In Two Years, I Got Married, Lost My Father & My Job, Watched My Husband Have A Stroke & Gave Birth
As told to Veronica Wells-Puoane of NoSugarNoCreamMag.com
What let you guys know it was the right time to get married?
High school sweethearts. And it’s also interesting because there was the path that we were on of waiting until marriage and for me getting a lot of backlash from friends. People in passing or when your friends have conversations about sex and you just can’t participate it’s like ‘Oh OK…’
It’s interesting that I heard it a lot in college and in high school like ‘Oh you’re the last one. Who’s still a virgin anymore? Like girl, who’s still doing that? It’s not the fifties.’
For me, personally, it had a lot to do with me wanting to be obedient to the word of God and me having a close relationship with God, and being very strong in my Christian faith. My mother never forced abstinence down my throat, it was just something that she brought up to me one day while I was in high school. ‘What better gift to give your husband than something no other man can ever say he’s had?’ And that just stuck with me. I don’t need to write blog posts about why I decided to wait and blah blah blah I don’t need a whole bunch of stuff. But that was just my decision and I decided to stick with it.
So that and even trying to not pressure him. You can’t pressure a man to do what he don’t want to do. But at the same time giving hints, like ‘Dude it’s been 7, almost 8 years. We’re grown for real. How much longer do you want me to wait?’ So for me, I think the timing was perfect.
After I graduated from Mizzou, I worked for the office of admissions, but through a program that Mizzou was partnered with, Americorps. So I did that in St. Louis for a little while. Then I just did not like St. Louis. I knew it wasn’t Chicago but I still didn’t care for the city itself. So I just packed up whatever I could fit into my 2008 Chevy Cobalt and drove to DC with no job and five hundred dollars to my name, like a crazy person. To millennials, it sounds normal; but to our parents and grandparents it’s like, ‘What do you mean you’re not going to stay at AT&T for 35 years and collect your parking space and special pin?’ And I’m like ‘No, what do you mean?’
After Khallilah moved to D.C., Jacob followed.
Tell me about the challenges of waiting?
I will definitely say you have to be disciplined. I’m human. I was created with flesh just like anybody else and I’m definitely not a robot. So, if you have to take your tail home at 11:00 cuz you know… You look at the bigger goal. ‘Ok this is something I really want to do. I want to set this goal for myself to wait.’ If I have to get on the couch and go to sleep. If I have to get up and go to the gas station and get some snacks and remember the goal that I set for myself. Was it hard? Yes. I don’t, in any way, profess to be a nun. I think you look at the bigger picture and just plan. Let’s go to the museum during the daytime – everything doesn’t have to be after midnight. Yes, there were plenty of weekends where he came to visit and I was like, ‘Ok, what’s going to happen? Am I going to be okay?’ When we’re committed to something, we’re going to do what we have to do to see it through. I think Jacob made it a lot easier for me, making me feel comfortable and never making me feel bad.
Was your father sick?
I want to believe yes because he did not look healthy at all. And I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years. The death certificate says cardiac arrest. So what happened was he was getting out of his truck and we don’t know what happened after that. The neighbor found him between the garage and the truck. I’m assuming he probably tried to call for help. He was my grandmother’s caretaker. But she always had that television on 100 volume. If he was calling for help, Lord Jesus, I know she didn’t hear him.
So Jacob called me while I was at work, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and asked me what was my address for work. At the time I was at AARP in their PR department. And I’m like what do you mean what is my address? Everybody knows where the AARP building is in D.C., like, what do you mean what’s my address? But I guess in the moment it was like too much to try to figure out how do I get to you. I figured something was wrong when my mother called me and when I called her back she wasn’t answering the phone. So I was like ‘Something’s not right but ok I won’t second-guess it.’
