Because we are free women.
born of free women,
who are born of free women,
back as time begins,
we celebrate your freedom.
Because we are wise women,
born of wise women,
who are born of wise women,
we celebrate your wisdom.
Because we are strong women,
born of strong women,
who are born of strong women,
we celebrate your strength.
Because we are magical women,
born of magical women,
who are born of magical women,
we celebrate your magic…
We are here to speak your names…
– Pearl Cleage, “We Are Here To Speak Your Names”
Last weekend the seed of a dream I planted about three years ago grew its first sprouts. One early spring day I was sitting outside with my son who was three-years-old at the time, thinking about what I was going to do when he started school that coming fall. I knew I wanted to do something different (most of my work experience has been in education), something I would enjoy, and it had to be something that was beneficial to others. I was looking back over the last few years since my son’s birth when I began to think about a dear friend who had helped me transition to motherhood by volunteering to be my doula.
A doula is an expectant and postpartum mother’s helper. A doula typically works with a woman throughout her pregnancy, during the birth, and into the first few weeks of her postpartum stage. My friend and doula helped me in many ways: going to childbirth classes with me, sharing pregnancy-related information, taking me to run errands, calling to check on me, and sometimes just hanging out to talk. Her help was especially important after I had my son: she cooked dinners and helped with laundry and dishes so I could get more rest. My fondest memory of that time though is the night she came over with movies and take-out while my husband was away. It felt so good to do something normal at a time when nothing felt normal for me. Her presence alone soothed my new mother anxieties and made me feel more confident in my capabilities.
I had a difficult adjustment to motherhood. Before he arrived, I had only imagined gazing adoringly at my son, kissing his little feet and touching his tiny fingers, listening to the whoomp whoomp whoomp of his heartbeat that now existed outside my body. I didn’t know our bond might not be so instant, that I might view him as a stranger, that I might not even recognize my own self or surroundings anymore. I felt in those first few days…well, like an alien. I remember standing in the kitchen thinking, what goes on in here again? There was a moment of inaction and confusion when I heard my son’s cries and whimpers before I was reminded, Oh, that cry is for me. It was like a new ringtone on my phone, I had to hear it a few times before I realized where it was coming from.
Last weekend I completed a forty-hour intensive training to become a doula. The instructor, a nurse midwife, has a holistic approach to birth work. At our first training session, our instructor asked us to introduce ourselves by giving our names and then the names of our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, etc. as far back as we could remember. It was a reminder that we are here today because of the nurturing of the women who came before us, that we are a continuation of a tradition that goes back to the very beginnings of humankind.
At our next session, together we read Pearl Cleage’s poem “We Speak Your Names,” and shared with the group the female ancestor who most inspired us to become doulas. For me, that person is my mother. My mother had post-partum depression after she had me and never really recovered. She had a nervous breakdown when I was two-years-old and suffered manic episodes throughout my childhood that forced her to be hospitalized.
I know from what family members have told me that she was under a lot of stress from her marriage and her mother at the time and I often wonder how things might have turned out differently if she had more support. What if she had a doula? What if she had someone there to see the warning signs and help her get the help she needed? What if she had someone who was there just for her, to take care of her and make sure she was well? What if she just needed someone to mother her?
I’m excited at the opportunity to work with new and expectant mothers and their families. I know from my own experience and from the stories many other mothers share that we do often need help or at least a little reassurance. We need to know that we are not alone in these awkward or scary feelings we have and that we have someone we can turn to. I hope to be that source of support for those mothers who need it.
I already know if my mom were here now she’d be just as excited as I am. She was always my cheerleader and number one biggest fan. She was always the one who was there for me no matter what. I want to give to others what she gave to me and what my friend and doula provided for me: non-judgmental care and support.
We are here to speak your names…
because of the way you made for us. Because of the prayers you prayed for us.
We are the ones you conjured up, hoping we would have strength enough,
and discipline enough, and talent enough, and nerve enough to step into the light
when it turned in our direction, and just smile awhile.
We are the ones you hoped would make you proud because all of our hard work
makes all of yours part of something better, truer, deeper. Something that lights
the way ahead like a lamp unto our feet, as steady as the unforgettable beat of our collective heart.
We speak your names.
We speak your names.
Read more by Ambata, here.
Ambata Kazi-Nance is a writer and teacher living in her hometown New Orleans, LA with her husband and son. She is a member of the Melanated Writers Collective, a group for writers of color in New Orleans. She writes for Azizah magazine and Grow Mama Grow, an online community for Muslim mothers. Her short story “Rahma” was recently published in Mixed Company, a collection of fiction and visual art by women of color in New Orleans.