I’ve always hated the film Losing Isaiah.
So, it was not without irony, I found myself watching the film the other night. I flipped the channels desperately trying to avoid the movie. However, nothing else interesting was on. It has been years since I’ve seen the film, and thought perhaps it wasn’t as bad as I remembered. I was wrong. It wasn’t long before I changed the channel. I just couldn’t take Halle Berry twitching as a “crackhead” and speaking poor “Black dialect.” While, on the flipside, Jessica Lange played a loving and articulate middle class woman.
A synopsis of the film, Berry’s child is adopted by Lange’s character, after she leaves him in a trash can while high on crack. Later, Berry goes to rehab and gets clean. After a dramatic custody battle and not being able to bond with her child, she decides Lange should be in her son’s life. A Black mama needs a white woman to show her the way. The film was, and will always be offensive.
A couple of days later, I was scrolling through old posts, and came across articles I’d shared on the Hart children. I felt again, an overwhelming sense of sadness, as I stared at pictures of the children. It was disturbing to know that their smiles were covering the pain of emotional/mental/physical abuse.
Back in April, four adopted children (Markis, 19, Jeremiah, 14, Abigail, 14, and Sierra 12) were murdered by their “mothers,” Jennifer and Sarah Hart. Two other children, Devonte, 15, and Hannah, 16 bodies have not been found. It’s assumed they were also killed in a car crash, orchestrated by the women. It wasn’t long before reports came out that the women had a history of abusing the children. They moved from state to state, whenever social services got too close. It seems the most recent investigation on the family, was going to finally reveal the evilness of these women. So, they decided to kill the children, instead of facing the consequences of their actions.
“There was something so valuable about what happened when one became a mother. For me it was the most liberating thing that ever happened to me. Liberating because the demands that children make are not the demands of a normal ‘other.’ The children’s demands on me were things that nobody ever asked me to do. To be a good manager. To have a sense of humor. To deliver something that somebody could use. And they were not interested in all the things that other people were interested in, like what I was wearing or if I were sensual. Somehow all of the baggage that I had accumulated as a person about what was valuable just fell away. I could not only be me—whatever that was—but somebody actually needed me to be that. If you listen to [your children], somehow you are able to free yourself from baggage and vanity and all sorts of things, and deliver a better self, one that you like. The person that was in me that I liked best was the one my children seemed to want.”–Toni Morrison and Motherhood: A Politics of the Heart
When you are a new mother, you are juggling numerous responsibilities such as waking up every 2-3 hours to feed your newborn, constantly changing diapers, obsessing about your little one reaching milestones, and so on. It’s easy not to think about childcare, until you have to think about childcare.
Most mothers are able to stay home with their babies for the first few months. Soon, the reality of returning to work/school looms over their heads. Even if a woman is able to stay at home for a longer period of time, she still needs “self-care” days, errands that need to be done child free, etc. At some point, she will need someone to watch her baby. She will need childcare.
Initially, when I first got to the shelter with my baby, it went well. The director was supportive. I was the first person they had in a long time with a “fresh” baby. She believed strongly in mothers being able to bond with their children and rest and recuperate. Childbirth can be emotionally and physically draining. Unfortunately, she left for another job, and the shelter got a new director.
The new director was a recent widow from California. She and her late husband had owned a vineyard and other business ventures. They had been married for years and never had children. She was a well-off white woman who couldn’t relate to the stress of childrearing. This made it difficult for her to empathize with the mothers at the shelter. She didn’t understand why they couldn’t “just go get jobs.” Despite the fact many of the women were trying to heal from trauma in their lives (domestic violence, drug addiction, etc.), they had children that made it difficult for them to “just go get a job.” It’s not like she offered any resources.
Eventually, she targeted me. I think it’s because she knew about my educational background. She figured because I was one of the rare women at the shelter with a degree, I should especially be working. She failed to take into account I had an infant, recovering from a c-section (c-sections are considered a major surgery), and dealing with slight depression. She became pushy about me finding employment. When I would respond with “who’s going to watch my baby?” She would shrug. Well, that was helpful. The harassment became so overbearing, it wasn’t long before I left the shelter.
