I grew up, the first of 5 in a loving and kind home. Despite my being the only one of my siblings (and entire family) with black skin, I always felt loved and accepted. As a child, I always assumed that my parents had only ever “dated” each other. I may have had a doubt or two when some smart mouthed kid in school informed me that I must be adopted because white people can’t have black babies! My mother was quick to reassure me that she had, in fact, birthed me. It may surprise you, as it eventually did me, to find out that a safe and happy upbringing surrounded by a loving family was, at one point, a statistical impossibility for me. You see, I was born to a single, struggling, 21 year old mother. Needless to say, the odds were never in our favor.
An Unlikely Story
Over the course of my teen years, as my mom felt comfortable and I matured, she began to reveal details about her life before me and before she met my dad. Little by little, I began to see the extent of her struggle and the miracle that it is that I am even typing this today. A not uncommon story, my mother struggled through adolescence and fought a silent battle with low self esteem and depression. In her search for validation and affection, she soon found herself alone, afraid and pregnant.
While her story begins with all the classic signs of a life about to unravel, her fate would not be decided by the result of her pregnancy test but by the love, encouragement and help she received from those who were for her and her unborn child; her village. By the support of the family Dr who informed her of her choices and stood in support of her medical well-being, her Grandmother who offered her unbiased emotional support, and her parents, friends and other family members who welcomed her home, this vulnerable young woman’s life trajectory was changed for the better. Today, that same young woman is a wife of 25 years, the mother of 5 grown children, a grandmother to 3 more, and a respected woman of influence in her community. What are the odds?
It takes a village
I think often about my own story. I too struggled in my teen years with my own self worth and found myself searching for affection in many of the same ways my mom did. I drank and hung out with people I knew were not concerned about my well being. In truth, the only difference between my story and my mothers is that I did not find myself pregnant (not for lack of possibility). Even so, I too was surrounded by a community of people who cared for me in my most vulnerable moments.
Its obvious that the difference for my mother and I was made by the people in our lives who loved us. Parents reaching out to their daughters, grandparents offering judgement free kindnesses, friends and extended family who lent a hand in times of trouble. Because of this “village” we were able to overcome adversity defying all odds..
It could have been me… or her… or Anyone…
Think for a moment about the alternative. How could my mothers life, and by default my own, been different had no one been willing to step up and step in when she was in need of support? Worsening mental health, eventual loss of a job, inability to continue her education, inability to afford the basic necessities of life for herself or her child, the list goes on. Had she decided not to continue with her pregnancy, she would have faced the shame, pain and subsequent mental health consequences on her own. This would not have been an unlikely story, and in reality, it plays out thousands of times over in the lives of young women all across the world today. In the absence of the village, women/mothers struggle most.
The Face is Human
About now is when I might ask something like “what if it was your mother, sister, friend, or daughter?”. After all, that kind of connection might make it easier to reach out or to feel compassion and empathy for someone in such a situation. In fact, one of the reasons I feel so passionately about my work in this area is that my own mother walked a similar road! While that may be where the roots of my passion begin, I feel that it can’t be where it ends. I want to offer an interesting perspective with this quote by one of my Bebo Mia educators.
“I’m not required to be anything to anyone in order to be.” – Toni Botas
If we as a community look at the person rather than their problems or connections and realize that the face that is suffering is human, we can then reach out in love, encouragement and help, changing the fate of many vulnerable women and children. If we become the village for those who don’t have one, how might the world be changed? How many other unlikely stories could we see unfold?
To Love, Encourage, and Help
As a Doula, my desire is to support the families who invite me in with a “love first” mindset. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what your age, nationality, beliefs or background is: I will love and support you first! This desire reaches even deeper in my desire to serve vulnerable and at risk birthers. Not by trying to change them or solving all their problems, but simply by asking “How can I love, encourage or help you today?” and responding to whatever their answer may be with kindness, compassion, empathy and understanding. The mission sounds simple, but even the simplest acts, when performed in love, can change the world.