, yes sew with needle and thread a procedure called (Cerclage) and confine me to a unique hospital bed that had me laying in a 90 degree angle to keep the baby from coming down further into the birthing canal. Everything seemed to be going well for over twelve hours until I reported feeling pressure in my vagina. Sure enough, her little hair covered head was slowly making it’s way into the world regardless of all the measures put in place to keep her safe in my womb.
My doctor hit me with a series of questions as he grew frustrated and concerned as to why he couldn’t stop her from coming.
“Ms. Hollins, did you have sex? Run? Did you fall or push on something? Did someone push or hit you?” the doctor asked as he read in this big book.
The realization of his words hit me like a pile of bricks and with tears.
I replied, “I pick up and carry my eleven-month-old and groceries, but nothing else. No sex since my first trimester.”
I lied, I couldn’t deal with the doctor blaming me for another child of mines being born early and having medical issues. The doctors at Charity made sure to make me aware of what my actions had done to my daughter, who was recovering from her seventh shunt revision. Yes, I lied.
Neonatologist, NICU nurses and another high-risk obstetrician we’re called in to assist my doctor in the delivery. As I was carted off to a surgery area, my water bag broke. I remember the nurses telling me to push, but their words weren’t connecting with my mind. The next thing I remember was feeling something cold by my vagina, followed by an indescribable cutting feeling. I had to get an episiotomy because I wasn’t pushing and they couldn’t risk the baby losing oxygen. The doctor pulled her out, announced that she was a girl and immediately gave her to the NICU staff. I heard her weak, soft cry, not like a healthy newborn cry, but she made it be known that she was here. The lung maturity shot worked, but she would be intubated and carted off to Tulane Hospital another choice that would haunt me for years.
I had the choice of sending her to Charity or Tulane because Touro did not have a NICU. I choose Tulane because I was too embarrassed and ashamed to show face at Charity Hospital more specifically the NICU. I didn’t want them to know I had gotten pregnant soon after my first daughter fought for her life for four months in their NICU. Plus, so many doctors and nurses told me my poor actions caused me to bring an innocent life in the world who would never know what it feels like to have a normal life because I couldn’t keep my legs closed. It didn’t matter that the father was involved, that we were engaged, that I wasn’t on welfare, or that I had great parents and so on, they made me feel horrible and guilty. But in all honesty, Charity Hospital would have been the best place to send her. But, I would find they would seek advice and get staff from Charity to work in the NICU at Tulane. Charity Hospital had its issues, but it was a life-saving hospital. They saved my oldest daughter and provided the best medical care. The doctors were cruel to me, but I wish I would have put my pride aside.
My oldest daughter would not be the vegetable that one doctor said she would be. She defied all the odds they stacked up against her, but that’s another story as well. I actually wrote about her last year.
There I lay a double room in the postpartum unit at Touro Hospital. My roommate was a friendly young woman with golden blonde hair and sea-green eyes and a thick southern drawl. She had given birth to a healthy baby boy the day before and was scheduled to be discharged the next day. I guess the nursing staff thought twenty-four hours of seeing and hearing this new mom bond with her baby would not affect me, but a few minutes of being in the same room with her, her baby, her husband, and their family. I was happy for her, but it was torture. My baby was miles away from me; my boyfriend had to divide his time between coming to visit me, our new baby girl at Tulane Hospital, and my oldest daughter at Children’s Hospital way uptown. My only visitors besides him was my Momo, my boyfriend’s Mom and his sister. My Mom had to stay at Children’s with my daughter, and my sister was home with my little brother. My family was not coming with gifts, balloons, and flowers of congrats.
What was there to celebrate in their eyes? “Dee had another premature baby girl before the first one made one??”
I would cry for my entire stay. The sounds of crying babies awakened me. Their sweet cries felt as if they were taunting me, torturing me, punishing me for my causing my babies to suffer. I couldn’t contain my misery to my pillow any longer and didn’t care who heard me. A nurse entered the room, asking my roommate if she could help her. Apparently, she pulled the nurse call light. She asked the nurse to take her baby back to the newborn nursery for the rest of the night. After the nurse left the room, my roommate came over to my side of the room.
She pulled the rocking chair onside of my bed close to the head of my bed, touched my hand, and said, “Sweetheart, I’m so sorry you can’t be with your baby. Trust me, I know your pain. I wish there were something I could do to make you feel better.”
She would tell me that she suffered two miscarriages before finally carrying her baby boy to term. I was thankful that she could relate to my pain. I would tell her about the pregnancy and birth of my older daughter and all the brain surgeries she endured in such a short time.
“It’s all my fault. My babies, we’re suffering for my sins.” my voice cracked under the stress of finally letting the words leave my lips. I felt awful.
She asks if I believe in God and if she could pray for my girls and me. Having her acknowledge me comforted my heart and soul and my crying subsided. Before she went back to bed, she gave me a little pink elephant teddy bear and a chenille blanket.
