For Margaret Garner…and the many unknowns…


Margaret Garner, February, 1856

Sometimes I feel like I’m the Receiver , and history- past and present- is the Giver.

The more I learn + the more I experience= the more I understand=the more I grow.

When I first read the book Beloved by Toni Morrison, I was amazed.  The work was brilliant.  It introduced me to intricacies of slavery that I had known, in theory, but hadn’t thought about practically.  I witnessed the slave family struggle to form and then struggle to stay in tact.  I witnessed the black male slave’s attempt to be his family’s direction and security, all while battling his reality of inferiority to a white master whom his family, and even he, actually depended on.  I saw the slave woman harden to the point of insanity after succumbing to the wiles of compassion and motherhood, and I observed how all of this divided them from their children.  I had been enlightened.

When I read it a second  time, I had trained as a birth and labor doula and had become a wife, so family had begun to mean something different–something deeper–something tangible.  Watching my husband search for work and be told he was too qualified for low level positions, but not qualified enough for higher positions, I sympathized with Halle’s frustration but inability to provide though he desperately wanted to.  Finding work quickly and thus becoming the security of my family, I understood Sethe’s self reliant-driven actions, but I could only sympathize with her and Baby Suggs’ ordeals as mothers.  As a Black mother’s child myself though, I also understood how the residual affects of slavery drove Sethe to drive her children from her, though it was not her intent.

I attempted to read Beloved a third time while I was pregnant, but I didn’t finish and so I figured the book and I had gotten all we could from each other.

Fast forward: my son is born.  As a first time parent, there is no one and nothing able to prepare you for the changes you are about to undergo.  In the beginning you’re tired, frustrated comparing your new life and new experiences to advice from “the books” and the advice from others around you.

How do I breastfeed?  Am I doing it right?

Should we “co-sleep” or “train” our baby to sleep on his own?

Is it possible to hold him too much?  Will that spoil him?

How do we balance providing for him and getting time for ourselves too?

Should I console his every cry or is he trying to control me?

Is it okay to leave him with someone?  Am I “acting funny” if I don’t?

I struggled with these thoughts, questions and ideas for three months, and I was unsure until I began to read Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington.

The first chapter detailing medical exploitation on slave plantations opens with the quote: “Celia’s child, about four months old, died last Saturday the 12th.  This is two negroes and three horses I have lost this year.“–David Gavin, 1855

I read that quote and looked at Sammy and thought about how much that baby must have meant to Celia; how she had probably smiled at, kissed on, held up, and loved on (or at least desired to) that baby just as I do Sammy.  I put myself in her world for a moment and the thought of losing Sammy in any way hurt–just the thought.  I could only imagine my baby leaving this world and tearing me apart but still somehow, amidst all of my grief, my anguish and my sorrow, to my “master” nothing more had happened than the loss of a horse…or any piece of livestock…

And then I thought of Sethe…

I thought of how she was determined to be a mother; to love her children…about how Baby Suggs had advised her against it because of the heartbreak she’d endured when she’d tried to love her own; only to watch them ripped from her, like puppies, and sold to the highest bidder.

I thought about Sethe’s determination to keep her children for herself: how hard she had struggled and the lengths through which she had gone to do so and how, in the end, out of 4, she was still only left with one of them.

I looked at my baby and I empathized with Sethe.  Yesterday, I was her.  I was overworked, underpaid, and deprived of most of my time with the people I loved, and who needed me most.  Today, where far more black babies die than any others do, she is me.  She is overworked, underpaid, and deprived of most of her time with the people she loves, and who need her most. The only difference is that she set her mind to hold her babies because she couldn’t.  In that moment, I set my mind to hold my baby because I can.

I breastfeed according to the needs of my baby.

We “co-sleep” because we don’t feel comfortable with our child sleeping off in another room on his own.

We enjoy holding him as much as he enjoys being held.  Will it “spoil” him?  I don’t think so, but I guess we’ll see. 

We find ways to take time for ourselves that involves him too, and so far nap times have made the best getaways.

If my baby cries I’m coming because even if he wants nothing more than my attention, he’s crying for a reason.

He’s only 3 months so he’s not down with being away from mommy and daddy that being the case, I don’t like to leave him either.

But that’s just me.

We have our own parent personalities and those are formed based on what we value and what we believe.  I have no desire to dictate to another parent what they should do, or how they should interact with their children, I only wish to share my testimony based on what I now realize I value and what I understand myself to believe.

Though Beloved is a work of fiction, it is historically based on Margaret Garner, Toni Morrison’s inspiration from Sethe.  Morrison learned Garner’s story and was moved to write Beloved.  I read Beloved and was moved to write this.  I have Received the Memory of motherhood under European chattel enslavement now.  Toni Morrison Gave it to me and maybe one day this will Give it to you.