I can recall the first time I ever heard the word doula. It was during TLC's A Baby Story, the narrator was explaining how the mother had a postpartum doula there to care for her and assist with questions in caring for the baby. I was obsessed with that show during my first two pregnancies. Although, I thought it was nice that this mother was able to have this type of support; I also remembered thinking that if I needed one my doctor would have mentioned this as an option and that this was probably a luxury not to be considered by students. Years later, I would learn that I was wrong about both assumptions.
Nonetheless, I caught glimpses of the word doula "woman caregiver" in action through the roles of other mothers, daughters, and sisters that I knew and loved. As a young new expectant mother, I knew that childbirth education class and a few books had only scratched the surface of what we would need to know in the days to come. I held in my heart ever so closely the wisdom that many mothers had journeyed this path before me and I trusted God to deliver me. It was in the middle of the night and we had been walking for hours throughout the hospital in the small town of Hannibal, Missouri. Unknown to us at the time, Kevin had broke his ankle during the seasons first basketball game and he didn't moan once as we slow danced in the hallways with each contraction. We were tired, but labor was steadily making progress and becoming more intense. Sherri Thomas (The coaches wife) looked like an angel walking into that room. A mother of two had come to do what others have done for centuries; simply hold space. She held my hand, she quietly observed and we talked. When the moment came for her to get her little ones off to school and herself to work; she left with a promise to return later. In the days to follow, Sherri coordinated home cooked meals to be brought to us. Coach Thomas and Sherri showed us so much loving guidance and support while we were away from our family.
Years later when we were preparing to give birth to our middle daughter we were surprisingly shocked with all the procedural differences between hospitals. I assumed that most hospitals allowed you to walk the halls to labor naturally. I assumed only monitoring would be necessary if something was wrong. We were home in the big city of Dallas, Tx and our expectations of how we would be able to move was totally thwarted. "You MUST remain on the bed." the labor and delivery nurse ordered. Our mother June and Kevin's sister Alicia were both there for support, but we felt completely blindsided by rejection of each request. What I would discover later, was that we were like most unsuspecting parents who had become entangled in maneuvering an unfamiliar system. Days later still confused, but grateful for holding a healthy baby; I made a promise to share how important it is to know your provider and the policies where they attend.
As family and friends began to plan their pregnancies, give birth and have questions about breastfeeding; I would listen and share for hours. It felt like I was gifting back all the motherhood basics that had been sweetly poured into me over the years. A few years after our third daughters birth, a training showed up on my feed. It was divine timing. I wanted more women to know that every family deserved a doula. Regardless of social economic status, student, age, race, religion, or sexual orientation; every family, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicines' joint statement says this about the effects of labor support “Increasing women’s access to nonmedical interventions during labor, such as continuous labor and delivery support, also has been shown to reduce cesarean birth rates.” As a trained labor doula, I have learned so much in assisting mothers and their families. Each birth so uniquely intertwined with a new lesson and wisdom gained. Our mission is to continue to educate, support, and encourage families to advocate for their choices confidently. This walk feels like an extraordinary life full of witnessing miracles, holding sacred space and reminding mothers of how powerfully amazing they truly are. May we all feel a sense of honor, joy and pride with the path we choose.
I have always considered myself blessed for being super sensitive to what was going on with my body. It was no surprise to me when I recognized early on that we had conceived our second child. I was so elated! Perfect timing I thought. It was just weeks after our daughter Lauren's birthday. I could hardly hold my excitement. Maybe this one will be a boy. I hope he looks like his handsome daddy. Maybe this one will look a little like the both of us. What will his personality be like? Lauren will be so happy to have a little one to play with. Thought after thought looming in my head about this sweet addition, but there was one thought I didn't want to consider. Although this pregnancy was only my second, I couldn't shake the feeling that something felt different, maybe even wrong. There was a pronounced pressure that I didn't feel with the previous pregnancy in the beginning and there was a painful side ache. "Push that one thought away." I'd say. All is well. The doctor will confirm very soon.
