Why I Find It Hard to “Celebrate” Roe v. Wade

Reblogging, January 22, 2014

January 23, 2013

I am many things. I am a woman. I am a mother. I am black woman and mother to black kids. I am a Christian. I am a liberal. I am a feminist.

I am pro-choice.

I am pro-life.

I am anti-abortion….for me.

I am pro-Roe v. Wade.

2012 Commemoration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court
2012 Commemoration of Roe v. Wade at the Supreme Court

Roe v. Wade…abortion…life…choice… these words mean so much. And we talk about them as if they are opposites, as if life and choice and abortion cannot coexist. And I’m not sure that they can. But one thing I do know — the right to abortion cannot be disconnected from the cultural context in which it exists.

I don’t think it makes much sense to argue about when life begins. Any woman who has experienced the loss of a miscarriage – whether it happened at 8 weeks or 8 months – will tell you that the life lost began as soon as she knew the life existed. Other women will tell you that the life did not feel “real” until that child actually appeared out of the vagina. But I don’t think that really matters.

For the right to an abortion is not about the abortion at all. It’s about self-determination in a world that hates to let women have a say and hates to make sure children have a life worth living.

As much as I know in my heart that I will never have an abortion (hence my “anti-abortion”), I also know that the right to have one is a pivotal right for every woman to hold in the world in which we live. This is a world that throws food away while people – including children – starve. This is a world that does not guarantee each person clean water and fresh food and preventative health care. This is a world that uses the education system to perpetuate and exacerbate racial and class inequality. This is a world were women are blamed for sexual violence. This is a world were many women cannot earn enough to support the children they have. This is a world where our kids can’t even be safe in school.

This is a world where no one is assured a life worth living – especially if you are female and/or a child.

No woman should be forced to bring a life into this world.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t value life. Because I do. My children are the most precious thing in the world to me. They give me three reasons to live each and every day. I think I was destined, by God, to be a mother. It’s the most important thing I do. If I were to have another pregnancy, unexpected, I would birth that baby. No doubt in my mind. But I would do it because I wanted to. Not because God told me to. Not because anyone else wanted me to. Because I wanted to.

I would likely not feel that way if I didn’t have a choice.

Which also means that if the world were perfect (not sure what that would look like), I would still be pro-Roe v. Wade. Because as distasteful as abortion is to me (and to most people – I don’t think anyone takes pleasure in the loss of life), the moment we start policing how and whether and when women bring life into the world we have made life less perfect, made life less equal for some of us. As soon as we start telling women that their bodies no longer belong to them to do with them as they please in pursuit of their liberty and happiness they no longer have liberty and they are forced into someone else’s conception of happiness.

I’d rather have free, happy women than constrained, oppressed women. I’d rather trust that the person who will be responsible for nurturing that life growing inside of her as to whether she can or is willing to do that responsibly.

I think there can still be restrictions, because I still think that abortion is the taking of a life. Freedom does not mean carte blanch. But I think that should be left to a truly democratically-elected legislature, and not a court of nine individuals who are not elected. Because it is that democratically-elected legislature who determines whether an unemployed mother will be able to rely on the social safety net to feed her children. They are the ones who decide how much money we put into educating children. They are the ones who decide who is worthy of health care. And who is not. The same people who want to force women to have babies should be the same people who will make sure those babies have healthy, happy lives.

So I support Roe v. Wade, but I don’t “celebrate” it. Abortion is not a cause for celebration. But I understand that choosing to end a life often means choosing to lead a life worth living. Who is to say – other than the person making the decision and living the life – which is more important?

Let Go?

Thursday evening, my recently-turned-six-year-old was vomiting bright green bile. The bright green was a progression from the yellow of earlier in the day. At about six o’clock, as he lay in his bed with his clothes still on, I noticed his breathing was awful. He lay on his back with his mouth open, and as he inhaled, his chest collapsed – the opposite of one’s chest should be doing. He’s ridiculously skinny, so it’s hard to tell sometimes with his ribs already being exposed. But his whole body was moving as he breathed. Something just didn’t seem right.