She said, “I knew there was a reason I picked up these baby girl items, even though I knew I was having a boy. I hope they can give you some comfort while you are here.” I thanked her. We hugged as if our embrace could make everything better and said goodnight.
The next day she was discharged, and she left me three bouquets and a note with her business card stating to call at her if I needed a friend or resources, she was a social worker with the department of social services. I would find out that she reached out to the hospital social worker to get me transferred to Tulane Hospital. It brought joy to my heart, hearing that someone like her cared about me, without knowing me. The social worker came to chat with me about the possibility of being transferred to Tulane Hospital, but once again, the issue of ambulance transport came up, and I could not go via my own transportation. That whole day I was miserable and had severe bouts of crying, I was depressed. The social worker consulted my doctor, and it was decided that I would be discharged so that I could visit my daughters. Only thirty hours had passed since I given birth, plus I had stitches, but I agreed to follow up with my doctor in two days at his office located in Tulane Hospital.
I was so excited and ready to go that I told the nurse I couldn’t wait for my boyfriend to get off from work and that I was going to get the bus. The older black nurse looked at me with one eyebrow lifted, and her lips pursed and said, “Thank you, Ms. Hollins, for telling me about your plans to walk blocks to a bus stop in the hot sun hours after giving birth. I know you are desperate to get to your baby, but going out into that type of environment hours after birth will have a detrimental effect on your body. But, guess what now that I know your plans to catch a bus I can not discharge you. I’ll have the social worker to come down to talk to you about a cab voucher.” She walked in, waving her hands in the air as if as God for strength and help, which prompted me to call my Momo. I didn’t want to call her, because it came the day prior and went to both hospitals to pray over my babies.
My Daddy was totally out of the question. He didn’t know I was pregnant again, no-less had another baby in less than a year. I feared he would not only shun me forever but hate me. I didn’t show until I was five months, I swore my sister to secrecy, and he and my Mom weren’t on speaking terms. Plus I hadn’t quite recovered from disappointing him by giving away my virginity and getting pregnant months after. My Mom told on me; set me up.”Your Dad called and said he knew you were pregnant because you told him you needed school uniforms and you stopped going shopping. I didn’t tell him.” I was able to hide my pregnancies from everyone, even myself, until I was about four months pregnant. I had a pancake stomach, and I still had a period, well a shorten version plus bad spotting.
But for the most part, I remember always taking a pregnancy test. I now question what was wrong with me. I do not remember having the desire to have a baby; I had a little brother, and my Mama let me buy his clothes and care for him. He was my babydoll until I had my daughter. Maybe, I thought that would make my relationship last forever. I hope I didn’t get pregnant on purpose for no boy…
Summer of 1989: The Abortion Clinic Nightmare “I’m Pregnant or Am I”
Weeks prior, I went to a pregnancy testing center, honestly just because my friend was going, and I took the test, and it came back positive. I confided in my Auntie and told her that I still had a period. She didn’t wast a minute calling my Mom, which is why I didn’t tell her I was having sex. So, much for confiding in people. And my Mom called my boyfriends mother to inform her of my pregnant state. During this time, My Auntie was drilling me about being sexually active and not telling her. “Dee, you were supposed to come to me when you thought you wanted to have sex, so I could put on birth control?” My Auntie asked, sounding pissed off. “You need to stop crying and be happy it’s happening like this because you don’t need no baby. Your little brother is three years old. My goodness, you just Lil girl! And you know You’re too smart for this shit!” They left me in my cousin’s room, crying my heart out as they made phone calls. My Mama came back in the room and said: “The nurse said to bring her in now because she may need to get in to get a D and C.”
My Mom entered the room with the cordless phone being held to her ear by her right shoulder, talking to the nurse. And would be the go-between nurse and me as she gave her questions to ask me. “Dee how long you been bleeding. And How many pads you use in an hour, oh OK in a day? Is the Color of the bright blood red or dark red?” I answered as tears and snot found their way to my lips. “What you crying for? You a grown woman, right? Well, this the type of shit grown women deal with. I know you are not crying because you want to have a baby at sixteen years old. I just know you’re not. Go to the bathroom and get yourself together so we can get out here.” My Auntie said. My Mom shouted up the hallway of the long shotgun house, “Call that boy and tell him to meet us there, and his Mom said he should be able to leave work.”
We pull up to a white office building on Tulane and Galvez with no signage to state it was a doctors office or anything at all. We had to be buzzed in and went up to the second floor where women of all ages, races, and stages of pregnancy sat quietly in the dreary room. It was a depressing place, everything seemed grey from the chairs to the walls. As I took in all the faces, I wondered if all of them were having a miscarriage too.
