Loving Him from Afar (Ode to My Son)

Joi Donaldson
4 min readDec 13, 2018

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I’m getting better

(in this piece, I speak candidly about grief, loss, dreams, ancestral work and moving on)

Have you ever felt a longing for something you’ve never had? Had pieces of your heart slipped so deeply past the surface they somehow hold you together? That’s how I’ve felt this week, only I didn’t realize it until now. I think I’m experiencing symptoms of a broken heart.

If you’ve read some of my older work, you know my delivery story. You’d know about the emergency c-section done as my epidural wore off, losing blood and not knowing it, two blood transfusions and walking at 90 degrees for over two weeks. I’m the mother of one. One with whom I experienced a postpartum that went undiagnosed for years, even with my history of depression. Even still, I craved a connection that wasn’t there. And I blamed myself for our distance. So did future partners who couldn’t fathom the pain and loss yet demanded I reached an echelon where they’d deem me worthy of love and gift me more children. I knew my daughter would be a girl weeks before gestation as my grandmother came to me in a dream as her. At that moment in 2008, she assumed her place as my highest ancestor and I would go on to name my daughter after her. My ex-husband and I had been trying since I was cleared by my surgeon to work to make babies. With the recent revelation of Endometriosis and cysts the size of softballs, I was given a 50% chance of reoccurrence and a 10% yearly decrease in my ability to remain fertile, let alone become pregnant. In hindsight, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t mentally, emotionally physically prepared and was scared out of my mind. But I stayed silent and kept pushing towards the mark. Because this is what we wanted, I told myself. It’s no wonder my grandmother came back through my child as she had more work to do and a new story to tell involving us. Even with that, she brought along a new face.

During that time, I had a dream about both of my children, the last being my son, only a few steps behind his sister. The dream consisted of a young woman pushing a baby carriage. Once she came into eyesight, she dumped over the carriage with two babies sliding over to my feet; my daughter reaching me first with my son not far behind her. In the 10 years since those dreams, my daughter is 9 and my son is still a vivid apparition. I’ve experienced divorce and a couple relationships in which I endured mental, emotional and sexual abuse, all without my son. I’ve had more dreams about him: he looks like me — has my complexion, a button nose, a glorious sense of humor and a fire of eyes and spirit. He’s a nugget every time I see him, except once when he appeared as a teenager and I thought, “maybe I’ll get to meet you after all”. With every passing relationship, I thought my life would finally culminate in the happy family I’d always dreamed of, with me finally getting to be his mama on this side of the veil. But like dreams, time and visions fade, and what once stood so sure now bears cracks in its foundation. Motherhood — life — did not turn out how I envisioned. 2018, like for most, kicked my whole ass, and coming into the woman I am now, I find myself making peace with a different timeline and even letting go of dreams: one of them being him. With everything I’ve endured, I’ve made up within me that I no longer want more children, instead to focus that healing on me. It’s a peculiar space to both let go and hold on at the same time. I prayed to him on a Sunday night as I fell asleep, asking for him to forgive me and all those involved who have let him down. I asked that he’d remain my guardian angel and to still love me as I do him. I’ve found a strange peace but it hasn’t stopped my heart from hurting. And the more I talk about it, the wound both grows and begins to heal. My daughter has no clue about this reality for me. One day she will as I plan to be as honest as I can with her about my journey to bring her into this world. It’s one where my therapist reassures me is for a greater purpose as I was not simply a vehicle for her emergence, but her partner on this path. As for my son, please keep visiting me. Please let me know you’re in the air when my spirit gets low. Your great-grandmother is a pro at that. Visit your sister when she needs you most and when she needs reminding of who she is. We’re down here making the best of a broken picture with my broken heart choosing to be whole. Bless us indeed.

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