Long story short, I took him to the ER and after waiting 2.5 hours, they said he had pneumonia. As they prodded him with x-rays and IVs, sticking wires all over him and swabs up his nose, and as he screamed and cried, “Mommy, I’m scared,” I realized that there is no job more important to me than being that child’s (and his sister’s, and this baby-to-be’s) mother. As I tried to keep my tears in and just repeat to him over and over that it was all so that he could get better and that I was not going anywhere, I realized how empty my life would be without this child. For the second time in his short life (the first was when he was 13 months old and had internal bleeding), I felt like his life and his health was out of my hands and that out of control feeling over this being who depends on me to be in control was…unreal.

He’s much better now, although still on antibiotics and a steroid and an inhaler. I kept him home from school today, even though he was better, because a part of me could not bear to let him go, to let him be out of my sight. I cannot get his scared little face, with his big eyes and huge tears, out of my mind. I’ve been bawling about it every night since it happened, even though I know pneumonia is not a death sentence and he really is okay. But it was an emergency that I could not fix except to bring him to people who could.

Obviously God knew what he was doing when he designed to have my children grow inside my body before their introduction to the world. The bond between me and them created through this process of growing and loving is one that I needed to experience, a bond that transcends what could be considered rational or common sense. I know the biological/evolutionary story is that we care about our genes living on through the generations, I don’t know if I buy that for me. Instead, there is something supernatural about hearing them call my name – “Mommy.”

This love is both strengthening – I would do anything for them – but also weakening. They say “let go and let God,” but…wow – how do you do that? What do you do when you feel like your whole world, in this little tiny package, might be falling away from you? I want to be ready, but I’m not. I’m not ready to give my children over to God.

Is the high black abortion rate a problem?

I’ll spare you the suspense: I think not. Now read on for the rest.

Here’s my position: I’ve never had an abortion. And I don’t think I ever will. I have friends and family who have. I am staunchly pro-choice. I was kind of pro-choice before having children. I am even more so after having children. It’s a responsibility only those who truly want to do it should take on. We don’t support parents in this country. And arguments about all the people who want unwanted kids are BS. Look at how long kids stay in foster care. 

So here’s the deal. As I regularly troll the internets for stories about black children and black mothering, I came across this op-ed from Dennis Byrne, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, commenting on the billboards across the country that try to shame black women into not having abortions. Although he is neither black nor a woman (his words), he thought it his (duty? calling?) prerogative to comment on the “high abortion rate among blacks.” Here’s the gist:

Political correctness and ideological dictates discourage discussion of the culture of some black communities as explanative of violence, ignorance, high rates of abortion and other dysfunctions. But for those communities, culture is described by the growth of a matriarchy, as displayed by the many grandmothers raising their daughters’ children. By the absence of men in child rearing. By men who prey on young women who have never learned what to expect from decent, caring and responsible men. By the collapse of the family and the destruction of men’s and women’s traditional, balanced roles in making children strong enough to resist the challenges of today’s broader culture of irresponsibility, casual sex, substance abuse and other plagues.

In this op-ed, Byrne rehashes an old, but reborn, theory: that there is something intrinsic to black “culture,” independent of any outside factors, that accounts for the disproportionate numbers of abortions in black communities.

This makes my blood boil. One, because as a scholar who studies culture, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

First: on culture. Byrnes defines culture as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.” Um, not quite, homie. Where do these beliefs and behaviors come from? They don’t just spring forth from the middle of the earth, waiting for people to adopt them. Culture is not “created” nor does not exist in a vacuum. Culture is both responsive to and part of shaping structure; many sociologists, such as myself, explain culture as the opposite side of the coin to social structure. The growth of a matriarchy (which is largely a myth, I believe to demonize black women) and the dearth of men available to actually father their children are events, happenings; they are not culture. Nor did not happen outside of the influences of social structure. Many factors colluded to affect that outcome: collapse of manufacturing industry; subsequent high rates of black male unemployment; mass incarceration; felon disenfranchisement; the crack cocaine epidemic.

