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Mama’s Writing | Kelli Stevens Kane

Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.


How has writing influenced your parenting? 

“Show don’t tell” is good writing advice that also works for parenting. Writing gave me ways to show persistence, how not to take rejection personally, and that there are nerdy ways to be adventurous.

Who are your writer-mama heroes? 

Aside from you, Deesha, some of my writer-mama heroes are Lucille Clifton, Toi Derricotte, Aracelis Girmay, Yona Harvey, Amanda Johnston, Robin Coste Lewis, Toni Morrison, Marilyn Nelson, Sharon Olds, Khadijah Queen, Adriana E. Ramírez, Patricia Smith, and Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie.

What surprised you about motherhood? 

Realizing that each of us has been the beneficiary of enough mothering, from someone, to survive.

What’s your least favorite thing about being a mother? 

It was the sleep deprivation.

What are three words your kid would use to describe you? 

My guesses were respectful-of-privacy, curious, and strict, but my daughter said fun, reliable/consistent, and thorough. I love that! 

How has motherhood shaped your relationship with the world? 

Moving up a branch in the family tree gave me more perspective, which led to more empathy for all parents and children. Motherhood really is a marathon, and no one’s finest hour can last for decades, so I feel less judgmental now.

How has parenting bolstered (or hindered) your creativity? 

I found myself in a marathon of having to get smarter on the fly to stay a step ahead of this brilliant child, so after a ten-year break from writing, all the extra brain power and creativity she gave me was mine all mine! MOO HA HA!


Kelli Stevens Kane is a poet, playwright, and oral historian. She’s the author of Hallelujah Science (Spuyten Duyvil, 2020). She’s a Cave Canem Fellow who has also studied at VONA, Hurston/Wright, and Callaloo. She’s an August Wilson Center Fellow, and a recipient of Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grants from The Pittsburgh Foundation. Kane’s poems have appeared in North American Review, Little Patuxent Review, Under a Warm Green Linden, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Split This Rock. She’s read her poetry and oral history and performed her one-woman show, Big George, nationally. For more information, visit www.kellistevenskane.com.

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A Loss That Shouldn’t Have Been A Loss: A Diary

Content warning: This essay contains graphic depictions of miscarriage.

Early March 2021

The pandemic and COVID-19 have me feeling as though I’m looking death right in the face. However, my superpowers allow me to fight, not only for my 8-year-old daughter, but also for my son who we’re watching grow and flourish in my womb.

March 17, 2021

We take our first 3-D sonogram. Even though he isn’t big enough for me to see all his features, I still love that photo.

March 18, 2021 

We’re able to see him again. He’s waving. (I thought at the time that it was a “Hi, Mommy.” Now I know he was waving goodbye.) I go to my godson’s house later in the day to wish him “Happy Birthday,” but I leave early due to the pain I’m experiencing.

March 19, 2021

I’m using the bathroom so frequently, I think I have a UTI, and I plan to call the doctor the next day. Fighting the pain, I clutch my pregnancy pillow to give me a lil’ comfort. I’m not worried much about the discomfort. I figure seeing our baby boy, who we’ve named Nasir Jahiid, two days in a row is enough. I think Nas is annoyed from all the poking the doctor did.

March 20, 2021 

Like a normal day, I plan to get my nails done with family. I wash a few outfits, and I’m happy that the frequent bathroom trips have subsided. However, the last trip to the toilet scares me—a massacre has occurred on my bathroom floor. I fall so hard to my knees—I believe that’s what wakes up my daughter from her sleep. I rush myself to the hospital only to be told that my baby is still fighting, his heart racing at 148 beats per minute. Nevertheless, something just doesn’t feel right. What’s the odds that he would be okay given the amount of blood I lost? I’m sent home though.

Around 8:00 p.m., I reach out to the on-call doctor at my clinic. The operator tells me that the doctor will call back. Around 9:20 p.m., there’s still no returned call, leaving me no choice but to call back, demanding that someone explain why I’m cramping so much and to tell me what’s the follow-up plan. Around 9:33 p.m., I can hear the doctor say her name while I stand in the bathroom, about to sit on the toilet. At the time, this is all I can remember…but what comes next, I will never forget.

Piercing screams. My baby is on the floor escaping my lips. The doctor is saying, “Your body is doing the work. Take Tylenol if it gets too rough.” (Four days later, I was hospitalized because I listened to the doctor instead of my own body.) The physical pain is excruciating, but the emotional pain is sitting on my chest, causing me to suffocate. I am in so much pain that when I instruct my body to move, it lays there, not following any commands or rules. How could I be so stupid? I should have listened to my body; I could have saved my son.