Then there’s the family drama of who’s going to pay for this funeral. And I’m just like ‘Y’all just let me pay for this wedding on my own. And he’s a veteran so we need to figure out somebody- somebody’s tax dollars need to pay for it.’ That’s what happens when you send people off to fight for the country. They should be properly taken care of. He’s in the VA and the veterans administration gave bare minimum everything. Unless they have some Purple Heart medal you’ve got to really work hard to get bare minimum. I’m still dealing with trying to complete the Social Security case with that almost a year and a half later. So we decided to step away from graduate school.
When did you guys start trying to have a baby?
We knew right away that we wanted to start a family. For us, it wasn’t like we were going to wait a few years, which I know a lot of people would prefer that. So almost six-seven months.
Did you think you were going to have problems with infertility?
I stopped taking birth control and just really kind of not being confident in myself, one as a woman, two as a wife, and then three as a potential mother. And just thinking ‘Oh my goodness, it’s month after month. I keep taking tests.’ And us just saying ‘Are we doing something wrong? Are we not eating right? Am I stressed? Is that causing me not to be fertile? I kind of psyched myself out. We knew that we wanted to start a family right away. And the two months that I was on birth control before we got married, my hair was falling out. And I was like, ‘Let me get off of this.’ And I just think I was feeling so much pressure. ‘I need to take this birth control so I can fit in with the rest of society.’ But it’s like I’ve never taken it before. And when I really wasn’t even thinking–I had forgotten all about it, I’m thinking to myself, ‘I haven’t seen a menstrual cycle in forever.’
Were people telling you guys to wait?
Yes. And I get it. Obviously, the person that you date is still the same person that you marry. But the two of you are learning each other in a new way. And then when you add on parenthood, it just makes you crazy. Both of you are sleep-deprived. You could have put the napkin in the wrong place and y’all sitting there screaming at each other. But it’s because you have a newborn baby. You have to remember that your end goal is to spend forever together. So it’s like ‘Ok, I’m not going to get mad about that.’
How did you learn you were pregnant?
I want to say it was a Thursday. It was right before Mother’s Day. And I just kept thinking ‘I’m in denial. Week after week, this period has not shown itself. Let me just go to the grocery store and purchase this test.’ I took the test at home and it didn’t take any time for those two lines to show up. And I’m just sitting there looking like ‘Oh my God.’ I’m just boo-hoo-ing, crying in the bathroom.
At first, I was going to tell Jacob right away. But then I’m like, ‘No. I don’t know what to do.’ And so many emotions. You’re excited, you’re happy. Like ‘Oh my God what kind of parent am I going to be?’ And then you start thinking like, ‘I definitely went out last week and had all the drinks. Poor little baby. I’m so sorry.’
So I waited a couple of hours and I went into the living room and Jacob was watching a movie and I asked him if he could get me some socks. Because I never wear socks around the house. I probably only own one or two socks of my own. I always steal his socks. And he’s like ‘No, I can turn the heat on if you want me to.’ I’m like, ‘It’s May. I just want a pair of socks. Can you get up and get me some socks please?’ So he got up and in the sock drawer, I had placed the pregnancy test. And it was too quiet. So I’m like running down the hallway with my cell and he’s just sitting there looking at me like ‘Are you serious?’ We found out pretty early too. I was only 4 weeks, much earlier than most women.
It was so easy. I would go to sleep at like 8 p.m., wake up like 12 hours later. No ankle swelling. I barely got any maternity clothes. I think I finally went to purchase maternity pants around the 7th month. I lost a lot of weight in the first trimester. My appetite was really small. I did not vomit not one day during pregnancy. I will say that I was nauseous. I felt dizzy all the time. And just learning my body. You can’t just grab a granola bar. You need a granola bar and some juice. And you probably need to have two breakfasts. Stop waiting until 12 o clock for lunch. You have to feed your body. The baby will take what they need so it’s really you eating for yourself.
Mother’s Day. I hadn’t said anything to my mom just yet. Memorial Day weekend we drove to Chicago from D.C. to see our family and tell them. Then I got back to work that Tuesday and my boss tells me my last day is going to be June 1st. And I’m like ‘Ok…’
So that was my last day.
