On Motherhood: A Personal Reflection

 

I have not blogged in almost two years. Wow. I kept saying tomorrow but tomorrow never came… until today! Forgive me, faithful readers.

In the time I have been absent from the blogosphere I became a mother. I felt it was only right that my return chronicle, in some way, my experience on this new journey.

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Being a new mother to the most adorable little boy has been a fulfilling journey thus far. I get to wake up each day with a renewed sense of my purpose and commitment to making Jamaica, and by extension the world, a better place for him to inhabit, and find his own purpose.

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Four months in and I am still amazed that little ol’ me had something to do with this handsome little gem being here. It is an absolute joy to watch him conquer all his firsts. The first time he cooed he shocked himself and cried. I guess he couldn’t believe the sound actually came from him after his many attempts to communicate, with no sound forthcoming. Watching him discover himself and the world around him has been the highlight of my tumultuous foray into motherhood.

But this journey hasn’t been all sugar and giggles. It is, for me, equal parts joy and stress. As a young(ish) parent I am learning on the job. Some days are difficult and overwhelming but I have to get up and show up nonetheless. An actual person is fully dependent on me. Whoa!

Babies consume your every waking moment. They demand your full attention and commitment, and that is not always easy on you. There are moments of self-doubt and it’s something you must contend with and try to resolve before it catches up to you in more destructive ways.

Now, dealing with the mental, physical and emotional distress that often come with being a mother, and a new mother in my case, can be an uphill battle. There is an expectation that motherhood is (and should be) blissful. And that expectation is burdensome. Yes, I am over the moon about my baby but there are also days when I am deeply overwhelmed. Days when my anxiety about whether I am doing a good job, whether I made the right decision to become a parent or what the future holds become unbearable.

But how do you come to terms with how you feel when the only model you’ve seen is that of the blissful mother who falls into her role effortlessly? Does that make you an awful, selfish person? The thing is, people tend to share their happy moments and what is important to remember is that these are not their only moments. It’s not that the happy moments we share are untrue; they are just incomplete.

The danger in not being able to express those negative emotions, whether out of  feelings of guilt or a real or perceived lack of support, is that you are afraid to seek help. Things can balloon out of control, and before you know it you’re suffering from postpartum depression (which can show up many months after you’ve given birth *knock on wood*).

Mothering is not easy, no matter how effortless it looks to the untrained, unknowing eyes. And on top of that, so many things in your life change with the coming of a baby. Your body changes; you look in the mirror and things that used to stand up now kinda hangs and all those taut parts you were so proud of? Forget it. You do not have the time to do all the things you used to do – and things done for pleasure and to unwind are the first things to get cut so there goes your self-care activities that would usually get you going again.

Women need safe spaces to be able to honestly share their feelings and challenges about motherhood. Some of us are lucky enough to have small pockets of people who support us through the difficult times and show up when we need them most, but by and large it is a lonely road if you do not feel the baby bliss 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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Tangled: The Politics of Black Hair

Black hair is political.

Many black women have vivid memories of being a little girl with hair as thick as wool that you couldn’t wait to ‘do something with’. Depending on the type and texture of hair you had, it wasn’t uncommon to be teased for being a ‘tough head gyal’, for having ‘kaya’ or ‘picki-picki’ head and the many other variations of the basic concept of bad hair that we accepted to be true, for the most part.

Most of us would get a perm somewhere between 12 and 16 years old and oh, the joy! The joy we felt at having straight, soft hair! A perm was somewhat a rite of passage for adolescent girls. Now you were beautiful, with the flowing, lustrous mane of a goddess to show for it.

Of course, ideas about beauty and our internalization of them are embedded in our psyche through centuries of colonial and elite domination. The denigration of the black body as unattractive, primitive and unworthy of love and respect is and has been a systematic undertaking. We learnt early that in order to be seen as beautiful and to attract boys we must aspire to Eurocentric ideas of femininity. A lot of the choices women make about our hair are subconscious and were fed to us before we had the ability to question and deconstruct them.

Personally, a great deal of my identity is linked to my hair. As an undergraduate at UWI studying Political Science and Africa and African Diaspora Studies, I embarked on a journey of self-acceptance through black consciousness and realized that I internalized Eurocentric ideas about beauty that weren’t in line with how I naturally looked. It took a lot of unlearning and relearning but at that point I decided to cut my hair and grow it out. I initially wore my hair for a number of years in an afro before I decided to get locs, which I have now been sporting for three years.

The reactions I got when I had my afro ranged from “yuh naa comb/do sumn to yuh hair?” to people saying they didn’t know I had ‘pretty hair’. By pretty hair they meant I had mixed heritage. The concept of ‘good hair’ peeves me and I usually ask what makes it good. For many who I asked that question it was an awakening because they had never stopped to think about why they held these views and what it means for themselves and black people generally.

We have seen institutional prejudice against natural black hair. It is treated as disdainful and women who dare to challenge the status quo and wear their hair the way it grows out of their heads are labelled untidy and unkempt. In Barbados, for example, an elite secondary school has banned its students from wearing twist-outs as that hairstyle was deemed inappropriate by the principal. And we all know of the state-sanctioned persecution Rastafarian men and women face(d) because of their hair throughout the region, and especially in Jamaica.

