For the past couple of years, my birthday has been a somber one. But with Shayla being fourteen weeks pregnant and me preparing to go on tour without her, we did our best to make my thirty-eighth birthday a joyous one this year.
Earlier today, Shayla and I remembered our first child, telling them how they were having twin siblings and prayed that they'd watch over them through this pregnancy, and for as long as they live. Our niece, Stacee, called me to wish me a happy birthday and wondered if I'd be able to attend the wedding Shayla planned for her at the ranch on the fourth. Unfortunately, I had to decline because the tour begins on the seventh and I planned to be in Prague on the fourth, but I told her to take lots of photos.
Now, somehow Shayla managed to plan a surprise dinner at the ranch, which included our friends and families. It was a big thing for multiple reasons. Everyone knew how important it was to us since the miscarriage happened on my birthday a couple of years ago, so I guess that was another reason everyone showed up—especially Shayla's family who had flown all the way from Ohio.
"Aww, can I hold him?" Shayla cooed as Alejandra handed Jaafar, our newest nephew, to her. Alejandra had been in our family unofficially as she dated a very married Randy and had two of his children. To begin with, my family was never perfect, especially since Joseph was running around having children on Katherine. But I guess mess runs in the family because Jermaine bagged Alejandra while she was Randy's side chick, married her last year, and now she has his big-headed baby. Now Genevieve and Randy Jr. have a brother/cousin. "I can't tell if he looks like you or Jermaine. He looks like both of you."
"I know..." Alejandra brushed back Jaafar's hair. "I couldn't believe how beautiful he was."
"How do Genevieve and Randy feel about their baby brother?"
"They love him so much. You know... everyone can't wait for you to pop out these babies." She rubbed Shayla's stomach. "When do you find out the sexes?"
"In a few weeks. Michael will be long gone by then." I made my way over to Randy, who had been eyeing Alejandra and Shayla as he sipped a beer.
"You alright?" I asked.
He nodded. "I'm fine. Still can't believe he married her ass, though." Throughout the years, Randy had had his own problems. While everything looked perfect from the outside, looking in was a whole different story. When Stevanna was only two, Randy had been placed on probation, had been to jail, went to a mental hospital, and somehow managed to knock Alejandra up a second time. However, he was married to Eliza, Jermaine took his mistress from him, married her, then knocked her up. As if that wasn't enough, my little brother had to file for bankruptcy earlier this year. "I knew she was a whore when I met her."
I shook my head, no. "Don't start, Randy. You were married when you started sleeping with her."
"It's the principal. What man sleeps with his brother's girl? You know when you sleep with someone, you sleep with everyone else they slept with too! Did that not cross that niggas mind?!"
"It's over now. Alejandra married him and gave him a son. The only thing we should be worried about is that innocent child over there."
"Oh, you mean my children's brother/cousin? Yeah," he sipped his beer again and walked off. "Okay." I knew it was a bad idea to have all of them in the room together, but Shayla insisted this was supposed to be a happy day. With everything Randy is going through, the last thing today would be is comfortable for him.
"You didn't tell me Shayla was pregnant. I had to find out from your mother." Joseph walked up to me and patted me on the back. "My son is having twins." He smiled. "I'm proud of you, boy."
"Thanks, Joseph. That means a lot."
"Not gonna say I was rushing it, but I wondered when you and Shayla were going to pop out some kids. It's about time, innit?"
"Just in time for me to go on tour. I really hate that I'm going to miss the doctor's appointments."
"You'll be fine. I'm sure Shayla will call you every time."
"I know. But it's nothing like actually being there. At least once the twins are born, I won't miss anything important."
"It still baffles me to hear you say 'twins.' Out of all my children, I wondered which one of you would have twins. God must have heard my prayers. Brandon will always be in the back of my mind."
I nodded. "I know."
"Hey, Michael! Hey Joseph!" My father-in-law walked up to us. "Beautiful day, innit?"
"Yeah, sure is. How's Ohio, James?" Joseph asked. And that is my cue to go. I'm not about to have old person talk with two old men. It had been a while since our families got together. The last time was the wedding, to be completely honest. That was over a decade ago. But you can't really expect families to get together often like that. Especially when they're both older and live on opposite sides of the country. Joseph and James liked each other from what I can tell, and Katherine and Angie liked each other. They're all great parents and fantastic grandparents. That's all that matters.
"Mike," Mariah walked up to me, dragging Dr. Dre behind her. "You met Dre, haven't you?"
"I've meant to. How's it going, Dre?" I held my hand out for him to shake. Dre has four children, and we just found out that he's married. But that's none of my business. Ask Mariah, and they're not dating. Just friends. And apparently, this "friend" was funding her costly lifestyle.
"I told Dre you wanted him on your next album." Mariah beamed as she looked up at him with admiration. Yep. He was a "friend," alright. But who am I to judge?
"Can you have your people get in contact with my people?" I asked him.