Did you break down at work?
Yes and no. I think for me I was so confident that I would be able to find another job. I was like there are other jobs in D.C. There are so many opportunities in the district. No big deal. So I just started applying for jobs and I will say that since June 1, I have not received not one offer letter. That’s why when you messaged me [asking for stories], I was like ‘Get ready. I got a lot to say.’ Initially, I was calm and I was ok.
Jacob, that year, he was teaching fourth grade and they did not call him back for summer school so we were kind of banking on that for him to get a salary in addition to summer school. And that didn’t happen.
So the summer was very rough. The first trimester of pregnancy, we’re now living on one salary. Rent in D.C. is a hot, funky, expensive mess for this one bedroom apartment. There were weeks that I would push back the obstetrician appointment if I didn’t’ have the $40 co-pay. I’m like ‘God, how could you let this happen at this time?’ There were days where we were going through the piggy bank to find change for gas. Or trying to decide to we want to buy groceries or put gas in the car? Jacob would go to retail stores to try to get a part-time job. Nobody would hire him. They see he has a bachelor’s degree and graduate credits. So I’m like, ‘Take that off your resume.’ Even that, nobody wants to hire him. I can’t even describe how hard it was but at the same time, it was probably the best thing that could have happened for our first year of marriage. Because we literally had nothing, we sat in the house every single day and had no other choice but to pay attention to each other. Like from watching the same DVDs every day because the cable got cut off and we couldn’t pay it. So we were like we need to figure out how to get to the library, let’s apply for jobs. It was really rough but I will say that we got so close over the summer cuz we didn’t have anything else. We had just enough from his salary to pay rent and we were like, ‘We’ll figure out everything else.’ Calling the car companies like ‘Can I change my address so they don’t come looking…’ I mean just…umph…interesting. But a healthy baby. Nothing broken, nothing missing.
That was December. He had a seizure in September. September 14. So I, at this point, am almost six months pregnant. And I hear him fall in the bathroom. I jump out of the bed. He had a seizure, standing up using the bathroom. First time it ever happened. His body is shaking, he’s convulsing. And I’m like, ‘I can’t pick him up. I don’t know what to do.’ I’m just standing there looking at him, just screaming, crying, being dramatic and pregnant. And I finally get myself together and call the ambulance. The EMTs get there and take his blood pressure, it was 64 over 42. So they’re like, ‘How is this man even still alive?’ He’s never had a seizure before so I didn’t know what was going on. He was hospitalized for a few days. They said everything was fine and they discharged him. Which is frustrating when you can’t really find the problem. That has been happening with us with Jacob for the last four years, all these random, different medical emergencies that once they admit him to the hospital, everything is fine, they can’t find the cause and then they discharge him. So the seizure was in September.
Eventually, Khallilah and Jacob decided to move back to Chicago.
He moved all the stuff back in December. And he had a stroke in his sleep. I knew something was wrong when he was snoring really, really loud but it was like he was choking on his saliva. And I kept trying to wake him out of it and he would not budge. He would not budge. Then he started talking in his sleep and it was real slow and it was like his speech was slurred. None of the words were making sense. That was about 3 or 4 in the morning. And so I just stayed up and watched him for about an hour until I finally went back to sleep.
When he woke up it was around 8 in the morning, I couldn’t understand anything he was trying to tell me. And that’s when I knew it was time to go to the emergency room. The hematologist told us that the stroke just missed the portion, on the left side of his brain that would have permanently damaged his speech. When I say I almost ran through that hospital! At this point, I’m like 38 weeks pregnant, super heavy, super tired. And I’m just like I don’t know what else to do so I’m going to just cry and thank God.
All this time I’m thinking, ‘Everything keeps happening to us, I pray that this baby comes out and can understand laughter because I put so much stress and strain– They feel everything in the womb.
