I told the father-to-be and in true winner fashion, he left me sitting at a restaurant to go get drunk (no, I’m not bitter). A week later my girlfriend gave me the ever-popular book “What To Expect When You’re Expecting” because I had decided to keep expecting. I leisurely thumbed through the pregnancy bible looking for the chapter on “What To Expect When You Weren’t Expecting What You’re Now Expecting,” and it didn’t exist.
I looked for the chapter on how to manage single parenthood for the black mom who doesn’t want to be viewed as a statistic.
That chapter didn’t exist.
I looked for the chapter on how to function in your black Baptist Church when everyone knows you’re not married, but you’re getting bigger and bigger by the minute, all of pastor’s sermons seem to be directed toward you, the first lady side-eyes you every chance she gets, and you’re pretty sure that the next time you sit in a pew you will spontaneously combust.
Surprise — that chapter didn’t exist either.
I couldn’t find a chapter, a paragraph, not even a sentence in that book that dealt with any of these things. I went to my local bookstore and couldn’t find anything there, either. Not a single book. Now granted, it was 2008/2009, and where I was living wasn’t exactly what you’d call “diverse.” But not being able to find something in my local bookstore was disheartening, to say the least.
I wanted to know practical things as well, like how to get cradle cap out of my baby’s hair, if it was normal for my areolas to turn into giant Oreo-cookie-looking things, what the hell was happening to my skin – I looked like a cheetah, and what exactly do you do when your very brown self and your very brown partner produce a very white baby! Nothing. There weren’t even pictures of black moms in the humor book I got as a gift, “Porn for New Moms.” In their defense, there weren’t pictures of any moms in that book. However, there was only one black dad in the book, and his photo was used repeatedly. I’d heard that the second trimester was the best trimester, sexually speaking, but if I wanted to fantasize about the guys in “Porn for New Moms,” I had just one guy at my disposal. One! I couldn’t even get a proper fantasy!
I began to wonder if I even existed in the world of new motherhood. I couldn’t be the only black mom going through these things. But where were we? I walked up and down the aisles of my bookstore wondering, where my girls at?
Where were the books for the women who looked like me, written by the women who looked like me, that could help me navigate in an honest, real, funny way, all the things I was about to embark upon – good and bad? Instead, I was left with my mom (bless her heart) who was a pregnant hippie in the 1970s and could only go on about how beautiful the process of natural birth was, and how she did it au naturel, and it didn’t hurt one bit (lies). I had only one girlfriend who had experienced life as a black mom, and her pregnancy was fairly traumatic, causing her to block out most of it, so there went that option.
The reality of the situation was that if books for black moms did exist, the pickings were thinner than a Thin Mint. Today, a Google search will net you a few books you can purchase on Amazon, like the uber-popular The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Black Pregnancy; Black, Pregnant, and Loving It; and My Brown Baby: On the Joys and Challenges of Raising African American Children, which are also available in brick and mortar bookstores. But when I was pregnant 10 years ago, the whitewashing of pregnancy and new motherhood in my local bookstore felt like a betrayal.
In the realm of mommy memoirs and new parenting books, you can find thousands of books written by white women about being a mom — bad moms, drunk moms, working moms, stay-at-home moms, funny moms, depressed moms, absent moms, ambivalent moms, helicopter moms — even tiger moms! But all white, or white-ish. Looking for the same but written by a black woman? You’ll have better luck finding Waldo at Coachella.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women make up 50.8 percent of the U.S. population, and black women make up 13.7 percent of the nation’s women. . Okay, 13.7 percent isn’t huge, but it’s nothing to sneeze at. We are currently the largest “racial minority” population in the country, yet our representation in mainstream media is practically nonexistent.
Now, some of you may say motherhood is motherhood, and as mothers we are all in this fight together, and that is true – to an extent. But black mothers raising sons are facing challenges and fears that a white mother will (most likely) never have to experience. Like having to carefully pick out their sons’ clothing for school because we live in a world where wearing a hoodie and being a black boy might get them labeled “thug,” and their next outfit might be a funeral suit. Or like making sure that my daughter’s hair falls within school guidelines of what’s deemed appropriate. Luckily, she attends a school that embraces diversity, but not all black moms are that fortunate.
In preparing to write this essay I decided to do the research to confirm what, in my gut, I already knew to be true. While black women make up 13.7 percent of women in the U.S., our representation on bookshelves is as slim as the cigarette pants I wore in my 20s. Our representation as whole, breathing, women – let alone mothers – well, I’ve never even been that slim. On a Goodreads list of 55 nonfiction books by African Americans written in 2018, 31 were written by women, but not a single one of those 55 books chronicled motherhood. Many were about black history, racism and civil rights, a few were about politics, and there were approximately eight about our womanhood, three cookbooks and what looks like two self-help books. Now, I am not bashing any of these books – not at all. I am thrilled that we have a list. What I’m not thrilled about is the fact that just like my daughter, I can’t find myself anywhere. Not on a New York Times bestseller list, not on a Goodreads list.
It feels like I don’t exist.
Like black mothers don’t exist.
Where am I? I have no idea.
What I do know is this: The publishing industry must find more diverse and interesting stories that mirror the wide swath of Americans living in this country. Enough with the telling and retelling of the slave narrative, or the untold civil rights hero story, or fulfilling the trope of the angry black woman. If you want your company to be perceived as being on the forefront of diversity and inclusion, let us live beyond the narrative you’ve created for us. Let us live on the pages, live in between the lines, live in the full, rich, hilarious and nuanced ways that white women get to live. Let us tell our stories in the ways we know how – with authenticity, humor, and heart.
I guarantee you there’s a way to market us. We are women, we are mothers, we are wives and daughters. We have lived many of the same existences that our white counterparts have lived. Only we’ve done it paired with the systemic, layered, and forever growing anvil of racism, which adds only another element to the richness of our stories.
We are looking for each other, and if you really think about it, you’re looking for us, too.
Adiba Nelson is the author of the children’s book Meet ClaraBelle Blue, which is based loosely on her own daughter, who has cerebral palsy. She is a contributing writer with HuffPost, and My Brown Baby, as well as a freelance writer with her local paper, Tucson Weekly. She lives in Arizona with her husband, daughter and two teenage stepsons. You can read more about her here.