Waiting to Exhale

A Tribute to Black Mothers 

By Teon Dolby

My mother was seventeen years old when she gave birth to me on a bright sunny day in June. Born into generational poverty, my mother did not have consistent access to basic needs such as housing and food. However, for three years, she struggled to provide stability and ultimately made the tough decision to put my newborn brother and me in the care of a relative. 

Growing up, I did not understand my mother’s sacrifice. I did not understand how the “lack of” affects a mother’s mental health and can truly damage a parental/child relationship. There is no other way around saying this – Poverty hurts households. Poverty harms families, parents, and children.  

At an early age, I knew I wanted to address the root causes of poverty and break generational curses. My mother is one of the inspirations behind that passion. Black women and mothers deserve not only to flourish but be protected by the country they built involuntarily.  

On this Mother’s Day, I reflect on the strength and resiliency of Black mothers and pay homage to the village of communities who support them because this country has failed to do so.  

To address the nation’s shortcomings and failure to value and protect Black motherhood, we must face the truth. The current well-being of Black women is directly correlated with the oppressive nature of this nation. James Baldwin said it best, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  

An honest examination of the history of racism in this country shows a trajectory of black women and mothers forced to navigate inhospitable territories. The origin of Black motherhood in this country is different than any other group of women. 

Black women’s childbearing was the centerpiece of chattel slavery. The perceived value of Black women was connected to producing wealth for an economy that did not view them as human beings. The principle known as partus sequitur ventrem stated the status of a child would follow that of its mother. This law passed by legislators in Colonial Virginia in 1662 legalized the idea that enslaved women gave birth to property rather than to life. 

Fast-forward to the present day, remnants of disregard and contempt for Black women and mothers are still present in today’s policies. There is a lack of infrastructure to support Black women. Coupled with the daily fight against racial oppression and socioeconomic disadvantages, Black women inherit two oppressed identities which is why many continue struggling to prosper. Furthermore, the narrative around Black women’s health and conditions places the blame on Black communities rather than policies that have excluded, abused, and harmed Black women.  

Statistics reveal a similar story. 

  • Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than their white counterparts. Many Black women report not being heard or listen to by medical professionals. 
  • Black women have higher rates of debt based on many factors such as the wealth gap and pay gap.  
  • Black women have lower access to employers who offer paid leave or maternity leave.  

Despite the constant threat to their livelihood and happiness, Black women continue to uplift their communities, fight for justice, break down barriers, and bring seats to tables. However, Black women’s health is deteriorating.  

Until we acknowledge and value the complex uniqueness of Black women, none of us can thrive, and Black women will continue holding the weight of this nation on their shoulders without reliefWe need intentionality and political will to undo the systematic injustices done to Black women. 

To my village of Black mothers, Nakishia, Tiffani, Deborah Faye, Jena, Carolyn, Ms. Pat, Felecia, Betty, and Ms. Aisha, I hope to emulate your resiliency, strength, and grace even when I do not feel supported by this nation.  

Lastly, to Black mothers worldwide, you are seen, you are loved, and you are valued. Happy Mother’s Day.