Culture reflects options available within a given social structure. Yes, people make choices, and they have agency. But agency is not what we think it is as total free will, ability to choose anything and everything. Culture reflects what one BELIEVES to be their options, what one can do with what one is given. So black “culture” can never be defined as one thing, one way of being, one way of behaving. Because we live in a myriad of structural positions, and some of us have options that are not available to others and vice versa. And among the options, some of us choose #1 and others choose #4 and so on.

THIS is not all there is to black culture, despite the moniker...

The “collapse” of the family structure is less to do with any possible independent effects of culture than with the structural effects of class. As I’ve discussed here before, a class structure that allowed for families of any configuration to make a decent living would have more time for child rearing. A school system that did not grossly and blatantly favor wealthier children over less wealthy children would be one in which all women could be educated enough to take care of themselves, and not fall “prey” to vicious and violent men.

If you want to change how people behave, you need to change their options. You need to change what is available to them. You need to change their structural reality.

And two, if the pro-choice side is the “right” side, why should we care about disproportionality?

Making arguments about cultures connection to disproportionality makes clear that true intentions are to get rid of the option to abort altogether. For if you are pro-choice, do you even care about disproportionality? Or rather, should you? If you believe that anytime a woman gets pregnant but for some reason – any reason – does not want to go forward with that pregnancy, she should have the right to choose to end the pregnancy, then every abortion should look the same to you. Regardless of the race of the woman. Disproportionality then appears to be that black women are having more unwanted or mistimed pregnancies, but are also using this option, the option to terminate, more than other women.

This can be interpreted multiple ways, but I’ll offer two that I find the most liberating. First is that black women are more aware of their reproductive rights, are more in tune with what they do and do not want, and are more willing to choose to abort. If you are pro-choice, this doesn’t seem to be a problem – black women are, in not the best language, taking advantage of exactly the right Roe v. Wade stood for – the right to make a decision about your body without anyone else second-guessing you or interfering. Calling these numbers a problem feeds into the idea that black women are not capable, or are somehow ignorant (or culturally deficient), of making this decision for themselves.

Second, this can be interpreted as other women – white, Latino, Asian – are not as gender liberated as black women. Bryne in the article above – as do many men – lament the “matriarchy” in the black community as a disruption of “balanced” gender roles. Who said gender roles had to be balanced? Instead of considering that black women are having too many abortions, maybe women of other races are having too few. In other words, women of other races are less willing to have abortions when they actually would choose to under different structural circumstances. Again, with culture as the flip side of structure, women of other races may feel as though their options (culture) are limited, despite Roe v. Wade, given their structural position.

This is not to say that black women do not experience and live under patriarchy. They absolutely do. But the facts are that black women are less likely to marry than other groups. Not being legally bound to your oppressor is sure to make a difference.

Spoken from a sociologist who studies culture: If you want black women to stop having abortions, if that is your true goal, you need to change their world. You need to make it so that there are no reasons for why a pregnancy would be unwanted or mistimed.

A billboard does not change the world. It just pisses people off.

the personal is political

– on the occasion of attending my first Donna Brazile talk and moments before composing tomorrow’s lecture on Sade

In 1988, at the tender age of 9, I campaigned for Jesse Jackson’s Democratic Nomination. My brothers and I, 11 and 7 themselves, went door-to-door in Perth Amboy, New Jersey registering people to vote, and chiefly, amusing the hell out of them. If pre-pubescent little black kids are not enough to convince you to fulfill your civic duty, I don’t know what will.

My son, twenty years later, voted for Barack Obama on nick.com. I must admit that no matter how special I thought it was when Mekhi declared,  “Mom, don’t you think Barack Obama looks like me!”, in the ’08 season, I still have my reservations about our often conservative first gentleman.










Tonight, Donna Brazile stated that the reason she does not want to run for political office is like the reason why she doesn’t want to be married, because it requires staying in one place. And she likes to be, “on the go!” Though I traditionally do not believe in qualifying oppressions I can’t help but think if I had to choose between working in the white house or working as a house wife, WHICH I, OF COURSE, DO NOT!!!!, give me the suburban soccer mom, every day of the week.

