ancient, birth, black mother, black woman, dance, family, fertile, fertile juju, fertility, freedom, future, healing, initiation, life, love, motherhood, mothers, new mommy writes, ovaries, radical, reproductive health, sanctuary, slavery, spirituality, vibration, white, womb, women
© 2016 Binahkaye Joy
This whole thing begins as a whisper. Months before my second born turns one I get instructions from spirit for what to do on his birthday: “Go to the water. Wear all white. Dance. Listen. Dance some more.” I do not know exactly why or what this is, but I know I have to make this moment happen. I also know that I have to configure this moment with my family; I have to get us all to the water.
The water, it turns out, is nearly six hundred miles away. The sea islands along the coast of South Carolina, known as the Gullah Islands, this is the water calling me by name. I have always wanted to return to Charleston and the Gullah Islands since first visiting there the summer before my senior year of high school. Then I was sixteen and had no language for what I was sensing in that space, but some unnamed resonance maintains its hold on me throughout the years.
It takes me the better part of two decades to get back to the region. In all that time I become woman, artist, mother. In place of the box braids that used to hang down my back is now a freshly shaved bald head. The pleasant and hilarious drama-filled bus of teenagers traveling through the South to learn history and culture has transformed. My crew is now our family of four in constant motion, breastfeeding one child and then the other, walking up and down train cars to entertain toddler people, and doing everything we can to reduce tantrums and increase interludes of silent content. The minutes of delay stretch into hours of delay. The sun gives up its need for the sky, commencing anyway to set somewhere between here and not yet there.
Still, Beaufort is another two hours away after we arrive at the station. Then the taxi to the airport, the pick up of the rental car, the installation of two carseats complete with requisite sleepy, hungry, cranky children in arms. In the darkness, we approach the ancient waters of Gullahland on winding roads held together by dense bands of splendid Spanish moss trees, their limbs outstretched in welcome, their grayish brown tendrils lowering softly to the ground.
As we cross the Harriet Tubman Memorial Bridge we penetrate something unseen, but something that is still thick and deep with memories. We have arrived. The salt in the air opens its mouth and swallows us in one swift breeze. Surrounded by an intricate network of waterways, an invisible power confirms everything: I got us to the water. Now what? Looking out over the bright, black sheen of the river I wonder what all is to come of this journey. What all have I given my yes to?
I wear white everyday. My initiation as a fertility juju priestess is self-guided, intuition-led. Everything is unscripted; I am feeling my way through. I have been wearing all white for almost four months now, and I still am discovering the layers of what this path, this work is. When people ask me why, I don’t have a set response. This is partly because I don’t know every reason why, and partly because I am sometimes reluctant to tell people what I do know about my journey so far. Even now, I am writing about just one side of this thing. There’s much more, of course.
Vibrational recovery. What’s that? So as a black woman in the United States of America, my whole existence here has primarily been shaped by survival and resistance. Encoded in my DNA are the stories of untold mothers who chose to give their yes to mothering under extreme conditions of violation, abuse, racism, bondage, displacement, torture, and sexual violence. Somewhere in my blood is a mother shackled to the bottom of a slave ship that last saw land on the coast of what is today Benin. She is almost choking to death on her vomit. Maggots from days-old feces crawl all over her body. The stench is suffocating, and little fresh air ever makes it this far down. Still, she knows the woman she has been chained beside for seven nights is dying, broken in some way beyond what sun, and water, and prayers could ever repair. This sister whose language she does not speak needs a song to travel peacefully from this realm. It’s the only thing she can do since she can’t actually hold her and comfort her with her own body. She would, after all, want a mother to at least offer a song if it were her own child—Uhhgggkkkkh!
Two separate phenomena have just collided in her mind and body. First, the piercing laughter of her abandoned children– two boys and a girl, who she last saw sitting at the feet of their grandmother, listening to one of her fantastical stories, before walking to the river to do the washing forty-four days ago– rises up unexpectedly from her bank of bittersweet, aural memories. How can joy be remembered at such a time? How could it ever be forgotten?
She has been afraid to stop counting the days because she is desperately fighting off the probable truth that she will never know what happened to her children, and they will never know what happened to their mother. She doesn’t know whether it is worse to hope that they are safe, however distraught over their mother being gone, with her family back home– Maybe with their father (but in her heart she knows that he has either died fighting the ones who invaded their land, or has been made a captive himself because word had long spread that the strongest among them were being sold first, and to their people, he was strength itself)– or that her children are somehow enduring the terror of a similar passage across the Atlantic, suffering on another boat that will miraculously deliver them all to the same destination to be reunited.