We walked up to a check-in desk where a rude, short receptionist sat behind a glass wall like enclosure. I thought this was a good thing because as she spoke food flew from her mouth. “Who’s being seen? If it’s her, I hope one of you is her mother.” My Mama gave her my name and pushed out a clipboard with papers for her to fill out. We walked from one into the other to find somewhere to sit together. We finally found seats directly facing a girl who looks to be my age and a woman who spoke with fire, she was mad. She used every cuss word known and made up more. I felt sorry for her. We kept hearing a bell go off like every ten minutes. I would find out that patients were buzzed in to see the doctor when their names were called.
We watched women come from out of the back looking sadder than they were before going in and all of them had to have the person who came with them to confirm they were there before they could leave. It was finally my turn, and my boyfriend had yet to make it, so both my Mom and Auntie came with me to back. The nurse buzzed us to go through the heavy light grey door with a small glass window; it reminded me of a jail door. I felt doomed. We followed the nurse who would make the mistake of bringing into an unclean room. It felt as if we all were frozen in time as we all let out a gasp as we stood in the doorway. I immediately became nauseated as the smell of the room filled my nostrils of disinfectant and blood. On the exam table were bloodied chucks pads, a bloody ex-large maxi pad, and linen. To the side of the examination table sat a silver side table where blood-tinged surgical instruments and tubing laid out for the plain site of others, like us. I accidentally said, “what the fuck.” And to my surprise, my Mama and Auntie agreed. It was the scene of an abortion, a sight that would remember forever.
I realized we were at an abortion clinic. I should have figured as we walked up to the building. About four women were passing out pamphlets, and it came to me that they were saying “You do not have to do this. Don’t kill your baby.” At that time, I was stressed about having a dead baby in my stomach, and this D and C procedure they were talking about. Cell phones had not come out yet; therefore, I couldn’t Google anything. The nurse apologized, shuffled us out the doorway and down the hall into a regular patient room.
The doctor came in and back then I was considered a minor, and I did not have to right to reproductive health care privacy, my Mama was in charge. The stern, hard-faced doctor asked my Mama the questions first, then asked me and proceeded to do a vaginal exam with both my Mama and Auntie in the room. I guess they were shocked by his actions and turned their backs me to give some privacy. As he examined me, he remained quiet with the exceptions of a few “Hmm’s and I see’s” he never explained what he was doing or asked about my comfort as shoved a couple of cold metal speculums into my vagina until he found the one to suit my body. The instrument would stretch my vaginal canal open for him to exam my cervix and swab it with long Qtips. When he was done, he threw the tools on to the metal exam table. He didn’t think or care to cover the bloody tools. I glanced over at the table and noticed the speculum had streaks of dark red blood on it and Qtips were no longer white but dark pink. I was scared but too scared to show it while the doctor was still between my legs. He pulled the instrument out as fast as he put it in, without warning, he shoved his two fingers inside my vagina and pressed along my lower abdomen and pelvic area.
This would be my first pelvic exam, and it was horrible. The doctor told me I could close my legs and cover-up, but not to get dressed. My Mom asked what was going on, before exited the room and he said “She’s definitely bleeding, but she’s not actively miscarrying at the moment, but let me have the nurse do a sonogram to rule out if the fetus is alive.” and he walked out the room. My Mama and Auntie looked lost and scared. They finally took a seat and looked at me, looking just as disturbed as I was. My Mom’s face softened as she grabbed my hand and said, “He was pretty rough. Are you ok?” All I could manage to say was “Yeah,” but I felt violated and inhuman, or maybe the doctor was.
I had no time to think about it because he busts in the room without knocking, followed by the nurse who had the sonogram machine and sterile surgical supplies wrapped in blue paper and a suction machine. My eyes nearly fell out of the sockets as I looked at all the supplies. It was a very overwhelming experience.
I stared at my Mom and Auntie so long I could have burned holes in them. I couldn’t believe they were letting this man treat me like this. I was waiting for them to ask something anything. The nurse gave the doctor a long white wand-like instrument covered with a condom and gel, and it was attached to a computer, the sonogram. The doctor told me to put my feet back in the stirrups and to pull my butt to the edge of the table again, that was the most he would inform me of before he shoved the wand in my vagina. The monitor was in the position where only he and the nurse could see, and for a few seconds, I heard a thumping sound, and then it was gone.
He pulled out the wand told me to sit-up. As he moved it around in my womb, finally laying sight on what he was looking for he informed my Mama and Auntie that I was twenty weeks pregnant and that it would be best to do the procedure at that moment. My Mom said, “You said she was not actively miscarrying, and she’s twenty weeks pregnant. I do not understand what procedure she needs. Are you telling me that the baby has died in her womb?” My Auntie followed up with saying, “Yes, can you please be clear and communicate with us because you have not explained not one thing to my niece or her mother since you started to examine her!” He exhaled as if he was a dragon shooting flames and said, “Your daughter is twenty weeks pregnant, and the fetus has a heartbeat. She is bleeding from the cervix, and I’m unsure why. Per the consent and intake paperwork, you signed it’s marked off that you wanted to have her dilation and curettage. She is in the second trimester, and there is another step we need to take to expel the fetus.” My Mama had some choice words for the doctor and promised him that he would be out of business soon. And I was told to get up and put my clothes on, anything after that was a blur. Well, I remember the doctor saying something along the lines of “You should have had her on birth control because now she and her bastard children will take advantage of the welfare system.”
