Rachel and Ken. North Carolina.
Rachel is a 43 year old artist living in the United States. She is a mother to a special 14 year old son and fiancé to photographer Chris Charles. She is widely known for her work as a jewelry designer and visual artist.
How do you identify yourself racially?
I identify as African American. I’m also a member of the Lumbee Indian Tribe of Lumberton North Carolina. My Mother is African American and Lumbee. My father is also African American with Native and Irish lineage. Many people assume I have a white parent and growing up I was asked that a lot. It seemed really important to people to know what I was mixed with as a child.
Where were you born and where have you lived?
I was born in North Carolina. Shortly after my birth, my parents moved to NYC. My father was a musician and New York was the place to be for artists. I’ve never had the opportunity to travel. Regretfully, I’ve only lived in North Carolina and New York but I’m hoping to move abroad one day soon.
Can you tell us about having a premature birth?
My son was born at 24 weeks and I suffered from Hyperemesis which is severe morning sickness. Back in 2000 while I was pregnant there was almost no information I could find about this condition, I didn’t even know the name for it but it kept me bed ridden, severely nauseous and constantly drooling into a cup which was my companion 24 hours a day. I lost about 30 pounds when I was pregnant, I could not hold any fluids, not even my own saliva, so water and food were out of the question. I had an IV and a bucket.
It was a horrible time for me; I envy women who have textbook pregnancies. I was in so much pain and despair all I could do was lay there and deal with it. One day at a routine doctor visit at around 5 months, while examining me, the doctor saw my sons little feet sticking out from my cervix. I was immediately rushed to the hospital and started having contractions. Luckily, they stopped and stitched me up as a last effort to keep him inside for a few more weeks. He would surely not survive being born at 5 months but about 3 weeks later I went into labor with severe bleeding from the ruptured stitches. He was arriving that day stitches or not. He was born still inside the amniotic sac weighing only 1 pound 7 oz. Immediately after delivery all of the sickness, drooling and nausea went away. I was honestly more happy about that than the birth at the time.
What were the pressures you felt?
I can only remember some people not believing that my Hyperemesis was real. Being told it was only morning sickness; they had it and it wasn’t that bad. My mother also had it with her pregnancies. I can imagine in the 70’s how much more difficult it was back then. They even have medication for it now that didn’t exist when I was pregnant.
What have you learned about yourself as a result of enduring that trying period?
I did learn that even though I wanted more than one child, I will never put myself through that again intentionally. The chances that I will have another premature birth are high, and though my son was born with very few health problems, my next child may not be so lucky.
How did you deal with the emotional weight?
During my pregnancy I was so ill I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was upset that I could not enjoy my pregnancy. I resented having to be extra afraid that he might be born so premature he might not live. I just laid there, honestly, like a brick.
Do you feel extra protective of him because of his start?
Yes, he does face some challenges. He has Hyperlexia which is on the autism spectrum. I have to be extra aware of how much I let him depend on me; his ability to be an independent adult depends on the choices I make for him today. I have to be twice as aware of my parenting style. He must not go into adulthood waiting for me to give him the answers.
Who had the greatest influence on you during your childhood?
My mother most definitely was my main influence. Everything I’ve learned that has helped me make it as a woman I credit to her. I learned more from her actions than her words. She is a resourceful and brilliant woman and I never saw her down even when she had every right to be.
What was your best and worst piece of advice given as a new mother?
I can honestly say because of my son’s unique situation there really wasn’t anything anyone could tell me. No one around me had experienced a birth or a baby like mine. I didn’t get any crappy advice or great advice. I was left to my own devices and I liked it that way.
How do you feel as a mother? Is it what you imagined? Is it something you wanted?
I never wanted a child, I told myself as a result of seeing all the failed marriages and struggles my mothers and aunts went through that I didn’t want that for myself. I NEVER saw a marriage that worked, and there were only a rare few schoolmates that lived with both parents and not broken homes. I knew I didn’t want that, I had nothing to look forward to in that sense..so until I actually met my sons father at around 26 I had no intention of having children. It’s nothing like I imagined. My pregnancy was hard and I ended up a single mother with a premature baby. As a mother I felt like my son was the best thing that ever happened to me, and even if my life was falling apart around me I had him and I knew I was a good mother. I focused on him and making our life better and it has made me a better person.
What is one good thing and one bad thing you’ve inherited from your parents?
I inherited my father’s creativity and ear for music and art. I have my mother’s resourcefulness and intelligence but I also got her stubbornness and temper!
Did you feel different as a child?
Yes I did, but I think everyone does. We all go through times when we think we are the only ones who feel or think a certain way and only we have had certain experiences, so yes I did feel different. But in this instance I think the best word to use is misunderstood, parents like to forget what it was like for them as children. We make our kids feel like they do things we just don’t understand but that’s not true; we forget we were the same and that can make a child feel “different” or weird. I tell my son when he does make mistakes or does something bad that I’ve made the same mistakes, I remember what it was like at his age, and I get it.
What have you learned from the women in your life directly impacts you today in raising your son?
I have learned what NOT to do. I learned that it’s harmful to try and relive my youth through him. To expect him to dress, think and like the things I like. I want him to be his own person and not grow up in my shadow only to become a young adult with no sense of self. This means I will have to let him make mistakes. As hard as it is to watch him fumble I know its a learning experience that he will grow from.