Friday, November 12, 2010

This Week: Baby Mama Drama

"There is something very wrong when a man is good enough to father your children but not good enough to marry and build a life together." -Christelyn Karazin, founder of No Wedding, No Womb

"If you can't get a husband, who am I to tell you no, you can't be a mom?" -Demetria Lucas, relationship editor for Essence magazine, Blogger, A Belle in Brooklyn

In 1991, Tupac told the story of a fictional woman named Brenda, and how her unwed pregnancy "affects the whole community." By the time Fantasia Barrino's 'Baby Mama' hit the airwaves in 2005, many women rid themselves of shame or guilt, and instead sported single motherhood as "a badge of honor."

According to an article in yesterday's Washington Post, 72% of black babies are born to unwed mothers.* Per usual, the rate of this health outcome is higher in the black community than it is in either the white or any minority population. And what's the root of the problem? WaPo offers that it could be because black men constitute the majority of the incarcerated population in the States.** Furthermore, even if a young man doesn't have a record, if he's brought up in a low socioeconomic environment, his education likely won't be enough to get him any occupation paying above the poverty line. So, essentially, we end up with a lot of men who are capable of making kids, but incapable of supporting them.

But we can't just blame the men, can we? Of course not. Not when black women are increasingly adamant on proving themselves as independent women- what do they look like waiting around for a man to start a family? This is a common mentality shared by those who are financially stable enough to support an infant-sized addition to their lives. However, U.S. Census Bureau Statistics show that more often than not, single mother households are not run by mothers with a corner office. Most single black moms have no more than a high school education, and are working class women to whom another mouth to feed is simply an added stress. What other alternative is there but to raise the child as best they can, abortion or adoption?

It's not just an issue of having help, because there are countless friends, grandmothers, or babysitters probably watching babies at this very moment, because mom has to take night classes, or works a double shift to keep food on the table, (or go out to the club, but that's a whole 'nother blog post.) No, the issue is that "...a mother cannot give all that a man can give. A truly involved father figure offers more fullness to a child's life," OB-GYN Natalie Carroll noted in the WaPo article.

As public health professionals, we are supposed to have concern for the greater community, and prevent trends and behaviors that will contribute to allostatic load. Thus, one could ague that allowing women to have babies outside of a monogamous relationship is a failure from a public health standpoint. It is allowing the continued cycle of the proven effects of poverty to endure. The more babies out of wedlock, the more mothers on welfare, the less adequate health care they are able to afford, the more youths getting into a life of crime as a means to survive...and we're right back where we started. So, as supporters of No Wedding No Womb would argue, we need to stop this "problem" at the root. Is it our place to tell a woman not to conceive until she's [happily] married?

You tell me.

*CNN reported this data; their source was the National Center for Health Statistics, who completed the study in 2007
**3,161/100,000 black men were incarcerated in 2008, compared 1,200/100,000 Hispanics, and 487/100,000 whites.


  1. Great post. This topic has been appearing in a lot of different news outlets lately and I'm glad you picked it up.

    As a woman, I cannot wait to enjoy the experience of motherhood. Actually, yes I can wait, and I am. I know all too well the hardships of growing up in a single parent household. Becoming a mother is a rewarding and honorable event; however, why burden yourself and your baby if you can't provide for it?

    My issue is not so much waiting until marriage, it's waiting until you can afford it.

  2. Another excellent post.

    As a child, I had both a mother and a father, though many of my cousins did not. I think it really made a difference in their life, not having a positive, male role model. I wonder what the point-of-view is, for the men making babies and not staying?

    Playing Devil's advocate, there have been studies, related to allostatic load, that seem to claim that a black woman will have a healthier baby, if she has it earlier (late teens). Any comments on that?

    If a woman wants to have a baby, without a husband/man, they should at least have mentoring/involvement from other sources to help raise the child. Where are those resources?

  3. Everyone has a mother and a father, but not everyone has a committed and available mother or father. Even if individuals wait till they can financially afford to have a child, in order to be our brother's keeper- shouldn't the load that society carries when children are raised by one parent be considered also? I propose that even if an individual/ couple can support another child, they consider the cost of this child on the 'village'. Public Health is concerned with the management and presevation of overall aggregate health resources, (to borrow from the financial industry) children should not only be considered a health 'debit' but should also be a health 'credit.' Unfortunately without wise planning, even seemingly wise investments can be devalued over time.

  4. While what you are saying has truth to it, there are real problems with adding to the stigma single mothers already face. Focusing on the root issues which you brought up about the cycles of poverty and incarceration is more important than trying to convince people they should not have pride in raising their children the way that they are. The resilient women who do the best they can without the additional support of a father should be proud, and that pride and self confidence helps them to be better parents.

  5. re: healthier black babies when mothers are younger--
    Yep. I've heard that argument, but I don't think I can fully support it. Sure, we'll have healthier black infants, but when the mothers are 'babies' themselves, that's not a good solution.

  6. The fact that so many children are born to single black mothers is only a symptom of a larger structural issue. Telling women who are single that they can't have children won't improve the conditions of impoverished people. Children don't make people poor, poor people have more children. Children born out of wedlock is definitely not the root of the problem. With proper resources, education, employment, and social support the likely hood of a young woman becoming pregnant decreases.

    It is not our place to tell a woman she cannot have children unless she's married; it's an individual choice. There are many single mothers who lack the agency to make healthier choices, and as public health professionals it's our job to understand the socioeconomic and political factors that create these barriers. Arguing that single women shouldn't have children is a dangerous statement to make. Many women around the world have been coerced into sterilization and abortion procedures, including poor single black women on welfare in the united states.


“Ultimately, happiness rests on how you establish a solid sense of self or being. Happiness does not lie in outward appearances nor in vanity. It is a matter of what you feel inside; it is a deep resonance in your life. To be filled each day with a rewarding sense of exhilaration and purpose, a sense of tasks accomplished and deep fulfillment- people who feel this way are happy. Those who have this sense of satisfaction even if they are extremely busy are much happier than those who have time on their hands but feel empty inside.” – Daisku Ikeda