The day we went to our first OB visit I was a nervous wreck. I didn't particularly feel comfortable with obstetricians due to a past experience and I wasn't quite sure what to expect other than confirmation. I was so glad that Kevin was able to join me for this appointment, The providers' office was crowded. Several beautiful pronounced bellies in the room; I smiled happily with the vision that I would look like that again soon. We were called back shortly after, I was led to the patient restroom for a urine sample while Kevin was placed in the exam room where I would join him. The nurse returned with the result that the pregnancy test was positive and after asking a few questions she placed us in the ultrasound room for our first sonogram. Nervous yet excited, I held my breath as she slid the lubricant and sonogram wand across my belly. Measurements and clicks, image after image. She was looking for something. "Honey, are you sure about your last period date?" she asked. Regular every month with the exception of that car wreck my sophomore year in high school and when I was stressed the month I came home to work while Kevin was on the road for basketball in college. "Yes, I'm sure." I replied. "Okay, wait here. The doctor will be in to see you soon."
The doctor came in, introduced himself and sat down in the stool beside the exam table just before grabbing the sonogram wand. He studied the monitor for a bit before saying, "Uh huh, well according to your last period you should be approximately 8 weeks, but these measurements are only showing 6 weeks. Right here you have a cyst that's quite large which is causing your discomfort. Go ahead and get dressed and I'll meet you in my office." he said. That was it, as quickly as he had came in, he was on his way back out. "Okay, so I'm not as far as they thought I was. That's fine. This happened with Lauren too. We had three doctors during that pregnancy. One in Illinois, one in Texas and one in Missouri. We were also given three different due dates." I reassured myself and Kevin. We were led down the hall to his office. He was already sitting behind the desk when we came in. "Have a seat, please." With a thoughtful pause, he began. "It appears that you've miscarried.?" A lump was in my throat and I couldn't swallow. "Wait. What?" I thought, "How can you be so sure?" He answered without hearing the words part my lips. "Your measurements should be further along. We'll have you return for blood work to check if your HCG levels decrease. Miscarriages in the first trimester are more typical which is why many delay in sharing the news with loved ones. I'm more concerned about the cyst that you've developed. They'll have you come back to start the blood test this week." He walked us to the check out desk. I stood there in shock. He handed our paperwork over to the assistant and continued talking. "If you don't spontaneously abort on your own once we confirm with the test, we'll schedule a D&C(dilation and curettage). Then we can discuss surgery for your cyst." I looked around to see who had heard, just in time to meet the eyes of a female patient being brought back who mirrored the same irritation for the doctors failed sensitivity.
The ride home was a blur. I didn't want to cry. I didn't believe him. He was an idiot. He can't be right. I did the only thing I knew to do, I prayed. I cried and begged God for a miracle. Please prove him wrong and make him feel as small as I had felt standing at that check out desk. I didn't want to tell anyone who didn't already know. I didn't want to talk about it. I just wanted to be. The journey to his office days later was guided with prayer for favorable results and the strength to see those bellies without a heavy heart. Despite the lack of manners he showed, I was grateful for his staff that quickly took me back for the blood test and held my gaze with eyes that said you will be okay. Each day that I held our baby in my womb felt in some way like a victory and a chance. When the nurse called to inform me that the levels were low, my heart ached. I wanted to scream, but I didn't feel it would do one bit of good. The doctors' looming threat of a D&C being the next step was now ever present. My prayer changed. "Please God, don't let him be the one to take our baby from me. I don't think I can bear having that procedure. Please allow my body to release this precious little one from me." I prayed that prayer over and over again. It was all I could think about. Within a day or so the stomach cramps began to slowly give way to my womb releasing the youngest Akana. It was just days before Christmas and although I could hardly stand the thought of moving among crowds; the excitement of the happiest two year old I knew would not be thwarted. I packed super heavy pads and rode the electric cart when necessary with little cares of stares that wondered why a seemingly healthy woman would need to be in one. I'd get exhausted like I had worked out all day, being mindful to heed the nurses warning about what would be defined as too much bleeding. For several days I released the remnants of our second child. I knew better than to ask, but I couldn't help myself. "Why did this have to happen?" I struggled to overstand. I looked for the good in a plan that was not my own. Here was an early gift; a prayer answered from a procedure that I would not have to endure. The holiday season busy with family to surround and moments to focus on everything else.
