THE PARENT: Nykia Harrison, 30, of Germantown.
THE CHILD: Enoch Melchizedek Aleph, born March 5, 2019.
HIS NAME: Enoch, of Hebrew origin, means “dedicated.” Melchizedek, cited in both the Old and New Testaments, was a priest who blessed Abraham. And aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet: nearly soundless, an exhalation of breath.
When Nykia imagined pregnancy, she pictured coming home at the end of a hard day of nursing to a husband who would rub her feet. He’d talk to her belly, perhaps even write a blog for the baby. They’d make videos of her changing body. He’d assemble the crib.
That’s not what happened. Although Nykia was married — to a man who once said he wanted multiple children — she felt more and more alone as the months of her pregnancy crawled by.
“I was way more excited than he was,” she recalls. “I was mostly going through it by myself.” The pregnancy wasn’t easy: The baby was growing so quickly that doctors tested Nykia for gestational diabetes (she was negative); later, an ultrasound indicated the baby’s kidneys were enlarged. Nykia’s ankles swelled to three times their usual size. Her feet ached after a day at work.
“There was a lot of prayer around keeping the baby safe. And I was also praying for my marriage.”
The baby’s kidney problem resolved on its own. The marriage did not. When Nykia was five months pregnant, she left her husband and went to her grandmother’s house, the place where she’d been raised from the age of 11, after Nykia’s mother died of breast cancer. Her bedroom hadn’t changed: creamy tan walls, paint-sponged ceiling, candles, plants, and incense, everything clean and organized the way she liked it.
At home, with her husband, “I was crying all the time. I was not in a good place to be carrying a child. If I’m not healthy and happy, the baby could feel that. It was better for me to separate myself.”
As a child, Nykia started care-taking responsibilities early — not for younger siblings or cousins, but for her mother, who had a genetic disability and later was diagnosed with cancer. Nykia washed dishes, cooked, and learned to give her mother injections.
“I loved to know the ‘why’ about the body,” she says. “That sparked my wanting to be a nurse.” After getting her degree from Holy Family University, Nykia worked in geriatrics, then with special-needs children, before landing in cardiac care at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery.
“I didn’t think about having kids or getting married,” she says. “My mom was a single mom; her mom was a single mom. I come from a long line of women who never married.” But after college, when she found herself drawn back to the Baptist church community of her youth, she began to reconsider. Perhaps marriage was part of God’s plan. Maybe she would be the one to break that multigenerational cycle.
Her ex-husband (the divorce was finalized in August) seemed like the one: an elementary school teacher who initially wanted enough children to populate a football team. “I said, ‘Not out of my body,’ ” Nykia recalls.
Their rapid courtship — they began dating in August 2015, became engaged the following February, and married in December 2016, on the anniversary of Nykia’s mother’s death — may have glossed over important differences between them, she says. Even their wedding — she wanted a relaxed, cookout reception, but gave in to his idea of a big bash — left her feeling “tugged and pulled this way and that.”
Still, it was never her plan to be six months pregnant, separated, and living in her childhood bedroom. Soon she began sleeping in a recliner downstairs because she couldn’t climb in and out of the bed. “It was just me having to nest over here, but it didn’t really feel like nesting. I was sad all the time.”
She hoped for an unmedicated birth. But after nearly 12 hours of labor at home, bouncing on a birthing ball, breathing through contractions, she arrived at Einstein Montgomery to learn that she was four centimeters dilated and that the baby was resolutely sunny-side-up, despite all the exercises she’d done to try reversing his position.
“At one point, the contractions got so intense, on top of each other, I was at the point of suffering. I just wanted to lay in fetal position, wake up, and have the baby be there.” Some nitrous oxide and an epidural helped with the pain, but then the baby’s heart rate began zigzagging, and a doctor recommended a C-section.
Nykia cried — “This was the complete opposite of what I wanted” — and she wept again, in the operating room, when she learned her baby was a boy and heard his first small cry. The standard three-day hospital stay turned into five because Enoch was losing weight: He dropped from 9 pounds to 7 pounds, 13 ounces, and Nykia had to supplement her nursing with formula.
Back at home, “nothing was beautiful. Everything was hard. I had to pump around the clock, every two hours. My nipples were on fire. Everything was so overwhelming. I was mourning the fact that [parenthood] looked different than it was supposed to be.”
At three months, Nykia says, she began to see traces of her own features in Enoch’s face. At four months, she began to sleep-train him. Now he wakes just once to eat, around 4 a.m. During the day, “he’s a happy baby, always smiling, trying to talk to you and laugh.”
There was a time when Nykia believed that marriage was what her faith demanded, that a husband would remain devotedly by her side. “I’ve been doing a lot of things on my own,” she says. “That’s showing me what I’m made of. I’ve always been told that I’m strong, and I’ve always resented it, like I could never have a vulnerable moment. Now I’m vulnerable-strong.