Bittersweet

Perhaps more bitter than sweet. That’s how it feels to be featured in this groundbreaking anthology, What God is Honored Here? Writings on Miscarriage and Infant Loss by and for Native Women and Women of Color. It’s the first anthology of its kind in terms of gathering writing by women of color on this important topic, and was edited by Shannon Gibney and Kao Kalia Yang, who have both experienced baby loss as well. Pregnancy and infant loss affects Native and Black women disproportionately, yet women of color’s stories and voices are mostly missing in books and articles about these very topics. My essay, “The Ritual“, about loving and losing my daughter, my beautiful Naima Kali, appears in the anthology. It was first published in The Rumpus a couple years ago. The book was just released to coincide with Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month (October) and Day (October 15).

The book has been getting a lot of attention, from this piece in Kirkus Review, which calls it a “profound collection” that is a “difficult but important read.” Library Journal gave the book a starred review. I feel honored to have my essay quoted in this review in The Circle: Native American News and Arts. There is even a short book “trailer” video that puts faces to the stories and poems that are in the collection. The press and the editors have done a beautiful job with this sensitive material. All of this makes me feel somewhat hopeful about a societal shift towards more acceptance of the need to grieve, and to even talk about these traumatic and terrifying things that happen to so many of us.

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It’s bittersweet to have my writing included in this much-needed anthology, because while I’m proud of myself for writing the piece, and I will forever be proud of being Naima’s mother, I would rather have my daughter here, alive, would rather be helping her pick a Halloween costume or figuring out what kind of healthy but still kid-friendly sweets I want to hand out for trick-or-treating this year. I don’t want to be a #babyloss mom or a #stillmother. This is not the life I would have chosen for myself, or for my husband. But it’s the life I have been given, and I try to make the best of it. To be honest, I’ve waited several months to even write this post promoting the book on my web site because doing so is just hard as hell. I’m exhausted just writing this short post (sigh). And then I have to deal with people’s reactions when I do post things about the book, their well-intended congratulations and praise, which feels like they are saying “Congratulations that your child is dead!” I know that’s not what they mean but that’s how it feels. It’s impossible for many people to understand how even though I’ve written about my daughter dying, it doesn’t mean that I am over her death, that I carry the sadness and grief of losing her with me every single day, even when I’m smiling and happy and ‘normal’.

In short, it’s hard AF to be the kind of mother I am. Moms of living children complain all the time about all the small and big pains of parenting their children. At times, I want to shout at them (but never do) You’re lucky, you at least have a living child, stop complaining so damn much. You don’t hear me complaining, do you?

At the same time, I am glad that my essay may help other parents, especially mothers, who have lost babies to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or other causes know that they aren’t alone, and that it’s a good thing to honor our babies with rituals and practices that help us heal and find meaning in life again. I also want to give non-bereaved parents and others a brief glimpse into our reality as bereaved parents and still-parents (parents who have no living children), so that they can be less clueless about the things they say to us, and more sensitive to our particular needs.

Please buy the book and read it. Please buy it and give it to someone you know, especially a woman of color, who has experienced this kind of loss. Now more than ever, we need these kinds of stories in order to process, express and heal the unresolved grief that so many of us feel (whether over the death of a baby or over other kinds of losses) but only in recent years have had the space and platforms (via social media, etc.) to do so.

Also, if you are a woman of color and happen to live in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area, I am reading at a special invite-only event in St. Paul on Monday October 21, 2019. Please contact me via this web site if you would like to attend. All attendees receive a free copy of the book.


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