The day Destiny was born a mist covered the mountains and the air was crisp. The green of the trees and the grass shown against the gray of the morning. . I was out with the other expectant pregnant folks for our daily exercise and I felt like I could finally feel them coming closer.
“I think the baby is coming today!” I said excitedly to Maria.
“Oh really? Why Shaquan? You’ve been pregnant so long, maybe your baby decided to stay inside!” Maria laughed. She was trying unsuccessfully to do the calisthenics that the teacher was demonstrating and collapsed into giggles.
“I am not really feeling this. My belly is so big!” I said, adjusting my loose-fitting blue crop top over my breasts to do the next stretch.
“Don’t squat so deep and maybe it won’t be so hard to get back up!” Maria laughed even louder.
Maria was my closest friend in the group of baby carriers this season. All of us exercised and had breakfast together before beginning our day. She was hilarious and always made me laugh. Her violet caftan and shorts stood out against her brilliant dark brown skin in the mist.
The light mist made it a little hard to see everyone, but I could hear the instructor Kareem talking about the exercises. The green was so brilliant at this time of day despite the fact that the sun hadn’t burned off the fog. The colors surrounded us. Exercise class ended and Maria and I headed to the breakfast buffet which was laid out at the edge of the yard.
We ate blackberries, blueberries, freshly baked bread and eggs sprawled on the lawn. The sea of bellies was small and large. Everybody came to exercise even if they didn’t want to spend their time at the mansion. Maria rolled over to me.
“I don’t know why, but today’s exercise class seemed more intense didn’t it?” I asked Maria.
“hmm, I don’t know. I know one thing though, this bread is truly everything.”
I laughed. “I wish I could eat more, but not much room in my stomach nowadays.”
The chatter and movement of the pregnant folks around always soothed me. One of the biggest changes our community instituted once it was established was a home for birthing people. At first it was considered just a safety concession, given the climate and the constant attacks, having all expectant people in one place allowed them to be guarded and cared for and evenly monitored. However, over time the positive outcomes showed that there was a purpose to giving these resources and time to people carrying to help them restore and build a baby.
“Ok, time for me to go take a nap. What are you up to?” she said.
“I think I’m going to see Nana and the kids.” I said. “Can you help me up?”
“I got you girl!” Maria was not as far along so she helped me roll to standing.
“see you later!”
I started out lumbering, excited to see my great grandmother and the kids of our city. The house was along a windy path that took me through our little community. The houses were a mixture of brick and wood, mostly brown and squat, but they were reconstructed to be less ostentatious, so as not to attract interest from inadvertent visitors. When the families first arrived they just refurbished the places that were left behind, then they began to put in the systems to make the homes self-sufficient with solar power, wind, but the look has not changed. The secrecy was necessary to maintain the community. We used to live in fear when the disasters first hit, but now few people come this far into the mountains. The outside world is still there, but it seems far away now that America is a shell of its former self.
I reached Nana’s house and saw the kids gathered outside, clamoring for a story.
Michael, my brother’s child shouted, “tell us the one about the spider!”
Akilah, my sister’s child quiet and calm as always said “Nana please tell us the one about the skyscrapers!”
“Nana, I want to hear the story about the people who could fly!” Deshauntae said, as he jumped up from the ground mimicking flying through the air.
They saw me at that moment. “Aunty, aunty, when is the baby coming?”
“Shaquan! We are so happy you’re here for story time!” Nana was sitting on the porch covered in a green quilt, even though it was warm. Her face was wrinkled and dark brown and she wore a dress lavender dress with tiny white flowers. The folds of the quilt held her arms, and she moved them to reach out to me for a hug.
“Nana, how are you doing today?” I said.
“Doing well, but how are you? You are the one bringing our new little one. How are things with the pregnant folks?”
“We are both doing well. The midwives say the baby is growing and the vital signs are good.”
“We are so excited! Aren’t we children?”
“Yes! We can’t wait!” they all exclaim. Akilah helped me sit down for the story, passing me a brown pillow for the ground.
