The year 2016 was difficult, but it was also the year that brought my biggest blessing - my daughter Zion. I found out I was pregnant during my third quarter at Northwestern University. I was scared and felt alone - but my pregnancy forced me to take a long, hard look at myself. I had to re-evaluate my life, my goals for the future, and how I treated myself. I was constantly living in the past, I couldn’t enjoy my move to Northwestern, I was having panic attacks almost daily, and I isolated myself from my classmates. The discovery of my pregnancy made me withdraw even further because I was away from my family and closest friends.
During my pregnancy, I lived in Evanston, IL, Washington, D.C., then back home in Michigan. Each time, I had to find a new OB/GYN. I traveled from Illinois to South Africa, went to my friend’s graduation at Cornell University and went to a family reunion in Memphis, TN. I was extremely active during this time, but once I made it home back to Michigan, I was happy to relax and work on my birth plan and prepare for the next chapter. During this time, I also jumped from therapist to therapist until I settled on one back home. Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Northwestern only allows 12 visits so after I completed my visits, I tried a therapist in the Chicago area and was referred to group therapy with CAPS. With all of this going on, it was hard to focus on my work, but I graduated with an excellent GPA.
I suggest anyone going through a pregnancy have a doula support through each trimester and postpartum. A doula is a professional birth assistant who provides support before and after birth. My doula was a friend from college that provided the mental, physical, and emotional support I needed to get through the biggest transition of my life. She and I had weekly sessions to align my energy, create a birth plan, do yoga, and keep active. A mixture of therapy, keeping active, friends, and family kept me sane.
I had Zion three weeks before her due date, which was supposed to be September 24, 2016. I went into labor on September 2nd at around 4:00 am. I chalked it up to Braxton hicks contraction - basically practice contractions for labor. I tried to go back to sleep and at around 9:00 am that morning I called my mom complaining of pain and she suggested I talk to my doula. My doula started timing my contractions over the phone - 4 minutes apart. I instantly called the triage nurse and she suggested I come in but I was home alone. My mom rushed home from work and she playfully said, “These better not be Braxton hicks contractions.” My doula was still on campus and met me at the University hospital which wasn’t too far from her. Once I was checked in, the nurse evaluated me and said, “You’re six centimeters dilated. You’re having this baby today.” I instantly started crying because, in my mind, I still thought I had a couple more weeks to prepare. I didn’t even have my hospital bag packed. I also had a maternity photoshoot planned for the next day and clearly, that had to be canceled.
I was told I went into premature labor due to dehydration. I aimed for the most natural birth possible. I planned to have no epidural, use a tub of water to ease the pain of labor, a few people in the room as possible, but of course when it’s time for a baby to come all of this didn’t matter as long as she was healthy. I got an epidural, all the rooms with tubs were taken, and a slew of people came in and out of my room. I didn’t even know the name of the woman who delivered Zion until the next week.
My water never broke, so they gave me the epidural before they manually broke my water so labor pains wouldn’t be as painful. Then came my beautiful baby girl Zion. We stayed in the hospital a couple days to monitor for jaundice. While in the hospital, I was taught how to care for her, breastfeed her, and bathe her. These were the most rewarding moments of my life.
One of the biggest lessons I learned and words of affirmation I would tell myself while going through a pregnancy alone and already dealing with depression and anxiety would be to give myself some compassion and love as well as to allow myself to feel what I need to feel. The majority of my professors that knew of my pregnancy were supportive, but there were, of course, the few that told me to drop out and not pursue my fellowship in Washington, D.C. That wasn’t happening. I was told that I’m too young to be having a baby, that my dreams would be deferred. FALSE. As a black woman, I already know that I need to work twice as hard, but there is no numerical value of hard work and ethic that I will ever put on building a beautiful life for my gorgeous baby girl, my truest example of unconditional love.
Realizing that your situation and mindset could change in the next few months gave me hope. I’m in a completely different position than I was when I was pregnant. My one regret is that I felt shame throughout my pregnancy journey. I wasn't ashamed to be pregnant, but I was ashamed of my situation and my exacerbated depression. People say time heals all wounds, I think time and putting in the work to change your mindset and situation heals. I’m learning to celebrate all the phases and lessons in my life, motherhood, and the person my daughter is becoming. Celebrate yourself! The joy of my world is in Zion.