Later, I wondered why there weren’t better childcare options for mothers. This society is so bizarre. It makes a mockery of women who don’t want to be mothers, but provides little support for those who decide to become mothers. If anything, poor mothers are seen as an annoyance. Black mothers, in particular, are treated with hostility.
Our society has strange views when it comes to mothers. On one hand we exalt mothers, heap praise upon them (Mother’s Day), yet don’t provide concrete support for them such as universal childcare. As a matter of fact, majority of mothers are treated poorly on a daily basis, especially Black mothers. I often see mothers struggling with kids/strollers/bags/toys etc., while people push past them in a hurry. Usually, it’s mothers who will help other mothers by offering a hand or comforting an upset child.
I’ll never forget flying back to Portland with my 1 1/2 year old. He started hollering on the plane. There were other mothers on board. One sent some of her children’s snacks to me via fellow passengers. Another played with him to keep him distracted. One tried to carry on a normal conversation with me, to calm me. It was my first time traveling with my toddler, so it was a bit overwhelming for me. Recently, I saw an article about a mother who went through a similar situation at an airport. When I read that, it resonated with me.
Funny enough, I never wanted children. Honestly, I didn’t think I was mother material. And still wonder at times. I was surprised when I found out I was pregnant, but decided to keep chugging along. Curiosity got the best of me. I’m an older mom. I had my son at 41. So, it was a huge life change for me. My journey into motherhood has been interesting. I tend to have mixed feelings about it. I love my son, of course. I enjoy watching him come into his own. He’s a quirky kid, which I like. However, I miss my freedom sometimes. I think my ambivalence towards motherhood, is due to how it started out. It was chaotic and traumatic.
Just yesterday I stood for a few minutes at the top of the stairs leading to a white doctor s office in a white neighborhood. I watched one Black woman after another trudge to the corner, where she then waited to catch the bus home. These were Black women still cleaning somebody else’s house or Black women still caring for somebody else’s sick or elderly, before they came back to the frequently thankless chores of their own loneliness, their own families. And I felt angry and I felt ashamed. And I felt, once again, the kindling heat of my hope that we, the daughters of these Black women, will honor their sacrifice by giving them thanks. We will undertake, with pride, every transcendent dream of freedom made possible by the humility of their love. June Jordan, On Call, 1985
It’s May, which means Mother’s Day celebrations. However, for incarcerated mothers, it’s a reminder they will not be with their children/loved ones. Particularly, Black mothers who are the most vulnerable of becoming victims of the criminal justice system. One of the most pressing concerns for advocates of prison abolition, has been the alarming rate of Black women being held in jail…due to not being able to make bail. This highlights the economic inequality of Black women.
“This country’s pay gap problem — the yawning gap between the wages of Black women and white men — can have especially onerous implications in the criminal justice system. Economically disadvantaged Black women have fewer resources to make bail, causing them to wind up behind bars for far too long, even for crimes they’ve only been charged with and often are not found guilty of. This extra time in jail can lead to a seemingly never-ending downward financial spiral. Defendants can lose their jobs, along with access to benefits and even their housing. In short, incarcerating a woman who is poor will only make her poorer.” https://www.aclu.org/blog/womens-rights/women-and-criminal-justice/heres-how-prison-and-jail-systems-brutalize-women
A couple of years ago, Black Lives Matters/other grassroots organizations, made it their mission to bail out Black women on Mother’s Day. Besides, getting them out of jail, these groups provided the women with resources/opportunities to help them get back on their feet/thrive in their communities. Please consider making a donation to this important cause, as well as sharing on social media.
For the month of May, I will be dedicating the blog to Black motherhood. The National Bail Out/Black Mama’s Bail Out is one of varied ways people can empower Black mothers.