Published on August 22nd, 2013 | by Michelle Tea3
An Interview with STACEYANN CHIN
It’s downright rude to schedule an interview with a person and then, like, totally forget and never make the call. It’s even more of a flub when the subject is Staceyann Chin, the Jamaican poet and writer who began spitting slam poetry at the infamous Nuyorican Poets’ Café and wound up on Oprah discussing her stunning memoir The Other Side of Paradise, a story of fierce love and intense brutality that spans the author’s time in her native Jamaica. Then there is creating acclaimed one-woman shows and helping launch Def Poetry Jam on Broadway.
Then there is becoming a Single Mother and adding 24-hour Mom duty to her roster – perhaps you’ve caught her blogging about it on the Huffington Post. After I blew our first conversation Staceyann figured out some clever ways for us to chat. Probably second-nature problem-solving for this innately multi-tasking artist.
Here’s Staceyann Chin’s outgoing message: You did not reach Staceyann because she is probably pulling fingers out of a light socket.
I called Staceyann the evening of the 4th of July as she’s busy bundling her babe up for a BBQ. Call back in the morning? Totally. I called and she answered. There’s a car on the way to drive her to a gig in Boston (she just got off a plane three days ago from another out-of-state gig, and didn’t even realize she’d left her luggage behind at the airport.) and she had a few minutes to talk before it pulls up. – Michelle Tea
MUTHA: Had you always wanted to have a child?
STACEYANN CHIN: I knew I wanted to get myself pregnant, and in my mid-30s the desire became acute, acute enough to no longer be led by women who were like, ‘I don’t really want to have children.’ I remember starting a relationship when I was 35 and I said, ‘I’m going to have a kid and so shortly you will become partners with a women with a child. The train is headed in this direction. Feel free to jump off or come along for the ride.’
MUTHA: Were you imagining she would co-parent with you?
STACEYANN CHIN: I think it was a gray area. In spite of myself, I wasn’t entirely sure.
The car arrives to whisk Staceyann off to Boston. She asked me to call back in a few minutes and we could continue once she’s on her way. I spend some time on the Barney’s sale site, my new favorite way to kill time: Fill up your basket, empty it. Fill up your basket, empty it. Call back Staceyann Chin.
STACEYANN CHIN: Can you call me in about 20 minutes? I’m putting things in the car.
Back to Barney’s. I’m way deep in IVF treatments, popping birth control pills and shooting Lurpon into my belly each night. This was way too early to start putting sale baby blankets into my Barney’s basket, but as I said, I don’t actually buy anything. I tossed a baby blue giraffe-printed snuggie next to my Helmut Lang jeans and a Theyskens Theory blouse. Then I deleted it all and called Staceyann Chin.
STACEYANN CHIN: Michelle, give me five minutes just five minutes. I’m putting the stroller in the car from my car, thank you, love.
The whole point of me including all this back-and-forth here is to display how amazingly accommodating Staceyann Chin is. Ten minutes later I tried again, and she’s ready for me.
STACEYANN CHIN: I was 35 when I said to myself, regardless of what’s happening inside my relationship I’m going t have a kid. I was open to the idea of co-parenting with my then-partner, but I wasn’t necessarily looking for it outside the hope that you would have some help. But I was going to do it regardless.
MUTHA: What was your experience with In-Vitro Fertilization like?
STACEYANN CHIN: I had a really, really, really wonderful experience. I want to New York Fertility Services. I walked in in November and I was pregnant in May. I actually had a breakup during that time and kind of fell apart, and they were amazing. The team of them were amazing.
MUTHA: I’m going through IVF at the moment, and I’d been concerned that it would be a cold, medicalized, sort of sterile process, but it has actually been really fun.
STACEYANN CHIN: It was very medicalized, the process was medicalized, but the place and the people I dealt with were very much ‘let’s focus on the baby you want.’ I don’t know, I didn’t have any horror stories. I feel like the medical process is inherently difficult here in the US where the insurance situation is brutal.
(For more than you even want to know about that, check out this article from the New York Times: American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World.)
MUTHA: Did you use banked sperm or a known donor?