So they had him in physical therapy, tons of tests and MRIs, speech, you name it. And nobody can find any clots or anything on his brain, nothing wrong with his heart. His blood pressure was good. Cholesterol was good. I’m like ‘But how’d he have a stroke at 27?’ He turned 27 a week before the stroke. I’m like how?…
But you know what? Had we not moved to Chicago, I probably would have lost my mind with a newborn baby and him having that stroke in D.C. 12 hours away from our family.
That was December 29th then we had the baby on January 19th. And it’s been a battle with insurance and disability forms, and doctors and policies and HMOs and PPOs ever since. Ever since.
Gurl, you just laughing. I’m like ‘Lord have mercy, Jesus.’
I have no other choice. Because, at this point, I literally probably would just walk out of this house and walk down the street and never come back. You can’t do anything else but laugh. You don’t know what else to do but to say, ‘Maybe one day I will figure out why all of this is happening.’ I don’t even know.
The first nineteen hours were not medicated. And then I had to have a talk with myself. Like ‘Ok, you don’t have to continue to try to perpetuate this strong, Black, independent, I’m every woman persona. It’s ok to ask for an epidural. You’re making yourself miserable. 19 hours, yes I understand that women for centuries did it without medicine. Yes, I get it that my body was made to handle it. But you’re so weak. I was like ‘Khallilah this is just ridiculous, just ask for the damn medicine.’ And I was like, ‘Is it too late? Can I please have an epidural?’ They gave it to me and I swear I should have asked for it sooner. Her heart rate was dropping a lot. Quite a few times they had to give me oxygen. Nothing crazy or emergency c-section or anything like that. I was able to have a natural, vaginal birth. Well, some people don’t consider it natural because it was medicated for the last nine hours.
Because of her heart rate dropping so many times, they had to insert this balloon to force my cervix to dilate. So they insert this balloon, it’s connected to a tube and then they are pouring water into this tube so that expands. That was uncomfortable. Uncomfortable is the nice word. I was pissed. I was like ‘What is happening?’ This is before the medicine.
I think, for me, just trying to understand the process of being vulnerable. You have these strangers sticking their hands inside of you every couple of hours to check that the baby is still there. You literally feel vulnerable. I don’t want to say violated because they’re there to help. But you feel vulnerable. My legs are cocked wide open in front of this room full of people I will never see again in life.
I didn’t feel a thing. And I’m glad I got the epidural because I had a second-degree tear and needed stitches. So had I not asked for it, I can only imagine feeling that. I’m glad I didn’t feel it. Because you don’t know your own strength.
Tell me how you guys came up with the name Eden for your daughter?
I’ve always loved the name Eden. I was younger, kind of writing out names that I really liked. I’ve always loved Biblical names. It’s interesting that I chose a location instead of an actual person. Just really studying the Garden of Eden, beyond what most people kind of understand or thinking that it’s mostly about sin. Like ‘Eve ate the apple. Who’s guilty? Was it Adam that should have been at fault or was it Eve that should have been at fault?’ And not really paying no attention to the fact that this place was so full and had so much overflow, never lacking. It had an overflow of abundance. If you can create a space, you can create a location and this is the beginning of everything, really. And knowing that creation started with us. And I just started studying even more that the Garden of Eden was overflowing in gold, and paying attention to the location. And kind of really taking ownership that creation did start with us. It’s ok to say that Africa is the beginning. And understanding that what we now call the Middle East, was at one point, Africa. I want her to know that she doesn’t have to lack for anything. And just looking at how the Garden of Eden was connected to the Euphrates River and all these different streams of water and nature and abundance. It started with us.
Tell me how it’s been taking care of the baby and all that.