Fortunately, there has been an increase in the number of black women who are now embracing their natural, nappy/kinky hair. The natural hair movement is steadily growing and black women are forming communities – both virtual and physical communities – in an effort to provide support and encouragement for each other in the process of reclaiming their right to love their hair. This is a step in the right direction.

On the flip side though, these communities are often plagued with issues. Unsurprisingly, all black/nappy hair isn’t created equal and the politics within the natural hair movement as it relates to the hair types we celebrate often set us a few steps back. We tend to celebrate the loosely wavy and curly varieties while tightly coiled hair tend to still be the least desirable.

A lot of black women make excuses that their hair is unmanageable and that’s why they perm or wear extensions and wigs. I believe it is generally a cop out. Black women have been caring for their hair for centuries and if we want our natural hair to work then it can.

To be clear though, I am a proponent of women doing whatever the hell they want with their bodies and I do not negate the fact that many women want variety and to be able to do different things with their hair. That is perfectly okay, but if it is that the variety is everything except wearing your natural hair, then there are underlying issues that we must begin to unpack and deconstruct.

There is no denying that we are still walking around with a lot of the baggage that we were left with after slavery and colonialism. Our internalization of the supposed inferiority of nappy/kinky hair and our subsequent contempt for it is one such baggage. We must begin to untangle the roots of our oppression in order to forge our own path to self-love and acceptance.

It Takes Two To Tango in a Friendship

It is often said that our friends are the family we choose. We rely on our friendships for love, support, entertainment and a good dose of reality, among other things. Frankly, it would be remiss of us to underestimate the true value of a great friendship.

My support system is perhaps 90 per cent grounded in my friendships. This is because friends are the people who I feel most connected to, based on interests and needs, as opposed to family, over whose existence in our lives we have little to no control. This is not to say that family cannot be a great support system (it often is), however, the friendships we create tend to be more fulfilling simply because those connections are deliberate.

We have all, at one point or another, found ourselves in situations where we need help from others. Nothing compares to a friend who shows up for you when you need them most. Whether that is to cheer us up out of a funk, kill our cheating ex help us through a difficult break-up, remind us that we are awesome when we feel like crap, or simply to hug us when we need it. And while we sometimes wish we could rely on ourselves for all the things we need in life, being able to count on friends is pretty damn awesome.

Of course, friendships are two-way streets. We have to be willing to give as much as we get for a friendship to be meaningful. That is, both parties have to feel fulfilled — they are both getting what they need and deserve from the other person.

I have always found it strange that people expect friendships to remain functional when they do little to nothing to ensure their survival. That’s like allowing your car to run down or not putting in gas and then get mad when it breaks down mid journey. In other words, it makes no damn sense.

Like romantic relationships, friendships must be maintained. We have to show the other person that we are as committed as they are to the cause. Moreover, it is easy to recognise when the other party in a friendship is fucking messing up. Let’s face it, sometimes we are the bad friend; we are the ones not pulling our weight and providing what the other person needs.

I have amazing friends. One of the things I do to maintain this is by auditing my friendships. I take some time to (re)evaluate my relationships with my loved ones. I ask myself the following questions:

  • Is this friendship healthy? If not, why?
  • Am I happy in this friendship?
  • Are my efforts being reciprocated?
  • Am I at fault for the breakdown, if there is one?
  • What can I do to make things better?
  • What would the other person need to do to meet my needs?

N.B. It is important to note that we don’t get or want the same thing from all our friendships so it is imperative to judge each friendship on its own merit and not in comparison with our other relationships.

After answering these questions I try to work out a way forward. Now this is the hard step (I still struggle through this part). It means speaking to the other party about the status of the relationship if it is in trouble. It can be difficult to say “I am unhappy in our friendship” to a friend – especially because we don’t know what their reaction will be. Say it anyway. Be honest about how you feel because if you don’t, you risk losing that friendship. The more you withhold the way you feel, the harder and longer it takes to resolve the issues. You may begin to resent your friend or you may allow it to get so far that you just drift apart until there is nothing left.

When approaching your friend, take the following tips into consideration:

  • Approach your friend in a calm way
  • Say what you must in the nicest way possible
  • Try your best not to cast blame
  • Take responsibility for your part in the breakdown of the relationship
  • Listen to your friend
  • Don’t just state problems; suggest solutions
  • Highlight what is right and not just what is wrong in the friendship
  • State and reiterate your commitment to the relationship

If all goes well your friendship will be one step closer to its better days. Try not to get back to this place by working on the things you’ve both decided will help to move the friendship along to more bountiful terrain.

Despite your best intentions however, things may not workout in your favour. When having the conversation, take note of your friend’s disposition. I suppose defensiveness is a normal reaction but if the person seems uninterested or unwilling to deal with the issues you are raising then that may be a sign that they don’t value the friendship. While you would love to fix the broken part(s) of the friendship, it is important to identify whether or not the relationship is salvageable.

It might be difficult to accept but some friendships do not deserve saving. Toxic friendships in which selfishness is the order of the day are ones you shouldn’t be hurting yourself trying to repair. Some people will always take without giving because that’s just who they are. You have to know when to walk away.

How do you maintain and keep your friendships healthy?