"How are you doing?" my husband would ask. "I'm doing okay." I would answer. I was thankful that he was sensitive enough to ask often, although I didn't quite even know how to answer that question. I'm supposed to be okay, right? This is typical for mothers in their first trimester. My mind repeated it again and again like a recording. I can try again. The baby was only 6 weeks and at least I wasn't that far along. I tried to negotiate all the reasons why I shouldn't feel as empty as I did. Why I couldn't and wouldn't talk about the heavy grief I was experiencing despite the fact that I never even felt a flutter. A hope, a dream, empty arms, and a yearn to nurse, cuddle and soothe a baby was all I could think of. Yet I couldn't find the words to share them with my love. The grief would be pushed down and held close.
Years later, a dear sister friend that I was getting to know would experience early labor. Her dear son would transition, much to young to survive his early arrival. Days later as she began to heal, she called on her community to gather in her home to call on the name of her son and bless his journey back to the realm of the ancestors. As she recalled her last moments with him, the sisters that gathered cried with her and held her. We brought food, gifts and stories of our shared experience. There was a sacred ritual, libations poured and prayers lifted. Later her husband and brothers in the community drummed, we danced, we laughed and we sang. It was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I gave thanks and prayed for more women to receive supportive healing such as this.
While attending the labor doula training later that year, I began hearing woman after woman openly share referring to their miscarriages and stillbirths as "angel babies". When it was my turn to introduce myself I sat for what seemed like an eternity. SAY IT! "I am Talita. I have 3 daughters and one angel baby." The tears fell, but not from a place of hurt and regret. I finally felt a sense of peace, gratefulness, and the angel that had blessed my womb ever so briefly was included in my introduction. I felt a sense of love and appreciation from that angel that thought I had forgotten him. All those years and I had never fully acknowledged this brief life and its' profound effect on our life.
I now consider this when holding space with a dear mother in the midst of her grief for the transition of her angel.
I'm grateful to know that one of many reasons we exist in this creation is to grow, move and shift through transitions and life experiences such as these. When we go through it and come out on the other side, sharing our journey has the power to heal and impact in such profound ways. When we hold on to these emotions or close ourselves off from receiving the lesson (which is a blessing); that comes with its own afflictions of dis ease. Allow the sharing of your transitions and loves to propel you into the beautiful transformation you are here to experience.
With all love.
“Look after your sister, Tee.” June, our mother would say every day when she would leave for work or when we would venture out to play. I took my role as her big sister to heart. Although she would do all the bratty things that little sisters are known to do such as wear my clothes and then push them to the bottom of the dirty clothes hamper when she knew Iwas looking for them, lose every earring she touched or tell if I wouldn’t let her tag along;she was an answer to my prayers.
Months after our mothers’ transition and my big sister guidance had begun to work her very last good nerve. “Well, did you remember to call about this?” I asked again. “Did you take care of that paperwork that you were suppose to turn in?” It was non-stop and I now felt responsible for pulling double duty as her big sister and her mom. One day she let me know that enough was enough. “Just be my sister, dang!” she said. I could hear her frustration through the phone “What do you mean? I am your sister.” I argued, half knowing she was right. “No! You act like you’re my mom and you’re suffocating me. Just let me live!” Her words cut through me and as much as I wanted to argue my important role in her life I knew that she was right. What I perceived as help was only hurting her. It was her life and as much as I thought I knew all the best things for her; I didn’t. As painful as it was to hear, I felt a weight lift and a new freedom to be what we both had longed for from one another. My assignment of Look After Her; became Look In to her. I was to look into my sister and see what I would want for me. For the saying is true; we are a divine reflection of one another. I know that it was not easy for her to say, but through her strength our relationship began to flourish. Here is what we learned.
