(by Kareen Morrison)
“I’m really sorry, but there isn’t a heartbeat anymore. You can get cleaned up and go see your doctor in her office.”
The sonographer had just broken the news to me about my second official miscarriage, and I was absolutely devastated. These moments always seemed so final…because they were. It was like a gavel had been dropped, and I had been sentenced to yet another period of deep mourning. As I walked to the doctor’s office, I was readying myself to hear about next steps. This time, I was prepared to undergo the D&C. It would be much easier emotionally than trying to have another natural miscarriage at home, which could go on for weeks.
After I left the building, I had to figure out how to break the news to my partner. I was starting to feel like I was letting him down, like he was going to be stuck with a woman who couldn’t give him the child we both wanted so much and would talk about almost daily. When we finally spoke, he was the one who told me that, despite what had just occurred, he was convinced that we were inching closer to having a successful pregnancy. I desperately wanted to believe what he was saying. Later that night, I called my mom to tell her my sad news. I would leave it to her to share it with my dad. My mother had successfully given birth to four children without any complications. Although she had never experienced loss, I felt that she grieved for me as if she had.
(With my mother, Shirley)
Around this time, I had begun to think a lot more about my great-grandmother Elizabeth, or Ma Lizzie as she was affectionately called by all who knew her. Not only did I think about her, but I also felt her presence around me, which was like the warmth coming from the rays of a morning sun. Ironically enough, whenever I tried to tap into her spirit, a piercing cry would enter my psyche. It alarmed me. She was in pain, but I did not understand why. All I ever heard about were her witty sayings and how business-savvy she was, owning a country shop that sat in front of her home on the island of Jamaica. What I also knew was that there was something else about her life that I needed to uncover—something that was buried in the history of my family and rarely discussed by those who remembered the old stories.
The research into my great-grandmother’s life coincided with the latter half of my fertility journey. My approach to both actions had intensified over the course of a few weeks. I had decided to take the plunge and begin looking into IVF because I was 42 and felt like it was the only way I could hold a pregnancy at that point. I was also seeing a naturopathic doctor and an acupuncturist for good measure. It was time to pull out all the stops and dive into this grueling process yet again.
(My mother, Shirley, and grandmother, Ethlynn)
After a few days of hitting dead ends regarding my great-grandmother, I stumbled upon a couple of things: a scan of a death certificate online and my dad’s handwritten genealogy records, which were connected to her. I had never seen them before. They plainly told the story of incredible loss in vintage black and white. This amazing woman had given birth to several children—my grandmother and her six siblings. However, these “new” records revealed that she had, in fact, given birth to two other children who had sadly passed after just a few days of being on this earth. And, in an instant, that’s when I realized where her pain was coming from and why it was so tangible. Like her, I had experienced loss twice, but I felt as though she was trying to convey that I would overcome it and go on to experience motherhood as she did.
Less than a year later, I had another positive pregnancy test just as my partner and I had started taking the preliminary tests to begin IVF. I was excited, but I told myself to keep a level head. I was only about a month along, so it was way too early to celebrate, but I allowed myself to be cautiously optimistic. I booked an appointment with my acupuncturist and one with my ob/gyn for the same day. That week, I was told to get blood tests to monitor HCG levels. If they were doubling, that would be a good sign.
I was a nervous wreck. Experiencing loss makes you doubt and question everything. Whenever I’d receive good news about those test results, I’d still think that something was wrong and that I would lose this precious baby. I quietly celebrated each milestone but feared them as well. I was so nervous that I didn’t share the news with my mom and dad until after the third month had passed and I had yet another uneventful sonogram.
It was also around this time that I was told I was carrying a healthy baby girl. It was an absolute blessing, but then I became even more anxious. Would I be a good mother to a little girl? I felt as though I didn’t know the first thing about being a good mother to anyone. Mom showed me the basics throughout my life, but I honestly did not know or understand the infrastructure. I still strongly believe that motherhood is a secret and sacred society. You don’t know until, quite frankly, you know. All I could do was have faith in the experience and let my great-grandmother lovingly guide me. I knew she had all the faith in me. I just had to harness it within myself. And once I did, I felt that I could even communicate with my sweet baby girl. She also had faith in my ability. We were going to protect and guide each other during this pregnancy. There were plenty of times before I even felt her move that she would reassure me she was okay. To this day, I can’t explain it fully, but it’s as if I could sense her spirit inside of me.