It is so painfully obvious that I am from this country, not only because I am here, with my black family, simultaneously at war and in line with our nation’s political agenda. So many of us, even those not from this country, participate in this American narrative. My children however like to pretend they are from some other place. My oldest in particular has no clue he is “African-American.” I like to blame this on his educational environments and his penchant for White televisual media. In one of his four public schools there was a banner that read, “this is America; everyone reads!,” and in his most recent they celebrated “diversity,” with the book (and participating feast) “Everybody Cooks Rice.” For the latter he brought in rice pudding which I had to convince him was his great-great-grandmother’s dish.

Today, I am feeling particularly angry about not only the post-racial politics of today’s presidential aura, I am also frequently miffed at the government control over our bodies and families. The first time I almost wrote off Barack Obama was following his problematic “Father’s Day” speech in Chicago. Now, with the inability to promote national legislation legalizing gay marriage, the still-inadequate health insurance and the lack of access to safe abortions and contraception, etc., I am wondering where all my Cocoamamas stand. Granted we chose a right to have at least one child. However; I know that does not “safely” box us into right hetero-normative agendas?



Careless Whispers

The sound of her fingertips was staccato on the keyboard and the breathless muttering was barely audible over the tapping
“…stupid…Ugh! Not again!…”
tap tap tap tap tap
“G, you are such an idiot!”

“Excuse me”
She looked up, a little exasperated at the intrusion. her eyes wanted to know why I interrupted but her mouth didn’t move.
“Would you let someone else do that?”
“Call you stupid” And I took a sip of coffee, waiting for the answer that I already knew.
She was adamant. “Of course not!”
“Then why is it OK for you to do it?”

And so began my conversation with a co-worker about negative self talk. So often we are unaware of the things that we say to ourselves. She might not have been made aware if I hadn’t listened to her go on and on as we temporarily shared an office.
“I didn’t realize I’d been talking out loud, that was the running commentary in my head…just pointing out my own mistakes, so that I can fix them and improve.”

Many of us would never smoke, knowing the damage it can do to our bodies. We protect ourselves from physical harm and try to make choices that are positive & beneficial…for ourselves and for our children.

Think of negative self talk  as second-hand smoke. We’d never let a co-worker criticize us so blatantly, calling names and making personal judgements. But somehow it’s alright to criticize ourselves and use words that we wouldn’t tolerate from others. Just as second-hand smoke gets into our lungs and weakens them, those cutting words get into our heads and feed doubts and insecurities. The damage may not be as acute as with smoking directly but the lungs are never the same.

it’s always sunny in california

Excerpt from “The Best Interest,” LBC (c) 2010

And so at one moment on that cloudy, damp, and rather cool March day, the day after her 29th birthday, she knew who they said she was, an accomplished young woman, wife and mother, and brilliant, they called her. How does she do it all? Yes, with bipolar disorder that she’d endured for over twelve years, who was right then having a really bad episode, but still one whole person, who could predict what would happen next in a logical fashion. Intelligence evidenced by high scores on the law school admissions exam. Admitted into one of the top three universities in the country. Confident, self-assured, determined. In one moment she knew things were bad, awful, interminable in that moment but the moment, even if it lasted for weeks, was temporary, and she could handle temporary as she’d handled temporary before. Because she had to do this.

But inexplicably in the next moment a separation occurred and she was not one anymore and what was once temporary was then permanent. She’d heard of this before. She’d seen seven therapists in the past twelve years. Some of them helpful, many of them not. One whose wife died, one who was a student, one who worked at the university, even one who was pregnant at the same time she was, but in twelve years, never…They’d all asked, when she’d been very low, Nana, any suicidal thoughts? And, yes, she’d thought about suicide, and, yes, she’d thought about dying. In an abstract way, she thought about who’d come to her funeral and how hard would her mother cry, or what might happen if she stepped in front of the bus instead of getting on it. How would her bones crush and would she die instantly or would she feel pain? But she always came back to herself and her flesh and she’d touch herself and she’d be there alive. Those were just thoughts, nothing more.

