I was in my room when I lived uptown in the Bronx. My pen hit the paper furiously, trying to keep up with a stream of images and information about belly casts. That’s my answer when I’m asked how These Waters Run Deep came about. I received the message about my project towards the end of 2010. I would meditate daily speaking and connecting to the Universe. It was in these sessions that I got the idea for the project. I would see images of the belly cast flicker in my mind. I remember my talks with Lizzy and speaking to her about our respective healing paths and projects. What drives me to do birthing work and art is my own journey with my mother in this world.
Because of her spiritual/mental illness, I never really had her. Part of me does feel guilty, as though I am being arrogant or too unyielding with my convictions. At the end of the day, I cannot compromise myself, my spirit or health for someone I’ve never had. Someone who does not love who I am becoming. I know my mother loves me, and I will always love her. Yet the ache for a physical nurturing parent is there. I realized on this journey that my mother was also shortchanged and never learned how to nurture and be present for herself, much less my siblings and I. Because I acutely understand and see myself in others, my work is to help other children come into the world with mothers committed to their healing and dedicated to breaking cycles of violence and abuse. So that I can help others feel less alone, so they don’t have to feel what I do. This ache of loss and deep primordial desire for my Mami.
It’s a complete loss that I don’t know how to stop grieving. It never goes away. It is this deep void that I am learning how to fill. I resent being told that it will work one day. Perhaps it will. It would take a lot for them to accept me as I am. If they knew who I really am past their preconceived notions of me, they would not hesitate to call a priest and start a novena. They fear an in turn disapprove of everything about who I am. They were taught to be scared of a woman like me who lights candles for her ancestors. Of a woman who won’t claim Jesus as my lord and savior. Of a woman in touch with her sexuality. Of a woman who loves Africa. Of a woman who has the courage of her convictions.
My passion for birthing work comes from my sacred wound. Birthing heals me. It has helped me understand what I have lost so long ago. It has shown me how to get it back, or at the very least, the path. I have discovered that it is deeper than just my own family and mother. That a deeply sick community savagely ripped from their motherland centuries ago has not healed from the trauma. Serving mothers has healed me. I have become connected to a bigger sisterhood of women learning to mother themselves; this has given me access to learning how to mother myself. This softens the ache slowly but surely. Observing women and talking to them allows me to listen to me deeply; it has also expanded my capacity to forgive and have compassion for my mother’s way of being. That in the precarious situation that Afro-descendant people find themselves in, the healing work requires a collective effort to remember the pain and reclaim what has been stolen.
During my doula training, we did an exercise in which we drew and explored what we wanted to be and feel during our births. As a woman who has not physically given birth, it was wonderful to use art to delve into my subconscious emotions around birth. I later got the book, Birthing From Within, which takes a more mindful and holistic path to preparing for birthing through the use of art and deep reflection. It was reading this book that the idea of belly casting crept into my thoughts. This book made me ask questions around my fears of being a doula by posing the words, “What is it I need to know to give birth? Her answer must be found within, not give to her by an expert. Each mother needs to find her personal, heartfelt question.”
I then asked myself, “Am I strong enough? Do I know how to calm a mother down? Do I know how to calm myself down? Do I know enough? Am I good enough?” These questions helped me get to the root of my fears of being a doula and now a midwife. They made me think about my own estrangement from my mother, and the pain that causes me. The more I learn to mother myself, and find supportive people who nurture me, the more strength I gather from within myself. The belly cast and painting on them is a space of meditation for me. I let the images come to me. I mull them over. I write about my memories and my traumas, about my losses and deaths. I rejoice in the moments I have with the mothers who help me with this project of deep discovery and returning to my roots and strengthening them.
As an artist, the belly casts is only the beginning of the various mediums I am using to communicate a message of hope and healing. These Waters Run Deep aims to utilize the healing power of all art forms to raise awareness around everything having to do with birthing life, both in a figurative and literal sense. This project embodies a strong feminine energy and seeks to bring balance to a society and world still operating from a patriarchal ideology. From the teeming waters of our primordial mother to the waters from the womb of our human mothers, we are all familiar with the life force of water. The nurturing energy that comes with that comes with power strength and protection is essential for the health and wellness of all living things. Unfortunately, not all living things are afforded this healing and necessary presence.
Women of the African Diaspora have suffered greatly in the United States since their ancestors were enslaved, enduring the horrors of the African Holocaust, form the brutality and inhumane experience of the Middle Passage to the present day condition of African communities in this country and abroad. African woman do not have the same opportunities, resources or concern in the workplace, in public, media and especially in healthcare as their European-American counterparts. Often, we look to improve and continue to advance through future generations. How can our children and our children’s children hope to grow up and achieve if their health is compromised from the moment their conception? The state of maternal and infant health in our present day American society is heartbreaking. Women of color have the highest rate of maternal deaths, with a high infant mortality rate poor infant and maternal health postpartum and lack of resources before, during and after that would contribute to making more informed decisions on birth, nutrition and beyond.
My belly cast project, then, is my call for the community to support its women in breaking the cycle of disenfranchised people who are still enslaved and mistreated by an entire system of oppression. It is in memory of those who came before me who were never given a chance. It is a statement – that we as a people and as birthing women are resilient and life giving in the midst of the death threatening to consume us. It is a call to everyone that in the depths of our souls and hearts, there is much to share, much to recover and much to claim as ours.