June 18th

I read a quote that said that life is about the journey, not the destination.  I skimmed over it without acknowledging its importance because I was still so caught up in getting to all of my destinations.  At 46, I got it. 

At 23, my belief system was that complete independence, and not asking for help were the best ways to navigate life.  I gave every part of myself, while never replacing what I had sacrificed.  At 33, I made some modifications, but for the most part, I maintained that efficient system of self-destruction.   At 43, I realized that having a crisis advocate in my life was mandatory. 

At 46, I have learned that healthy, interdependent relationships a non-negotiable.  I know that sums up one of those 7 Habits, but I don’t know Stephen Covey, and I am not just taking his word at face value.  My interdependence has sustained me and moved me into growth.  Now I observe catastrophe and crisis from the sideline rather than being the main attraction.

When my mom was 46, I was 26.  I have no recollection of that time.  I remember being 26.  I remember she was alive.  I do not remember her being 46, and more importantly 46 and present.  She was always my mom.  Once the perfect specimen of love in my eyes, she had fallen from maternal grace and become a mere mortal when she ran my dad away from our family.  That was a sin punishable by a lifetime of harsh, unreasonable judgement, outrageous expectations, and absolutely no understanding. 

I offer this entry as an act of gratitude to my mother for allowing herself to be vulnerable enough to engage in her version of love with my dad so that I exist today.

With every page I have written a layer of trauma has been shed.  I have been a trauma amphibian, a chaos chameleon.  I have been cold blooded because that was what was required.  I have changed colors and shed my decaying epidermis as life has demanded.  It was just hours ago, as I was learning the difference in a Mexican coffee bean and an Ethiopian one, that the following moment reintroduced itself to me. 

I was pregnant for the fourth time.  The relationship wasn’t a real one.  We met on a community college detour from the dreams of our former lives.  We had agreed to enter into a fun, commitment free, zero stress, physical relationship.  Forethought escaping us, and fertility chasing us, there I was, full with a heavenly blessing and earthly motivation growing in my womb.

June 18, 1998, I called my godmother to ask her if she would pick up my three children, ages 6 and younger, because I was in labor with sunshine number four.  She did.  Not much conversation, she just wanted to know what time I was picking them up the next day.  There was no emotion, no words of wisdom, and I did not expect it.  I was just grateful that she had agreed to come get my precious cargo because I had no other options.  My three sockless, highly intelligent souls left as they were instructed, but not without some questions.  We have always had open communication because it was just us, the terror squad. 

As they left, I got into my white 1985 Ford Mustang and drove myself to Lexington Memorial Hospital.  I checked myself in telling the staff that someone would be there with me shortly.  I felt the weight of telling that necessary lie, while also knowing that if I told the truth the security of my family could be in danger.  If not in danger, at least questioned, highly scrutinized and closely monitored by individuals and agencies who did not know me or my children, and whose only concern was “what was right” according to policies written by inexperienced people for a population extremely experienced in the dance of statistical poverty and non-traditional family make-up.  So, “yes, someone is on their way.  Oh, yes, my mom because my daughter’s father was unavailable.”  After the staff had been adequately assured, I was checked into the maternity ward.

I had been in labor since the previous day.  I waited as long as possible to head to the hospital so that my children would have to spend as little time away from me as possible.  At 4:00 pm, on June 18th I told the nurses that I would be having the baby soon.  The doctor came in, he was young and new.  He put his gloves on and examined my cervical dilation.  “Ok, we’re getting close.  We’ll have us a baby about 4:30.”  Poor, naïve man.  I had a family to protect.  I did not have 30 more minutes.  You see, the hospital allowed you to leave 24 hours after giving birth, so the earlier I welcomed Andréa into the world, the sooner we could both go back home.  I spoke up.  “Doc, it’s going to be 4:15”.  He disregarded my prophesy and took off his gloves.  He reassured the nurses, “It will be 4:30”.  What no one knew was that I had been quietly pushing with all of my recent contractions.  I learned that the quickest way to stop contractions was to give my body what it wanted, the allowance another beautiful soul to enter the world. 

About 4:10 pm the nurses called for that very confident, book smart obstetrician.  He had relied on what his medical texts had taught him without acknowledging there was an actual person in front him, a woman, a young, scared-brave, mother.  One’s humanness was a variable that changed medical text from reliable to more of a guide for general expectations.  In the words of Kevin Hart, “He was gone learn today.”.  At 4:15 pm he came running into the delivery room still putting his gloves on, just in time to keep Andréa from hitting the floor.  That sight just tickled me.

Hours later someone on staff brought my traditional steak dinner, as well as the one for my mom, or whoever they still thought was going to arrive shortly.  I ate both of them.  Two steak dinners, and a breakfast later I was preparing to leave.  I filled out all of the appropriate paperwork and by the afternoon of June 19th I was getting into a wheelchair with my bundle of responsibility, to be rolled to the lobby to wait for my mom to retrieve me.  Again, I lied enough to get the nurse to roll me to the exit area and leave me unattended. 

When I could no longer see her, I stood up and walked Andréa and myself to my car.  We stopped at the grocery store and bought pampers, food, the necessities, and went to gather the remainder of our band.  I got us home safely with just a few more battle scars.

I had, in those ten months prior, been impregnated with purpose, carried the weight of a higher calling and emerged with a new life.  Oh wait, that sounded familiar.

Sometimes the smallest events trigger my muscle memory.  Sitting in a cube at a Federal Prison Camp, I was filled with purpose and weight, I emerged with a new life.  There were days when I wanted to cry, but my sorrow was second to my passion for freedom and justice.  There had to be a way to remedy mass incarceration, broken homes, and poverty.  I was going to figure out a few solutions. 

I write, I tell my story, because I need to be seen, as a human, a person, a woman, a mother.  I need being seen to be the new normal.  I need you to see me so that you will then see all of humankind that same way.  As always, thank you for listening.

Author: Claudia L. Shivers

I am a Mom. A grandmother. An entrepreneur. A Social Justice Advocate. A Community Leader. A Social Capital Builder. A Truth Teller.

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