Listen: It’s one of the best things we can do for one another. Simply listen.Sometimes we just want to know you are there to listen. Put down your phone, I pad or kindle. Stop watching the television, staring at your computer or reading a book. If she is talking, give her your undivided attention. My sister and I would walk together often with trees, fellow outdoor enthusiast and bugs as our only distraction. We’d have so many conversations on my favorite trail, but often it was the things we didn’t need to say that made our time together special.
Don’t try to make decisions for her. This will fail each and every time. If you’re privy to know what is going on and she reaches out to you for advice; simply reviewing her choices, talking it out and encouraging her to meditate/pray may possibly be all that she needs. Maybe assisting her with finding resources is the best help for the situation. Either way your ability to be there for her will be what matters most.
Check on her. Call her. Visit her. Many of us have forgotten the value of hearing one another talk open and honestly. In this digital age sending, receiving and quickly replying to text make us feel somewhat connected. Unfortunately what we’re not receiving is the importance of hearing a pause, a break or even laughter. Taking a moment to give real face time to one another can be healing for both.
Reassure her that you are there for her,even when you don’t always knowexactly how she needs you. Let’s face it although we’re sisters, we don’t always fully get one another. Different life experiences, lessons along the way and input from othershave all had a profound impact on how we view this life. Attempting to believe we know exactly what another needs often causes further frustration and tension on both sides. Your reassurance through listening and honoring her path with loving intention will create the space for even more trust and loveto grow.
Schedule a Sister day! Take a day, days or even several hours to honor a special moment with her to share how much you care. No big production is necessary unless the two, three or four of you want it to be. A walk on your favorite trail, a movie day in pajamas or game night always helps to put what we perceive to be complex back to being simple and sweet.
Life is full of different shifts, transformation and life lessons that broaden the way we relate to those we hold dear. To have the types of relationships we desire requires time, love and effort. Knowing that we can create the loving relationships by giving the kind of loving carethat we ourselves want to receive. I’m grateful for the relationship that blossomed over the years between my sister and I. Our transformation and love for each other throughout the years created a desire to be of loving support to others that stretched beyond us. I've learned so much from her and I'm sure she learned a few things from me. It is our hope that you allow your love to expand for your sister or sisters too.
Emma Jean Jackson is one of the most loving beings I have ever had the pleasure of learning from. Growing up under her care was an absolute joy for me. She is my grandmother and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her and smile when I see her picture. When I was a young girl, it was her shadow I preferred to stay near. Each morning I would rise out of bed early to the smell of bacon sizzling in the skillet, coffee brewed, eggs to cook and grits bubbling on the back burner. “Good morning Big Mama.” I’d say with a kiss on her cheek. She always smelled so good. Not the kind of good like Saks Fifth Avenue perfume, but the good that speaks I’m familiar to what comforts and console you. Like I’ve held you close to my heart for years and you’ll long to smell me when I’m gone good. Scanning the living room, I could tell that as usual she had been up for hours. The washing machine was running, the dryer was buzzing and a clean load was already folded on the table. The living room had been tidied and dinner was being prepared to be put in the oven. I would ask her over twenty questions in the first hour of being awake, I was known to be quite the chatterbox. “How did you get the icing to look like that?” I asked. “Why did you put that in the beans?” She was always patient and would answer my questions. It was as if I was interviewing my favorite superstar and she was. This woman appeared larger than life to me when I was a child. Sewing, cleaning, along with running a thriving laundry service from their home kept her plenty busy. Years later when her husband, our grandfather was severely injured and burned in an explosion at work, she nursed him back to health while still maintaining a home and raising their children.
Emma Jean was known to many as an amazing cook. She prepared three cooked meals everyday with desserts made from scratch to drool over. No one would leave her home without a full belly and their hearts warmed by her love. It has been over 20 years since she was called home and those who knew her still talk about her pound cakes and her kind ways.
