Dear Sista Friend,
My desire to become a mother goes back to when I was a little girl. Even at the age of nine, I nurtured my baby cousins. There I was carrying them on my hip although they were as big as me! I always enjoyed having responsibilities and was very mature for my age. I was also dependable and reliable, traits which are especially important to have as a parent. As a product of teen romance, I knew for sure that I wanted to wait until I was out of high school to have a baby; but my goals were more than that. I
had a plan that I would establish my career, get married, and then bring a child into a loving home. All of my choices led me to that moment on November 9, 2017 when my handsome little twin was born. Having the title of Levi’s mom has been the most rewarding, eye-opening experience of my life!
Being Young and Black
The assumption is that many Black women are teenage mothers at an alarming rate. Misinformed people think that we are only capable of producing children without any means of providing for them. I despise that we have been prescribed an image of being reproductively irresponsible when we’re the ones who birthed this nation (but I digress…)!
I saw this mindset firsthand during my delivery. My quality of care exposed an attitude from the nurses that here was yet again a young Black girl giving birth to a child for which she did not plan. Admittedly I look young, but that is hurtful. Even if that were the case, all mothers deserve to be treated fairly and tenderly during such a momentous, painful occasion. My mother and I certainly voiced our concern to the hospital, but it made me wonder about the young women who do not have the support or wherewithal to fight against a system who demonizes them for being young AND Black. Age and race do not automatically make someone a fit or neglectful parent. We only have to look to unfortunate news reports to confirm that.
Despite the negativity, there is an upside to the two identities. Younger parents tend to have more energy to overcome those sleepless nights and hours of playtime. It is generally noticed that we “snapback” quicker (even if this isn’t scientifically proven). Furthermore, as a Black mother, I have inherited this overwhelming sense of strength and pride in a rich culture that I will inevitably pass down to my children. Being young and Black is a gift.
Having Your First Child
One thing that I came across a lot was unsolicited advice! Although family and friends mean well, having your first child is special and is an experience that only you ultimately have the power to govern. There is nothing wrong with taking advice from loved ones, but there is equally nothing wrong with reading books/articles, listening to the doctor, joining a mommy blog, or doing your own thing altogether. Parenting is unique to each child so no piece of information is ever “one size fits all”.
As long as your child is safe, healthy, and happy, how you achieve that is up to YOU. Choosing whether to breastfeed or formula feed is your prerogative. Deciding when or if to go back to work is a personal choice. Determining what items to add to your registry depends on your style and preference. Even the hot topic of vaccinations is a subjective decision. You will inevitably learn as you go and find your way. Seek out help if warranted, but revel in the miraculous growth that just transpired in your body and your initiation into an extraordinary club.
Marriage and Motherhood
SHOUT OUT TO ALL OF THE SINGLE MOTHERS! You all are the real MVP’s. My mother reared me and my brother on her own. Our fathers were present on weekends, but she was the main caregiver; and now that I have a child of my own, I realize how much sacrifice it takes to be dedicated and committed to a little human who requires all of your attention and depends on you to survive.
Thus, I appreciate my dear husband for being the most wonderful father and help mate! For a while after giving
birth, I rarely lifted a finger. He took paternity leave for a week, so I did not change a diaper until he went back to work. He is usually up with Levi at night so I can get ample sleep (although I do not sleep as soundly as I once did). He even stays at home with Levi during the day since he works at night. We have shifts and share the responsibility almost equally. Without his help, simple tasks like doing my hair, taking a shower, cooking, folding laundry, or studying for my classes would become much more overwhelming.
Even with this wonderful arrangement, introducing a child into a marriage of three years is not without its challenges. The intimacy between two people can shift on its head. Whereas my husband still felt affectionate after I had our son, I had to work at taking off my mother hat and putting on my wife one. It is true that marriages can suffer and closeness can take a backseat if your mate feels neglected. After being together for so long with no responsibility for another human life, having a child is a disruption. A welcome disruption, but a disruption nonetheless. We are still a work in progress; thankfully, the beauty of it all is that we get to continue to grow together in a stimulating and gratifying way.
Unfortunately, I cannot enjoy all that comes with motherhood without thinking about the woes which accompany it, too. The other night my husband and I watched Black America since MLK: And Still I Rise which is a documentary on PBS about the state of Black America after the civil rights movement. Rehashing our sordid history, I could not help but think about my child having to grow up in a nation which still devalues his worth. We were furious and steaming by the time the program commenced. Seeing Black people gunned down by police will never sit well with me. I will always feel uneasy about my son leaving the house and possibly not returning home. I am annoyed that people will have negative preconceived notions about his sweet disposition or genuine intentions. I shudder to think that the odds are against him for no other reason than the color of his beautiful skin, one that he did not choose.
The reality is that Black parents in particular have to prepare our children for this world. No matter how much we love and try to protect them, our imaginary security blanket will not be enough. I will give them “the talk” played out on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and introduce them to sitcoms like Black-ish to teach them history, push the envelope, and provide comic relief. We will look to our ancestors and contemporary game changers who remind us that we should be proud to be Black. I cannot separate my motherhood from my culture because I realize it has a huge influence on how I parent.
This is an amazing, beautiful journey and I would not trade it for the world. I wholeheartedly accept this undertaking and am thankful for God’s blessing, challenges and all.
Your Sista Friend,
Bri Smocks teaches 10th grade English in Texas. She graduated with her Bachelor of English and Master of Education from Southern Methodist University. As a new mom, she juggles her time between relaxing with her husband and taking classes in her Principal Certification Program. Bri enjoys reading biographical novels and traveling.