"Absolutely. I ain't come here for business. But here's my card. Lil Mama insisted." He handed me his card as he gestured toward Mariah. Lil Mama? "Happy birthday, and congratulations on the babies, by the way. When are y'all releasing the news?"
"When the time is right. So, do us a favor and keep it under wraps, okay?"
"Oh, I already told him it was a secret. He won't tell anyone." Mariah grabbed his hand. "We're going to go watch a movie at the theatre. See ya."
"Absolutely not!" What a thirty-one-year-old man saw in a twenty-one-year-old, I had no idea. But what I won't allow is them being in the movie theatre by themselves.
She sucked her teeth. "Mike, you ain't my daddy. Come on, Dre."
"But this is my house. Y'all not going in there, Mariah. I don't care how grown you think you are." I warned.
She snarled, sucked her teeth, and rolled her eyes. "Come on," she dragged Dre in the opposite direction. I'm glad they came to my celebration, but they still have to abide by my rules.
"Baby," Shayla walked up to me, holding a cute little wrapped gift box. "Jamess said someone dropped this off at the gates. Here, open it." She pressed as if it was her gift.
"Did he say who dropped it off?" I asked as I looked at the box.
"No. He just said they dropped it off at security, said it was for you, and dipped. Security called him to have him bring it up here. Who's it from?" She wondered. There was no gift tag, so I was forced to open it to see if the gift giver had left some kind of hint. Once I opened it, I found a yellow happy face mug with candy and a small handwritten note inside:
I know today gets hard as time goes on but remember your child in joy and love.
God will bless you with more.
I look forward to going on tour with you.
Happy Birthday, Michael!
"She's going on tour with you?" Shayla asked after she read the note beside me.
"Yeah... Sandy is sending her as Jim's assistant."
"That was kind of her, but uh... why did she send you that?"
I shrugged. I hadn't spoken to her in weeks. "I don't know. Maybe she's just nice."
Shayla cocked an eyebrow as she looked at the mug. "How did she get our address? Did y'all get close on set or sumn?"
"After a month-long on set, wouldn't you get close?" Shayla thought about it for a moment. We've known Shana for years. She's always been sweet. It can't look odd that Shana's being sent on tour with me because he had someone else come on tour with him when we were doing the Dangerous tour. This is just Shana being kind. Prayerfully, Shayla doesn't look at it as anything otherwise.
She shrugged. "Shana's a sweetheart. You can't really expect anything less than that, huh?" I shrugged. "I probably should have invited her and the rest of the gang at the office. Maybe next year. Come on. Everyone is ready to cut this cake." Thank God.
While it's hard being alone right now, I'm also learning to embrace it. This gives me more time to focus on the twins, what to buy, and to focus on myself during this interesting time in my life.
Being pregnant is like falling in love all over again, I've learned. I'm falling in love with the children growing inside of me. I'm falling in love with Michael again. And most importantly, I'm falling in love with myself again. I was made for this. Being a woman, my body was made to produce children and bring them into this world. While I'm scared out of my mind to not only give birth to one child but another directly after, I'm mentally preparing myself for what my body will be called to do in five months.
At sixteen weeks, it's very evident that I'm pregnant, but I'm going to be all belly by that seventh month. It's hard doing certain things now. I can't imagine how hard it'll be by then.
I've always enjoyed the ranch, but during this pregnancy, for some reason, it's become more serene. Mostly since I'm here more often than not. I don't want the news of my pregnancy to be out yet. To be honest, I don't want it to come out until I give birth, but with a husband like Michael, that's inevitable. I better enjoy this privacy while I can, because once we decide to air it out, this privacy will come to a screeching halt.
After learning about different modes of birth and knowing that I want this birth to be extra special, I've decided to have a natural water birth in the comfort of my own home. Even if I wasn't Michael's wife, I feel like I'd want nothing more than to give birth at home. But because of the celebrity I share with Michael, I'd hate for something so intimate to be so impersonal. Granted, Michael and I would make sure we're at the best hospital with the best nurse's money could possibly buy. Still, I'd rather not have fifteen different people staring at my cooch. One midwife or doula would be fine. But many? No. Next thing I know, photos of my birth are on the cover of "The National Enquirer."
Upon research, I've found that bonding with my babies immediately after birth is something that hospitals rarely do. They'll separate me from my babies' countless times to perform tests or whatever they must do for newborns. Not only does that give money-hungry nurses an ample opportunity to take photos of my babies, but I've read skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth is imperative. I'd hate to rob my children of that.
And despite who I am, being a black woman in the hospital has its' risks. I've already lost a child. I'd be damned if I lost two more because of the racist practices in medicine. Giving birth is the closest thing to death a woman can experience. Being a black woman, I'm three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than my white counterparts. I'd just rather not put myself or my babies in such a life-threatening situation. I want to be at home with people I trust to make sure my babies and I make it.
When I told Michael about the decision, he was all for it. When he said he would hire a photographer and a videographer to document the whole thing, I couldn't even be mad. That's a Michael thing to do, but I also wouldn't mind documenting such an intimate moment in our lives. These children will be my last for sure. What better way than to document and show the children in the future?