Of all her talents, the one that impacted me the most was her loving skills that she used when caring for my hair. It was her that I preferred above all others to care for my crown. Regardless of the time it required, patience and all the physical strength needed she was the only one who never complained. She made me feel special and in that moment I wasn’t made to feel bad because someone had to do my hair. “Did you have fun at Grand mama Richardson’s?” she asked. I forgot about the comb and nodded my head yes as she ran the hot comb down my strands of sandy red hair. “Tee-Tee, keep yo’ head still. Answer with your mouth or this hot comb will burn your scalp.” She warned. Even if I nodded off to sleep, I was always in awe of how she’d finish and have my hair perfectly laid when I woke. Magic!
Long before I was born, when storms would come we were told how her sisters and brothers would pack up their families leaving their solid brick homes to be with her and her family in their tiny house. Even as a child I overstood why they would come. Her walk. Her talk. Her love. It was everything and it gave a sense of peace and shelter. I could go on and on telling you how wonderful my memories are of her. She lived a full life creating, sharing, praying, caring and most of all giving unconditional love and acceptance to everyone. She was an amazing example of a Virtuous woman. I am proud to be one of many grand children who loved her dearly. I'm grateful that I was her first grand daughter and that she didn't tell me how to treat others she simply lived the example. We all have the power to touch people in such profound ways. Being our greatest version allows others to appreciate and love the realness of who we are. Whether you're a mother, father, Big Mama or Big Daddy just know that their are little ones watching and you have the power to choose how they'll remember you.
Peace and Light!
I’ll never claim to be the one who offers the best advice, but I’m glad to make myself available when dear ones callto talk. I hardly question why they chose to call, but if I had to guess I’d say because I listen. Or maybe it’s because I would share a perspective that was thought provoking. If nothing else, I believe there was a trust that they could count on of honesty beyond surface talk about what I reallythought even if it hurt. I could listen, share and respect whatever they decided. Once upon I time, I thought I knew exactly what to say and when to say it. Thank goodness that with age comes wisdom. If by sharing this difficult conversation I can prevent just one being from inserting foot in mouth or hurting another mother then the moment it takes to write this will not ever be in vain. It’s a conversation that was had between a loved one and myselfmany moons ago.
My phone rang one evening just as I was putting away folded laundry. Although I considered myself extremely close to the person on the other end, we rarely had conversations via telephone. “How are you sweetie?” I asked. “I’m doing good. How are you?” she responded. “Nothing much lately, just busy with work and these girls;you know the usual. What’s going on with you?” I said. I had a feeling she wasn’t calling just for the usual update. “Well….” Long pause. She hesitated to say, but finally mustered up the strength. “I’m pregnant.” The words echoed in my mind and I sat there searching for what to say next. Uncomfortable, dead silence was my initial response. Finally it was broken with the usual stall for more timewith another question. “Really?” I asked. She wasn’t the type to play practical jokes and even though I asked I already knew. “Yes. I am.”, she said. I had so many emotions flooding my head and unfortunately none of what would have comforted her in that moment came forward. All the reasons why I thought she shouldn’t be in this “situation” came pouring from my mouth. “By who? Why? You know I work at the clinic! I could have helped you get on birth control. Why didn’t you come to me before getting involved with him like that?” I asked. She could barely answer without another question being asked, as if being interrogated by the pregnancy police.
“What do you plan to do?” more questions. She had probably not been asked this question by anyone else. Perhaps everyone else she had called was thrilled and showered her with congratulations as she expected me to do as well. I was one of the first she had called and I needed her to know that I could be bias enough to share other options with her. Have you considered an abortion? There, I said it. “No, I’m going to keep it.” she said. Oh my goodness! I thought. Are you kidding me? This girl can barely remember to put the milk back in the fridge and now she’s going to be responsible for a real life human being?! “Parenting is hard work and being a single mother is even harder. Are you sure you’re ready for this?” I warned. “I know.” she said with all the courage her heart could convey. Hearing the sweet break in her voice and knowing that perhaps she had given this some deep thought before sharing, I decided to let it go for now. “I love you and I’m here if you need anything.” I said.
