In 2014, I spent six weeks in Trinidad and Tobago. It’s easy not to feel pain when the ocean crashes outside your window, when you visit waterfalls regularly, when you’re eating fresh mangoes off the trees. I returned to the U.S. on July 30—pretty broke, kinda hungry, but still sun-kissed and smiling. I arrived in my apartment August 2 and stayed hidden for a few days longer, trying to hold on to all the good feelings.
On August 9 I heard the story of a child who was killed by a police officer. As I sat in this bed where pain was born, it all came rushing back.
I had terminated a pregnancy on May 10, 2014. It was the day before Mother’s Day.
Before and after, as someone who once regularly attempted suicide, I wondered who was I to take this life. Some other part of me remains grateful that I had that choice. I felt oddly privileged to end that life before someone else did. Black Death was very visible in 2014, and my limited resources—both economically and emotionally—surely didn’t give me hope. My dear sista-friend, who gave birth just 13 days after my due date, told me, “A mother’s first instinct is to protect her child. That is what you did.”
“she’s been dead so long / closed in silence so long / she doesn’t know the sound / of her own voice / her infinite beauty” —ntozake shange
The day after my abortion, I was ecstatic. Despite having to be home alone while my partner went to visit his dying grandfather, I was on high: playing puzzle games, eating junk food, singing to myself. Days later, I tried to get up to go to a dance rehearsal, and suddenly I couldn’t move.
In the months after my abortion, my relationship was a roller coaster. Everyone made it clear how “lucky” I was to make the choice WITH my partner, but no one told us how to be with each other afterward.
It took two months after our return to the country, to our bed, for my breath not to halt when my partner touched me. In the moment I allowed that touch, my heart rate increased and crying followed. It was that heaving, disgusting, snot everywhere kind of bawling. And I had no idea why. I have long known depression, but panic attacks were new to me. It was an indescribable feeling of a once-dancing body left frozen.
My lifelong passion of dance seemed impossible because this body felt so foreign. Things I knew of me were fragmented memories since becoming and unbecoming mother. The once passionate joy of movement had become immensely painful. I stopped going to rehearsals, told folks I was taking a break from performing, tried to move as little as possible for fear of what might be released. Did you know that your muscles, blood, and bones carry memories?
A mother’s first instinct is to protect her child. That is what you did.
In the first weeks of my pregnancy, I felt the strongest urges to kill myself that I had over known. I wanted to rip me apart. I almost rolled myself into the Patuxent River. I had vivid, tortuous dreams of painful, suffering deaths. It felt like a choice between lives—mine or our child’s. I chose mine. For years, I felt like I made the wrong decision. Like I would rather be the one to go. Like the world could do without me.
Some moments my womb ached. It was the emptiest of feelings, the deepest of longings. In these moments, I would curl up as small as possible and hope to disappear. This body betrayal had taken away every pleasure I had ever known. Dance. Sex. Performance. I was constantly asking, begging for healing spaces like Trinidad and Tobago.
I threw myself into all the work PURPOSE Productions could get while wanting desperately to talk about the pain—sharing stories on social media of blood memory, trauma, the debilitating sorrow that can overtake us all. What I did not talk about was my own pain, memories, trauma, my own debilitating sorrow that was engulfing me.
In all the layers of Black womanhood—from stereotype to humanity—I could no longer find myself. I did not feel my strong, sassy Sapphire, ready to tell any and everyone how I really feel. No matter how many babies I cared for and hugged, I felt like a mediocre Mammy. I couldn’t even make myself into a Jezebel-like sex object anymore. Any notion of nuanced humanity was lost in the emptiness. It seemed as if every idea of me was washed away by more tears and all I could do was burrow into the silence.
“I wish to live because life has within it that which is good, that which is beautiful, and that which is love…Moreover, because this is so, I wish others to live for generations and generations and generations.” —Lorraine Hansberry
It took me 25 years to question my lifelong desire for death. It would take five more years for me to discover the desire to live.
In 2015, I cried in the audience of performance work I co-created. In 2016, I spent a week in Colombia hoping to find some joy in this foreign body. In 2017, there were glimpses of light as I took members of the PURPOSE Productions team on our first annual visioning retreat. In 2018, I returned to Trinindad and Tobago to marry my partner on May 10 and 11—the anniversary of my abortion and my first Mother’s Day. This April, I danced on a stage.
There are still moments when that empty, achy longing fills my abdomen. There is still a chance I might cry during sex or have a panic attack in performance. This May, I was not sad on Mother’s Day but wept days later.
Through all of this, I am crystal clear that my abortion was exactly what needed to happen. Without a safe and affordable abortion, I might not have invested in trainings and retreats to support the love and liberation practices of the PURPOSE Productions team. I might not understand that PURPOSE is capable of and committed to mothering. I might not have explored my own pleasure, fallen in love with a woman, and dove into polyamory. I might not have risen on my 30th birthday excited to be a better friend, a more open lover, a boss who cares about humanity. I might not have been ready to celebrate being alive.
My abortion taught me how to dream, how to love, and how to live. Last week, my godson, born 13 days after my due date, said to me, “I missed you forever,” and hugged me with all his might.
How did he know just how much of me I too had missed?
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741 in the United States to reach Crisis Text Line.
mater mea believes it is a woman’s right to choose what does or doesn’t happen to her body. If you agree, please consider making a donation to organizations like Sister Song, The Yellowhammer Fund, and the National Network of Abortion Funds that are working hard to make sure abortion continues to be legal, affordable, and safe.