I have had quite a few emotional breakdowns. One because I expected more people to call to help. And that is from my family as well as in-laws. Just… I expected that when you have a baby you get a flood of people calling to say, ‘What can I do?’ Maybe that’s just me. Maybe my heart is ‘Hey can I wash some dishes? Can I bring dinner over? Can I wash a load of laundry for you?’ Not these 50, 75, 100 text messages the day she’s born like ‘OMG how’s motherhood?’ or “OMG she’s so adorable when can I come over?’ I’m like ‘You can come wash some clothes. You can come wash these dishes.’ And it’s not to be rude. But I will say these last twenty days have really shown me how people just really don’t know. Everybody’s kind of wrapped up in the baby but not really recognizing you just gave birth so you’re tired and you’re trying to tend to stitches and you need to heal and take care of yourself. You get advice from all these different people. ‘You’re holding her too much. You’re not holding her long enough. Don’t give her a pacifier. Use cloth diapers.’ And I’m just like, ‘It’s too much. Everybody just leave me alone because I’m about to put my phone down the toilet.’
Then there’s the expectation of breastfeeding. If the baby doesn’t latch, which she has not successfully latched for more than– I can count on one hand how many times we’ve had a successful breastfeeding session. So then you feel guilty for giving formula because you know formula is crap. And it’s terrible. And you’re like ‘Ok what else can I do? Ok, well I can pump.’ But then you feel like ‘What about the bond? She’s not going to be close to me.’ There’s this new phenomenon of ‘Black Women and Breastfeeding.’ And ‘Black moms do this.’ And I’m like I want to. I hope I’m not an inadequate mother.
You’re like ‘What’s wrong with my supply?’ or ‘What’s wrong with me?’ For me, because I had such an easy pregnancy, now I feel like the opposite is happening to me. Super calm, chill pregnancy, and now everything is super emotional or I’m crying for every little thing. Everything is happening in the backend.
How’s your husband doing now?
I will say that he’s doing a lot better than when he first came home. And I’m just grateful that the stroke wasn’t so severe that I had to bathe him and teach him how to talk. So I’m glad that he’s alert and can do for himself. He can do everything, except for drive and that’s only because they want to continue working on the strength of his right hand. And just the way that he protects her. I think that has helped me in this entire process too. If she breathes too hard, Jacob is getting up to see what’s going on with the baby. Both of our families tease him. That’s been the silver lining in the entire thing. The fact that he was able to stand and help deliver her, it was a complete miracle. I know he’s ready to go back to work too. So he’s been home. And if he hadn’t had a stroke, he wouldn’t have been home with me.
Who have been the people to help you?
My mom. My mom has really stepped in. And the other part is I have to continue to be a wife. The man just had a stroke. I can’t just leave him high and dry. I have to schedule appointments for rehab. He can’t drive and neither can I. So I’m like ‘Who can pick us up to go here?’
It’s almost a blessing that you don’t have a job right now. Because I don’t know how you would do all this with a job.
I don’t either. I don’t either. I really don’t. So while I don’t understand why things have happened the way it has, I probably would have had to quit.
I have, for the last four months, I’ve just been collecting unemployment until the day that I gave birth. But I just found out this morning with the Department of Labor that giving birth disqualifies you from physically being able to work. So if somebody were to call me today to try and hire me, I wouldn’t be able to go to work until the first week of March. And then it makes you feel like this is what I get for being honest. I should have cheated the system. I still got bills to pay. I’m not just sitting in the house doing nothing.
This whole thing has taught me, I was just talking to my mom the other morning. I am never going to buy another baby shower gift. I’m going to start creating postpartum gift baskets. Moms need Epsom salt. Moms need witch hazel wipes. You need a spray bottle because you can’t wipe anything. We go without so much just because we want to take care of our community and our village and our family but we end up in lack, mentally and physically.
So that is the life of Khallilah in the last 24 months.
I have no clue how this whole little story ends but I know that one day the pieces will make sense to me. They don’t make sense today but I’m pretty sure one day they will.
Veronica Wells-Puoane is the creator of the website NoSugarNoCreamMag. She is the author of “Bettah Days” and You’ll Be All Write, a question and answer journal for Black women. She is also the culture editor at MadameNoire.com.
Find more of her articles by Veronica on Curlynikki.com, HERE!