I spent Mother’s Day 2011 in the in the most amazing way – surrounded by my partner, my children, both sets of grandparents, and their 3 uncles. I bathed in the warmth and presence of these people whom I love and felt gratitude in each moment for our health, safety and togetherness. But I also spent Mother’s Day surrounded by the voices and stories of mamas and families from communities all across the country that joined together in the Strong Families Mama’s Day campaign – a celebration of all the mothers in our lives who are often overlooked during traditional Mother’s Day conversations. Their voices resonated throughout the day for me and echoed my hopes for the future.
Together, we created an opportunity for Strong Families friends and allies to join together in telling our stories. We heard of people’s joys, the love of mamas for their children and of children for their mamas.
Malkia Cyril’s Facebook comment put it best:
We are shouting out to the mamas. I bear witness to the sleepless nights, how you navigate the unrelenting expectations placed on you, the choices you have to make, the fear, the loneliness, the pride and the joy, the rage, the way you are often put last, the dreams unfulfilled, the hope for the future. I believe in you and see the best in you.
We also heard a message that rang throughout – many mothers are hurt by stigma and that stigma diminishes our access to choices and opportunities that prevent mothers, families and communities from thriving. As Jaime Jennet reminded us in her moving post about being a queer mother of a critically ill child,
It hurts my parents when someone treats me badly for being gay and it will hurt my son when someone is cruel to his parents for being who they were born to be. It hurts me and I venture to say that in some ways, it also hurts you.
And Yvonne Tran wrote a powerful piece expressing her anger about how this country saw her mom,
As inferior because of her inability to grasp the English language. Saw her as dispensable with her "low wage skills." Saw her as a resource drain when she depended on welfare to keep my family afloat. Her citizenship meant nothing next to her perpetual foreignness.
We learned that even when we are celebrated as mothers, stigma can continue to play a role in shaming mamas for the choices we make. The Guttmacher Institute has documented that one in three women will have an abortion at some point in her life, and that the "reasons [women] give for having an abortion underscore their understanding of the responsibilities of parenthood and family life."
Exhale volunteer Susan Lehman spoke to this reality,
As the mother of grown children, I have basked in the annual glow of Mother's Day recognition for a long time. Both my family and my community offer me blessings and praise for raising and providing for my children. But one of my most deeply maternal choices, my abortion, does not warrant the same recognition.
Susan is of course joined by the 61% of all women having abortions who are also mothers.
The majority of the voices we heard were from mother’s of color, many of whom are struggling to piece together economic security to support their families. The hard reality of the wealth gap clearly laid out in the study, “Lifting As We Climb: Women of Color, Wealth and America’s Future” which provides us with a dismal picture of disparities:
- Single Black women (across all ages, from age 18 to 64) have a median wealth of $100 and single Latinas have a median wealth of $120. Single white women clock in at $41,000.
- Almost half of all Black women and Latinas have zero wealth or negative wealth. That is, their debts exceed their assets.
- Young women (aged 18 to 35) of all races have a median wealth of zero.
This is hardly a surprise to Marlene Sanchez of the Center for Young Women’s Development, who reflected the experience of young moms,
I know from my own experience and from seeing them hard at work that it isn’t for lack of trying. Piecing it together in this city is hard at any age, but it is almost impossible to get ahead for young families. It often feels like the amazing views, sparkling buildings and thumping nightlife are mocking our foggy existence. Just like we have found in the California budget battles, there are no belts left to tighten. That’s true for these young women, who are balancing rent, formula, diapers, books and bus fare.
We were also sobered when the challenges facing mamas become a life or death situation. In Walidah’s blog post, she exposed the impact on lack of health care in Black communities in Oregon.
In 2009, the Urban League released their State of Black Oregon Report, which highlighted many shocking disparities,
the most disturbing being that Black babies mortality rates in Oregon were closer to Botswana or Sri Lanka than to the US average; Black babies are twice as likely as whites to be born with low birth weight or to die before their first year. Birth disparities exist even for upper class Black mothers. “The State of Black Oregon really highlighted the inequities in health care and maternal care access, and how it is a life and death issue --literally,” says Midge Purcell, Organizing and Advocacy director for the League.
I was also moved by Jaime’s invitation,
In the spirit of love, I want to reach out and invite you to learn about my family. We have a blog that we started at that tells our story about living as a family with a critically ill child. You will probably laugh, you will probably cry and you may find that you come to see us as three of God's perfect creatures.
I am grateful to all the organizations and individuals that told their stories, held events and let every young mama, immigrant mama, queer mama, incarcerated mama, poor mama know – that together Strong Families stands shoulder to shoulder with you in both the challenges we face and the world that we will create together. Together we lived out our visionary commitment to a different world - let’s fly together.