But the thoughts that day were of self-inflicted death and they were real, not of her imagination. She felt death from the inside, cold and hard and permanent as it seeped outward. She saw the plan as it emerged in her mind and it was so easy, so alluring, so neat. Much simpler than when she was in the car that morning, as she drove the kids to day care. Then she thought about swerving into incoming traffic but she didn’t want to hurt anyone else or hitting a tree but they all looked too puny to do the job well. The visual of the pills was clear and direct, nothing to work out, nothing to decide. Just lie down and die. It was a picture of justice, an answer to the problem of her and her badness.

“Just do it.” She heard that voice clearly. Her voice saying, Just Do It. She was saying things she never heard herself say, and that voice was frightening.

Another voice, her motherly, sensible, rational, together, voice said, “Call someone.” By instinct, like a child who can rattle off the phone number of a neighbor to call in the event of an emergency, she picked up the phone and pressed call. Sorry I can’t come… she hung up, and pressed call again, this time to her husband at work. It rang and rang and rang and before she even heard the rejection of You’ve reached, she hung up. Her hand shook and then her arm and within seconds her whole body was shivering. She looked over her shoulder, and her own body moving made her think that other things were moving in the room. She saw the plan again, and felt her body walking up the stairs, toward the bathroom, toward the medicine cabinet. Sertraline, Cymbalta, Topamax, Geodon, Lithium, Triliptal, Lunesta, Ambien, Paxil, antidepressants, anti-psychotics, sleeping pills, hundreds of multi-colored tablets, oblong, circular, square, pills that she took to try halt and prevent the episodes, to stay steady, to achieve a state of equanimity. So many pills; one would never know that as a child she couldn’t take pills unless her Daddy crushed them up and mixed them in applesauce. For a moment she stood there and in that flash of lucidity she noticed the irony of how she took pills that help and pills that help the pills that help; pills that made her sleepy when sleep was inappropriate, jumpy when jumpiness looked crazy, but also calm when calming was longed for. No one would be home for hours.

Her unfamiliar voice taunted her, “Easy way to die.”

She was not so sure. But she said, “I want to die.”

Her voice said, “Let’s go.”

She ignored her and questioned her and said, “Do I?”

She stared at the life-taking pills for what seemed like hours but could have only been seconds, and she asked herself again, “Do I really want to die?” She gripped the sink and dropped her head.

And sitting there were the children’s toothbrushes, well-loved and well-worn. One blue and one pink; the little girl’s with bristles going every which way, the young boy’s neat and orderly as if right out of the package. Why or how this pierced through, one only knows, but she thought of how her children still followed her around the house the way they used to when they were babies, even when she went to the bathroom to do a number two, the smell didn’t bother them. How they pulled on her clothes and constantly demanded her attention: Mommy, mommy look at me, look at me, while they did things they knew they shouldn’t do, like stand on the couch or throw toys, their need for their mother’s attention just that great even though reprimand was sure to ensue. How they’d ask with earnest eyes Mommy are you mad at me when she’d chastise them for standing on the couch or throwing toys, or put them in time-out or tapped their hands with the wooden spoon. How they assailed her with Can you do this mommy while they’d stand on one leg or turn around in a circle or do a favorite yoga pose. How her baby girl and little boy preferred their mother 90% of the time to any other person and were so hurt by her that 10% when she became a person neither they nor she recognized. The mother’s world turned to water as she turned around, left the bathroom, and again picked up the phone.

“Hello? Hello? Baby, are you there?”It took her several moments to respond in between sobs as she tried to catch her breath.

“Baby. I can’t do it anymore. I want to go to the hospital and stay there.” That was it. She had nothing else to say.

Silence. Then a long sigh. “Okay. Okay. I’ll be there in a minute.” He’s going to be so mad at me, she thought as she waited. The front of her shirt was thoroughly soaked. As the door opened, she began, “I’m so sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” as soon as she thought he was close enough to hear. But when he sat next to her his whole torso collapsed and he just looked at her and she realized that he was tired of having to tell her, “It’s okay.” She stopped apologizing.

