How I became a mother: ‘She wasn’t breathing, and I was oblivious’

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How I became a mother | Honeycomb Moms | My husband Paul Washington and I spend our first moments with daughter Journey in the neonatal intensive care unit at the St. Luke’s East Hospital in Lee’s Summit, Mo.

Honeycomb Moms is republishing this post, initially published on June 12, 2018 in honor of Black Maternal Health Week. Maternal mortality is still disproportionately affecting Black women, who are “three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women,” according to a recent news release from the White House.  Officials continued in the release:

“Tackling this crisis begins with understanding how institutional racism drives these high maternal mortality rates.  Studies show that Black women are often dismissed or ignored in hospitals and other health care settings, even as they suffer from severe injuries and pregnancy complications and ask for help.  Systemic inequities are also to blame.  When mothers do not have access to safe and stable housing before and after childbirth, they are at greater risk of falling ill.  When women face barriers traveling to the hospital for prenatal and postpartum checkups, they are less likely to remain healthy.  Air pollution, water pollution, and lead pipes can have dangerous consequences for pregnant women and newborns.  And when families cannot afford nutritious foods, they face worse health outcomes.”

Seven months before I became a mother, I was hosting a surprise party for my oldest sister, and something just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t the party. That was, of course, a hit. I pride myself on going overboard for all events I’m responsible for. I had been feeling a little off for a few days and just kept telling myself that it was because my period was coming.

At the party, I refused all alcoholic beverages and was apparently a bit sluggish, so on the ride home my then boyfriend of four years decided we should take a detour to the drugstore. He went inside to get a pregnancy test, and I insisted that he’d just wasted $15.

We arrived home and I went to bed. There was no urgency in taking the test, if I was pregnant that night I’d be pregnant in the morning.

The morning came, and you can guess what the test said.

Finding out I was pregnant

I cried. I’m a crier, so this was par for the course. Looking back, I don’t know whether I was scared, overwhelmed or excited, likely it was a little bit of everything.

The always calm, cool and collected father-to-be assured me that we would be good. We both had several years of experience working with children through the Kansas City Freedom Schools and as preschool teachers.

Of course, we knew a baby of our own would be very different, but at least we’d have a frame of reference. What I didn’t have a frame of reference for was how I would feel.

Pregnancy woes: Morning sickness and the like

First of all, morning sickness is no joke for the women in my family. I felt horrible. I talked to my mom and sisters, and they all confirmed that it was there to stay. As I’m sure most moms out there know, morning sickness is not just in the morning, and for me it was not just the first trimester. Nothing worked. I was sick, and it was going to be that way until baby entered the world.

Aside from the sickness, it was business as usual. I had just started a new job, and with the frequent trips to the bathroom, I had to disclose my pregnancy to my manager much sooner than I wanted to. Dealing with pregnancy and postpartum woes while working is a blog for another day. Thankfully, my manager (one of the few black women in leadership at the company during this time) allowed me the leeway that I needed to get through it all.

The fun part about being pregnant

Then, there was all the fun stuff that pregnancy brings. By month five, we were ready to know whether majority rules would fall in my favor. We hosted a gender reveal party. And although we would have been happy either way, finding out I was growing a baby girl in my expanding womb was a joyous moment.

For the Christmas season, baby inspired a new tradition with daddy-to be and I purchasing our first family ornament. Month eight brought the baby shower, and let’s just say my sisters pulled a page from my book. They hosted a white party (yes, it was the peak of winter) in my honor, with a menu that featured every Cajun/Creole dish imaginable. Next up was the maternity shoot, which brought out the procrastinator in me. I was convinced that I needed to reach maximum roundness, so the date was pushed further and further back, until time was up…

Early signs the baby was coming

It was the beginning of January, and I was in agonizing but in my mind, manageable pain. I left work early to go to the doctor. They sat me in a room, hooked me up to some machines and left. They came back and said there were no contractions, so I was free to go.

A couple of days passed, and the pain continued. Still, I just knew I was fine. Why would the doctor send me home if there was something wrong? My Valentine’s Day due date was more than a month away, so on the night of Jan. 7, my fiancé was out for his last boy’s night before children.

The only problem was I just couldn’t get to sleep. I called him, and we decided to go to the ER. The staff ran countless tests and after nearly four hours, decided to perform an ultrasound. I could see the urgency in the sonographer’s eyes as she left the room.

Childbirth had started, but Something was wrong

A doctor later came in and told me I had ovarian torsion. The blood flow was cut off, and I needed surgery to have the ovary removed immediately. I cried. I was not prepared for surgery while pregnant! When they further explained that surgery likely meant baby would be coming early, I panicked. There was more crying. So here I was, five weeks and two days ahead of my due date, about to be a mother.

Lying on a table in the cold, ultra-bright operating room should have been scary, but here I was facing the unknown scrolling through social media.

Journey Christine was delivered via cesarean section at 3:05 p.m. on Jan. 8, 2015. I still remember the song playing as they held her up for me to see. It was John Legend’s “You and I.” To this day, it is still fitting. She is my one and only girl.

Those first moments as a new mother

The first few moments were a blur for me, I was texting everyone to let them know she was here and didn’t notice the silence or that her dad was occupied with what the doctors were doing.

There were no cries. She wasn’t breathing, and I was oblivious. It’s a blessing that this is not how the story ends. Within minutes, she was crying, and her vitals were fine. She was, however, premature, so we had an intense road ahead of us. We spent 19 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before we could take her home.

To me, it felt like I truly entered motherhood on that 19th day. The journey wasn’t easy, but in life it’s the challenges that build your character. These challenges blessed me with Journey, and prepared me to be the mom that I am today to her and her brothers.

How I became a mother: 'She wasn’t breathing, and I was oblivious' | Honeycomb Moms
Jerusha Washington with daughter Journey | Family photo

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