Lisa Factora-Borches

It was a hot September night when my son turned nine months old, when the guilt completed its transformation from emotion to somatic. The stress of breastfeeding, the isolation of parenting in a nuclear family in a quiet Midwestern street, to the unexpected realization I did not want to be a full time stay at home parent; like a magnetic calling for its ingredients, my body harbored some kind of experimental fusion of a new entity. It has no name.

I stand in the doorway and watch him. My tot lay in his crib, noisily dreaming with his round rump in the air. My feet shuffle a few steps over a thick hallway rug and I pause at a different threshold. I watched my partner blow thin puffs of air between his slightly parted lips, a sign, I knew after almost a decade of loving him, that designed exhalation meant he was in deep sleep. Assured they are safe from my dark thoughts, I walk the house.

A dead whisper, clamoring for life, wafts into my ear “What kind of mother are you.” It wasn’t a question. It was a judgment that hammered the space between my fingers since Isaiah was born so they felt numb when I tried to type, write, scribble, or even jot.

Rewriting the ending of stories I read, saving cards, reading poetry aloud to a mirror in the bathroom, I knew I was a writer when I was seven years old. But motherhood I didn’t decide until the advent of my 30s. There was little warning that the two would clash so magnificently, in such a horror comic show of blunder and anxiety. The collision of biology and art was a daily bruiser. I preferred to work on my writing more than anything in the world. Sometimes even mothering. I kept that secret deep within, afraid of what others would think. Afraid what it revealed about me as a mother. Terrified what kind of monster that made me.

I walk the house, stealing brief glances at the two sleepers in their beds. Tired of walking into nothing but endless questions and dim corners, I finally lay down to close my eyes and join them.

Out of nowhere – or maybe It was there all the time and I just realized It – It began. It was physical.

The tingling begins on the left side of my body and my heart began rhythmic drumming as I was running for my life. The walls turned into flat vacuums, sucking the air out of the room, leaving nothing for me. I couldn’t breathe.

I’m dying. I’m dying.

He turns over in the bed and sees my hand reaching for him. I muster plainly, “Something is wrong.”

What kind of mother are you.

It wasn’t a question.

The fear of my son being outloved by words, metaphor, meaning, and craft. The broken bleeding nipples, the tilted uterus, the rash outbreaks from the hospital gowns, my refusal for pain medication, messy IV, itchy skin. My heart races with fuel to outrun the memory bank of my body.

The tingling spread and Nick’s face covered mine and he is talking. I can feel your heartbeat and I’m barely touching you. You need help. We need help.

I open my eyes and see strangers in my bedroom, working on my body, taking my blood pressure, asking me questions about my health.

I’m dying. I’m dying.

The paramedics assure me that my heart was fine. I ask if they are sure.

Have you ever had a panic attack? one paramedic asks.

I laugh.

No. I don’t have anxiety in my family.

You had a panic attack.

I laugh again. He didn’t.

It’s three in the morning, he points out.

And? I challenge, suddenly feeling naked to have these strangers in my bedroom.

You’re a new mom? He’s not aggressive, just imploring.
But it was like scratching your finger against a bulldozer.

He sees my eyes flash, dark marbles of wild emotion.

Hey, he says, this is your body taking care of you. Whatever this is, whatever’s going on in your head is too much for your body. Your adrenaline is pumped in waves in reaction to your thoughts. You think you’re dying because it feels like a stroke, but it’s your body responding.

I look down. My disheveled tank top, my scrunched pajama shorts. The embarrassment sweats down my chest.

What kind of mother are you.

He sees my shifting eyes and goes on. When your body doesn’t get enough oxygen from hyperventilating, you begin to pass out. It’s your body’s way of saying Woah, I need to take over here so I can stabilize and get what I need because I’m not getting it.

He nods, appreciating his own analogy.

My son is sleeping through it all. Sound asleep.

They begin packing their equipment and I am standing now, apologizing.

What the hell am I apologizing for?

Just take care of yourself, he says.

What kind of—

I am a mother. And writer.

Lisa Factora-Borchers is a writer and editor of the forthcoming anthology, Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Assault (January 2014, AK Press). Her work can be found on and offline, and it focuses on spirituality, liberation, and feminism. Lisa lives with her partner, Nick, and their son Isaiah.

Syeda Begum

Syeda shows pictures of her dead son.

Syeda shows pictures of her dead son.