But not for long because in the emergency room there were many little shameful events. Events that she responded to by being sorry. Sorry that her husband had to witness the nurses questioning, “Well, why would a pretty girl like you want to hurt yourself?” And really expecting an answer. Or overhearing the cops posted outside her bed talking about the “nutjobs” they’ve had to watch over the past few days. Or during the shift change watching them point her out like she was an exhibit at the zoo.

Around six he said, “It’s getting late.”  “And someone has to pick up the kids.” And of course it was not just someone, it’s him, he had to pick up the kids because she, the psychiatrist on duty had just told them, was about to be admitted into the hospital, taken up to the psychiatric ward. “Okay,” she said, “You should go.” She didn’t want him to leave, she was terrified, but she didn’t want him to see anymore of her degradation. She didn’t know what was up there and she wanted to be able to take it in and understand it before he did. She told him she would just be going to sleep. She didn’t look at him. “The kids, they need their routine. Stability. They need you.”  She paused again, wiped her eyes. “Make sure you give them a bath, read them a story.” Her husband looked at his wife, and let out a deep sigh. He said nothing, just grabbed both of her shoulders, hard, and kissed her on the forehead. He turned, and walked away.

“How are you feeling this morning? Your breakfast is waiting for you in the lounge.” On her first full day in the hospital, she asked her nurse if she could take her breakfast in her room. She dreaded what, and who, she would find in the lounge. The answer was a polite but unyielding no. “You’ll feel a lot better once you get up, get dressed and eat. So let’s go.” Her nurse took her by the arm and gently but firmly pulled her out of the bed.

It was hard not to look into the other patients’ rooms as she walked down the hall. There was a woman she noticed last night who seemed to constantly be on the verge of hysterical tears. This woman, thin and blond with glasses, always had a tissue in her hand, close to her face, and her knees drawn into her chest. Another woman, at least 60 years old, was waif-like, nothing but skin and bones. And another, young, with skin like milk and jet black hair cut into a chin length bob, whose entire room was covered in sheets. All were white. All of these women were being coaxed out of their rooms, into the lounge for breakfast.

They sat at a small dining table that would seat about 10 people, but there were only seven of them that morning. There was construction being done on the floor that day, so their introductions were conducted over the dull noise of a jackhammer. Of the seven women, she came to find out, five were mothers. Five of the women at the table, situated on the 4th floor of the University Hospital, on the psychiatric wing, were away from their children.

Deadlines make me feel like this. Caught in a downward tailspin. So hard to get out. Thank God for the sunshine and the no-rain. I need to make it through this week. Cause I can’t go back there.

A Legitimate Question, I Think

I’m going to act like a a martyr in this post. I apologize in advance for that. People who act like martyrs have always rubbed me wrong. For one, I was raised in a suck-it-up kind of a family in which you might get some measure of sympathy if, say, there was a lot of blood or a broken something or other. But anything short of those two and you were more than likely on your own. And it was not until I met my husband—who comes from a quite sympathetic family—that I realized anything may have been out of the ordinary in my upbringing. At my husband’s urging (and particularly since we’ve had kids), I’ve tried to be more “compassionate” about complaints that I would have been laughed out of town for when I was little. (Let’s just say there’s a lot of “I’m so sorry your feeeeelings are huuuurt” bandied about in our home and I even manage to not say it sarcastically.)

In the last ten days or so, most of us had that big flu slash respiratory sh*t storm that seems to be going around lately. First my daughter, then my son, then me. We fell, one by one, like dominoes. When my daughter got sick, I was there 24/7. When my son got sick, I was there 24/7. And then when I got sick … well, there I was. My two beloved girlfriends helped me out with rides here and there, but for a couple of days there I had to slog through about eight hours of the most essential chores, including driving (and trust me, I had no business behind the wheel), when all I wanted to do was collapse under the blankets. And given how much school my kids had missed when they had been sick, not going to school and a half-dozen after-school classes was not an option.

