Body Talk

By Sarah Jenks

A journey from silence to sisterhood.


Transcript

[Jenks] This is True Stories in Sound. I’m Sarah Jenks.

[Amira: So I was turning 20–…. Oh wait I was turning 30. 30? No, 29. I was turning 29. And 29? What 30. No, I was… I just turned 30. 29.

[Jenks] That’s Amira Polanco. And for the record, she is currently 30, but is talking about her 29th birthday, a birthday where her entire identity changed.

SFX: Celebration Happy Birthday to you…

[Amira]: I did a dinner for a birthday dinner and I’m like ok, well this will be a great way to kind of to a surprise announcement because nobody’s expecting it.

SFX: Celebration

[Amira]: So we did a dinner and in the cake I wanted to instead of saying like Happy Birthday to me or something like that I wrote congratulations grandparents.

[Jenks]: Amira was two months pregnant. Her mother, father and two sisters were overjoyed. Especially her younger sister, Yasmintheresa.

SFX: Celebration / Oh my god you’re pregnant? Are you serious? When are you due?

[Yasmintheresa]: You know, so I start asking all the questions, like ok, so how many weeks are you? Do you have a midwife? Where are you giving birth? Like I start going nuts.

SFX: Celebration / Are we ready?! Are we ready?

[Yasmintheresa]: I start asking all the questions like OK guys how many weeks are you? Do you have a midwife? Where are you giving birth? I just start going nuts.

[Jenks]: In the video Amira shared of this announcement, it should be noted that Yasmintheredsa is definitely the most emotional one in the room. There’s a reason for this. She is not just Amira’s sister; she is also a trained doula.

[Yasmintheresa]: In laymens terms, a doula is the emotional support, the educational support, the physical support

[Jenks]: … person for a pregnant couple. Yasminetheresa had been doing this work for several years, helping couples with everything from coming up with a birth plan, to supporting the woman through labor, to navigating the postpartum period. For Yasminthesa, being part of a birth is one of the best feelings in the world.

[Yasmintheresa]: There is an energy that fills the room when a baby is born…You are really faced with OK this is what life is about.

MUSIC

[Jenks]: Amira and her husband hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, but they also weren’t using contraception. Even before she knew for sure, Amira says she kept getting little signs from her body that a baby was being formed. Even at the moment of conception, she said…

[Amira]: it kind of felt like an energy burst  

MUSIC

[Jenks]: Then, one day, she was climbing the stairs to her fourth floor walk-up. She was out of breath and her heart was pounding but then she felt

SFX: Walking stairs and heart pounding

[Amira]: like a heart palpitation but it was in my own because it wasn’t coming from like my upper body. So I’m like I think I hear a heartbeat or I feel a heartbeat. So I kind of knew then too.

[Jenks]… Her suspicions were finally confirmed when she took a pregnancy test after a missed period. Amira and her husband were excited to finally share the news, and using her birthday to celebrate the start of a new life seemed like perfect opportunity.

[Amira]: it was comforting to tell people that we were pregnant because it was a little bit of a support group but there was always still something inside of me that was like I don’t think I’m prepared for this

[Jenks]: Amira was excited about having a baby, but nervous too. She needed the support of a doula to help guide her physically through her pregnancy and emotionally through the transition into motherhood. That’s why the same night of her birthday, she also asked Yasminthesa

SFX: Celebration

[Amira]: we will hire you because I need you not just to be my sister I need you to be my doula.

[Jenks]: Yasminthersa did not agree right away. She insisted they still schedule a consultation and research other doula options, but also said …

[Yasmintheresa]: I was just completely uh, emotional because it’s my sister.

[Jenks]: But it’s fair to say that as a professional… Yasmintheresa also had her concerns.

[Amira]: Uhh, what was I Jasmine? Eight weeks? Yeah like eight weeks when I told her.

[Yasmintheresa]: and I remember thinking Oh man like you’re telling everybody in this whole big show and it’s like maybe a little too early

MUSIC

SFX: Celebration

[Jenks]: Speaking of things that started early… I said Yasminetheresa had been a doula for a few years, professionally… That would be five. But if you ask her when it really started, the answer is way, way before that.

[Yasmintheresa]: I actually got into the doula work surprisingly at the age of 12. It chose me I didn’t choose it.