Summer 2021

Eventually, the world went back to normal. I was forced to have a sit down with grief alone. Feeling abandoned and defeated, I was angry. Angry because I felt tricked. Tricked by the doctors who told me my son was okay. Tricked by his father, who I thought would be in this together with me. Tricked by my friends and family who said they loved me but didn’t show up with the support I needed.

I was upset that God chose to make an example out of me. Upset that I still felt butterflies in my stomach, knowing that I had birthed and buried my son. Upset that the doctors spoke to me with all types of medical terminology instead of being humane and showing me compassion and empathy. Upset that, even with a psychology degree, I couldn’t use my own tools to pull me out of that dark place. I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to have another child. Scared that I would lose everyone I loved if I voiced my feelings openly with no sugar added. And I still had to find strength somewhere because my 8-year-old was grieving the loss of her baby brother.

Weeks passed and I started to allow myself permission to be vulnerable, to grieve, to miss my son, Nas. I allowed myself to embrace nice weather as the sign of a good day. And with the help of my therapeutic services, I’m starting to feel as though I can breathe. In (pause)…. out (release)…

***

My Love, my Queens, my Sisters, my Mothers:  I’m so sorry that you have to get up after a miscarriage, wipe your tears, and keep it moving. I’m so sorry for your loss, your physical pain, your emotional pain, and your sacrifice. I pray for your strength at night when you get butterflies in your stomach that remind you of your sweet baby. I pray you feel comfort when you’re dazed ‘cause it seems like you’re in a dream that you can’t wake up from. I want you to know that you aren’t alone even though it may seem like it. I promise you that you will love and trust your bodies again. I promise that you won’t feel as though you’re drowning forever. Please reach out for that extra therapeutic support and know that you don’t have to fight alone. Even though at this moment you may be struggling with your pain or disbelief, I want you to know that so many of us are standing in your corner.


Promises for You is a column that gives voice and space to those who have experienced infertility, miscarriage, and child loss at any age. We need open conversations on a continuous basis to dispel shame, give room to grief, and nurture understanding.

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Mama’s Writing | Celeste C. Smith

Black woman sitting with legs crossed in a dark chair. Woman is wearing a dark long sleeved dress and looking off to our left.

Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.


Are there days when you feel like a mother who writes, and others when you feel like a writer who is a mother?

No. I would have to say, I always feel like a mother who writes. For me, my writing has never taken first place or even shared first place. My life’s work, for the last 20+ years, has been in service to supporting artists who are artists first. Whether through communicated encouragement or financial support, my work has always centered on showing folks they can.  Funny how sometimes you don’t see it so clearly for yourself. But when I do, I like to imagine living in a beach house adjacent to the Atlantic, writing in balmy 87 degree weather exorcising this novel out of me. I am patient and believe that the time for me to write full-time is coming and it will be abundantly clear. 

What three words describe you as a mother?

Mindful, apologetic, and open.

What fictional mother gets on your nerves?

Kate McAllister [from the movie Home Alone]. Not that she should have to face the brunt of leaving her child home alone all by herself…the Dad can definitely catch these hands too…but the question was about moms.

What are three words your kid(s) would use to describe you?

Empathetic. Black. Kind. 

What’s the worst motherhood advice you’ve ever gotten?

I was once told that mothers raise the boys until seven and then it’s the fathers turn. This is patriarchal bullshit. If both parents are available, willing, and able, both parents should raise the children the entire time. Functioning under this ideology put a lot of undue stress and responsibility on the mother. If a mom doesn’t have a partner, she still needs the entire tribe from the get go.  

Knowing that your children will read your work at some point, how does that impact your candor when writing?

It doesn’t. I am very candid with my children. I don’t write, say, or do anything that I wouldn’t want them to know about, because it’s all going to come out anyway. If I write something that I think would embarrass or be misunderstood by them, I talk to them about it. My oldest is 20, so if he runs across something, he will ask.

What makes you a bad-ass mother?

I don’t think I’m a bad-ass mother. I think I try just like all the other mothers. I admit my mistakes and try to let my children choose their own paths. I think, if anything, my acute understanding that you can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to do has shaped the type of mom I am. I remember trying to get our youngest child to go to sleep and he was so damn stubborn.  He wouldn’t go to sleep until he was ready. My daughter is queer, though she was raised Muslim. My oldest has always found ways to do exactly what he wanted to do, supported or not. So, my practice is to support them. To give them the best advice we can. Be here for them in the way you would have wanted your parents to be. 


