When I discovered I was pregnant with my second child, I was cautiously excited. I knew that at my age, 39, I had a higher risk of complications, so through the early weeks I tried to avoid thinking of the embryo inside me as an actual child who would be entering my life. But when I had the standard screenings for genetic abnormalities, the technician told me one of the tests would reveal the gender, too. I said yes, I wanted to know. To be prepared.

A week later, the nurse called. “It’s a boy.” Dread was a hot flush in my head that drained and pooled in my chest, made my heart churn and my hands shake. A boy. Some mothers would be overjoyed. I was terrified.

My first child is a girl. I know black girls and women die in America with disturbing frequency. But Trayvon Martin’s face haunts me still, five years after his murder. I think I’ve known Emmett Till’s shy smile my whole life. As a child, I dreamed about his soft body, beaten bloody. What would become of the black boy I would bear into this world?

Thirteen months later, my son sleeps fat-cheeked and round-bellied in his bassinet. Dread and fear are not like a heavy load, which can be carried or not; they’re not like animals, which can follow you or not. My dread and fear at having a black boy child in America are like bones, dense and marrow-filled at my center, weighing me down. They are like organs, pulsing in my gut.

But my son, with his dimples and delicate ears, inspires tremulous hope, too. In hope lies such strength, and also such weakness, bound as it is with constant terror. All of this coalesced in one feeling at the end of that phone call, and that feeling glows every time I look at my beautiful little boy. Love. I am his mother, and that means this: As a parent, I let him know he is precious. As a writer, I tell his stories. As a citizen, I strive for a world that will not strike him down in violence, but will grant him safety and grace and life.

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