Not Yo Baby's Mama
Among the onslaught of degrading, dehumanizing, and disrespectful labels used to describe African-American females is one that is most hideous when the female in question is the mother of a child born out of wedlock, baby's mama. I can not tell you the outrage I feel when I hear this term used or spoken with a comedic tone or diction. In no other cultural community does this term exist and if it does - it was adopted from our culture.
I am guessing the term was coined because black men were at a loss as to what to call the mother's of their children that they were too cowardly to marry or preserve sexually , morally, or emotionally. This term encompasses college students, graduate students, career/professional women, welfare recipients, and teens as young as 13. It strips us of our individuality and categorizes us by an incident in our lives that we were too naïve to prevent but woman enough to accept. There are assumptions and stereotypes that accompany this term. We, (notice I said we), are thought to be lazy, evil, vindictive, gum-popping, welfare check receiving, tire-slashing, phone playing, calculating females by the masses. There our songs about us "Baby Mama Drama", and it is widely accepted and believed that we only serve to be a nuisance to the fathers of our children. We are painted with a cruel brush by the one who left his responsibility in the first place, hated by his current sexual conquest when the woman knows nothing of what really happened. It astounds me to sit in the hair shop and to hear female after female discuss her current relationship and how "wonderful" he is and then only to make him out to be the martyr when it comes to the issue of the children he has sired out of wedlock. I sit and observe these childless women make jokes and tell horror stories of deranged women that have made threats, had the fathers incarcerated "for nothing" when it was really an issue of overdue child support. For these women that appear to be at least slightly educated - they have never seemed to ponder the other side of the story - Our side. Is it easier to blame someone that you don't even know? Well, ladies - miss one round of your birth control and you will also be labeled accordingly - unless you opt for the easy way out because you got pregnant at a "bad time" or you simply "aren't ready yet". Chances are, none of us are ready to bear children without a husband. To rear children requires 2 adults because it is emotionally, physically and financially taxing. Please consider one other thing - if your current beau does have trouble out of the mother his children, there MUST be reason other than this woman acts as though she has a chemical imbalance. Either the 2 parents are currently or recently sexually involved or it could be possible that he is making promises that he has no intention of keeping. Yes, it could be that she has yet to move on and get over him, but at least - consider that you will never know the truth if you continue to rely on him to spoon feed you his version of what is really happening. Use your head ladies….
Our own stories of abandonment go unheard. No one cares to ask about those of us that have had to endure pre-natal appointments alone and elect not to participate in Lamaze classes because we lacked a partner. No one dares to even wonder of the hardships of raising a child alone, with a father that is free as the wind to continue his life as though two lives were not affected by his carelessness. I do realize that pregnancy prevention is a 2-way street - but how many disillusioned females are single mothers today? Those of us that actually believed that we were doing the right thing by not terminating a life that God has blessed us with, all the while believing that we would have someone to help shoulder the responsibilities of raising a child. How many of the "baby daddies" out there beat on their chest in protest when abortion or adoption was mentioned? It was an insult to him and his ego that this female is less than honored to carry his seed. "I'm going to take care of mine" was the line we fell for hook, line, and sinker. We didn't know there was fine print that would allow him the luxury to do so at his own leisure both financially, emotionally, if at all.
It is impossible to touch on the many variations of this scenario. Yes, there are women that purposely chose to get pregnant in order to save a dying relationship or out of sheer spite. But of these incidents, this is an exception - not the rule. Speaking from personal experience, I think it was my own inability to find love within myself that led me to seek it outside of myself. My own insecurities and unfamiliarity with love is what allowed me to believe that what I was experiencing was love - between a man and a woman. I did believe that they loved me. Each time, I believed they loved me because they told me so, at various times and in different ways. Not knowing what true love was, it resembled love to me, how was I to know the difference? How is it that I had to become a baby's mama to learn that it was a relationship of convenience and unrequited love? Pondering this thought while sitting alone at a Gynecologist waiting to be called for my 3rd trimester check-up, I noticed that I was the only pregnant woman there without a male counterpart. I felt every eye on me that day - and I did not feel human, but I felt like an incubator, some sort of vessel that had no feelings, no human qualities, and was a throw away - not worthy of emotional support by the one who months earlier told me that he would take care of his [baby]. Why is it that the women, girls, and teenage moms are forgotten even by the father when and if daily essentials are brought by? They forget our needs as females to feel beautiful, appreciated, and loved. Our needs not only go ignored by the father of the children - but ourselves also. We feel we are now tainted or used [up] not worthy of real love and who will want us anyway? We have lost our girlish figures and yet we are still girls! We have lost our innocence and the opportunities that are available to other girls. Behind our backs we are used as lessons by mothers to their own daughters - examples of how not to end up. Do they think we are unaware of this? We replay over and over the looks that scream at us, "hmph, humph, humph - babies having babies" in the supermarket by women that are the age of our mothers and grandmothers. We are banned from youth choirs and other church activities, unable to attend school dances proms, graduations, and yanked out of mainstream learning institutions and placed in learning centers where we receive an even lower level of education that exists in the public schools already. Our classmates are other pregnant girls, would-be dropouts, and academically challenged, emotionally ravaged young people. The school days are less than 4 hours and students receive credit simply for showing up.
I don't find it a coincidence that the term baby's mama was only newly coined in the late 1990's. One listen to the musical icons in black music today pretty much explains the sad state of young Black America. Repeatedly, we are referred to as hoes, sluts, bitches, tricks, and the likewise. Is it a small wonder that our self-esteem as Black women is at an all time low? Is anyone really surprised today at the escalating rate of HIV positive teenagers and young adults, when our music validates their sexual urges?