I met Seyda at her house in Srinagar. We interviewed her in the courtyard then moved into her one room dwelling for the recording. She spoke Kashmiri and I could understand very few of her words. I heard her story in translation and interviewed her with the help of Syed Asma, Umar Beigh and Parvaiz Bukhari. What I understood deeply were her tears, a sorrow too deep to look at straight on. Below is my interpretation of her story. If I do not capture her words as she said them, at the very least, I hope to reflect a bit of her emotion.

The door is still broken from twenty years ago when they killed my eldest son, Nazir Ahmed. I heard the noise outside and shouted for him to come in. The paramilitaries did not let me out. They came in and broke doors and windows. At that time I did not know he was dead. I went all over the city searching for his body. Finally I found him—prepared for burial.

I keep staring at the door, waiting for it to open, but no one comes. I imagine my sons walking through. My neighbors don’t use the door. They call in from the side. They care for me, bringing me enough food to eat. Oh what would I do without my neighbors? My stomach aches with sickness. My neighbors say I can wake them even in the dead of night if I need help. They have a car and can bring me to the hospital. They are helping me now that my sons and three brothers are all dead.

Even before I was born, my brother was shot through his head in a protest. That bullet followed us one by one. Now I am alone. In three years, three of my sons died, one after another, each year. In these times one could be killed for anything. My youngest son, Tariq, was down by the river, Jhelum. The paramilitaries chased him along the riverbanks. There was nowhere for him to go. So, he jumped in and he drowned. Two days later his body was fished out of the river along with a couple of others. He was 18 years old.

After Tariq and Nazir died, my son Ishtiyaq started keeping the company of militants. I don’t know if he was a gunman, but he was with militants. He watched his brothers be killed for nothing, just for being alive. This is how it is. You can be killed for anything. I did not see my son much. He would only come to visit every once in a while. The military would come to our house looking for him. Ishtiyaq was killed in a gun battle between the army and militants. He was hit with a burst of fire across his chest, the copy of a pocket Quaran he was carrying on him was torn by bullets his chest received. I found him dead and identified the body at the police station. I brought the body home and buried the body. I felt the light in my eyes fading. Darkness.

Nisar, my last son left living, lost his mind. He would wake up screaming in the middle of the night so often that the neighbors would complain. It got so bad that he would just go outside naked and screaming. I had no idea what to do. Finally, I brought Nisar to the psychiatric hospital. They put him on medicines, but nothing helped him. Then one day he disappeared. He left home naked and never returned. I never heard or saw from him again. If he were alive, he would have definitely come back to me. He is disappeared.

Some seven years ago, I went to see some distant relatives at the hospital who had twins—a boy and a girl. They are poor and asked me to take the baby boy with me for company. I raised Moshin as my own. He will perhaps go back to his own parents when I die. What else can he do? He tells me that he will stay with the neighbors after I die. They bring us food enough for the both of us.

I spin yarn sometimes. But I never ask anyone for anything. Nothing will ever change here because whatever people do, it is India that always wins.

All four of my sons and my husband are gone. All my brothers have died. Whenever I hear noise, I just go in my house, close it up and sit alone in the dark. I sit and stare at the door and no one comes.

Yasin Malik Arrested before Hunger Strike

Maqbool Bhat's mother, holding a picture of her dead son at a protest on May 3 in Delhi.

Yasin Malik, the chairman of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front, called for a hunger strike in New Delhi to draw attention to the thousands of disappeared people in Kashmir. Yasin Malik was taken into “preventative custody” by the Delhi police hours after this interview, explaining the demands of the hunger strike was recorded. According to the Kashmir Reader, Malik suffered from a cervical fracture after being manhandled by Delhi police. Yasin Malik was then forced to take a plane back to Kashmir. 150 mothers, children and other supporters of Kashmir’s disappeared marched on May 3 in Delhi. They were met by a fierce, oppressive police presence.

Yasin Malik was the commander-and-chief of the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front and spent over ten years in prison. He was instrumental in calling for the cease-fire and building the strong nonviolent resistance in Kashmir. This interview first aired on KPFA’s La Onda Bajita.

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The Bloom

the bloom

A Spring reading series of Bay Area writers, hosted at Progressive Grounds.

Yes-No is Thursday, May 9 at 7 pm. This free reading will feature Nayomi Munaweera, Tara Dorabji, Maria Allocco, Dilnavaz Bamboat, Yosmay del Mazo, Radha Narayan and Susan Shireen Kanga. Hosted by Phiroozeh Romer.

