Contending with the violent history surrounding Black wombs as I await fatherhood
I’m afraid because history suggests I need be.
Editor’s Note: April is Black Women’s History Month. Throughout this month, Black Youth Project is celebrating Black women. This month is also National Minority Health Month, Autism Awareness Month, Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month. We are interested in publishing works that address these topics and the things surrounding them.
by Donnie Moreland
My father calls. I answer and we exchange pleasantries. He asks how I am. I tell him that I am doing well. “Taking it day by day,” I respond. He asks if I’m nervous. “Preparing, more than anything,” I say. He finally asks how she is doing. “She’s doing great,” I exclaim.
We exchange goodbye’s, well wishes and our affections, before I hang up the phone with the knowledge that I’ve lied to my father again, his inquiry into my state of affairs having to do with prospective fatherhood.
I reflect, and in truth, consults with our primary obstetrician suggest that I am an honest reporter of our affairs. There is nothing to suspect concern, enough for me to hang my hat on, in anticipation of delivery. My baby is healthy. Active, if anything. My partner, the “she” to whom my father is referring, can attest to such detail. My partner is readying her plans for a “post-baby body,” as she’d proclaim, all the while reconciling the remains of her fears, in preparation of motherhood.
Needless to say, her adjustment to such a condition feels akin more so to mastery than compromise. She’s learned much, not just about being with child, but about her own existence and what that means with, and despite, our proximity to a new life which is ours, exclusively, to bear responsibility. I, in meditation of my partner’s transformative experience in pregnancy, contend that maybe I haven’t been deceiving the man, after all. We may just be well.
But then I think to all that can occur in that delivery room and I am, again, overcome with fright. I’m afraid. I can phrase it no simpler. I’m afraid, less for the life of the woman who will be and more for the woman who is and I pray remains. History against us, I know well the wars against the wombs of our own, and it is that with which I am burdened. I’m haunted by the memories, archived, of Black folk who’ve witnessed their daughters, sisters, wives, partners and loved ones enter a delivery room, alive, and depart, carried away in body bags. None of it dignified, yet and still it is tradition. A tradition that is unearthed to be more about value, and violence, than any matter medical, as we so often contribute to this very real, very global pandemic.
The Womb and Meaning
I do believe that when we discuss the bodies of the enslaved, that in searching for meaning we apply to their limbs, organs, blood, bone and tissue, associations that serve our purposes in proper literary, and philosophical, burial. My ancestors were not born, they were produced in conditions of fear and pestilence. They were bred to serve both the bellies of the gluttons and perversions of the sadists. They were never, nor were we, intended to be counted. Their bodies, tools for capitol and nothing else. Bodies notated, legally, as property, of the estate and of the State.
This was true of the womb as well. Birth denotes choice. The womb was that which belonged, not of the womb-bearer, nor their body, but of the plantation. The womb bore no meaning, but of supply and production. The body, encasing the womb, expendable, certainly if the womb was diseased, defiled — unfit for the bearing of offspring. If the body were to expire, during childbirth, it were valued as damaged imported goods may be valued — less so, depending on the import.
The womb, here, is also conditional. The condition being that a womb is that which belongs to any persons with the genetic propensity to bear children. These persons, of our ancestry, were not human, other than to the associations of eyes inconsequential to the State. Thus, we are pained with the evidence of formlessness, in reconciling death and birth, death in birth.
Humanity, of the enslaved, is something which is ontological. A question of existence, being. And in the case of the enslaved, we are reconciling the absence of existence, the absence of being. These beings did not exist, as we were not intended to exist, thus offering a revelatory detail about a history of violence, noted, insultingly, as medical mystery.
Violence by any other name
The problem of the Global enslavement of African, and African Diasporic peoples, is the issues of concession and language. Neither the State nor the descendants of the genocidaires, save a minority, refuse to acknowledge the comprehensivity of the institution for which they have, and still, profit. This means that the bodies of descendants, in relationship to the State, and the State, in relationship to the body, bear meanings similar to that which were present at the time when the conditions of humanity were negotiated solely by the State and when the consequences of such negotiation befell solely the bodies of the enslaved.
That medical professionals on a global scale are, within my lifetime, beginning to investigate the consequences of providing care to African, African American and African Diasporic peoples within a framework based in the claim “Black bodies do not feel pain” means that, since Slavery, despite its end date(s), the legacy of violence, in institution and of State, have undoubtedly prevailed. Post-Slavery self-making, or the construction of performative behavior in response to the end of Slavery, for all involved, is ethical, if and only if the conditions of being are properly negotiated. There is no evidence of this, if trauma-informed perinatal care is rarely mentioned in relationship to the relative death rates of Black people during labor, around the world.
To suggest that the genetic legacies of four hundred years, sometimes longer, of forced breeding, sexual exploitation, forced starvation and bodily terror all experienced in constant, never ending, duress, is inconsequential to the body, post Slavery, is in fact an act of violence. This presumes that the Black body cannot sustain trauma or that trauma is inconsequential to this body, suggests that our bodies are akin more to a machine than of a functioning human being. This, an all too familiar misappropriation of our relationship to subjugation. If our bodies do not meet the conditions of human, then we do not exist as such. We cannot be counted, still. Death, a liability only to the proficiencies of hands which aim, not to heal, but to get it right, à la J. Marion Sims.
I’m aware that there are responsibilities for which I share, in practicing, to ensure the bodily, contextually reproductive, care of my partner. Communicating sexual histories, negotiating the terms of relational consent, honoring sexual trauma, contributing to an environment of bodily safety, prenatal support and so forth. I learned this all from my father. The one I actively lie to as I assure him that I am of no concern related to delivery.
But I am afraid. Afraid that I’ll lose the woman I love and who reciprocates with boundless adoration. I’m afraid because history suggests I need be, despite all I’ve attempted, to provide ease. As we arrive to term, I believe it’s time I were honest.
Donnie Denkins Moreland Jr is a Minnesota based youth violence prevention educator and writer. Donnie holds a Master’s Degree, in Film Studies, from National University and a Bachelor’s Degree, in Sociology, from Prairie View A&M University. Donnie has contributed to Black Youth Project, A Gathering of the Tribes and Sage Group Publishing.