STACEYANN CHIN: I have known donor who is in my daughter’s life. He’s 22 years old, so, as much as you could ask. He’s like a little brother to me. I’m sure when she begins asking questions it will be an interesting process, but it will be an interesting process anyway, right? I started looking for donor sperm but there were very few donors of color, and I didn’t like the fact that all the of-color donors were over used. I didn’t want there to be siblings around that she didn’t know about. It just complicates things.
I had called (the donor) to ask if he knew of any men who could help me, and he said, Why not me? And I said, Really? And he said, Sure, I’ll do it. His brother and I were very good friends. His brother was a gay man and we lived in the same house. Five years ago he passed away from cancer, so his little brother who I’ve known since he was six years old showed up. The ends are neatly tucked in, for now at least.
I think the process before hand was more dramatic than the IVF. I had fibroids and surgeries . . . I started with cash I’d saved up for this, and between the surgeries and the process itself and the fact that I was on bed rest for seven of the eight months I was pregnant – I was flat broke. This is the first time I’ve been financially challenged since I was 27. It’s a life lesson. You learn.
MUTHA: What is bed rest, exactly? Are you literally in bed all day long?
STACEYANN CHIN: If I needed to use the bathroom I could get up. Otherwise, no. And I had to fight for that privilege, because doctors wanted to me to use a bedpan, and I was like, I’m not going to be on my back for 24 hours.
MUTHA: How will you navigate writing about your daughter, including her in your work?
STACEYANN CHIN: I have to figure out a way to. As she gets older I will have to measure my words more carefully and I will have to take note about how she feel about it, but she’s a kid of a memoirist! Maybe I’ll stop using her name in the blog, maybe I’ll write the blog but not make the blog public until it doesn’t matter anymore. I could write the blog when she’s four but not publish it ‘til she’s eight and she’s not recognizably that kid anymore. It’s all making it up as you go along. And when you find you’ve made a mistake you apologize and file that information so that you don’t make that mistake again.
MUTHA: How has it been for you to be working?
STACEYANN CHIN: As soon as she falls asleep I write. I’ve been writing short pieces for the past two years. I just finished drafting what I think is my first play, I’ll shop it in Manhattan in early September.
MUTHA: What is it about?
STACEYANN CHIN: Motherhood and the fertility process and mothering – the kind of ridiculous nature of mothering. The journey to or the process of or the climax of birth – it’s all going to be used in there.
MUTHA: So have you gotten a certain groove around when and how to work?
STACEYANN CHIN: I absolutely have no groove. It’s all very staccato and brutally un-choreographed. But I think in that is a kind of magic. In the face of all of this stuff it really boils down to, this is being human and what is really important?
MUTHA: Queer people and feminists have extra-complicated relationships to gender. How has that influenced the way you are raising your daughter?
STACEYANNE CHIN: You know, I try very hard to articulate a pride and a kind of empowerment in being female. And I decided to use the word female, not girl or woman, as it has to do with the biology. I will give her the tools to fight, the tools I have gathered I will try to share with her. And just listen, have lots of conversations all the time about everything becuase I don’t think I have all the answers, but she will have questions and we will face them together. People who come into this world with particular bodies have particular challenges. I don’t want to tell her what she will identify as, but she will see – this is the body you wee born in and how can we minimize the damage of that reality. All I know is what I have in front of me. Right now I have to find a way to protect that body, give her room to grow into what she wants to be, what she desires to be.
MUTHA: How was your birth?
STACEYANN CHIN: I used a doula, I had a midwife, I labored for 23 hours and I wouldn’t go beyond six centimeters, so when her heartbeat stared to do strange things they did a C-section. They made the decision 9:30, 10:00, and she was born at 11:30.
MUTHA: What is it like being out in the world as a ‘mom’?
STACEYANN CHIN: I think when you’re a mom that’s your first identity that people meet and respond to. People don’t care of you’re gay if you’re black, they respond to me as a mom and my primary interactive identity is being mother. It puts me in an in club I wasn’t in before.
I don’t know how I feel about it. Sometimes I like being seen that way and then sometimes I wish they would see more than that. Its just a very new journey and so I’m just being open to whatever it brings. But it gives people a reason to talk to you all the time. I have conversations with strangers, people in airplanes . . .
Even if it’s not an issue of value it’s an issue of being comfortable with it. But it is a journey and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.