“OK babies, lets get started.” Nana’s dark brown, delicate hands came from under the quilt like an orchestra conductor as she started the story. “Once upon a time, this land had huge cities that took up so much space that would take days and days to walk with people from all over the world all together in one place. And there were buildings that went all the way up into the sky. Some of them were all glass and had mirrors that reflected the sun and made the concrete hot to the touch in the summertime. Sometimes you could see the heat rising off the street.”
“Did people live in the tall buildings too?” Akilah said.
“Yes! In some of them white people lived all the way at the top. They called them apartments in the sky! And the buildings had all sorts of shops inside. I used to go with my mom to clean the offices sometimes where people would work way into the night sometimes and never go home. Some of them would sleep at their desks. She would come in to pick up the trash and find them sleeping, empty the trash and leave.”
“they would sleep at their desks? They didn’t have homes and families?” Deshauntae asked.
“Some of them did, but the world was different then. People in the olden days when I was little didn’t believe in resting and relaxing as much. They believed in working as much as possible. That’s why when we escaped the floods we wanted to find a place to rest and just be.” Nana explained. “But let me get back to my story kids! So one day when I was young my mom went to clean and on her break we went all the way up to the top of the building to one of the apartments in the sky and spent the night there and watched the stars all night.”
“You did?!” the kids were in awe.
“We did! My auntie brought me to the back of the building and I went up with her and waited for her break. When I found out that in some places you could see the stars every night like that, I knew I wanted to find a new place to live, where I could lay out and see the stars every night just like that. That’s how I knew when we got here that this was the right place.” Nana put her hands under the quilt to signal the story was done.
The kids clamored for more, “what did you see?” said Deshauntae.
“What was the apartment like?” said Akilah.
“Now, now kids, its time for my nap, and your nap and I think the baby’s too.” Nana said, winking at me.
The kids got up and hugged me on their way to the nap time with the other teachers.
I got up to give Nana a hug and she squeezed my shoulders. I asked her a question I’ve always wanted to ask after hearing this story.
“Nana, do you ever wish you could go back? To rebuild?”
“Oh honey, no, I tell the stories for kids but the reality was much more brutal. Cleaning offices and homes, running from pillar to post, Black people being killed all over. You know that.”
“I know. But sometimes it sounds so fantastical, even seeing some of the photographs, it is hard to believe that we used to live like that and now we have fewer choices and smaller.”
“It was like a nightmare we couldn’t wake up from, even when we were living it honey. We never had time to sleep. I am so thankful that now we have built something small enough to last for a little. We didn’t think we needed a lot, just a place where everyone knew they could be supported and loved on, especially those carrying the next generation like you.”
“Yes, because Black women used to die in childbirth all the time?”
“Yes, they did, my mother almost died giving birth to me. You know the story. I think that baby is coming tonight, so you should go and rest up. You’ve been waiting long enough to meet them. I love you honey.”
I gave her a hug and started back to the house thinking about the memories my great grandmother and grandmother have shared with me in the past. The terror of being a Black woman in that past society lives with me. Some of our story writers, guardians compare this time to the time post-enslavement when so many Black folks put ads in the news papers and walked from state to state, plantation to plantation, looking for the families they were forced to leave behind, only this time the force was not just white people, but like the entire planet was trying to expel us.
Listening to Nana’s story also made me think about our village and how it began. When the waters began to rise, so many people started to move and find new places to live because the country was vast and settlements sprung up in places formerly considered undesirable, they used to call it “flyover country.” This settlement was one of the cooler places to live because it was in what was left of the mountains on the east coast. We did not know it was the beginning of the end when it started, at least that’s how Nana always told the story. Climate change had decimated all the cities we Black folks lived and loved in, until a group of us decided to leave and find a new place to live. Hurricanes got bigger and destroyed city after city on the coast, leaving them inhospitable, scattering folks over and over. Tornadoes blew down buildings and tore through the Midwest, leaving Gary, Milwaukee, Chicago, KC and STL in shambles. Brooklyn and lower Manhattan were soon under water. Us Black folks joked around like we usually do that we were next, but as my mama used to say, the job of the living is to keep living, so we did.