When anxiety followed me around like a lost puppy, it especially affected the way I ate. I would constantly Google foods to confirm whether they should be avoided. The food that really challenged me was my favorite meal—ackee and saltfish, the national dish of Jamaica. During one of my research sessions, I was reminded that ackee, if not prepared properly, could be harmful, so some sources advised pregnant women against eating this fruit. But ironically, when I read blogs and online posts by pregnant Jamaican women, they said this was the meal that allowed them to cope.
So, encouraged by the fact that my family harvests and processes our own ackee, I indulged in this delicious food, with a little fried breadfruit on the side. My mom had made me a generous plate of it during one of my visits home. As soon as I took a bite, it was as if the meal embraced me from within. My anxiety dissipated. Baby girl even gleefully danced inside of me as I ate. It was so comforting that for the rest of my pregnancy, I ate ackee and saltfish with breadfruit whenever I could. I wasn’t as anxious anymore and really started to enjoy the remainder of my pregnancy. I moved into a new home when I was six months pregnant, and when my mom drove down to visit, it was the meal I would ask her to make for me, gobbling it up. I loved that preparing this dish was one of the ways she showed her love for me, and I could tell that she was also excited to be indirectly nourishing her new grandbaby, the first granddaughter.
(With my daughter, Elizabeth)
On April 22nd of this year, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl, my great grandmother’s namesake. As soon as we saw each other, I gave her tiny kisses on that most delicate part of the face between her chubby cheek and full mouth. She is the cutest baby I have ever seen—now five months old going on 25 years. She is made up of the best parts of me and her daddy. Both intelligent and perceptive, she gives me knowing looks during any emotion-filled phone conversations or when I’ve had an exhausting day at work. Her thoughtful stares center me every time. She squeals with joy and offers up beautiful smiles whenever Mommy is being playful and silly. Regardless of how challenging motherhood is, she makes it easier by showing me how to care for her, and I am so grateful that she was strong enough to make me a mother. She will soon be eating ackee and saltfish with Mommy to carry on the tradition.
Kareen Morrison is a new mom and a museum professional living in the Washington, D.C. area. She also owns a small business, which is another passion project known as
K’s Esscentials that specializes in plant-based household cleaners and air sprays. Her other interests are sci-fi/fantasy novels and shows, nature walks, ensemble singing, and voice acting. She can be found on Instagram @morrisonkareen and @ksesscentials.
Ackee and Saltfish
1/2 lb. dried, salted cod
1 medium-to-large yellow onion
1 medium-to-large green bell pepper
1 medium-to-large tomato
vegetable, coconut, or canola oil
salt, pepper, and onion powder to taste
optional: 1/4 - 1/2 Scotch bonnet pepper (adds a lot of heat)
16 oz. can ackee or 2 c. fresh ackee
Soak cod in water overnight to remove most of the salt.
The next day, boil cod in fresh water for about 40 minutes or until the fish becomes flaky.
Remove from water, reserving some separately.
Flake cod into a bowl and set aside.
Chop equal parts of yellow onion, green pepper, and tomato.
In a medium frying pan, heat oil and lightly sauté the vegetables.
Add flaked cod.
Season with onion powder, salt, pepper, and optional Scotch bonnet pepper for a kick.
Add canned or fresh ackee, carefully folding in so that it doesn’t break apart too much.
Cook together for a few minutes, add some of the reserved water to the pan if it’s too
Serve with roasted breadfruit.
fresh green-skinned breadfruit
coconut or canola oil
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Lightly coat the breadfruit in oil and roast for 1 - 1 1/2 hrs, or until skin can be easily pierced and the interior is soft.
Allow to cool, then peel outer skin.
Cut in half, then in long wedges.
Sauté in oil until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side.
It can also be roasted over an open flame (30 - 45 minutes) to get the authentic Caribbean flavor.