I looked down at my ringing mobile phone to find that my mother was calling. I muted the television and pulled my bowl of grapes closer to me then answered the phone. "Hey, Mom."
"Shayla, your father is convinced Mariah has lost her cotton-pickin' mind." Mom sighed into the phone.
"Why is that?" I laughed.
"Did you know Drew was married?"
I twisted my lips to the side. A while ago, I found out, but after talking to Mariah about it, who insisted they weren't dating, I just dropped it altogether. Mariah is grown. I don't think it's right that she sees a married man, because we all know she's sleeping with him. But if she insists that they're just friends, who am I to tell her what to do? The only thing I can do is tell her how it feels as a wife. But because she insists that they're just friends and not actually dating, there's not much I can do about that. "I heard."
"Well, we just found out. Drew and his wife Nicole are all over the news right now. How come no one told us? Why didn't Mariah tell us?" I shrugged. What does she really expect me to say? "Shayla, I did not raise a homewrecker!"
"I know, mom. But she says they're just friends."
She sucked her teeth. "Friends. Do friends hold hands and parade each other all over the world? Do friends fund my daughter's lifestyle to look richer than she actually is? Shoot! Why is this thirty-one-year-old friend interested in my twenty-one-year-old daughter?!"
"She's grown, mom. Let her make her own mistakes."
"Shayla, my mother would have beat my hind had she found out I was sleeping with a married man. My mother didn't raise a fool, and I for damn sure didn't raise one. I don't know who she got this from, but this is not my Mariah."
"Talk to her, Shayla. Because she won't listen to me."
I sighed. "I tried. It didn't work."
"Does she even care how this is affecting his wife?"
I pressed my lips together. It's sad to say, but I'm pretty sure my sister could care less. "This is just a phase, mom. It'll be over soon."
She sighed. "I'm disappointed in her, Shayla. I really am. No woman deserves this. And I can't help but feel like I raised a homewrecker. I don't know who she learned this behavior from. I really don't. She was born and raised into a fabulous family. We've given her nothing less but the world. And this is what she does with it after finally being able to run out there on her own?!" My father always disliked the idea of Dre and Mariah, but now my mother's fury was coming full force.
"Breathe, mom." I listened as she took several rapid breaths. As stressed out as she was, I was surprisingly calm. I'm not about to let my sister's shortcomings stress me out.
She finally let out a deep exhale and collected herself. "Have you spoke with Michael?"
"Yeah, he checks up on me every day. He's in Budapest right now. This weekend he'll be in Bucharest."
"My God. He's moving, isn't he?"
"Yep. It's not like I'm missing anything. I've been to every city he's going to this tour."
"Rub it in, why don't you?" She laughed. "How are my grandsugars doing, huh? When do we find out the sexes?"
"Next week," I sighed, rubbing my belly. "The doctor told me the babies can hear now, so I've been playing some of Michael's music through some headphones, so they know his voice. Oh, and I saw them burp through the ultrasound a couple of days ago. I've been reading to them too. I've been bonding with them a lot. If Michael was here, I'm sure he'd love bonding with them too."
"Aww, my baby is finally having babies!" Mom cooed. "You're gonna let us know when it's close for you to give birth, right? I want to be in the hospital when it's time."
I winced. "About that... We decided to have a water birth at the ranch. You're more than welcome to come. In fact, I'd love for all of my family to be here."
"A water birth? What's that?"
"I'll either be in an inflatable tub or one of the tubs we have here and give birth in there."
"You gon' sit in your own filth?"
I rolled my eyes. "Yes, mom. I want this to be special. You know how difficult it is, being a black woman in the hospital. I don't have time, and I definitely don't want my babies subject to any of that crap."
"Ain't nothin' special about sitting in your own filth. Girl, I had all five of y'all in the hospital, and all y'all turned out fine!"
I cocked a brow. "Didn't you tell me when grandma had one of your siblings, the baby was stolen?"
"...okay. But y'all turned out fine!"
"Uh-huh. Yeah, no, thanks. It's cringy knowing I have an Uncle or Aunt out there who doesn't even know I'm related to them. You're out of your mind if you think I'm going to some hospital. I'd be damned if someone stole my kid."
"Watch your mouth, Shayla."
I shrugged. "It's the truth."
"Yeah, but the truth still doesn't mean you can say curse words around your mother. I don't care how old you are."
"Mmm. Anyway, I'll let y'all know weeks prior when the babies are due, that way y'all can already be settled into one of the houses out here."
"Who's helping take care of you, Shayla?"
"No one. Varg helps me get out around the town, but that's rare. Other than that, it's just me."
"Well, you be careful, ya hear? All that money you got; you should have been hired someone to help you while Michael is gone."
She's got a point there. "Alright, mom. I'll look into it. Love you."
"Love you too." I unmuted the television and flipped the channels to find something new to watch only to come across a photo of my sister and Dre frolicking on the sandy beaches of Cozumel. "Shit."