Shopping at Hecht's recently, I overheard a snatch of conversation that I couldn't ignore. A young female voice was saying how painful childbirth is "supposed" to be, but that somehow "it wasn't that bad." Looking up, I saw a pretty, wide-eyed woman, who continued, "My boyfriend and his mother were there, and . . . "
Suddenly, I wasn't listening. I was thinking, "Her boyfriend -- not husband," and feeling disappointed. Then I thought:
Why was I surprised?
In an era in which one-third of American babies -- and a jaw-dropping 68 percent of black babies -- are born to unmarried mothers, why would I expect this young woman to be married just because she's a mom? Clearly, I don't get it.
Clearly, singer Fantasia Barrino does. The 20-year-old "American Idol" winner and single mother of a 3-year-old released a song, "Baby Mama," on her debut album, "Free Yourself." The catchy track, which says, "Nowadays it's like a badge of honor, to be a baby mama," has maintained a steady spot on Billboard's R&B/Hip-Hop chart since its release late last year.
Predictably, the song has inspired gratitude among single mothers validated by its upbeat message -- and sparked outrage among others who feel the tune promotes teen motherhood. Author Yolanda Young ("On Our Way to Beautiful"), whose own "deadbeat" dad was a source of pain, pointed out in USA Today that one-third of U.S. children live apart from their biological fathers, and that children who have no contact with their fathers are five times as likely to be poor and twice as likely to commit crime, leave school and abuse drugs and alcohol.
Barrino told the Associated Press that she just wanted young mothers to hear the song and know, "This one's for me." She never meant to suggest that teen motherhood is "cute," she said, because "it ain't easy." And though she isn't ashamed of being a baby mama, Barrino said, "If I could have waited, I would have."
The song puts it like this: "I see you paying your bills, I see you working your job. . . . And girl I know it's hard. . . . Remember what don't kill you will only make you stronger."
Adds the chorus: "I got love for all my baby mamas."
As a former single mom of two who once waited for child-support checks that never arrived -- divorced dads can be as financially forgetful as unwed ones -- I empathize.
Because every baby should be adored -- and because moms who are loved have more affection to give -- I, too, have some affection for baby mamas.
Some are easy to love. Candyce Paylor was an 18-year-old honors graduate of D.C.'s Cardozo Senior High School when she discovered she was pregnant. Despite her religious reservations, she considered abortion.
"But it was me who was responsible for my actions, not my unborn child," Paylor, 23, says now. "I knew I had to make the best of things -- figure out how to attend school and raise a child."
Cobbling together scholarships, grants and financial aid, Paylor did just that. Next month, she'll graduate from Howard University -- as daughter, Nadia, 4, claps from the audience.