An Indigenous Healing Story.
Happy Mother’s Day to those who choose to receive the greeting. I know that for many, today is deeply painful and I acknowledge that. It might be that your mother harmed you, or that you wanted to be a mother and could not be one, or that you feel incompetent as a mother. Whatever it is, good, or bad, we all needed to be nurtured by that ideal Wonderful Mother. I was most fortunate to have an amazing mother but experienced great disappointment when I could not birth children. Today, I take a break from the work of Racial Peace-Building and share with you a very intimate aspect of my life.
After I had settled into my professional life, I got married and we tried to make babies.
Over the years of not fitting in and striving to find my place in this world, my body was speaking to me, but I did not know how to listen. I started having female health issues and ultimately went into a clinical depression. However, I did not know it. I put on my mask every day and went to work and tried to do the best I could. I thought I was smart enough to figure it out on my own.
Whenever I would have a chance, once a year or so, to go to my favorite place on the planet, a beautiful beach, I would lay on the hot sand wondering, “Is this it? Is this really living? What else is there?” Had my life come down to this? Did I work that hard to just do this? Lie on the beach for a few days and go back to working around the clock like a crazy person? Work was everything to me. Yet I felt empty. Then a series of problems started.
I took hit after hit: Multiple failed relationships. Not fitting in socially. Not finding my own community. My church went through a major crisis, and I was impacted negatively. My father passed away. Miscarriage. More health issues. More failed friendships. Then my mother passed away. Miscarriage. I had to close out my law practice due to the bad economy. Another miscarriage. Then my mother-in-law committed suicide. I had more health issues. Legal issues. Financial issues. Professional issues.
Each New Year’s Day, I vowed that I would have a good year, I would be happier, I would exercise more, and I would make more money and have a better life. And the next New Year’s Day would roll around and I would reflect on the past year and wonder how one human being could take so many hits.
For over a decade, each year recorded a death, a loss, a painful transition that I did not understand. A devoted Christian, I felt God hated me. I wondered if God even knew I existed. I wondered if my atheist father was right after all, that God did not exist and was a figment of the imagination.
This is not the life I came to live in this country. This was not the American dream. This was empty. It was void. I could not figure out what could fill that void. I prayed and prayed, and the emptiness was still there. I thought I could fill it by being a powerful businesswoman. I was not powerful. I could only get my business to about 80%. I thought I could fill it by being a loving wife. That did not work out. I thought I could fill it by being a mother. My body failed me there. Multiple times.
Several years later, when I was in a smoother phase of life, an older precious gentleman friend of mine, Dr. Adetokunbo Lucas, came to town. He lovingly demanded to see me as he had not seen me in several years and knew that I had gone through some tough times. Over dinner, we talked about some major life hits I had taken since the last time he saw me. We spent two hours detailing these experiences and he focused on comforting me and stitching me together mentally and emotionally.
My friend and I have known each other for many years and now, he was in his late eighties. He was considered one of the world’s foremost authority on Tropical Diseases. He visited the United States periodically for work at the CDC and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He had worked at the World Health Organization in Geneva and was a Professor of International Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. He was a distinguished and accomplished man of science.
After the lovely dinner, I escorted him to his room at a swank downtown Atlanta hotel. Dr. Lucas had awful cataracts and would not have them removed until he finished writing his memoir because he feared becoming blind because of the surgery. He wore glasses that magnified his eyes a hundred times, it seemed like.
As we walked the long hallway to his hotel room, my arm in his arm to give him some support as his steps were somewhat wobbly, we continued our conversation from dinner. He asked me if I had any regrets as I was now in seminary and I loved every moment of it.
After a long pause, I said, “Yes, I only have one regret. I did not get to have any children. I really wanted to be a mom.”
He stopped abruptly, under a hotel chandelier of a thousand lights. He turned to look at me and pulled away from my arm. I let go and turned to look at him, and after a long pause, he said these unforgettable words, “Don’t you remember? Iyabo, don’t you remember?” His glasses, reflecting the lights above his head, danced as they magnified his eyes with solemnity. “You do remember, don’t you, dear one?”
Puzzled, I took a step back and then he grabbed both my hands in his, not letting me run away from Truth. I said, “Remember what, sir?” I respectfully paid deference to his age as I assumed he was talking about something that had nothing to do with anything.
He whispered, “Don’t you remember that you told your children not to come? Don’t you remember that you told them that you loved them so much you did not want them to come? You did not want them to come because this world is too wicked. You did not want them to experience any pain.”
My brow deepened into a frown as I did not fully understand what he was saying. Why were we whispering secrets in a hotel hallway?
His voice softened, and gently yet passionately, said, “You made the choice to protect them. You told them not to come. Don’t you see? You are the best mother in the world.”
I was transported to another space and time. I imagined four little babies and me telling them, “The world is too wicked. I do not want you to experience any pain. Don’t come. I love you too much to see you suffer.” I imagined what that would have felt like to utter those words. My chest swelled with emotion, my eyes with tears, as I tried to comprehend what my precious friend was telling me.
Still trying to understand this otherworldly conversation, I shook my head in confusion. My old friend said, “This is how the Yoruba treat women who do not bear children and because you made the ‘choice’ to not have children, you are not only the best mother in the world, but you become the mother of all the children. You have the most children of all women because you love children more than anyone else.”
We resumed our walk down the hallway in silence as I fought back tears. At his door, he patted me on the back, gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. He was so frail, I wondered if I would ever see him again. I took deep breaths and pulled those tears back. We said our goodbyes. The affection in my eyes conveyed all my gratitude for his healing words.
I walked back to the elevator alone and saw a two-seater sofa in the hallway, I sat down heavily in it and wondered what just happened. I experienced cognitive dissonance. Dr. Lucas was a man of science, not given to sentiment. Yet, I knew his words were powerful as they touched a place in me that I had never explored.
Now, the tears flowed freely. I cried tears that I did not know existed within me. The depth of those tears was profound. My cells wept. My grief wept. Even my womb wept. I felt angelic presences around me, and I tasted my tears knowing that the extra saltiness was regret leaving my body.
It was only for a few minutes but when I was done, I was done. When I got up, I straightened my skirt out, took a deep breath, stood tall, and felt a wave of pride come over me. “I am a wonderful mother,” I muttered under my breath. “I’ve got lots of babies!”
By the time I got to my car, I had a smile on my lips.
I was a mother to all the children. All of them.
From that day forward, I never felt a void again about not having children. Somehow, I felt the distinctive resonance of “Truth” in my old friend’s statement, and I knew that my not having kids although I wanted them was not a mistake or even a defining factor in my life.
The story from my Yoruba culture healed my heart, my soul, and the emptiness of my womb. It is a mystery to me. But it was a powerful healing experience. It resolved many things about my identity for me.
That was the last time I saw my precious friend, Dr. Lucas. He died a few years later. He gave me one of the most significant gifts I have ever received in my lifetime. He helped me access a wholeness that I had forgotten was within me.
There is healing wisdom in our indigenous traditions. I am deeply grateful for my access to such a framework and I offer it to those who need it today.
Dear Reader, do leave a comment. What made you come alive with this story?