And my husband did his best to be helpful but ultimately he had to go to work and even though I wanted to beg him to stay home because I really, truly, could not move, I didn’t. I felt guilty.

I even tried to hire someone but as it turns out that is not so easily done: (a) at the last minute; (b) on a short-term basis; and/or (c) on a budget.

So here comes the martyr part: I want to take a moment and ask a question. I really need to know the answer because maybe I’m missing something here: When anyone in the family’s sick, mama’s looking out for them. But who exactly is looking out for mama?

Keep A Child Alive

Today is World AIDS Day

It is a day devoted to raising awareness for the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. It is a day when we reflect on those who have died and those who live with this virus and this disease. It is a day or sorrow for many… as is every day for those suffering with the virus.

It is a day most of us should be grateful… as most of us do not have children who are infected with HIV. Most of us do not have HIV/AIDS so we don’t worry about who will care for our children when we are gone. Most of us don’t even know someone up close and personally who lives with the virus. We should be grateful to be so unaffected.

At the same time, we cannot forget all of the mothers around the globe who ARE affected and infected. We cannot forget the 14.2 million children who have been made orphans by HIV/AIDS. We cannot forget the mothers ravaged by depression because they birthed HIV+ children. We cannot forget the efforts made by a few to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS with a few simple pills a day.

We cannot forget every mother around the world who wants nothing more than what most of us have: happy, healthy, disease-free children.

I have HIV+ friends. I’ve lost HIV+ loved ones. I’ve worked with HIV+ clientele, also mentally ill and/or homeless. I watched my own mother become heavily involved in AIDS organization after she lost her best friend in the 80s. Her work inspired me as I hope to inspire my son. I want him to be compassionate to the plight of other children. I want him to grow up with a passion in him to DO something. My son is among a generation born with no knowledge of a time without AIDS.

I can only hope his generation puts an end to it.



Killing My Superwoman…I think

I’m a Superwoman. But I don’t want to be.

But maybe I do.

The Superwoman concept, as applied to Black women, is often called a myth. As in it’s not really true. No one can do it all, really, people say. I beg to differ.

I am raising two children under the age of 5. Two boisterous, active, strong-willed, opinionated, brown beauties. I’m up at 6:30 am, with my kids doing dressing, breakfast, brushing of teeth, putting on of jackets, and the long, slow bike ride to day care every morning. I co-op at the day care at least once a week, three hour shifts taking care of not only my kids, but other peoples’ 3-5 year-olds as well. I don’t do it alone, I have the support of my wonderful husband, but we all know – in the early years, mommyhood is a 24-hour job.

I am a 4th year sociology PhD student and a law student. I am currently writing my dissertation proposal. When I defend it in January, I will be ABD. I don’t technically have to defend until May 2012, but my project requires collecting my own data over time, so defending early is necessary. I’m also taking law classes, at least two each quarter, six a year. Exams start next week. I do pro-bono work too, helping homeless people with disabilities get social security benefits.

Are you impressed yet?

I’m such a Superwoman, I simply have no time to take care of myself. Yoga? Meditation? Girl, by the end of the day, I am dog-tired, with all that mothering and student-ing I do all day. Eating better? Did I tell you about my stomach issues? Going to bed at a reasonable hour? But then how would I get to get in my twitter and facebook and nytimes and, my god, my TELEVISION time?

And furthermore, many of my needs are met by being a Superwoman. You are impressed, and I like impressing you. (Don’t act like you’re not.) You ask me, “how do you do it all?” and I can say, “I don’t know…” when I do know. It really feeds my ego. When I drop a ball, or a few, I have ready made excuses. Nothing is really ever my fault. I can fall apart and go to bed at 4pm and everyone understands. Or at least they should. And if they don’t understand, well, fuck ’em. I don’t care. (sniff.)

Don’t you see I need to be a Superwoman? I love Her.

She’s a superhero. For everyone.

Except me.