Photo credit: sarah huny young

Celeste C. Smith is senior program officer for Arts and Culture for The Pittsburgh Foundation where she is working to advance racial justice, center the voices of people and communities most impacted by racism, and respond to critical community issues. She is a national 2018 SXSW Community Service Award honoree with deep experience as a non-profit and community leader, arts administrator, individual artist, and activist. She is the co-founder and prior chief executive officer of 1Hood Media whose mission is to build liberated communities through art, education, and social justice. She is also the manager of Pittsburgh-based hip hop artist Jasiri X. Celeste is a graduate of Chatham University and has served on the Transformative Arts Process Advisory Board at The Heinz Endowments, the Pittsburgh Symphony Community Advisory Council, and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council Equity in Arts Funding Research Committee, and was appointed to the national Grantmakers in the Arts’ Support for Individual Artists Committee and to the Americans for the Arts Arts Education Network Advisory Council. She is a frequent invited panelist and presenter at local and national events and conferences. Celeste continues to produce her own artistic works, most recently appearing in the literary anthology, Tender: a literary anthology and book of spells: evidence.

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Walking Into Uncertainty After Stillbirth

I never knew I wanted to become a mom. In my worldview, I thought it was just the natural progression of becoming a woman. It was modeled for me. Go to school, get a good education, graduate, find a good paying job, find a spouse (or let him find you— “He who finds a wife finds a good thing” Proverbs 18: 22 NKJV), get married, and have a baby. I followed this trajectory for my life almost to a tee. 

My husband and I didn’t rush to get pregnant. Although the first question people ask as soon as you jump the broom is, “When will you start having children,” we didn’t let the external pressure get to us. We dated long-distance the entire four years of our courtship and didn’t live in the same state, let alone the same city or home, until after we said our “I Dos.” There was no rush to expand our family right away because we wanted to enjoy one another’s company to the fullest as newlyweds. After three years of wedded bliss, we finally decided it was time to start growing our family. To our surprise it happened fairly quickly.

The first time I saw my son’s heart flicker on the monitor, and heard the steady soothing sound of his heart pumping at my 7-week gestational appointment, was when I fell in love. This tiny little being growing in my womb had captured my heart and would not let go. The weeks flew by without a hitch. That is until we reached week 28—a week I will never forget. I went into my doctor’s office on Friday, January 15, 2016. The waiting room was bustling with pregnant mamas with various sized baby bumps, waddling around with anticipation. I remember arriving at the office and being asked to drink the sugary solution to test if I had developed gestational diabetes while expecting. 

While I waited for testing, as the sugary drink was flowing through my body, the sonographer called my husband and I back to the ultrasound room. I remember being extremely excited to see my munchkin on the screen for the first time since 8-weeks prior at our gender revealing ultrasound. 

The sonographer laid me back on the reclined table, placed the cold gel on my tummy, turned on the ultrasound machine, and began the anatomy scan of my son. The room was dark, illuminated only by the light from the ultrasound screen. I recall the ultrasound tech, with her thick Georgia-southern accent saying very early in the scan that my son didn’t have a lot of fluid around him. As a first-time mom I had no clue what that meant for the health of my baby, but I figured it was something I could improve with the help of my medical team. I didn’t know that tiny indicator, of not having a lot of fluid, would be the small snowball that accelerated downhill, causing an avalanche of heartache. As the sonographer continued my scan, she again mentioned my fluid levels and excused herself as she announced she wanted the doctor to take a look at me. 

At that very moment, I knew something was wrong. But because of my inexperience as a first-time mom, I didn’t put much stock into her declaration that my son no longer had a lot of fluid surrounding him. The next time the ultrasound technician came into the room, she quietly cleaned off the gel on my belly, pulled my shirt back down and asked my husband and I to follow her across the hall where two doctors awaited our arrival. The following nine words that ensued folded me like a table: “We’re sorry, your son no longer has a heartbeat.” In that very instant, my world came crashing down. I let out a piercing scream from the pit of my soul. The doctors excused themselves and alerted us that they would give us a few minutes to process the bombshell they had just dropped in our laps.