What visible role models do young black women have today? Of course, there are many reputable, beautiful, intelligent, educated, and successful black women for young girls to admire and follow - but how accessible are their stories? Are they seen in music videos or are their speaking engagements broadcast on the radio alongside concerts? Where is their exposure? Why aren't these women thrust in the faces of young black girls with a message of strength, determination, and hard work? Who do these young women have to model themselves after fashion and attitude wise - Trina, Lil' Kim, Foxy Brown, or women in videos cooing and dancing provocatively with one another . We are told through the music that we are here only to please a man sexually and once that feat is accomplished - we are of no use to him anymore. Via music videos and magazines we are taught to display our femininity to attract male attention. Our self worth is tied to a male that holds us in low esteem from the gate.
I thank God everyday that I was a teenager in the late 80's! I thank Him because the female rappers of my adolescence were risqué if they cut too many slashes in their stone washed denim. They were strong women, with a message - sassy, intelligent, and all of them beautiful. They voiced their power and sexuality with tact and femininity. I remember shaving a small portion of the side of my head to add lines like Salt-n-Pepa. At that impressionable age - I shudder to think if I had rap divas like Trina, Foxy, and Kim to model myself after, my mother would have killed me before the age of 15. Not to put them down because I sometimes listen to their music. But I listen responsibly because I am now an adult and I have full knowledge of the flip side of the life they glamorize.
The fact that women are not valued in the entertainment industry according to our God-given talent and beauty that is directly related to the low self-esteem carried by young women today. Our music says to them that they have to have designer labels, fake hair, a small waist, and a rotten attitude in order to "get paid" by a man. "Getting paid" has replaced the search for love that is inherent in each female. How many lives have been damaged by what we allow to continue in our community? All of these factors relate directly to the increasing numbers of teenage "baby mamas" - term that in itself does not relay any information whatsoever of the holder of this title.
This is not an attack on the music industry but some reasoning for those of you that shake your head or feel superior when you see a young lady with a baby - and no father around. For those of you that sit back and watch the news and agree with the radical views of welfare reform, and for those of you that use the term "baby's mama" - please know - we are ladies with emotions, needs, goals, dreams, and ambitions - and no matter what you decide to label us - we will continue to achieve our dreams with a baby on our hips.
From my own personal experience - I attribute becoming a single mom at the age of 18 to the fact that I grew up never knowing my father. He died when I was 2 years old and I never had the nurturing only a male can give a female. A little girl's first crush is on her daddy. He is the one who makes her feel safe and reprimands her with firmness but with love in most cases. It is her father that teaches her what is expected of her and how she should behave as a young lady. It is the father often times that set limits on curfews, and exercises his own judgments about who and when she should date. Her first bond with the opposite sex is with her father. The feelings of security are directly related to how she interacts with her father. He gives her lofty standards of morality and conduct that she feels she will never measure up to, all the while striving harder and harder to obtain his approval. Beginning life without this type of guidance for a young woman can be devastati ng - it was to me. Although I didn't know what I was missing by not having a father - I felt incomplete. I knew something was missing but I didn't know what it was. The first time a boy kissed me or held me close at a school dance - I exhaled literally. This was the missing element that I had lacked all these years! The feel of an arm stronger, firmer, and more muscular than my own was comforting. But you try to tell a mannish 14 year old boy that all you want is a hug! Unfortunately, males my age sensed my desire for their presence but I could not articulate that it was just their company that I enjoyed and they confused my wants for sexual desire. Although I did not give in until I was 18 and out of high school, I was labeled a "cock -tease" because I would not go all the way. I still had no inclination that it was intimacy that I sought. I didn't want to "do it" because I thought that it was nasty. No one was there to explain this civil war that raged in my mind and heart. I thought it was my fault for turning them on and after awhile - I felt compelled to give them what they wanted so that I could get what it is that I needed. Sadly, I found that what I wanted very rarely accompanied sex. This added to my confusion about male/female relationships.
Over the years, I have ruled out what it is that I don't want from a man and have made my boundaries very clear at the risk of being called a tease. But I learned it is better to be labeled a tease than a tramp. There are many reasons behind female/teenage promiscuity that can and often does lead to pregnancy. It is these issues that we have to begin to address even if on a one-on-one basis by speaking life and sharing life's hard lessons with our younger cousins, neighbors and nieces. Affirm them and let them know that they are beautiful just the way they are, correct them when they are acting un-lady like, and above all - set an example. I have made it a priority to find me in the young ladies that cross my path, to set an example of feminity, sensuality, morality.
Ladies, share your stories, heartbreaks, and wisdom. Fellas, encourage both young men and women to act responsibly when it comes to sexual issues. If you are a father and you have a child by a woman that you have not married - share the drama, disappointments, and lessons you have learned. Fellas if you see a young girl that is heavy made- up or scantily clad you might want to tell her that she is beautiful naturally and does not need to expose her wares or embellish her features to appear more mature. Too often I see men my age lusting after these misguided young women instead of remembering that you too have the power to affect her life in some small way.
To those of you that use the term loosely and with no thought to the person that you are speaking of - remember that is US that is bringing up the future with our own bare hands. In the face of poverty, loneliness, abandonment, and yes even our own issues - we are rearing and raising the future alone. To my fellow single mothers out there - the next time someone uses the term baby's mama around you - correct them - no matter who it is. If they are referring to you - tell them your name - even if they already know it. If they are speaking about someone else ask what her name is so that the connection is made that she is a person, not another species or sub-human. Do not hang your head in shame or accept what you are labeled, if they must label you by your choice to be a single mom, have them label you More Than A Conquer.