We hung up the phone and I just sat there. My heart was heavy as I thought about all the changes this precious one would now face as she embarked on this new journey. Part of me grieved the innocence of the sweet little girl that I wasn’t ready to see grow up and be called someone’s mother. Then I begin to think about all the women in our family who thrived as mothers’ and how as a village we had always supported and loved each other through moments such as this. She didn’t call me for the tongue lashing that I had given her or to question her abilities to fulfill this newest endeavor. I was to be part of the welcoming committee into this sacred circle called Motherhood. I now knew that she needed me to listen. To ask her how I could help or perhaps ask if she needed anything. To reassure her that as I had always been and even more so now; here for her. She needed me to add the endearing sentiment of I love you. I wished like possibly the others, I shared an enthusiastic- “Congratulations!”
Many years have past since that conversation and today I am grateful every time I see her holding, kissing, making silly faces and talking to her little one. I’m grateful that she didn’t’ for a moments notice listen to possibly the worst advice I had ever given. She probably still leaves the milk on the kitchen counter and looses her keys weekly, but she is one of the absolute best mother’s that I’ve had the pleasure of watching grow!
Regardless of age or social status if someone you know shares with you the news of being pregnant; love them, encourage them and most of all support them. Your words will remain with them long after appointments have been set or diapers have been purchased, so choose them wisely. There is an abundance of information and resources available to assist you or the pregnant mother. Should they need doula support in the Dallas Fort Worth and surrounding area, we would be so grateful if you felt inspired to share our contact information.
Peace and Love.
Some would say that I totally flipped my lifestyle upside down and for the most part I would agree with them. It wasn’t some fad thing or a phase, but like many others who have had similar health issues; I had to make some serious health choices that would impact in healing conditions that I once had and did not want to EVER have again. The path to this discovery had been laid in what seemed like phases that I will some day share, but for now just know that it was worth the amazing journey. An unnecessary surgery I discovered much later, left me in the same position and now I was trying to remain optimistic although I felt as though I had been deceived. His exact words to my husband and I, “Without this surgery, it’s possible that you could have an episode so painful that you could die.” Death. I had eaten so much fast, greasy, fried foods that now my gall bladder had stones that was causing me excruciating pain. Eliminations were usually accompanied by sharp gas pains and what I had now began calling “angry poo”. Something was going on with my body and to say I didn’t have a clue as to how to get this train back on the track was an understatement. I had purchased so many books over the years on diet and nutrition, even believed I knew how to discuss the topic briefly with women who would come for well woman exams. It wasn’t until a friend allowed me to read her copy of Queen Afua’s book Sacred Woman: A guide to healing the feminine body, mind, and spirit. This book offered so much guidance and was so critical in providing much needed insight to my healing. She mentioned oppressed foods like the processed, fast foods, dairy, coffee/caffeine that I had come to enjoy so much, but was causing confusion, low energy, deficient, stagnation and resentment in my life. I had heard “let thy food be thy medicine” and she was clearly laying out by each vital food the power that it held. I knew that I could no longer provide any excuses for all the health issues that I had caused by each numbed bite. Praying over food that I began to know was not providing nourishment to my body. I began to take a closer look. I didn’t go on a search asking whether my family members had suffered such challenges, so that I could have the excuse that this was hereditary. All of the things I felt; my moods and pains were all a direct result from the food that I was putting in my mouth. There. I said it. I was to blame for everything that I had done to cause every surgical cut, tumor, stone and toxic emotion.