I have fibromyalgia, aches and pains over my entire body. And bipolar II, which is mostly depression in my case, with some highly damaging hypomanic episodes interspersed. I checked myself in the hospital 2 years ago. I have anxiety that grips my chest and makes me think I’m going to die. I have gastroparisis, where my stomach doesn’t empty in a normal way. It means I’m nauseous a lot, and have developed a fear of eating a lot of foods. I have to eat low fiber and low fat. That means I don’t eat a lot different foods. I have an irritable bladder, which means I have to pee constantly and it hurts, but I’m supposed to hold it to retrain my bladder. And I recently found out I have a virus that’s been suppressed for years but my immune system is weak so now its reared its ugly head.

My body is shutting down, saying its taking a break, forcing a time-out whether I want it or not. My Superwoman is killing me, from the inside out.

What will it take for me to kill my Superwoman, before She kills me? Obviously the fear of changing is greater than the pleasure derived from staying the same, even given the pain.

I want to change, be healthy, be the woman I urge other women to be. But if I kill Her, my Superwoman, who will I be?

Will you still be impressed with me?

Should I even care?

Learned Incompetence

“You don’t think any of it is genetic?  None of it has to do with inherent gender differences?  The ability to multi-task, even?”  This was the question I asked a colleague as we discussed an article that concluded, yet again, that women do more than their fair share of parenting, regardless of whether or not they work outside of the home.  This colleague is the only woman I know who seems to have gotten pretty close to a 50-50 parenting split with her husband.  Among other things, not only has she changed very few diapers, but she has also never given her 19-month old son a bath.  Never.  “Please,” she said.  “That very question—why men do less—is asked through a cultural lens.  It’s all learned incompetence.”

“Be careful about the patterns you set early in her life; they’ll be hard to undo later.”  Those words were spoken to me by another female colleague, warning me that my job flexibility would lend itself to a division of parenting between my husband and me that would tip in his favor.  One year into parenting, it turned out she was right; the scale did, indeed, favor him.  She’s wrong, however, that the pattern began early in my daughter’s life; rather, these are patterns that have been setting long before my daughter’s birth. There may, indeed, be a genetic basis for different brain wiring that make women better at multi-tasking, coordinating, or scheduling.  But the parenting imbalance we witness today in so many marriages is more nurture than nature.  It’s learned; learned incompetence on Dad’s part, and learned competence on Mom’s.

And so it is that my learned competence began 30 years ago, having witnessed my mother run our household without my father’s help.  She’s a consummate scheduler and meticulous planner.  She did all the food shopping, and coordinated all of our meals.  She did all of the school shopping, from new clothes to classroom supplies.  She signed all permission slips, orchestrated all doctor and dentist check-ups, shuttled us to all sporting events, signed us up for extra-curricular activities, and nurtured any new interests we had.  She kept track of our family life, our social life, and our academic life.  Although formally married for all of my childhood, functionally she was a single-parent from the start.  And she was damned good at it.

After having my own baby, I picked up where she left off.  My husband is not my father, and is eager to do his share, especially if I ask.  Nevertheless, I insisted on becoming the expert in baths and hair washings, mealtime and sleep time.  I made the toy and clothing purchases; I scheduled the doctor’s appointments and play dates.  Because my work schedule is fluid, I picked up the care-giving slack, pushing my work off to late nights and weekends.  And at the end of my daughter’s first year of life, I was out of balance because of it: tired, out of shape, and often resentful of my husband.

“I have to take responsibility for what I let happen in my relationship,” my mother says of her marriage.  I used to think it absurd that my colleague had never given her child a bath, but today I applaud her for refusing to become the expert in all matters of child-rearing.  I now recognize the brilliance of learned incompetence on Mom’s part.  My colleague was right: the patterns that I set, patterns that I began learning a long time ago, are indeed hard to break.  But my mother is also right; achieving balance in my parenting life is partly my responsibility.

The other part of the responsibility belongs to my husband, and despite the difficulty of breaking old habits, my partner and I are setting new patterns.  On most days, he takes care of our daughter for half of her waking hours all on his own, and in recent months he has given me a few tips about mealtime.  My learned incompetence has resulted in a better balance, and my well-being, as well as that of my family, has improved because of it.