After the doctors reentered the room, they told us our next steps. We decided to go home for the night to mentally, physically, and emotionally prepare for our impossible task of delivering my son who had succumbed in my womb—the very place that was supposed to be his shelter and protection. The doctors scheduled us to check into the hospital for induction the following day, Saturday, January 16, 2016. The drive over to the hospital was somber. I remember riding in silence as gospel music softly played in the background. When we got to the hospital and the receptionist asked me to fill out the intake forms, I wept. I could barely see the forms as tears welled up in my eyes. 

I had been tasked to do the impossible. The uncertainty about how I would deliver a dead baby, how he would look, how I would react once I saw him, plagued my mind. But I knew the task I was sent to do, and I was equipped with a prayer asking God to give me strength and peace to carry out the assignment of birthing my precious angel. 

I labored for three days. At 5:48 a.m. on January 18, 2016, my little prince was born on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. He was born into silence but his presence spoke volumes. He was tiny in frame, but the love I felt for him filled the room. The moment the nurses placed him into my arms, the room stood still. He was the most beautiful baby I had ever seen, even though his eyes were closed, his body was limp, and he made no sound. It may seem weird or even crazy to want to interact with a baby that died. You’re literally staring death in the face. But that moment taught me death is inevitable and it is not as scary as we make it out to be. My son was everything I needed in that moment. 

To this day my husband and I are unclear about how much time we actually spent with our son. But what I do know is that the time we spent as a trio was extremely special, even priceless. We took pictures, had his fingerprints and footprints taken, talked to him, examined every inch of his 1.5 pound body, took in his scent, and more. As his lifeless body began to grow cold and stiff, we knew we were on borrowed time. We prayed for our precious baby and dedicated him back up to God, then called our nurse to come retrieve him. As she wheeled his body out and we said our final goodbyes, I cried. 

I again faced uncertainty as I was asked to leave the hospital empty-handed and broken hearted a few short hours later. I couldn’t believe that I had to leave my baby behind. I was completely devastated. I didn’t know where this journey would lead me. But here I am today, five years later—still here, still standing.

I promise you as you travel down the road of uncertainty that your journey may lead you to detours of anger, jealousy, envy, heartbreak, numbness and more,  but in spite of all this, you will keep going. Not because it is easy, or that you know what is in store for you in the future, but because you hold within you a fountain of resiliency steeped in your DNA by your ancestors who endured the unthinkable. Even when you feel like you won’t be able to take another step or face another day, YOU WILL. Because you are a warrior. As you take a step each day and begin to move forward, you will one day turn around and marvel at how far you’ve come. Healing is a muscle. The more you exercise sitting in grief, confronting it head on, and experiencing the emotions that arise with it, the more it begins to shrink; you find yourself moving one step closer toward breakthrough. One day your loss and grief will not consume your mind as it once did. It will be the white noise in your consciousness. But that doesn’t mean you can’t remember your angel baby in their absence or parent them in a way that honors their life and legacy. 

This journey is one of great uncertainty, but you can come out victorious as long as you never give up and continue fighting each day for a sliver of hope.


Illustration by Cassandra Orion

Promises for You is a column that gives voice and space to those who have experienced infertility, miscarriage, and child loss at any age. We need open conversations on a continuous basis to dispel shame, give room to grief, and nurture understanding.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoy Raising Mothers, please consider making a one-time or recurring contribution to help us remain ad-free. If even a fraction of subscribers signed up to contribute $1 per month, Raising Mothers could be self-sustaining!

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Mama’s Writing | Medina Jackson

Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.


What surprised you about motherhood? 

I’m not sure if anything surprised me but the life adjustment was huge. Knowing that my son was going to nap for two hours and having to decide if I was going to cook, clean, sleep, do some work, sit and stare off into the distance, etc. Looking back, I would have always chosen sleep!

Who are your writer-mama heroes? 

Writing comes from a very personal place for me.  My writer-mama hero would be my mother, Shirley Jackson. Getting to know her woman to woman over the years, when I asked her what she wanted to be, she told me she always wanted to be a good mother and to give her children the affection and emotional support she didn’t receive as a child. She broke that generational pattern and is my #1 example for mothering.  

My mother doesn’t consider herself to be a formal writer, but she, to this day, writes handwritten notes and letters. When she has to speak and address a crowd, even if it’s a group of friends, she’ll write it out, and she takes pride in her writing and thoughtful, care-filled communication. Her beautiful cursive handwriting is a visceral connection to her for me everytime I receive a care package in the mail from her.

What’s your least favorite thing about being a mother? 