When we made it to the house, they tucked me in bed and allowed my boyfriend to stay in the room with me. I had the terrifying feeling that they would call my Daddy. And they did and not because I was pregnant, but to tell him about the treatment I received by the doctor. It didn’t take too much longer before the office closed down. A few months later, I would see lines of people picketing the clinic as I passed by on the bus heading to Canal Street.
This dreadful day is the reason I couldn’t tell my Dad I was pregnant a second time. There was no plausible explanation for why or how I put myself in this position again. How could I have gone through such a godawful experience, followed by giving birth to a premature baby who would require brain surgery? I was put on a few types of birth control due to spotting, which may be the reason I was able to get pregnant. But that was not an excuse. I should not have had sex or used protection. We weren’t engaging in sex frequently as it was then, maybe a couple of times out the month, but all it takes is once. Whatever the case, we didn’t plan to get pregnant again.
That evening after my visit at the Hell Clinic, my Daddy came to my Auntie’s house. My Daddy could not look me in the face, he barely looked my way. He immediately started threatening to put my older boyfriend in jail. And told me that he wasn’t good enough for me even if I was old enough to date. For the most part, my Daddy wasn’t hard on me. The worse was the boom in his voice as he gave me a speech on “Who’s responsible for Who” that would stay on a constant loop in my head for years to come. Per George Price, my Daddy, he was responsible for me, and that boy was responsible for his child, our daughter, and as a grandfather, he would spoil his grandchild, but he was not responsible for another man’s baby. But he did let me use his medical and made my boyfriend pay the premium, copayments, and hospital balances. Before my Dad left that evening, he would lay down the law with my boyfriend and his mother. A shotgun wedding, well a marriage proposal was arranged that night. My boyfriend actually brought me a stunning ring, it was one and a half carats of flawless diamonds. We would not ever get married or be together six months after My’Tae’s death
Sadly, my Daddy would never find out about the death of his granddaughter due to my sick pride and embarrassment. I disgraced and disappointed him when I was pregnant the first time, and there was no way I could tell him. Our relationship drastically changed after her death, I knew he would sense my pain and shame, so I stayed away from by way of leaving town “for college.” Due to my grief, my mama never questioned if I told him.
I finally get to see her
My Momo must have flown to the hospital because she made it there in twenty minutes after we hung up the phone. I immediately felt better just seeing her. Momo made everything in my life better. The nurse suggested that I go home and rest for a couple of days before I go to see my babies, and I just knew my Momo would make me listen to her. She was the same woman who made all of us stay inside for four weeks after childbirth because our “wombs were open,” and the babies were banned from the outdoors as well because the air and other people’s germs were terrible for them… I had it worse out of all the women in my family because I had a c section with my first daughter and my “whole body” was open. I listened for ten days; then I broke out of the house to see my baby at Charity Hospital. Momo got on me a bit, making me wear a coat in September, but she understood my need to be at my baby’s crib side. So, when she turned in the direction heading towards Tulane Hospital, I shouldn’t have been surprised. Before we arrived, she told me we could stay for an hour, not a minute longer. I told her five minutes would have helped me, and I thanked her.
The NICU at Tulane was not as big as Charity at all, and it was quite. The nurses greeted us and directed us to gown up and wash our hands and directed us over to My’Tae’s incubator as she gave me an update on her. I only took a glimpse of her before they carted her off, but without being fully developed. I knew she was mine’s, well her Dad’s lol. She was long for being born at twenty-eight weeks, 20 inches long, weighing one pound fourteen ounces. She was a beautiful baby with had a head full of hair and chubby cheeks, which was the only place with fatty tissue on her body. She looked just like her father from her forehead with the frown line-markings to her eye bone structure and her big prominent nose, oh let’s not forget about the big clown feet. Yes, she was all him as if he made her all by himself. I’m not sure if she had any physical characteristics of mines.
The nurse informed me that she was breathing with only fifty percent oxygen support from the ventilator, so the lung maturity shot did work. There was no evidence of brain damage or any other organ damage due to being born so early. And the plan was to add lipids to her IV in a couple of days. They were amazed that she was doing so well. The nurse said, “It’s a miracle that she is doing so well to be so small. Your baby is a fighter. She certainly wants to be here.” My Momo praised the Lord and said, “See, Deatra I told you that you have favor with God. All you have to do is ask Him, and he will do it, especially for you, because you are special in His eyes. “Yess, chile, you have favor! Favor! Praise God!”