She was one of THE Most impactful speakers I had ever heard. Queen Afua walked down each aisle and when she neared me I couldn’t help, but notice how strong and fit her small-framed body was. I wouldn’t have known she was the age of my mother had it not been for her sons that were close to my age. She did yoga; her flexibility, stern posture and ease in how she moved impressed me. “JUNK FOOD!” She yelled. “It’s either Junk or it’s Food, there’s no such thing as junk food!”. She past out small white plastic cups with greens that I smelled being pushed through the juice extractor as I arrived. “You won’t like this at first, but keep drinking and soon your body will crave it.” I tossed it back, not terrible. “They’re called Chemical Chefs” she said, “they put chemicals on your food that keep you craving the foods devoid of nutrients.” I thought of my daughters and my husband. I felt responsible for their health, for they trusted me to purchase food that was good for their body. I had been failing miserably but knew that I could re-learn how to give our family the best. Soon I was staying up well past putting the daughters to bed to watch food documentaries like Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead. Many of these documentary’s revealed proof about how generationally food is changing, the severe impact and how we can empower ourselves with every bite. It’s nearing six years that I’ve been on this journey to wellness. It is by far one of the best things I have ever done for my family and I. I have learned from many of the stumbling blocks that I encountered in the beginning. I no longer feel the need to be “preachy” about my choices, but give clear facts about why a plant-based diet provides optimal health for me(and many others;)). I don’t try to strong arm anyone including my family into eating like me, I recognize that every body has different needs and everyone will come to overstand what is best for them in their own time. I simply hold space and place for those who are interested in knowing what has helped me and I am grateful to still be here to share.
Do you know your neighbor? What is your neighbors’ name? If you heard shouting or screaming or even worse thought that someone was hurting them would you call or reach out to help? What if you knew that by doing one of these things it would save a life? Do you love your neighbor?
It’s evening time, the sun is about to set and despite the long ride home due to traffic; his day was really uneventful. He walks inside, kicks off his shoes and proceeds to the kitchen to put away the few items he had just purchased at the grocery store. As much as he wanted to sit and relax, he decides against the delay in making dinner. He hears the voices of a man and woman having a heated argument in the apartment next door. The only thing separating these two rooms; his kitchen cabinet and two pieces of thin sheet rock. He attempts not to be nosey, but the shouts are getting louder. He begins to remind himself yet again why he chose to live here instead of rooming with his forgetful brother. The one who always “forgets” to pay his portion of all the bills. The shouts turn into what he knows to be a scuffle. His inner child returns to vivid moments where he hid in fear of his own mothers’ torment. A glance toward the countertop where his cell phone was placed as he tries to decide what to do next. Do you call the police? Do you walk the few steps to the neighbors and make sure everyone is all right? Or should he follow the warning from his step dad who always shouted at him to, “mind your own damn business!” Unable to decide what to do; he stands still for a moment. Sounds pretty bad. This is a family matter. I shouldn’t intrude. It would be rude, right? Maybe even awkward afterwards, because they’ll think I’m a nosey busy body. They aren’t really THAT loud, these walls are just thin. He begins to justify. He proceeds with dinner putting 5 items for his one pot recipe together and then into the oven. When the timer goes off, he’ll be ready to watch his favorite game show. He hears the neighbors’ door open quickly and thinks for a moment that maybe the other decides to leave, but no. The fighting continues and then as suddenly as it began, it stops. Good, he sighs in relief.
I wonder what those two could have been fighting about. They seem so quiet and usually stay to themselves. I’m sure it was over something so small and they’ll be laughing about it someday soon. Dinner's almost ready to come out of the oven when he hears the sound of sirens getting closer. He sees the lights outside his window and thinks someone else must have been concerned about the noise too. He peaks out the window just in time to see the man next door being placed in the back seat of the car. Onlookers were being pushed back as the police placed yellow tape near his door that followed the driveway toward the end of the street. What in the world has happened? The neighbor placed in the patrol car was bloody, but seemed unharmed. He must have hurt her pretty bad he thought. He steps outside where the other neighbors have gathered. “Excuse me.” the policeman approaches him. “Do you live here?” he asked. “Yes. How can I help you?” he responds. “Have you been in your home this evening?” the officer continued. “Yes sir, I have.” he answers. “Did you hear anything? While we were in the apartment next door, we could hear your television clearly, so surely you must have heard something. We’d like to know what you heard.” The officer waits for his response. “Is she okay?” he asked. “No sir, she is not okay. She is dead. Murdered.” Just moments ago he couldn’t decide whether to call and now this? He feels as if he cannot move his legs, stomach drops and his mouth for the moment will not move. What do you mean murdered? He thinks, but cannot say. The only neighbor who would make a point to always smile and speak. “Why in the world would he do that?” he manages to say out loud. “She was so kind.” “Did you know the deceased?” asked the officer. “Never met her formally, but when I moved in a few weeks ago she helped me carry my couch in when at least 5 other dudes were in the area and not one offered to give me a hand. She was surprisingly strong too.” I know she told me her name, but I’ve been in my own world since I got here. “So what did you hear?” he asked again. “I heard them arguing pretty loud, but I honestly didn’t listen to what was being said.” he answered. “So you just heard them arguing? Could you not hear or tell that there was a physical altercation so badly leading to ones’ death taking place within a few feet of where you stood? Only a piece of sheetrock that separated you from the next room of your “kind” neighbor.” The officer was upset and understandably frustrated.