The second phenomenon is the sensation of some tiny vermin slithering into her ear just when she is opening her mouth to sing. It causes the sound to catch in her throat and finally dissolves what simple suppression she’s been able to manage over her bodily fluids. Everything comes up through her esophagus, and the first words of the sweet and mournful hymn her people sing when someone dies too young are smothered in excrement.
This mother who will soon discover a lifetime of chattel slavery— first for a few years in the sugar fields of Jamaica, and then permanently in the tobacco plantations of a place she and many of her descendants will come to know as North Carolina— is pregnant with her fourth child, a daughter who will one day be the mother of some relation many generations removed from me. She knows that as she is choking this is finally her way out of hell. She could just die here like the sister on her left who is no longer breathing, escape with her to the other side. But what of the near impossibility that she will find her children wherever they’re going to be? And what of this new child growing in her belly, this precious life that is her last connection to a place called home, and also to the man, her heart’s mate, who she built that home with?
There is more for me than this, she hears somewhere in her soul. Her moment of receptivity is a definite turning point for each of the two million eggs being formed in the ovaries of her unborn daughter, and subsequently for all the successive eggs that will be formed in every daughter of the future. Her refusal to succumb to the evils imposed on her by the ghost-faced demons whose breath and limp hair always stink of alcohol, smoke, urine, and spoiled meat, her decision to not rot here in the proof of her stolen humanity, her choice to not allow them to end her story in the bowels of this damned vessel—this next inhalation is the most courageous thing she thinks she’s ever done before now.
This is it. We are going to live. She arches her back, gags, coughs, spits, twists her head, and tilts her neck as best she can to clear her throat. Her whole being spasms as she fights for one more breath, and then for the one after that. The baby growing in her womb experiences the sudden turbulence as another part of her mother’s mystical galaxy, unaware that she has just been granted one more chance at life. I am able to be here, absolutely, because of that faraway mother’s choice to stay there. My breaths are extensions of her breaths, my yes, the long-awaited echo of her extraordinary yes hundreds of years ago.
As a black mother in this country the eggs in my ovaries have already overcome so much. This is why all of my children, and all black mothers’ children, are miracles. I am inundated daily with images and news that black children’s lives are not worthy of the highest protections, that their bodies can be assaulted and discarded by people in power who simply do not agree that their blackness should exist, that their hopes and optimism about tomorrow can be ignored or squashed altogether by a systemic violence that is at the core of America’s foundation. These realities are heartbreaking, and still, everyday, we have to mother on. Because of this, I, and other mothers like me, experience a unique and persistent phenomenon of stress. This stress affects everything about my life, and especially the reserve of reproductive matter housed in my ovaries.
A mother’s natural inclination is to protect her children, those who are here now and those still to come. Her brain is actually wired to do all she can to ensure the world is safe for her children as they explore it and discover their possibilities to experience, change, and create their best lives. These responsibilities are complicated and challenging already, and even harder to do when we see black children violently taken from us, their mothers. As black mothers in America, we have no assurances that our mothering rights will be respected simply because they are our human rights. In the beginning, our earliest interactions with this country were not as women, or even as mothers, but rather as nonconsensual sex breeders, as producers of a free labor force for land owners. Asserting any rights over our reproductive powers and our children has always been the seed of real revolution. The stress of fighting for our rights carries from generation to generation, from womb to womb.
I am also partnered with a beautiful black man who is the father of my children. He has his own bruises to bear from being a part of this American-by-way-of-Africa life (and his “by way of” is much more recent than mine; he was born on the continent). He has plenty of stuff to unravel, and process, and heal from too. Our union, however blessed, however necessary, is still often messy, strained, and full of impossible bridges we’ve yet to learn how to cross. The labor of having faith in each other and in our family process, of trying to build a life together, of practicing how to love even when you are more poor than rich, more worried than at peace— all of this contributes to stress in my body, stress in my ovaries.
I am the survivor of multiple pregnancy losses. Before my first son was born, I felt the beginning and ending of life many times. Hormonally, there are several viable theories about why I wasn’t making it past the first trimester. Stress plays a major role in how our reproductive hormones function. I was definitely under a lot of stress for many reasons, but stress alone was hard for me to accept. Women give birth during war, this we know. My own ancestors had babies snatched from them on auction blocks, never to be seen again, and then went on to have more healthy babies nine months later. Mothers birth through stress all the time.
