This is a guest post from educator and writer Dena Simmons. Her bio can be found after the jump. Trigger warning.
I started to bleed the same day I found out my mother has tumors in her uterus. I bleed each month, my body’s reminder that I am a woman, that some day I will bear children. This month, like every month for the past sixteen years of my menstruation, I allow blood to flow through my vagina; I allow another child-to-be to pass through me, but today, I bleed after learning my mother’s uterus has failed her. My mother bled for an entire year before she went to the doctor, before she learned that she must undergo examinations and procedures to find out why her uterus bled mercilessly for so long, and I bleed today while my mother’s womb is ill.
My mother first bled when she was six years old when her older male cousin, seventeen at the time, tricked her. My mother, neglected by her own mother, was happy to have someone pay attention to her; so, she followed her cousin willingly under a house. There, he ripped off her panties and forced himself on her, leaving her there, six years old and bleeding with a vagina that beat like a broken heart. And, as violently as my mother’s awakening of her womanhood began, it shall end.
I lived with my twin sister in my mother’s womb for eighth months. My older sister lived there too, and my twin brothers who never made it past a month on earth lived there too. And, now, my mother’s uterus, the place where my sisters and I became people, will be ripped out of her body. Her womb has been weakened by the many years of oppression, pain, and stress my mother hid within her and from us so that she could be a pillar for her family of all women, my two sisters and me.
Typical of my mother, her womb is yet another sacrifice she’s made, ironically, in the sake of motherhood. To protect our family from falling apart, to keep her daughters safe and happy, my mother carried the weight of the world in her womb. She shielded us from the drugs, the bad influences, the gang-banging of our neighborhood in the Bronx, the killings, the systemic injustice. She made us believe we had everything we needed even in our one-bedroom apartment in the impoverished Bronx.
I often wonder how my mother did it, how she came here alone from Antigua at eighteen years old, how she found her way, how she raised three children as a single mother in the Bronx, how she handles racism as a Black, immigrant woman, how she watches one of her daughters, who is chronically ill, suffer daily, and how she makes it all look so easy. In my mother’s true spirit, her response to learning about the faith of her womb was “if I were in Antigua, I would have been dead by now.” But, my mother is not dead. She seems to be as happy and alive as ever. Seems. My mother is a mother first, after all. She will smile when she’s hurt, tell a lie to keep my sisters and me from pain, and hide the ugliness of the world from us no matter the cost. These are the sacrifices our mothers make. These are the secrets our mothers keep.
Dena Simmons is a doctoral student in the Health Education program at Columbia University, Teachers College. Prior to her doctoral studies, Dena served as a middle school teacher in the South Bronx and was profiled for her teaching in Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists. She finds power and healing in her writing.