Making Moccasins

Shanna Lee Mumm

Making Moccasins” is the Third Place Winner for Room’s 2023 Creative Non-Fiction Contest.

Of this piece, judge Tajja Isen writes: This is a blazing, deeply felt essay about pregnancy, miscarriage, and family-making. As well as being a moving act of remembrance, the piece is also an electrifying portrait of passion. Rippling through the essay is the writer’s love for their partner, a relationship that brings comfort and complication in equal measure. The voice in this essay is also a delight—frank, seductive, and sensitive.



Making Moccasins

Black is not a colour. Is it every colour? It is the absence of colour that holds the potential for all colours, for everything. All colours and not-a-colour at the same time. The void of nothingness that houses all potential. Black. A fruitful offering of limitless conception, just add the spark of sperm penetrating egg.

{another one?}

Black bear mating season, he says. Solstice too. And National Indigenous People’s Day. I don’t know where I am in my cycle. The moon released me, and I have not bled since the loss. So much bright red blood soaking through pads, forcing me to take extra breaks from teaching. If I did get pregnant again, if I am pregnant now, the due date is supposed to be March 15th, but due dates are not something I really believe in. Baby decides. Nature decides. Body decides. 

Checked yesterday, holding my womb-space. No life was pulsing. When the blood stained the paper as I dried myself this morning, my heart dropped a little. A heavy feeling sunk into me. This is a strange illogical wanting; is it middle age? Nearing the end of fertility? Do I dream of one last chance to do it right? To get the social media perfect free-birth that validates ultimate She-Raar powers?

She’s beating me. Smashing clenched fists against my closed mouth. Muffling strained attempts to scream. Why is she so angry? “You keep making black moccasins!” Accusations filled with rage and contempt. A dream, but still, “your mama don’t like me, and she likes everyone.” I kept singing that song on our first date. Remember, we were in that grocery store? You kissed me by the deli counter and an old man smiled.

“Our love makes people happy.” Did you really say that out loud? Maybe not, you hadn’t yet professed your love to me, over and over again. We had not yet gone so far as to entwine in such a way that the entanglement could possibly produce another human. It was at the check-out that I kept singing that Justin Bieber song. The honeymoon period was short for us. Fast and intense. Spectrums of emotions, pendulum swinging far beyond the range of normalcy.

{Baby Zed Girl (Zella/Zora)}

She is [has a] right though, black moccasins. Did you tell her about the abortion? Our first dive into lovemaking was a full moon in February; by June 25th of that same year, we were in that acrid-smelling clinic. Beings that made a start but never came to dance upon this Earth. The first one was the hardest. And, as I begin this creative writing act of healing remembrance, it is the anniversary, four years since. I will always remember the date because it is my best friend’s wedding anniversary too. We held ceremony at your friend’s wedding, burying sage and medicines beneath a tree. Four days for the Spirit to travel. A bright yellow bird. 

When did I know for sure I was with your child that first time? My sister drove by the apartment. She didn’t even come up. Kids in the car with her. She threw the pregnancy test onto the balcony. Maybe it took a couple throws to make it to the third floor. It was a bit odd, as far as pregnancy tests go, rugged and less user friendly than the usual drugstore kind; she had them on hand for her clients. I can’t remember if I waited or rushed to pee on the stick, midstream. That night though, I knew. You were so distant then. Always staying away, seeing me occasionally. I never understood that, why you claimed me with forever but stayed so obstinately adrift. 

My two boys must have been asleep when I called you. Two failed families. One horrific tale of manipulation and lies (that’s a story for another day). I was not going to have another baby with somebody who I did not want to stick around. Remember what you said? 

“Forever? It’s day by day, minute by minute with you!” No promises there. You were so angry. I was so broke. I couldn’t imagine being able to care for another human; I was only just starting to heal from the abuse of last time. It didn’t really feel like a choice. It felt like a non-choice, like I had no means to keep the baby: no power, no money, no support. You did not want to talk about it. Traumatic for you too. 

I confirmed the appointment while we were driving around on backroads in Saskatchewan, heading to my brother’s wedding. Little boy asleep. My boy. Turkey vulture dead on the road, or was it alive standing there? I don’t know. There was a turkey vulture, we kept thinking they were eagles. There was no service for my phone, but yours still had a bar or two. I almost missed the confirmation deadline. From sleep, little boy whimpers: “BabY… Noooo,” as he reaches out his hand. We both heard him. I called and confirmed the appointment anyways. 

You were late picking me up. I called to find out what was going on. You were almost not going to come. Somehow you made it across the city to me in twelve minutes flat. Bending time. Social worker tells me that I am making this decision out of love. Love for the people I am already caring for, and love for myself. Grandmothers who never had this option, twelve and eight births. This choice, which feels more like a non-choice, has been such a heavy, messy grief. 

I buried an image. I buried a ring. I buried some sweetgrass beneath a pine tree that juts out over the river. There was no flesh to bury. Where did that go? Left behind at the clinic. I was so woozy after the procedure. Dissociated and high, we ate at a buffet. I wanted to die. That feeling lasted for a long, long time. 

{Miinan}

More than two years later, I am pregnant again. I have been wanting to erase what I did last time, even though I just could not have gone through with it. I won’t do that again, and I am grateful that I did, complicated grief. I could never have imagined how painful and deep the longing was, would be, is, and continues to be. My choice. My unchoice. I always wonder what her hair would have looked like. Curly and dark, that’s how I see it. 

I am keeping this baby. Stay. Go. I don’t care. I will not go through another abortion. I had to, then. I won’t have to, ever again. The guy who sold me the pregnancy test asked if I was hoping for a yes or for a no. I told him I was okay with either outcome. I did want a yes though. A positive. 