He stood there unable to convince himself or anyone else that during those moments he felt justified in his reason for staying out of it. The many incidents his very own mother had survived her abuser, he never once thought that it could lead to her death. Now this woman was gone, because he too was taught like others to stay out. Could this have been prevented? Why did neighbors feel defenseless in helping another? Her life was violently taken while others too felt disempowered to step in and help.
This is a short story loosely based on a neighbor that lived near our sister. Unfortunately, similar versions can be heard or felt daily by witnesses, families and those whose lives are cut short due to violence in their homes. Days after her life was taken, I stood among the neighbors who came together for a candlelight vigil they organized on her behalf and encouraged her neighbors to remember my sister if they ever heard another person being harmed. A knock on the door, or a 9-1-1 call can save a life. Should you decide to do something, the life you save; someone loves.
I’m a good listener. In fact, many will tell you that I am a great listener. It’s one of many traits that we believe is necessary when you want to assist women and their families the way that we do. Just a few weeks ago, I was counting on the listening skills of another sister doula about website challenges and delays. She heard my frustration about the site not going as I had hoped it would. How “I NEED this…and I REALLY need that….”. All this venting and blaming I was doing was getting me nowhere. She stated simply, “Start now. Improve later.” It doesn’t have to be perfect right now, but as you continue to work at it things will get better. One late evening with all the tinkering, and making this better, I inadvertently hit the wrong button and poof! Just like that. ALL the work that had been put into the site was gone. I tried everything to restore it. Log out. Log back in. Refresh, but nothing. I sat there, so frustrated and distraught. Why now? I cried. I had a feeling that all was not lost, but it was another delay. I knew that there would be some tech hero and/or she-ro out there that would swoop in to save the day. I just needed that brief moment to release what I knew would someday be easier, but today these tears needed to fall. They needed to fall because I knew. I knew that this was a part of the process of learning many new things and maybe even meeting new people; though truth be told I wanted it to happen today, the day I deemed ready. After a hug and sincere encouraging words from three beautiful beings my husband Kevin, the sweet baby in his arms Zion (our niece) and youngest daughter Talia who all entered moments after the tears. “It’s okay. Everything is going to be alright.” they soothed. I collected myself, laptop back in lap, went to the support room and sent a chat asking for assistance. By 9:30 the next morning, the site was back on the page and I was ready to put in more work. The Sister doula, Freya could be heard encouraging me on “Start Now. Improve Later.” This saying can be applied to so many areas in your life dear sister. If you are going through any challenge and want to move forward, I encourage you to Start Now and Improve Later. With every effort you put toward doing that which is your desire, dream, vision or mode of service just start. You will gain the support, love and encouragement from so many around you (seen and unseen) who have been supporting you many times without your awareness. You are so loved! There is absolutely nothing you can’t accomplish if you just put an effort, love and faith into. Whenever you feel doubt in caring for your health, your children, your finances, your spiritual growth, your career, your marriage, your relationships, your self-care…. just remember “START NOW. IMPROVE LATER.” Peace, love and light.
Love Talita Akana is a wife, mother, sister, and a friend. Over the years, she has shared guidance from the lessons she has learned. Grateful to be a vessel to assist others as a source of inspiration to touch another with what they learned to grow on their journey. This is Love.