My least favorite thing was losing myself for a while. I stopped writing, I stopped engaging my creative side and dove deep into the juggling act of being a working mother. It took me five years to start coming back to myself and my own identity as a sovereign being with wants, needs, desires and the belief in myself that I could pursue and fulfill them. That’s still a work in progress but I’m a lot further along. One step at a time.  

I’d also say now, having an adolescent Black boy and all of the fears that come with that, and balancing having an awareness of but not leading my parenting with those fears, is a fairly consistent source of tension. The work I do around positive racial identity has helped me with this, but it’s still not easy.

What are three words your kid(s) would use to describe you? 

I think he would say loving, tough at times, and talented

How does engaging with your children creatively influence your own creative process?

When I engage my son in play (games, imaginative, etc), it takes me back to my own childhood when the stakes didn’t feel so high, freedom, laughter, joy, and the possibilities of doing and being anything, which fortifies my “why not” in life and as a creator. When we freestyle together in the car, it’s fun; we laugh and it’s a moment of connection.  My son has come to two of my performances, and it was wonderful having him there, because it allowed him to see me outside of what I can do for him as his mother, and he could appreciate me as a talented, creative person who is also his mother. His support made me feel a lot of joy and validation, which gives me more “umph” to keep going, as I see fit. I also wanted him to see me pursuing my goals and dreams so that he not only has my words and encouragement to do it for himself, but sees me do it, modeling this value.

Knowing that your children will read your work at some point, how does that impact your candor when writing? 

Honestly, I don’t even think about that, aside from being mindful about what I may write about him. There are details of his life that belong to him, not to the world, unless he wants to share them one day, so I honor that. That aside, I write and perform what and how I want. My creative expression is a personal liberatory practice for self. I think of legacy and what I’m leaving behind in my writing, but don’t think about how my child will perceive or respond to it. I’m trying to teach him that people, including himself and his parents, are multitudes…made of many things and many ways of being known, and to allow all of those spaces and places to grow.

How has parenting bolstered (or inhibited) your creativity? 

It has done both…taken me in and out of practice. Going out of and being out of practice in early motherhood made me miss that part of myself, appreciate it, pursue it, and hold on to it, because I know life without it. It’s also given me grace in knowing that there are seasons for everything and sometimes everything can’t be done in one season, just like that two-hour naptime window I mentioned earlier. So I’d like to continue to hold a loosely structured discipline with going with the flow of writing or not-writing. During childbirth, there was a moment when other people were around me but I tuned everyone out, and it was just me and my son, trusting that my body and will would bring him into this world. We were aligned, in tune and worked together. He was my collaborator in his birth. That was a lesson and practice for me getting in tune with myself when it comes to writing, because whatever it is…a book, a blog, a poem, a project, I’m birthing something, and the relationship between me and what I’m striving to birth matters most. The things we write are living, pulled from what we see, know, feel and imagine. I can say to that thing [that I’m writing], the same thing I said to my son as he was traveling into the world through me: “It’s just me and you now…what would you like to be? How would you like to come into being?” Then I get in tune and birth that baby!


“I Medina” Jackson is a poet, spoken word and Hip Hop artist, writer, mama, community educator, vegan culinary arts enthusiast. She is a member of the facilitation team for the Black Transformative Arts Network, an equity consultant for Shifting Power in Educational Research and Development, and a participant in the Poetry Partnership of Pittsburgh’s Spring Workshop Series, among other projects. I Medina is also the Director of Engagement for The P.R.I.D.E. Program (Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education), an initiative out of the University of Pittsburgh School of Education’s Office of Child Development, where she organizes annual Pop Up Mini Art Festivals in multiple Pittsburgh neighborhoods and other family and community engagement projects.  P.R.I.D.E.’s mission is to help young Black children ages 3-8 understand race and embrace their heritage, by sharing knowledge, skills and developing resources with the primary adults in their lives (educators, artists, parents and caregivers, community professionals) to counter the impact of racism in America. Originally from South Berkeley, CA, I Medina moved to Pittsburgh in 2001 to obtain her Master’s Degree in Social Work (Community Organization and Social Administration concentration) from the University of Pittsburgh and has been committed to the city ever since. A poet since age 17, she is proud to have been published for the first time in the book TENDER: a literary anthology and book of spells: evidence, and is currently working on her second album, Minimalist Mob Music. Her poem, “They Always Come: A Note to My Son” was published on Sampsoniaway.org as their Poem of the Week. You can primarily find her on Facebook (Medina Jackson) and contact her at medinajackson78@gmail.com for booking inquiries.

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