We sat with her for the hour as promised. The night my roommate gave me the blanket and elephant I put them in the bed with me with the intent on putting my scent on them so I could leave with her. I placed the pink elephant at the bottom of the incubator, and we rolled the blanket up, binding it with rubber bands so it wouldn’t unravel to be used as a pillow roll or tubing support. The nurse informed me that she would have her for the most part, because they started using care plans, and it was found that preemies do better when they have the same staff caring for them. She gave me her schedule and told me I could call day or night to check on her when I couldn’t make it in. They all knew I had another daughter on the other side of town at Children’s and that it would be challenging to split up my time. I left that day feeling confident about our future.
Momo brought me home, and it was good to be with my sister, my best friend, even though she could not understand how complicated and stressful my life was it was still good to be home with her. My Mom let me stay home for a little over a week, and while she remained at the hospital with my oldest daughter, who was doing well after the shunt placement. But she had to stay in the hospital for at least two weeks on antibiotics.
At the time we lived on Jeff Davis and Tulane, a couple of miles from Tulane, so I would catch the bus or have her Dad bring me on his way to work and stay with her for eight hours and afterward we would visit with my older daughter.
Everything was going good. My’Tae was doing great. So much so that she was weaned off the ventilator and I was able to hold her. I was so happy, both my babies were doing well. I felt the favor that was on my life too. It was a miracle that she didn’t suffer any damage after being born so early. It is said that premature baby girls do better than the boys, not sure why but the NICU staff contributed the fact that she was beating the odds because it was a girl. Plus, I was coming in regularly and using techniques I learned from when my oldest was in the NICU.
Revolving Hospital Doors
My oldest was discharged three weeks later with follow up appointments, and my Mom had to go back to work, but I still managed to get to Tulane to see My’Tae, but not every day. She was moved out of the NICU to the step-down unit, the lipids fattened her up to two pounds twelve ounces, and she was started on formula. I questioned it because it took for my oldest to get to three pounds and two months old before the doctors introduced milk to her system. At that time, I was told it was because she would still be in the uterus had she not been born so IV fluids as if it was my umbilical cord until she was at thirty-eight weeks. The Tulane doctors said it was okay because they were diluting the formula and this wasn’t the regular Similac as term babies received. I was so excited to be able to hold and feed her for hours on end that I agreed to bottle feedings. Plus, I was just a seventeen-year-old mother of two premature babies debating doctors with years of training and experience.
We would soon move back into Children’s Hospital; my oldest daughter developed a fever and was vomiting up everything the second week of September and was readmitted. The shunt was clogged and needed to be replaced. My boyfriend, their dad, had used up all of his personal time, and his boss told him he could only give him a couple of days off or else he would be fired. We had our place, and he paid our bills so we couldn’t chance it, he would only take off the day of surgery and would see My’Tae a few times after work. My Mama had to work, as well. But she and my Momo promised to see her because I could not go at all that week.
The day prior my oldest being admitted I was visiting with My’Tae and playfully told her to stop being so greedy because her stomach was getting fat like a lil puppy as I wrapped her up to put her back in the incubator. I would call late in the evening the next day to let the charge nurse that my oldest was back in the hospital and that I would not be able to make it for a few days. She told me she was doing well and that she would put it in the case plans to play the recordings of my voice a few times a day and for the morning and evening shift to call me with updates regardless to if I call or not. I thanked her for creating such an excellent plan and that it gave me some comfort.
On my way to the Bad News Crazy Room
The next morning I would get a call from the nurse to inform me that My’Tae had a bad night and was moved back to the NICU for a possible heart murmur and no bowel tones. I was confused and asked if they had the correct mom and baby; they did. The neonatologist would get on the phone to explain what was going on with my baby. He told me that they sedated, placed on the ventilator at 100% and was receiving morphine constantly for pain. “My baby is in pain?!” I shouted and dropped the phone. My boyfriend’s sister was with me at the hospital that day, and she forced me to get back on the phone. I was hysterical; all sorts of bad emotions invaded my mind and soul. I couldn’t imagine my baby being in pain, and it came to me that I needed to get it together to get her out of pain.
I picked up the phone, and the doctor explained that they needed to perform two surgeries, one to tie off the heart murmur and the other to go in to look at the intestines to see what’s going on such as bowel blockage. I angrily asked, “Could the issue with her bowels be from giving her formula too soon? I shouldn’t have agreed with that doctor! Food had to be processed in the stomach than through the bowel! Let’s just stop the feedings after the surgery!” He would ask me to calm down, and he would need to go in to figure out what is going on. He asked for my verbal consent for surgery to perform surgery on my baby girl. He would then tell me that the heart murmur is a reasonably straightforward procedure and that it happens in both babies and adults. But the intestines aren’t as easy. If they were to go in and see a blockage, they would evaluate how to remove it, and that may mean cut it out which will result in a colostomy. If they go in and see some dead tissue, they will remove it, and once again it will result in a colostomy. Lastly, if they go in and all of the intestines are dead, there will be nothing they can do. I asked what did he mean, “nothing” they can do. I wondered about intestines transplants, was told there isn’t one or anything they can do for a baby. “Ms. Hollins if all of the intestinal tissue is dead it will be grayish instead of a healthy pink, and there is nothing we can do except keep her comfortable on life support until you permit us to take her off, but let’s go in before we get into a conversation of this magnitude. I’m hoping for the best outcome. Please know I will do everything I can for her to have a good quality of life.