Ultimately, I believe the why of it all is too much to dissect, and not truly possible to ever completely know. But there are pieces of knowing that have pierced through after so much birthing work through all my labors. There are things I know, and feel to be real in my womb, in my life. I am acting from this deep and spiritually vibrant space of knowing. The color white is vibrationally known to bring peaceful, calming energies. In the African Diaspora, many traditions employ white for sacred ceremonies, initiation practices, and religious services. Growing up in a black baptist church, we wore white for baptism, deaconesses and ushers wore white for communion. White also deflects negative energy from absorbing and taking over. As a healer, reproductive justice activist, and black woman mothering creative serving many communities, I encounter other people’s traumas daily. Often I am holding space for mothers and women in my circles and extended circles who are traversing horrific ordeals and trying their best to survive and create a happy life for themselves and their families. Holding this space for them is a part of my calling, I don’t doubt this. Still, the weight of all this work is very heavy, and it takes a definite toll on my spirit and my body.
I am wearing white to protect the vitality of my ovaries, to preserve the radiance of my eggs. This is a radical act of survival for myself and for the opportunity of life for each of my yet-born children. I believe that I have to be vocal about and visible in the work of preserving our rights to our humanity, especially as the descendant of centuries of black mothers who were denied the right to be human and to mother their babies in freedom.
As I navigate the complexities of my mothering work, partnership, priesthood, and creative practice, dressing in all white assists in the vibrational recovery of peace, love, abundance, wellness, and joy. I am already raising two black boy beams in this world. I have to operate from a space of authentic joy for them, and I have to continuously model strategies of resilience for the inevitable hard times that will come. Being in all white is one of my tools. I am living in co-creative possibility with a black man, and seeking to be in a union that is free from patriarchy, capitalism, and the stress and trauma of racism. This too is a labor all its own, and the white clothes covering my body remind me to practice communicating with him from a place of peace and love. Some days I need more reminders than others, for sure!
All stress is not bad stress. But stress is stress in the body, and so wearing white is also a tangible recovery space for me as I go through all my work. One glance in the mirror, or just looking down into my lap, and I am visually anchored to this meta-narrative of my calling and this initiation process. I breathe deeply, I see that where I am is one small step along a continuum of everlasting growth. I remember how far I’ve come; I remember how much more I have to go.
We have just launched our family business, and I am now the CEO of TheFamily Dances, a creative practice boutique designing customized, movement-based programming for youth, families, and communities. There is a natural synthesis emerging between my skills and responsibilities as an artist and as a mommy. Everyday I learn something new about my capacity to provide for my family and my community as a business owner. I am cultivating an immersive creativity sanctuary for black women mothering creatives, the Mothering Gourd. I am building this spiritual home from scratch, and at every opportunity for growth I am asking myself how I can position our sanctuary to perpetually nurture visibility for all our stories. Because of all we have endured, and are still enduring, it is imperative that we gather ourselves in deeply generative spaces of recovery, spaces like the Mothering Gourd, for processing and healing from the labor of being in our fullness in this world, and for experimenting with and devising methodologies for experiencing more joy, more freedom, and more love in our everyday lives.
I also am collaborating with an intimate group of black mothers and educators to design a learning lab and homeschool program for our children and other families in our community. We want to protect our children’s human rights to dream and imagine new worlds. We are very passionate about building models that are effective, accessible, and sustainable. The stress of our massive undertaking is undoubtedly for a beautiful cause, but it is stress all the same in the body.
There is no map for any of this, but I know that every journey requires that I venture into vast landscapes of unknowns. At the core of everything I do, I am working hard to reassemble that ancient-future village— the one we’re all dreaming of, especially when we are feeling lonely and unsupported in our mothering work— and to make that village real and accessible to everyone who needs it. My visions for how to do all of this are exhausting, but they also genuinely excite me. Wearing white is a part of finding a way to function in the day to day magic and chaos that is my life. It is my deliberate acknowledgement that even before a child is born, her mother is already steeped in the labor of sustaining her existence.
I don’t think I will wear white forever, but I do know I am only now at the beginning of whatever this will all be. It will take some time, some years even, for me to really discover a rhythm of sustainability within all my selves. I am committed to doing whatever I have to do to keep my ovaries happy, and to ensure that my eggs remain saturated in the optimal frequencies of creative power, vibrant life force energy, love, and joy. These provisions I make even as I am mother, as I am wife, as I am healer, as I am entrepreneur, as I am dancer, as I am writer, as I am fertility juju priestess, as I am activist, as I am sister, as I am teacher, as I am liberated booty theorist and practitioner, as I am daughter, as I am movement facilitator, as I am creativity coach, as I am whatever else my yes calls me to be.
Follow up post:
A Black Mother in America Wears All White: Year One
Binahkaye Joy is a mother of three and a fertility juju priestess. She supports mothers and women in activating their wildest mothering dreams. Binahkaye lives in Washington, DC with her family. She is available for in-person and virtual workshops, speaking engagements, and private sessions. For bookings, writing and performance commissions, and programming information send inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.