An Open Letter to the Child I'm Too Afraid to Have

Issue No. 4: Black Maternal Health
Words - Katie Mitchell

Dear Zora,

I used to daydream about naming you. I imagined how you would be Black like mommy, proud like mommy, loud like mommy. I used to worry about how I would do your hair. I don’t know how to braid hair, and I just knew you would want the zig-zag braids with the beads at the end, like the other little Black girls. I used to wonder how I could politely ask guests at your baby shower to not buy you pink onesies and blankets because mommy prefers gender neutral colors. All trivial in the grand scheme, I know.

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment my trivial concerns morphed into legitimate fear, but the fear is real, omnipresent, and crippling. Maybe it was when police gunned down Tamir Rice, a child whose reality was snuffed out because he was Black and dared to play make believe. It could have been when they killed Mike Brown, a kid fresh out of high school, as he surrendered with his hands in the air. They called him “Big Mike,” Zora. His mom described him as a gentle giant as she wept in front of the television cameras. They killed a little girl, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, in her own home as she slept. They killed a boy as he walked home, carrying candy and iced tea too. His name was Trayvon. I met his mother. Well, I was in the same room as his mother, but I didn’t speak. I could only muster a weak, half smile and a few stolen glances. Because what do you say to a woman who is a household name because her son was murdered anyway? “Nice weather we’re having today?”

After their children’s deaths, the mothers were put on television — the news, talk shows, even award shows and music videos. They spoke of hope, faith, resilience, and strength. But mommy isn’t that strong, Zora. My pain tolerance is low, and I’ve grieved Black death one too many times. The only skin my body can produce is perceived as more bullseye than beautiful, more target practice than timeless.

Zora, I love you. I think about you. I dream about you. I be about you, but I can’t meet you. And that kills me. Your namesake taught mommy something very important, Zora. Zora Neale Hurston said, “If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.” And that’s why I’m writing you this letter, I suppose. Because although I don’t enjoy this decision, it’s one I had to make.

Until next lifetime,