I would leave my oldest daughter with someone other than my Mama for the first time, well for over an hour. I had no other choice. I had to get to the hospital to be there when My’Tae came out of surgery. I caught the Magazine bus to Canal St and walked to Tulane Hospital praying the entire way. I was full of faith believing that I indeed had favor with God as my Momo told me. By the time I made it to the NICU, I was instructed to meet the surgeon in a conference just on the other side of the NICU to go over how the surgery went. An older white lady with dark brown hair, eyeglasses, and around friendly face walked me to the conference room as we exchanged small talk. The room was more like a boardroom than anything with a long mahogany table with black leather business chairs. I thought it was strange that there were no windows and some of the walls were padded. As I sat down, she asked if I wanted anything to drink or eat. I declined. She then pointed out the snacks in a basket on top a mini-refrigerator, stating I could help myself to anything. Before she walked out of the room, she said, “You are so young, but yet you are one of the most committed mothers I have ever met. I looked at your records and saw that you have a daughter at Children’s Hospital. You can give us all some tips. Just know that you must take care of yourself too; you are so young and trust that God would never give you no more than you can handle. I’ll be back in after the surgeon speaks to you. Ok?” I said ok, and as she walked out, two doctors and my daughter’s regular nurse walked in.
One of the doctors, an Indian man with stylish eyeglasses, nicely dressed in a white lab coat, led the conversation.”Hi, Ms. Hollins, I’m happy you were able to get here. Is the rest of your family coming?”
No… They are all at work. I caught the bus here.
They whispered among themselves, and the nurse found a seat next to me. She asked if I wanted to get anyone on the phone.
“I think it may be best to at least get Your fiance can listen in on the conference line, Ms.Hollins. We think you may need some support,” The nurse said softly.
Had I known what they would tell me next I may have made someone come with, but that would have meant their jobs. I tried my best to keep the faith and believe., but I had a vision of my oldest with tubes coming out of her brain and My’Tae with tubes coming out of her stomach and something whispered: “God wouldn’t be that cruel.” So, I told them to tell me how the surgery went. As usual, they tell you the good news first. The social worker came in before they resumed giving me what I knew could only be bad news. I tried my best to brace myself, but I felt my heart in my throat, I was sweaty, and my mouth became dry.
“Well Ms. Hollins we successfully tied off the heart murmur, but when I went into her abdomen it was apart from that the intestines had died, there wasn’t an inch of healthy tissue as we spoke. I’m sorry to inform you that there’s nothing else we can do for your daughter. She’s being kept alive by the ventilator and heavily medicated. At this time, we will need your permission to remove her from life support. We are more than understanding that you may not be ready to do so at this time and please do take your time, but keeping her on will not change anything. As I mentioned, there’s no intestinal transplant, and she can do not live without having intestines. When your daughter has passed, we hope you will be willing to allow us to do an autopsy to study why this happened after more than a month of her doing so well.”
I sat quietly with tears soaking my shirt. I just sat there crying. Then I whispered, “Y’all killed my baby by giving her formula so early. That’s what the autopsy will tell y’all.” They all let out a gasp of shock. There was a moment of pure silence. It was so quiet you could hear my tears drops fall cheeks unto my chest and soaked shirt.
Do you have any questions? Would you like a priest to come in to talk to you?” One of the doctors said as they walked over to hand me their cards and words of condolences before they left the room. I’m not sure which one, because I was somewhere else. I couldn’t feel the floor beneath my feet, and they all were faceless bodies with hospital scrubs.
“I’m Baptist.” I shot back but agreed to it. The nurse would get a page, and she excused herself only to return to find me bouncing myself against one of the walls. As I slide to the floor, she slides with me, holding me around the shoulders while rocking me. She would tell me my Momo had called to say she was on her way. I felt some comfort, but not much, but I knew I had to get off the floor before she came. The nurse would tell me that I could go in the NICU to be with my baby, warning of the incisions on her two-pound body. She would give me a warm towel to wash my face and a scrub top to change into because my shirt was wet with heartbroken tears. I put my Mama face on to be with my baby.
She laid on top of the incubator spread eagle with gauze covering her entire chest and stomach, her stomach was stretched to the point that her skin peeled and every vein could be seen. A patch of her hair was cut and in its place was an IV. She ran out of spots on her arms and legs. The once tinny tiny preemie pampers that fit now hung open exposing her privates that had yet to form fully, nothing had time to develop. She laid there like a baby alien who had been gutted open for science.