The Bloom is a free reading series at Progressive Grounds in the mission (2301 Bryant @ 21st St.) More info

the After Birth


After giving birth, I bled. I’d been so focused on opening and releasing that after my babies came, I just stayed wide open. Prepared to give until my life slipped away. I didn’t feel the shot of Pitocin to my thigh. The IV pricked cold into my wrist. It felt so good to put my head back on my futon, as if I could sleep forever. But my midwife put her head squarely in front of mine—“Keep your eyes open.” I battled her, reminding her that I’d not slept for two nights—but in the end she won and so did I, I stayed with them.

I’ve been thinking about birth a lot. Maybe it is because my sister, Zarine, just had a baby. Or maybe because my daughters are turning six. Babyhood is very much over.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I faced after the homebirth of my twin daughters. Ixchel was transferred to the hospital. Her breathing was unstable. I lost so much blood that I could not bend over without almost passing out. I’d never been so physically unable. Unable to prepare food. Unable to pick up a sock on the floor. Unable to wash my dishes. And I was full of needs—so hungry, wanting steak. Needing help even to shower. It was two days before I showered.

I had two infants. This is what no one tells you—that when you are a mom you still have to get through the hard times, but now you have to guide your children, even when you are knocked to the ground.

Kali was in my arms, eating from me, requiring more than I’d ever given. And Ixchel was separated from me. The news kept getting worse—her blood was too thick. They had her in an isolation unit with a tube in her throat. Morphine. Salination. Too many decisions. I was not there.

Her father and the midwives went to the hospital with her that first night.

And then she was alone.

My baby was in the hospital. I was too weak to go. I could not let myself feel the pain. I just knew she’d be OK. I’ve never known something with such ferocity. She was born a warrior. I don’t think I cried. Every part of me had to hold steady. There was no room for panic or fear.

My sister, Sarai, saved me. Without me asking her. We had planned for her to photograph the birth. But in the end she stayed. She called her boss and took two weeks off of work. She slept on the lumpy, blue folded futon in the living room. Birth, death, and sickness provide this pinpoint clarity. How in one moment you can make a decision to pack your life up and arrive to hold someone up.

My mother, aunt, sister, father, friends, son, and kids’ dad were all stepping in and up and helping. It took everyone and then some. But I remember Sarai most during this time. Every day Sarai went to the hospital. When there was a medical decision to make about my daughter, she called. When they pulled out formula to feed my baby, she went to the freezer and grabbed my breast milk. When they tried to give Ixchel morphine, she gave her Reiki and got Ixchel to be still and calm. She made me breakfast in the morning and changed Kali’s diaper at night.

She cooked up my placenta for me. Really. I don’t know whose idea it was, but I ate it with basil on toast. The rest she cured, pulverized, and freeze dried, so I could use it as medicine. I still do.

It was humbling. Needing so much.

Sarai was the glue that held me together. She protected my daughter when I could not. She held her hand. And she held mine. That first time I went to the hospital, I came in a wheelchair and she pushed me there.

When I held Ixchel in my arms, everything was wet: my cheeks, my shirt. I was covered in milk and tears.

My daughters are six now and don’t remember their Auntie Sarai. At first I was angry. Then I was scared and then like so many things it just hurt too much. So I accepted that she was lost to me. She called me a few months back. It’s hard to pick-up the pieces of a relationship after so many years. I didn’t say, “Thank you for keeping me sane when my girls were born.”

I did say that I understood why she left. I told her that I love her. At least that is what I remember saying.

Protest Music on the Execution of Afzal Guru


Afzal Guru was executed by the Indian government on February 9 in New Delhi’s Tihar Jail.
Executions are extremely rare in India. Afzal Guru was charged and convicted of the 2001 parliament attack in Delhi. Afzal Guru was hung after his final plea for clemency was rejected. Since his execution there have been massive protests. In March the Kashimr Walla reported 4 deaths and 350 civilian injuries resulting from protests against his execution. The protests around Azfal Guru’s execution are taking many forms, including protest songs. On Kashmir Speaks, Mumbai-based hip hop artist Ashwini Mishra discusses his song “True Lies: Tales of Afzal Guru.” This segment aired on KPFA’s La Onda Bajita.

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Vigils at the Livermore Nuclear Weapons Lab

Chelsea and Marcus Page-Collonge protest at the gates of the Livermore nuclear weapons lab.