We made her after I had been gone for a couple of weeks. Wild passion after longing for too long. You took me without checking where I was in my cycle. I didn’t stop you. Didn’t want to. It was on a feast day, for your uncle. Your family was in prayer together. We made a descendant. A sweet, beautiful child with curly hair and the deepest most mesmerizing eyes.

She is a marvel. If ever there was perfection to remind us that we are already living the perfect life, the one that is just right, she is that. 

{Niimi}

Conceived at the same time as Miinan, two years later. After ceremony, again. I was so tired. Not happy at first, I finally started feeling excited, grateful, accepting. What is there to do in this mad world on fire than bring forth beautiful sacred life? I accept. I surrender. Nature decides. Then, she left. Just like that. I didn’t know that could happen to me, early birth. Death in my womb. I still sing: “And I will never, ever know, why you came only to go. I really do love you so, I am sorry I wasn’t happier.” 

I was eleven weeks pregnant when the deep purplish brown spotting began. We had just been to my parents’ home. We told them. Their reaction was muddled. We are already so old. We were wondering how we would afford a bigger vehicle, but you would have found one, I know. As I drove to the ultrasound, Carole King was singing on the radio: “Something inside has died…” But can you die if you were never born? I knew. Didn’t need technology to confirm what was happening, but I went and bled on the ultrasound table just the same. That technician was so sweet, trying to distract me with tales of camping or something. I wasn’t listening, I had left my body too. Lying there learning a new depth of grief, so deep I wasn’t sure if I could swim back up from it. 

Brightest little glowing embryo. More beautiful than anything I had ever seen before. I can’t believe how beautiful your tiny body was, like crystalline pure love white light. I felt you exit my womb; I searched you out from the dark bloody waters. There you were, in my hand, nestled between index and middle finger. “I found the baby!” I yelled it out loud. Your form was only as big as the top two knuckles of my pinky finger. I wrapped you in one of your sister’s cotton cloths and put you in the pink box that your dad gave me moldavite earrings in. Inside the lid of the box, it says: “I love you today and forever. I love you each day fresh and new. You are my love, my treasure. Come what may, trust I’ll be loving you.” 

Love made you, and love is what you are. Pure love. You will dance with Creator in the ball of light again. We held a ceremony for you, with drums. We buried you in the garden, so we can visit you and sit upon the rock that covers you. I cried, forehead to earth. Kneeling, keeled over in grief. Then your sister copied me. So cute and innocent. I didn’t want you to go, I just didn’t know how we would figure things out. Maybe you came to protect us, are protecting us still. It is a rather problematic place to come to right now, this beautiful Earth that sustains is overrun by horrible systems.

{Violet}

It was Mother’s Day when I knew I was pregnant again. Four times now, with you, black bear-man. Like a robin, I guess. Those surreal blue eggs. Only about twenty-five percent make it, they say. One-in-four. It wasn’t the lack of blood that clued me in, my period wasn’t due for another day or two. It was my mood; I felt joyful. Feeling joyful on the eve of bleeding is abnormal for me, I hadn’t been feeling joyful at all this past while. Where was the cyclical rage and hatred hiding? Forty-something, and I notice the hormonal shifts each month. ADHD gone undiagnosed my entire life, masking and coping practices now begin to unravel, leaving me forgetful, distracted, irritable, unable to pay attention to you. My usual peri-menopausal hormones must be different for some reason. 

This time I am not in despair, not angry and forlorn. I have already accepted that another child was on the way last time and grieved the loss deeply. Plus, the energy of this zygote is so bright and healing! I am filled with energy and love, laughing, and playing with the kids. Timing is a bit off, but we can figure it out. Who cares if we have little money and don’t own a home. We have so much love. Come dance and play, little one. I want you.

I find myself crying. We haven’t told many people, just my sister and one friend. I say, “I am scared to want this baby because I am scared that it will leave too.” The very next day that same brownish purplish smear appears on the toilet paper. I know exactly what that colour means. I haven’t had any morning sickness, no nausea. They say that the absence of pregnancy symptoms means miscarriage is more likely. I am only about five weeks along, and I start my three-week intensive teaching contract tomorrow. 

This time, I don’t seek medical attention. My body will take care of things, my womb will expel everything. I keep looking for something to bury; I carry a Tupperware with sage and cedar around in my backpack. I couldn’t find the other sacred medicines. I imagine that I will place whatever little embryonic being I find into the container with the medicines so that we can have a ceremony again. But nothing. I google and realize, being so early along, the zygote would be the size of an orange seed. Passing by unnoticed, in a clump of clots and blood. So, I begin saying, “if that is you little Zygote, good-bye, I love you,” as I flush the toilet. I cry some. I wonder why my womb no longer works. I wonder if breastfeeding my toddler and being over forty is just too much for me. I wonder. And I keep going.

We speak so often of choice. Choice as a given. Choice as freedom. Choice as the one thing that feminism can agree on: feminism is having the power to choose. Choice. Choice can be a privilege. There is often an illusion of choice. Choice helps us feel empowered [and we can be]. I am not very good at making decisions. I am so grateful to have the option. 

Shanna Lee Mumm (she/her) is a mother, a writer, a teacher, and a nature-worshipping free-spirit living on Treaty 6 Territory. She nurtures three beautiful children, has a doctoral degree, a beloved one, and many plants. Shanna teaches French at University and intends to bring together a “remember how to be human” school. Some of her work can be found in her children’s laughter, the light in her lover’s eyes, The Polyglot Magazine, and Capital City Press.

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