I had a c section, and I knew the pain that came with being knifed and sewn up. My heart couldn’t take causes her more pain out of the need to make myself feel better., and I somehow managed to suck the tears back into my eye ducts. Her tiny hand move as if telling me to it’s ok to touch it, and I placed my pointer finger in it, gently stroked it and said Hey, My’Tae Mommy’s here and some other things and she halfway opened one eye. My heart broke; I felt the doctors were lying and didn’t know what they were doing. There was no way I was pulling the plug on my baby she is alive I told myself.
I called for the nurse to inform her of how my baby responded to my voice and asked how can I get her transferred across the street to Charity Hospital or how can the doctors come over there to give me a second opinion. She was speechless, then finally said Ms. Hollins let me call the Nurse Manager for you. I was so happy when the older black nurse whom I recognized from my oldest stay in the NICU at Charity Hospital the year before. She smiled when she saw me and said, I knew that baby belonged to the Hollins baby I took care of last year. How is she doing? But, before you answer that how can I help you now? She led the way to a lactation room, and I’m happy that she did because I could not go back into that room which I called Bad News Crazy Room. I immediately started crying and giving her a timeline of how well my baby was doing, how I questioned the feedings, and now she may be dying because of that. I told her I didn’t want her to go to Charity because I was embarrassed and afraid of facing them. She placed her arm around me and said, ” I’m sorry your experience there was traumatizing to the point you have been avoiding receiving care at the hospital. My goodness, baby Don’t you ever feel embarrassed about your life. You have no idea how others live.” But on to your question. You have every right to request a transfer to any hospital. But at this point, the doctors have done all they could for your baby. Actually, the lead surgeon came over from Charity’s NICU to perform the surgery. You are right Tulane, as well as Charity, are teaching hospitals, and many of the doctors here are interns, but we would never risk such a precious life to the hand on an experienced doctor. I think you will need some time and maybe some help in dealing with this.”
But why did she open her eye or move her hand if the machine is keeping her alive? I asked. “She’s not brain dead as long as she has the ventilator she can live, but specifically in her case that can’t be for long, because she can not pass bowels, and her belly will extend more, and her intestines can rupture causing a terrible infection, and we do not want that for her, now do we.” I shook my head in agreement and let out a painful quiet moan. I felt like I would pass out until I heard her say, “Have you held her today? I think some time holding her may be just what your heart needs right now. I know she needs her Mommy. What do you think?” I nodded in agreement, and we made our way out of the small space.
It’s so hard to say Goodbye
As we washed and gowned, I saw my Momo and my Mom through the glass window standing next to My’Tae’s incubator. We all embraced if our lives depended on it. AS we let go, they told me the nurse gave them the sad nurse. “But she was doing so well.” My Mama silently cried and whispering to My’tae, asking her to forgive her for not coming in when she was doing good. “She doesn’t even know me. I never got to hold her or nothing,” thread of she said out loud. Then turned to asked me if I would be OK if she stepped out the NICU. My heart sank into my stomach for her, and I understood the need to leave NICU. They both hugged me and asked how I was, and the nurse had filled them in on everything. My Mom asked would I be ok if she went outside and I was. As she walked out, The Priest finally came in, but he mentioned something about giving the baby her last rites and My Momo declined to state our pastor would come in to pray for my baby. She walked with the Priest out of the NICU. The nurse gave My’Tae a dose of morphine, gathered up all of the tubings before wrapping her up in a blanket and handing her to me as I sat in the rocking chair. I sat with her for hours until her Dad and his Mom came.
My Momo took charge of everything, and it was decided that we would let her go the next giving me another day to sit with her and say my final goodbye. It was decided that I wouldn’t be there when they took her off after it was found out that I was hitting myself with the wall and they thought I would change my mind about taking her off. Plus the next day would be the eve of my oldest daughter’s first birthday. Yes, her death would coincide with the celebration of my daughter’s birthday for the rest of my life.
My’Tae died on September 19, 1990, precisely thirty-nine days after being born. My daughter was discharged from Children’s Hospital that afternoon, and we would have an intimate birthday party for my daughter, from the pictures I was able to find some happiness for her. My grandmother took care of planning the funeral, too, including buying the plot and getting the pastor. My’Tae’s Dad managed to pay for everything else, including a white limousine for us. I was instructed to bring a dress, bonnet, and socks for her, and I had the hardest time finding a premie dress, especially one for a baby weighing two pounds. But I picked out white cotton ruffled dress with pink florets on it with matching bonnet. On September 22, 1990, My’Tae’s small pretty pink and white satin and white lace coffin led the way Uptown to the plot on Green Street. In attendance were me, her Dad, my Mama, my Momo, and the pastor. My sister had to stay with my oldest daughter, and for the most part, my Momo didn’t want me to have to deal with others, she said I was too vulnerable, and she was right. All I remember about that day that the rain stopped while we were out at the graveyard, the pastor speaking, the lid of the casket opening and seeing my baby in the dress that I knew was too big and hearing my Momo saying, “Catch Deatra!” The next thing I know, I was walking up the steps to my Mama’s house and my sister getting up to help me to the bed.