[Jenks]: By that she means she kind of fell into this work. In junior high, two of her friends, one who was 14 and the other who was 16, got pregnant. Yasminthesa was the one who told them what to expect physically and supported them emotionally. You’re probably wondering how a 12-year-old could possibly be informing her friends about their pregnancy. But Yasminthersa’s curiosity about her own body in the midst of puberty lead to lots and lots of research. She started collecting pamphlets from the school’s health center. Tons of them. And looking things up in the encyclopedia and…

[Yasmintheresa]: There was websites that there were very colorful and spoke about the journey of a woman or a girl’s menstrual cycle. And the cartoons most of time were like black girls with curly hair so it made sense to me.

[Jenks]: This was how Yasmintheresa educated herself. As for her family, well… they didn’t really talk about this kind of stuff. Something a lot of people can probably relate to. Like when Yasminetheresa got her first period…

[Yasmintheresa]: So I called my mom you know, just instinctually, and I was like “Hey mom I got blood, I got my period.” You know, I had a pamphlet so I knew what was happening. She just said OK well, I’ll give you five dollars as soon as I get home, I’m down the street and you’ll go to the store and buy pads. But the sad part is just nobody had a conversation with me. And I know my other sisters at that time had had it. So I was like — so y’all just gonna leave me here, like wondering for myself?

[Jenks]: She knew that talking about our bodies and all the changes they go through was better than quietly wondering what was happening — a feeling most pubescent teens are probably familiar with. So when her friends got pregnant, she really wanted to support them.

[Yasmintheresa]: But when you’re in the hood and you get pregnant you’d get taken out of school. You um, get isolated from society period.

[Jenks]: But she was determined not to let that happen, not to let her friends be pulled away. This desire to help, to connect women to their communities, she tells me, has been the underpinning of her work as a doula all these years.

MUSIC

[Jenks]: In addition to hiring Yasmintheresa, Amira started making other plans. She hired a midwife and decided she wanted to have a natural birth. A midwife is different than a doula because they have more medical training and help specifically with labor. But just a couple weeks after the announcement, all of those plans shifted.

[Amira]: I remember having a long day working. And I remember I didn’t really eat much that day. And I was super dehydrated and I was moving around a lot. And I started cramping up. I went to the bathroom and I saw I saw that I was spotting. Um and I was crying on the phone with my husband, and I was telling him, I think there’s something wrong, I’m-I bled a little bit, I don’t –I think there’s something wrong

[Jenks]: Amira went home to rest. She was feeling feverish, and lightheaded and cramping. By that night, it wasn’t just spotting anymore… she’d started bleeding…

[Amira]: And it was a lot, and I started crying because I’m like I know this is a miscarriage, like this is very obvious.

MUSIC

[Amira]: And I called my husband and he was a bit in shocked. He didn’t know what to say or what to do.

[Jenks]: Amira tried to rest when she could but she was waking up every hour to painful contractions and having to go to the bathroom to release blood clots. She called her midwife, but she did not call Yasminthesa.

[Amira]: I didn’t think of calling Jasmine because I wanted to go through it with my husband at home, I didn’t, you know, I didn’t have that thought.

[Jenks]: Instead, she researched pregnancy and miscarriages online, just as Yasminthesa had done back at the age of 12.

[Amira]: And it was just so, ugh, it was like the life was being sucked out of me literally. And I had asked my husband can you please see if I release the fetus into the toilet because I couldn’t see it, I couldn’t get myself to do it.  

MUSIC

[Jenks]: She found an article that said that if you bleed through a pad in an hour, you’re losing too much blood.

[Amira]: So I’d after like feeling like I was going to faint and potentially die of how much blood I was losing so quickly, um, we called an ambulance because I’m like I we need to go to the hospital I can’t take this anymore.

[Jenks]: Once at the hospital, the doctors did a series of tests and found that the fetus was no longer present. They wanted to be sure she had released all the tissue because it can potentially cause infections and even lead to infertility if the tissue remains. The next morning, Amira returned back home and called the rest of her family to tell them what had happened.

[Yasmintheresa]: I remember receiving the phone call and just feeling a presence of death. You know the presence of heaviness and sadness and just like the, loom of a dark cloud over my room.

MUSIC

[Jenks]: Amira admits that her initial reaction after the miscarriage was shock, and disappointment and confusion.