Maybe because my baby is almost here I feel like I’m traveling back in my mind, thinking about the things that brought me/us to this point. The waiting is weighing on me. I feel like I’ve been pregnant forever. I lay down on my bed and it feels like only a few minutes have passed when I hear a bell, it is my partner Yahya. He has been working on the community farm, where we grow so much of our food. The sun has turned him a golden brown. I get up to answer the door and grab his hands. I glance at the clock, I’d been sleep for two hours!
“How is my babay????” he croons.
“I’m good, just woke up!” I reply.
He makes his way into the room and pulls flowers from the garden and strawberry ice cream from behind his back.
“Thanks baby” I smile. “Let me get some bowls.”
“have you been to exercise class?” Yahya asks, eyebrows raised.
“Yes …” I stop short, my belly clenches, but deeper, harder than the Braxton hicks and I feel liquid begin leaking out, “I AM……I AM….”
“Is it time?” Yahya’s face is so excited, his smile is so big. I feel tears pop into my own eyes, I push the button on the kitchen counter and hear the bell chime again, this time with a different tune.
A few seconds pass after the chimes ring and I hear the commotion in the hallway. Yahya stands behind me and I am leaning over the sink in the bathroom swaying.
Nabilah and June walk in and even though I can see them, I can feel their presence. They are the birthing attendants and they’ve been waiting for the baby to come for a couple of days. Usually, the robots assist us with everyday tasks as needed. All are equipped with blood pressure monitors, testing for urine samples and all the accoutrements of a midwife, but when people get close to giving birth you are assigned two attendants to help you through the process.
“This is great Shaquan” Nabilah whispers. “just sway and dance just like we practiced. The baby will dance its way down, I promise.”
June pats Yahya’s shoulder and they switch places. June helps me to the glider and they check my blood pressure and vital signs and the baby’s too.
“Everything checks out. We will stay close in the next room. We will keep an ear out.” Nabilah says and they turn to leave us alone for a little.
Yahya turns on our song and we sway through the contractions.
“do you remember the day I arrived.” Yahya says.
I nod and he continues. He is telling the story for me, but also to distract me from the pain I am guessing. It is working.
Time seems to go slowly. I am breathing, deliberately and the pain is moving throughout my body but increasing slowly like someone is methodically turning a dial on the stove.
“My family and I heard about Violet, but didn’t believe it existed.” Yahya begins. “We had a home in Brooklyn before the water began to fill the streets. My mom held me in her arms and walked to the edge of the city to be picked up by her family.” He said. “Then we drove, passing abandoned cities, and small towns, but nobody friendly. She said they didn’t know what was next then they saw your Nana by the side of the road.”
“My Nana was truly an OG.” I laughed, but then the pain stopped the laugh from coming out fully so it ended up sounding like a croak. Yahya changed positions, pulling me into him and rubbing my shoulders.
“what do you know about an OG? You grew up in the woods.”
“I know, I know. We ain’t even country like my mama was, what are we now?”
“I don’t know, something else, something else.” Yahya whispers. “Can you believe this will be the first generation of my family born here?”
I didn’t realize he was crying until that moment because the contractions are coming faster, harder to breathe between, somehow Nabilah knows, I see her materialize behind the door and I hear the sound of running water.
“It’s time.” She says and gently leads me to the pool. And she puts a small device on the back of my neck to help me with the pain of the final part of the birthing process. It feels like a pressure and a light entering my body at the same time. I step into the pool and I feel the baby moving down inside of me in waves that push down and then bounce back up before moving down again. The pain is lessened by the implant, but still there letting me know when to stop and how to push through. June is guiding me and I feel the ecstasy of the final push. It is a relief to feel the body whoosh out of me and I feel myself sinking into Yahya’s arms. They pick me up and hold us both and gather us back to the other room to rest. The tea and blankets are already waiting. I feel encircled by warmth.
The baby is in my arms and Nabilah begins to speak to it the words that we always speak upon birth to every new little one that comes.
“We came to this place when were broken, but unbowed. We came to this place not knowing the taste of freedom. And the land showed us a way to live on into the future. We tasted freedom for the first time on our lips. We came and built a free life, a place of belonging and a place for tomorrow. Welcome to your new home.”
“What do you plan to call them?” June asked.
Yahya smiled at me and as I was drifting off I whispered “Destiny.”
Illustration by Cassandra Orion
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!Support Raising Mothers