I cried for days, and I couldn’t take care of my daughter or myself. One evening I went into the bathroom, opened the medicine cabinet, and swallowed 20 ibuprofen, and 10 Tylenol was. I went to lay down, hoping never to wake up, and I heard my daughter playing in her crib. I turned to face her. She was jumping up and down, playing with my four-year-old little brother who had hopped in there with her. I looked at them having fun and thought about how we had to keep her from moving for weeks on end while she was in the hospital. Then more memories of her life in the NICU and all she overcame flooded my mind and heart, the thoughts made me smile. I realized how involved I had to be in her cares. I thought of how challenging it was trying to divide my time between her and My’Tae. I saw how unfair it was to both of my girls that month.
I searched my heart and mind see the possibilities of life with two babies with medical needs, but I found none. I heard a voice say, Just because Your baby died doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you or that your Momo was wrong about you having favor. You have so much favor that God gave you two miracles, yes one died, but that wasn’t God’s doing, but God opened His arms to her when He saw things go wrong. Dee, how many people can say they had a miracle happen in their life? You had two, and you had two premature babies that lived. My’Tae lived for 39 days, was breathing on her own at under two pounds, you were able to feed her, dress her, change her pamper, give her baths. Dee, you had a miracle living all those days. And you have one living right now with a tube embedded in her brain. If you don’t get up and save yourself, you have to live to show people God still performs miraculous works on lives.
I got out of the bed, went into the bathroom, grabbed the bottles from the trash to read the bottle, and tried to induce vomiting, but nothing happened. I had no choice to tell my Mama, who just knew I was lying until she found the empty bottles, but she questioned if I flushed them. I started crying, and she called 911, they asked her a series of questions and was told not to let me fall asleep. The ambulance came and took me to Charity Hospital Emergency Department where they put a tube down my nose to suctioned my stomach, followed by giving me this charcoal drink to offset the side effects. They put me in a room, well space with a bed and blue curtain divider was a psychiatric nurse who came in to do an assessment, and as I started to explain my actions, she was paged. As she went out, the police came in. I looked at them like if y’all don’t get out of my space, then one of them asked if I was Deatra and I said yes. One of the officers explains that trying to commit suicide was a criminal offense and that they came to get me. I couldn’t speak, tears fell from my eyes, my heart rate and blood pressure set off the alarms, and the nurse and the psychiatric nurse came running in. I’m sorry officers, but I completely forgot to update you all on Ms. Hollins’s case. There’s no need for police involvement, Ms. Hollins recently lost her newborn baby, and we are in the process of assessing her for outpatient grief therapy. I nearly had a heart attack. Before the police officers left, they just had to piss me off by asking am I sure I won’t try to kill myself again because they would hate to get the call with my name on it. And by the way, we are sorry for your loss. Shortly afterward, I was discharged with a shortlist of resources, and it’s a good thing I had my Momo and Jesus I thought to myself. I walked home in the wee hours of the morning, Tulane and Jeff Davis weren’t that far, and I needed some time to evaluate my life.
A couple of months later, I registered for the nursing program at Job Corps and a part-time job at Shoney’s in the Quarter. Living a block away from Tulane Ave, the Tulane bus, Tulane Hospital, Small talk, doctors appointments, and medical forms would be my triggers. I was proud to tell people about my two daughters, but my sharing made them uncomfortable. Then there was the gossip, the “Yeah; she had two of them back to back. One has something in her head, and the other one died, and she tried to kill herself.” I was a poor black girl who had two babies by the age of seventeen years old. It didn’t matter that we weren’t on welfare, that my daughter’s worked a full-time job or that my Dad’s insurance denied my daughter’s surgery nor did it matter that I was a highly intelligent six-year-old with a high school diploma.
If there was anything good about my situation, people often refused to see it and blind to my testimony.
Regardless, of how well my life turned out and the miracle that is my older daughter, they seemed to void that part of my testimony. All they want to hear is the painful parts, and if they sense, I have found a peace they would make sure to reopen my healed over wounds. People shamed me, made me feel embarrassed so much so that I hid the life of my second born daughter just like I hide from Charity Hospital. I refuse to live for people anymore; they have done nothing but block my beautiful memories of her. I have yet to grieve for my baby girl My’Tae appropriately nor in a healthy manner, because of them.
Today is the last day. And this is part of my life’s testimony, and my children are my legacy.
I have four children, three daughters, and a son. My daughter My’Tae lived here on earth with me. I held her, took care of her, felt her skin against mine’s, and hear her tiny heartbeat. She was born on August 10, 1990, and she died on September 19, 1990. She was a fighter, and even though she died does not mean she lost the fight. I believe she has been fighting for me since she departed my earthly life. I dream of her often, and even though she’s not here with me today, she lives within the beats of my heart.