The morning Helena Andrews-Dyer was scheduled to give birth by Caesarean section, she made time to get her feet done. From the pedicurist’s chair, she texted me: “So much positive energy is brewing!!!” It was the kind of response I expected from Helena, who had just spent five months reporting a story on black women and motherhood.
A few months into her second pregnancy, she needed to read an article about black motherhood that wasn’t a horror story. So she decided to explore the joys of being a black mother despite the negative maternal health statistics they face. Her article didn’t blow up a scary statistic, an alarming anecdote or a gut-clenching quote.
Helena had questions that are seldom asked. How were pregnant black women navigating the dreaded numbers? How were they experiencing joy? How were they scrolling past the scary headlines and instead sharing stories of uplift? She talked to more than two dozen black women, and their answers were surprisingly simple. Young black mothers, would-be mothers, birth workers, politicians and presidential candidates are using our present reality as fuel for something like a social time machine, going back to the days where community, sister circles and tight bonds were responsible for knitting wounds.
We also asked black moms who read Helena’s article to tell us how they find their joy.
Here are some of their responses, edited for length and clarity:
Black motherhood is viewed as something to be endured, rather than enjoyed. Our history of separation from our babies during slavery, our horrible maternal and neonatal mortality rates, the “welfare queen/single mother” tropes and the images of broken women crying over the slain bodies of their sons. I reject this fully. Being a black mother is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love telling my children their history — how their great-grandparents migrated from the South to Chicago. I find joy in watching my beautiful children grow, develop and learn. I love how my daughter has her great-grandmother’s name as her middle name, thus carrying the legacy of another great black mother with her.
I love sharing experiences with other black mothers because we are all we have. We don’t see joy reflected in popular culture, so we make our own. It’s the little things: a sister smiling at my daughter who is carrying her baby doll African-style — tied to her tiny body. I find the joy in knowing that I’m raising three great black people who will give back to society. My ancestors made it so I can do this. That gives me tremendous joy.
I find joy in knowing my family’s legacy and in seeing the spirit of our ancestors and limitless potential of our kind, beautiful, smart, hilarious little babies. The cloth they’re cut from isn’t easily broken, but their bright auras have the power to coax smiles out of even the toughest individuals. Their love, their light, and their youthful, honest wisdom and observations — they bring me joy.
I’m a newish mom. My baby girl just turned 1, and we are also one year strong with breastfeeding! I have found joy in taking time out to just acknowledge other moms. For me, experiencing motherhood was nothing like I dreamed it to be. People say your life will never be the same, but they don’t share how your mind will never be the same.
I’m not talking postpartum, either — but simply that you, mama, will never look at any aspect of your life the same, even with all the support in the world. Motherhood is an elite club. Motherhood is a life journey that is not for the weak, but it will make you feel weak, take you to your weakest point. It also will make you feel the most empowered. The journey is different for every woman, but should be recognized and shared with others.
— Kimberly Moon, Columbia, Md.
I am a married mother of two beautiful grown kids (20 and 23), and I have learned to find my joy everywhere I can find it: through prayer, meditation, daytime lunch dates with my spouse, even brief conversations with my son as he leaves for his first job in the morning and texts with my daughter between her classes. I find my joy by connecting with other moms of all colors through Shefali Tsabary (one of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday guests), and with local black mothers through our network, Sistermoms, which I co-created in 1996 with our then-pediatrician, Cheryl Edmonds. I have always been an elder in our group of mothers, and have only now grown to appreciate that fact. The world gives us so many reasons to worry about our children and their collective futures. But I learned from my own mother how important it is to have a group of black women to count on, especially as a mother!
I’ve been a mom for 25 years. My daughters are 25 and soon to be 12. Pregnancy No. 2 was a whole different ballgame. My husband took a hardship tour so that I could stay behind. I was 35 and high-risk with a mom who also needed me. It was a lot! I honestly wondered how I could love another little person. I was so worn out that it seemed hard. She was hard. She’s the sweetest tween I know, but those early years functioning as a single mom through deployments, etc., was a lot. But what brought me so much joy is that my girls adore each other. My older daughter’s friends at Spelman checked on her little sister and even gave her a birthday party. Their bond is my joy. Seeing them love each other is my joy. My family is small; my extended family is enormous. Making sure that my girls experience love from family and witness happiness is crucial. We take fun vacations and celebrate everything! My oldest and I took a mother-daughter trip to New Orleans this summer, and people still say they’d love to travel with us! We had an amazing time. That’s joy! It does not matter if times are tough sometimes or stressful; it’s about us loving each other and seeing them develop their own bond. That’s my joy.
I recently took my 8-month-old daughter with me to the GirlTrek #StressProtest. It’s an annual retreat for black woman healing in the Rockies. I’ve gone the past two years and had every intention of bringing my daughter with me. Being a mom is absolutely the hardest thing I’ve done and probably will ever do. It can be challenging and even stressful, but my daughter is the greatest seed of my joy. Being with her lifts my spirits even if it also keeps me awake at night. While I didn’t get to take full advantage of the retreat like I had before, I did have the chance to see my daughter enjoy her first cross-country trip. To breathe fresh air. To be carefree and happy. And every smile, giggle, dance brings me enough joy to overcome all stressors. I’m so grateful she chose me to be her mom
My experience has been a roller coaster for sure: lots of moments where I was at the top and couldn’t see the bottom, and moments where I was at the bottom and couldn’t see the top (postpartum depression). I find joy in knowing that I get a chance to create my own narrative not only for myself as a mother, but for my child. I embrace my intersectionality. I know how to exist in the middle of “old school” vs. millennial parenting. And most of all, I find joy in growing into a more confident and intentional mama.
— Keila Dumas, Atlanta
I found my joy through my family. With both of my pregnancies, they surrounded me with love and good food.
— Portia Thompson, Chattanooga, Tenn.
To me, joy is watching my sons play sports and wondering where the hell they got this gift because I am not athletic at all. Joy is still watching my teenage boys sleep although they can be rowdy, ratchet and, yes, rude/
I gave birth at home on July 29. My wife gave birth on July 9 in a hospital. We were due three days apart and experienced our pregnancies in parallel but different health-care systems. I chose my care, not because I wanted a “natural birth,” but because I knew the medical model was not meant for my pregnant body. When I told people that, they would either look at me with shock of how bad it was or complete understanding of how bad it was. I found my joy by being able to choose a midwife who cared for me and understood my reasoning.
— Hadija Steen Mills, Minneapolis
I am lucky to have the support of a host of family and friends. Without them, I would not have been able to go to school, work and raise my two beautiful children, who bring me so much joy.
My experience as a black/Puerto Rican mother has had ups and downs. Breastfeeding didn’t last long because my daughter bit me at 2 months, but we continued until 4 months. Joy was spending a lot of time with her and loving her. She would look at me with this big smile and no teeth, but her eyes were twinkling. I loved it.