Even before her son was endure, Jesmyn Ward was preoccupied with one thing how she would prepare him for survival
Five years ago, I bore my first child, a daughter. She was born six weeks early. She was slow to cry and pale when she emerged from behind the tent shielding my stomach. In a reply that I am ashamed to admit, and one that I suspect was driving in stress, surprise and anaesthesia, my first words to her were,” Why is she so white ?” My obstetrician giggled as she began the work of preparing to stitch me back up. I lay there softly, stunned by facts: I was a mother. I had a child, a ghostly, long-limbed daughter, who was still curved from the womb.
On the eve of my daughter’s first birthday, I seemed as if I’d survived a gauntlet. I’d nursed her to plumpness, become attuned to her breathy yells as she adjusted to life outside my body, learned to follow a checklist whenever she was upset( Hungry? Dirty? Tired? Overstimulated ?). When my solutions to the list sometimes did not ease her to soothe, I learned to carry her and stroll, to say again and again in her ear the same phrase,” Mommy’s got you. Mommy’s got you. It’s OK, honey, Mommy’s got you .” I said it and felt a fierce enjoy in me rush to the rhythm of the words, a sure honesty. I meant it. I would always comprise her, have her, never let her fall.
When I found out I was pregnant again, I was happy. I wanted another child. But that happiness was gale with obses from the beginning: I was anxious about whether I could oversee two children, about whether or not I would be able to be a good mother to both my children equally, whether the thick desire I felt for my daughter would blanket my other child as well. And I was dreading pregnancy, the weeks of daily migraines, of random aches and pains.
As the months progressed, I developed gestational diabetes, and agonised over future prospects of another premature birth. I craved my second child to have the time in the womb my first didn’t. I wanted to give the second the safety and day my body failed to give the first. I likewise underwent an entire battery of tests for genetic abnormalities. A bonus of one of the tests was that I would discover the sex of the child I was carrying. When the nurse called to deliver my test outcomes, I was nervous. When she told me I was having a boy, my stomach turned to stone inside me and sank.” Oh God ,” I thought,” I’m going to bear a black boy into the world .” I faked joy to the white nurse and plummeted the phone after the call ended. Then I cried.
I wept because the first thing I thought of when the nurse told me I would have a son was my dead brother. He died 17 years ago this year, but his leaving seems as fresh as if he were killed just a month ago by a drunk motorist who would never be charged. Fresh as my heartache, which walks with me like one of their own children. It is ever-present, silent-footed. Sometimes, it surprises me. Like when I realise part of me is still waiting for my brother to return. Or when I realise how ferociously I ache to learn him again, to assure his dark eyes and his thin mouth and his even shoulders, to seem his bumpy palm or his buttery scalp or his downy cheeks. To hear him speak and laugh.