[Amira]: I wasn’t sure how to respond because I’ve never had heard any women in my life or anywhere speak about miscarriages. I’d never heard what it was like to miscarry. So I didn’t know how to respond to like the physical trauma that comes with miscarriage.

[Jenks]: In Amira’s version of the story, she asked Yasminetheresa to come over to help cook some food. In Yasminetherea’s version of the story, she told Amira she was coming over to help be there for her. Either way, Yasmintheresa showed up, as both a sister and a doula.

[Amira]: So, I was asking her a lot of questions about like, how long do I bleed after this? She’s like You’re gonna bleed for like a week. I’m like wait what.

[Yasmintheresa]: She tried to work, so she probably wanted to cook she thought she could clean and do all these things and I was like– No you cannot. Like you cannot be lifting heavy things you are losing too much blood.

[Amira]: And I’m like Wait. I thought this is it like. I thought it was over. She’s like No your uterus has to go back to place. Right? Uterus? Your uterus has to go back to place, your uterus has to kind of contract back. It’s kind of like giving labor obviously, but without them delivering a child

[Jenks]: But beyond just being there as an educator, Yasmintheresa came to help Amira and her husband grieve.

[Yasmintheresa]: I was sitting on her left side and he was sitting on her right side and she was just kind of like chillin, I think after a few jokes or something and then she just like turns and looks out and she’s just like starts crying out of nowhere and I’m just like what just happened? You know, we don’t really deal with emotions really well my family everything is masked with a joke, so we’re just like: what’s going on here?

[Jenks]: This lack of dialogue is something both Amira and Yasmintheresa mentioned about their upbringing.

[Yasmintheresa]: We were not home girls in our house. We were just sisters and mother who barely talked to us.

[Amira]: Within our sisterhood we lived a certain life. With our parents we lived a a certain life. By our- by ourselves we lived a certain life.

[Yasmintheresa]: And there was always a lot of fighting and people never really spoke to each other unless they were yelling.

[Jenks]: But in that moment on the couch, something seemed to shift for both sisters.

[Yasmintheresa]: And she just had said something along the lines like. I’m not pregnant anymore and I just lost my baby.

MUSIC

[Jenks]: Amira says that in that moment, she was feeling the loss, but she was also blaming herself and wondering if there was more she could have done. She tells me it was the first time she’d ever had thoughts of suicide.

[Amira]: There is that moment where you have so much going on in your body and so many hormones say you’re like maybe I’m not worth it, like maybe my life is over like a why should I continue living. And I’m like this is why I like this needs to be spoken about like you’ve just gone through some horrifying things and you feel like you don’t deserve to live.

[Jenks]: Between 10 and 25 percent of pregnancies will end in miscarriage. Most miscarriages happen in the first 13 weeks of the pregnancy. For Amira, this experience and her conversations with Yasmintehresa helped her to realize how complicated pregnancy and motherhood really is.

[Yasmintheresa]: And whether you lose the baby or not yours, you still are a mother

[Amira]: And I’m like That’s so true. I am a mother. My baby’s not here physically which is OK.

[Jenks]: The thing that helped Amira to cope with her miscarriage was really just acknowledging it. She decided to name her unborn child Tahire. And just last year, she got a tatoo on her right bicep to commemorate him. It’s a lioness head, because Tahire would have been a Leo.

[Amira]: It would also be a connection to all the other children that I have because when you carry a baby you kind of to the baby on your forearm and on your on your bicep.

[Jenks]: But she did realize, like Yasmintheresa did at the age of twelve, that she wanted to break the silence between women…

[Amira]: Every opportunity I get to talk about my miscarriage no matter how uncomfortable it makes women and people, I talk about it because I’m like this is not ok that I did not know how this felt, that I didn’t know about this process. I feel like the more we kind of normalize it the less we feel like there’s something wrong with us, the less we blame ourselves   

MUSIC

[Jenks]: For Yasmintheresa, her sister’s miscarriage not only made her realize she needed to training in bereavement in addition to birth, but that part of her calling as doula is to break down these barriers between women. To create community around the many facets of motherhood and forge understanding about our bodies. She says that she is not going to let her upbringing…

[Yasmintheresa]: Hold me back from connecting with women. In fact, I think it drew me closer to wants to connect with women.

[Jenks]: Just as she’s been doing since the age of twelve.

MUSIC out

Music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions.

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