THE PARENT: Erica Jones Irving, 27, of Chestnut Hill
THE CHILD: Shiloh-Sage Amaris, born Sept. 4, 2020
A PREGNANCY MILESTONE: “The first ultrasound. I had my mother there with me; it was right before COVID-19 struck. Once you see that [the baby] is really there, it becomes real.”
It was a routine question prior to a dental appointment: Before administering anesthesia for a wisdom tooth extraction, the nurse asked if Erica might be pregnant.
“I said no,” she recalls, even though her period was late; she blamed stress at work for the delay. Besides, she’d been told at 19 that she has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and that pregnancy was highly unlikely.
Still, throughout the dental procedure, Erica kept wondering, “Could I be?” She bought two pregnancy tests and used them at home. “I was in awe more than anything,” she recalls. “I was shocked. The first thing I did was call my mom. I thought she was going to be upset with me. My mom’s a minister. But I think she was even happier than I was.”
Erica had always wanted to be a parent, to emulate the strong women — her mother and grandmother — who raised her. “When I realized [because of the PCOS] that pregnancy wouldn’t be a possibility, I was very sad about it. But after a while, I became complacent. Indifferent.”
She was in a relationship with the baby’s father, but the unexpected news of a pregnancy jarred him, Erica says. “He’s not emotionally prepared for the birth of a child,” and they are no longer together, though she hopes he will be present in her daughter’s life.
“As far as raising a child by myself, I was scared. Not because I thought I didn’t have the capacity to do it. I remember, when I was younger, even though my mother and grandmother provided me with more love than I could possibly ask for, I always wondered why my father wasn’t there.”
But then she thought about her rich support system — her mother, her cousin, her best friends — and how, as a child, she felt cushioned by two generations’ worth of love. “I always had somebody there for me; I never felt alone.” After that, “my concerns about being a single parent went out the window.”
Pregnancy was nothing like the media images she’d seen of ecstatic, glowing women. Erica felt wracked with nausea and was diagnosed with borderline preeclampsia. “Nobody ever told me about the ‘dark side’ of pregnancy — the constant discomfort and nausea,” she says.
Then the pandemic hit. Erica moved in with her mother and confined herself to the house, except for doctor’s appointments or ultrasounds, between March and August. “I felt isolated. A lot of people around me passed due to COVID. That was very hard. I felt disconnected from my family.”
At the same time, she felt thrilled at the milestones of pregnancy: the first ultrasound at 12 weeks; the discovery, at 17 weeks, that the baby was a girl. The way she fluttered and kicked when Erica drank something cold or when she blasted Lauryn Hill’s music, especially “To Zion,” a favorite song: “Unsure of what the balance held/I touched my belly overwhelmed/By what I had been chosen to perform.”
As her due date drew near, Erica felt nervous about the delivery — friends had shown her birth videos in which the head seemed to explode from the mother’s body — but eager to finally meet her daughter. “She was inside me for so long, I just wanted to feel her in my arms. I was worried: Am I going to be a good parent? What did I know about it? How competent would I be?”
Because of Erica’s preeclampsia issues, her doctor recommended an induction on Sept. 2. But the medication didn’t work. “She ended up going into fetal distress, and I had a C-section to get her out.” Erica remembers an operating room that smelled of burnt rubber, a wave of nausea, and a ferocious pressure in her belly. “I remember looking over the blue screen, I remember them holding her up, and I just cried. You go through all this stuff, and then she’s actually there.”
The days and weeks after the birth felt like another rough shock. “From the C-section, I couldn’t really walk. It hurt to move. For six days, I couldn’t sleep. When Shiloh-Sage wasn’t sleeping, she was crying.” Then, two days after being discharged from the hospital, Erica went back, diagnosed with edema, fluid in her lungs, and shortness of breath. She needed a 24-hour magnesium drip and spent five days away from her daughter.
“It was heartbreaking to be away from her; I’d just given birth,” she says. Erica’s mother and her best friend cared for Shiloh-Sage in her absence.
Now she believes that temporary separation strengthened her bond with her daughter. The hardest part, at this stage, is not being able to communicate: If Shiloh-Sage’s eye is watery, does that mean she has a plugged tear duct? How can she know what’s wrong when the baby isn’t able to tell her?
“When she cries, I cry,” she says. And when Shiloh-Sage laughs — she’s just begun to coo and smile — Erica feels awash with tenderness. “Being a parent changes you,” she says. “You’re no longer living for yourself. You’re living for someone else. She’s my first priority now. That’s the best thing about her birth: I want to better myself for her.
“My hope for my daughter is that she will be comfortable in her own skin. That she will love herself, and be kind to other people.”
When Shiloh-Sage is older, Erica will tell her stories, like the stinging tales of racism that her grandmother told her. She will point out how much has changed since those days, and how many injustices still endure.