Chelsea and Marcus Collogne-Page protest at the gates of the Livermore nuclear weapons lab.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is the main location of nuclear weapons research and development in California, 88% of its budget is for weapons activities. The next monthly vigil conducted by Catholic Worker Farmers at the Livermore nuclear weapons lab will be on Friday May 3rd from 7:00 to 8:00 am. Chelsea and Marcus Page-Collonge discuss why they organize the vigils.

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A Note to My Son


I never said thank you for that time you put your hand on my back and told me it was OK to leave. I’d left you sobbing on your bed. You were in fifth grade then. Arms lean muscles reaching to cover bone. Lanky in form, but small in frame and wailing when I said that I was leaving your dad. Even though I was raising you, I had no legal or biological claim to you. Leaving your dad was leaving you.

I came back a few days later to take care of you. Your moon face beaming at me. And we pretended like nothing had changed, your hand warm in mine as we walked home from school. Your shoelaces dragged, untied through the gutter as we crossed the street. Without being asked, you did your homework. If you were good enough, sweet enough maybe I would stay.

When your dad and I finally split up for good, you were 16 and no longer good or sweet. Your voice dropped and hung flat. “I don’t give a shit,” you said. “It doesn’t matter to me.” The gaping holes in your teeth replaced by braces. The round of your eyes bloodshot red and lidded with weed.

Now, you are gone from me. On the day you collected the posters from your wall, you couldn’t stop shaking your foot. Even your voice trembled. I could not see the scabs under your shirt, but I knew they were there, trying to stake a claim to the pain you tried to cut away. I recycled the empty bottles of tequila in your room. Most of the calls have stopped—the substance abuse program, your CPS worker, the counselor from the county shelter.

You call me when you need something. A place to stay. A tent. Money. And I can only sometimes bring myself to pick up the phone when you call. My stomach tightens and heat rushes to my cheeks. Joy, longing, and anger collide. I tell myself that I don’t hunger for you. I pick up the phone. We, for a moment, pretend not to be strangers. Mother and son. And that still exists even if not bound by blood or law. On your 18th birthday, you called me back to ask me to sign over your college account to you. “You’re not in college,” I said.

I want to be angry because it gives me something to feel that takes the pain away. But I remember how we were.

When you were in fifth grade, you put your hand on the square of my back, so you could feel my heart beat right into it. You knew that I came back for you. To take care of you. Because you asked me to. The plan was that I would leave before your dad came home. But he left work early.

I made for the door. He grabbed my elbow. The desperate hard grab, skating toward an edge. Thick pads of fingers, pulling me toward him. There would be no bruises from the force. “Don’t leave,” he said. My eyes filled with tears. My hair streaked in my face. And the animalistic fear came. Your dad was close to the edge. Hands on my shoulders. Voice out of control. I told him to get his hands off of me. His grip tightened. Every part of me wanted to leave, to break free. But there was you.

“Stop, dad,” you said. And you put your small thin frame between us. Your father stepped back, released me. That is when you put your hand on my back. I was sitting on the stairs. “It’s OK. You can go. Go.”

You gave me permission. Before I walked out that door, I held you. All 46-pounds of you, balled up as if you could become a fetus that would fit inside of me and go back into my womb and be born again as my child.

The Mamilogues is a forum about the journey of being a mom, because mothering is raw and gritty.

Bapsi Sidhwa on Partition

April 6 in Berkeley

April 6 in Berkeley

Bapsi Sidhwa, an award winning, Pakistani author of five novels, including Cracking India and the Crow Eaters, discusses the partition of India and her work for justice. She was one of the first authors to take on the horror of the 1947 partitioning of India, the largest land migration in human history. About 10 million people were forced to migrate. An estimated 1 million people died from the rioting and fighting. Through her work as a writer, Bapsi Sidhwa strives to bring women’s issues of the Indian subcontinent into public discussion. She will speaking in Berkeley on April 6 at the 1947 partition archive’s Art for Partition event. This interview aired on APEX Express.

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More on the 1947 Partition Archive

Disappeared in Kashmir

Mughal Mass spent 22 years searching for her son, Nazir Ahmed. In 2009, she passed away, her son was never found.

Mughal Mass spent 22 years searching for her son, Nazir Ahmed. In 2009, she passed away, her son was never found.

Former BBC journalist, Ather Zia, discusses her research on the disappeared in Kashmir. From 1989 to 2011 there have been 8,000 disappearances and 70,000 deaths of Kashmiris resulting from the Indian occupation. Ather Zia is also the editor of Kashmir Lit. This segment of Kashmir Speaks aired on KPFA’s La Onda Bajita. Music is by MC Kash.

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