A Home Birth Story On a Detroit Urban Farm: Olori OKO

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“It is this sweetness that has become so bitter in their mouths.”

A Home Birth Story On A Detroit Urban Farm: Olori Oko

By Atieno Nyar Kasagam


I was laying in the tub, gyrating, blowing bubbles out of my mouth, and trying to breathe. I was in labor in the bathroom upstairs, and Zo was…in and out, tending the moment, dj-ing, perhaps checking on the soon to be 6-year-old… I don’t know!

I don’t know what he was doing. 

Not at that moment. Not when labor became an intellectual venture where I was consumed by analysis. I could not silence my mind.

My mind, my soul, and my body were speaking to each other, and I was laying in the water witnessing. I tried to evacuate. I tried to quit. I did not want to have to participate. But I had no way to exit.

I blew more bubbles and yelled for better music.


“Busi Mhlongo! ”, “I don’t like that shit you are playing!”

I was supposed to have prepared a playlist for my labor. But I didn’t. I attempted to once, but it just felt like an unusual task-to think, in advance, about what exactly I would want to hear, and in what order. 

But Zo understood. I knew I wanted Busi during the climax, and at different points, I called for grandfathers and grandmothers.

Makeba. Masekela.Ogada and Oliver Mtukudzi.

I asked for the sounds of the dead and it was amazing.

Who ever thinks to make music for women in labor?

Somebody tell somebody, please. We love music. We love African music, in my household. And we need music for everything. Somebody tell somebody, please.

And Lo! Here i was, inside myself. It was a thing! A whole trip!


I visited lineage, within myself. I was taken into a place where feeling and thinking, seeing and hearing were one and the same. I was with my people. Old women, dead women, aunties, maybe even my own mother.

I could feel spaces in between my thighs open. I wanted to open wider. I flung my leg open, on top of the edge of the tub. For a little while. I could feel the descent. It was interesting- to feel everything, this time. The position was not going to work though. it was tedious. I had Zo holding my leg.

His mother was in the other room. Panicking or something. She was in shock. She came in from time to time, and had said something about “ this is how it is supposed to be”, and then she wandered out, after, who knows, some prayers….

Bianca (Queen B) Danzy, my venerable sister-friend had come all the way from the deep west. Deep West, hunty! She came soon after we called at 7am. With her whole family, 

7 deep!

Hekima, her husband,

Lauren, Julian, Blare, Bryce and the little Jeremiah

She came.

And she came just in the nick of time. I needed help breathing.I was tired of breathing. I was tired of a lot of things. And I was crowning.



I was “responding”, in between these contractions.

I was responding to a call that my body heard, in the tongue of my mother.

It was spontaneous and it was Luo.



It was “Eeeeeeeh!” for yes.

The kind of yes you might give when you are stuck at the bottom of a dry well,

and tired.

Then your grandmother drops a rope into it, into the darkness for you to reach, and she tells you to hold on to it and crawl up the sides of the well.


She calls your name.


You are on the verge of death,

but she is making sure you hang on to life.

She calls your name, again.


in the original, old village, dholuo accent.

And again,


and you find a way,

with the last bit of energy you can muster,

loud enough that she might hear you,



and with each contraction,


she is pulling you higher,


higher and higher out of this well,

And you are crowning,



And tearing up like a maafaka.






Other elders have gathered around her.


Other ancestors are doing things.

Saying things.

they tell Bianca to hurry up and come.

they tell Bianca to hurry up and come.

and Bianca is here.


they tell my mother in law to come and pray.

and she is in the bathroom,


“In Jesus name”

and we are all saying Amen.




Bianca was telling me to slow it down.

to slow down the breathing.

showing me.

while Zo watered me.

I told him that I would not be able to catch the baby.

that that was his job.

we were all that we had.

in that bathroom.

in that bathtub.

that he had filled with dried red roses and epsom salt.

Music filled the air.

the children were playing.

in the living room.

and outside.

Lauren was waiting.

somewhere by the door.

And so was grandma.

Grandma had said that Bianca knew what to do.

that was funny.

I really wanted grandma to be in there, to midwife.

but she was not ready.


I realized that.


Detroit is a glorious place innit!


it came to this moment because I was just too comfortable in my own house to leave.

We had joked on mothers day, about having grandmothers and great grandmothers at our births.

Grannie Lula, my husband’s grandmother,

told us all about how they, down in Alabama, were all delivered by their grandmother.

It sounded so good.

I wish she could understand that it sounded just so damn good!

It is this sweetness that has become so bitter in their mouths that we are craving here, in Detroit.

That is what the revolution is.

For us.

Did she know?

Have we shown her, now,

Teresa Mccarty?



Have we shown her?


It brings me to tears sometimes,

to walk this journey towards revolution without my family.



I have not even told my own mother,

about my birth.

I don’t know if she could understand that it was such a glorious experience. That we found in it, our roots, and we found in it the things we were taught by Nkrumah to seek.

We found history,

blowing bubbles in the tub.

asking, Zo,

massage my lower back.

“Please, it hurts”

“I feel the pressure”




In my mind,


I was philosophizing all types of things.

filling up with understanding.

answering questions that I had not yet even asked.


Thank Gawd! Thank Gawd i did not go to Hutzel.


The water was warm.

Richard Bona had started me off at 5am.

When i was suspicious that something was going down.


it was nice.

Candles and sweet smelling home-made pot pourri from roses plucked across the city.

the sun had not even risen. But i could not sleep.


It really is a lot to say, and a lot to remember, folded into a few hours. A lot happened, and A lot did not.

My placenta, for one, did not just slide out. And that was a conundrum.


Grandma called 911.


They started to instruct us on how to cut the umbilical cord.


we did not even have clean receiving blankets.

How in the world was we gon have sterilized blades?

I told them to hurry up and come on.

I was tired.


I had just done some things.


Zo had cried out.

It is a boy!

A son.

It was quite the exaltation. Maybe one day he might tell you about it. How he saw it. How he received the boy child. I was already resigned and taking my break by that time.


I had no more capacity to absorb the emotions and the events that followed. I was just there. Watching. 


The thoughts had ceased.


Somewhere, along the way, I had left the building.

My energy focused on breathing and pushing.



It is a place I would love to journey back to,

through words,

with you.


There was a world there.

a lifetime’s worth of time in between what we call 4 hours.

and a whole life was birthed.

and that life,


and survived.


I know a little now.

about life.


about how,


some of us.

just come to earth, 

to feel the air on our skins,

and then die.


I know a little now.

about life.

I know about birthing.

little fellas.


who come.

and go.


and come

and go.


my sons.


twin boys.


and I wonder now,

where did they go?



most times,

I forget about them.


but it did happen..you know… it did happen…

and they are not here.


they are not here anymore.