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Archive for the ‘Motherhood’ Category

By Octavia

My name is Octavia, and I’m a mother.

I was 16 when I found out I was pregnant. I was terrified. I felt like there was no one on my side. Like the whole world was against me. My mother and the father were both pressuring me to get an abortion. I didn’t know what to do and felt like I needed to decide what was best for me. I then felt happiness because I thought I couldn’t have children. I was also in denial and just tried to forget about my pregnancy. If I had a little more money and a better or safer environment that would’ve helped me obtain work, maybe things would’ve been different. I didn’t have insurance to get contraceptives. In the end, I decided to become a mother because I wanted to treat somebody better than how I was treated. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

ImageI am glad that I became a mother. I don’t regret a thing about it. Tracy pushes me to go farther than I’ve ever gone. I am 19 years old now. My son is two years old. I love him so much. He saved my life and he woke me up from my downfall.

I am a single parent. No one helps me pick Tracy up or care for him. Alone, I make decisions for myself and for my son’s safety. I changed Tracy’s day care multiple times to ensure he was in an environment that was appropriate for a child, while I worked hard to get us in a better situation.

It’s been difficult as a single young mother. I had a lot of disappointing moments with my son’s family. His father and grandmother completely ignore my wishes and do whatever they want. Simple things like taking care of Tracy became a disagreement with them. The cherry on top was when they cut all of my son’s hair behind my back. I know it sounds silly, but they disregard me at all times. His father lies about helping me; in reality, we barely see him.

My mother isn’t as involved as I wish she were. Rent in New York became too expensive for us to manage so my mother decided to move to New Jersey last minute. I left with her. Commuting to New York while living in New Jersey wasn’t easy. My mother kept demanding I get a job and calling me lazy. I became fed up. Everything was too far for me to pursue the dreams I had set out for myself. I had to find another place to go stay. I knew I deserved better. Tracy and I left home.

I will not let them bring me down.

I lived a group home that made it difficult for me to attend school. I had to find an alternative place to live or get kicked out of school. I had to drop my classes in college in order to stay within the requirements of my group home.

I decided to apply for the Year Up internship. Guess what? I got in! They support low-income young adults reach their professional career goals. I’m still participating in this internship. Year Up is teaching me hard and soft skills that are going to stay with me for life. I’m getting college credits for the classes I take. I am learning about financial operations while juggling my personal problems. I’m grateful for this program, it isn’t easy to get into. I plan to go back to school in the fall. I love art and everything about it.

I hope my son grows healthy and appreciates and values life. I want to raise him in a place that offers decent food. I want to get him away from all these artificial flavors and preservatives. I dream of obtaining a decent amount of money and moving to Europe. I want to study there. I dream of becoming a fashion designer and owning my own company. No one and nothing is going to stop me.

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A few days ago my sister told me she didn’t really like her curly hair. I stared at this little replica of me. It felt like I was looking into a mirror. Little me also didn’t like her curly hair. All the pretty girls have straight hair. I saw all the wrong things staring back at me in the mirror.

For days, I thought about the conversation her and I had. How can I create a space in which my sister and I feel happy and empowered with who we are? What things can I do, say and have that will make her feel secure in herself, both on the outside and inside? Where beauty isn’t the only focus? What do little ones need to feel at peace and in control of their future and their bodies when everything around them tells them they’re worthless?

I thought about the ways in which we sometimes don’t support the decisions those around us make. How inferior we make each other feel. How we judge one on another for the things we do or don’t do. As if there was a “normal” or “correct” way to be. As if there was a specific way to live our lives.

Here in New York I can’t walk down the street without seeing ads that say young mothers, and their families, will grow up and amount to nothing. Messages that tell us, “You’re worthless and deserve what is happening to you because you did things the “wrong way””. Messages that tell the little ones what horrible lives they will live and what horrible parents they have.

Pointless messages because no matter what decision we make, we seem to always lose and are belittled because of them. Sex is bad. Abortion is bad. Parenting at your age is bad. Using contraceptives is bad. Everything is bad. Our existence is bad. All decisions we make will be judged.

But, guess what, we’re not going anywhere.

On the other hand, I hope to work with warriors that will take matters into their own hands. Warriors that will be happy with who they are. Warriors that will be at peace with the decisions they make for themselves and their families. Warriors that will look into the mirror and not let these messages affect what they believe to be true about themselves. At least, that’s where I hope to be alongside my family and people in my community. I hope to live and create spaces in which decisions, including abortion and parenting, are respected and supported. Spaces in which my sister can feel confident in herself and understand that there’s more to life and herself than just beauty.



Spaces like that are being built. We are hosting a webinar training with 3 sessions aimed to serve young mothers. This training is open to all young mothers and are completely free. Session 1 already took place. Session 2 is happening on Nov 15 6pm EST which will talk about why it is important to organize young mothers and why young motherhood happens. Session 3 is happening on Dec 13 also at 6pm EST and it takes a closer look on what advocacy means and how you can use your experiences to push others into action. If you’re a young mother, register and let others know: http://tinyurl.com/MomELola

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When I first starting working with young mothers I found myself trying to validate my ally-ness. If anyone asked me why I was involved, or if I had children of my own, instead of simply saying “no”, I would feel the need to defend my involvement.

I would often respond with:
“No I don’t have any children, but my mother was a young mother”
or
“No but I have many friends who are young parents”

I asked myself, “as an undocumented immigrant, what do I want from allies?” Then it hit me, I can be an ally without an explanation or defending my involvement. “I’m not a racist, my friend is black” isn’t cool so why would “I don’t have children but my friend is a young mom” be considered okay? I started reminding myself that I can be an ally, just because. I can be an ally because I believe in the importance of young mother’s voices being heard without tokenizing those around me. I can be an ally because our liberations are tied together. I can be an ally because no one is free, while others are oppressed.

Even though being an ally can be tricky. We should all be willing to learn and be called out. We are allies to each other. Here are some things I’ve learned throughout my involvement with young mothers:

1. It’s so much easier to sit back and judge young families. Young mothers already face a bunch of judgement everywhere. Don’t judge. Educate yourself.

don't judge

2. Always step back and look at the bigger picture. This isn’t about you, remember?

stepback

3. Families are different. Don’t assume every family is compiled of a mother, father and one child.

families

4. Always engage the children and think of their needs/wants.

hand paint

5. Be an ally just because. Don’t try to prove something to others or to yourself. Believing in the people you’re working with and the cause you’re working towards is sufficient.

Cow

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We were on the phone talking about the immigrant rights movement and how he could get involved. He was telling me how he values immigrants so much and believes everyone deserves a happy and safe life. He then asks about my beliefs and what I stand for.

I tell him about my involvement with the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.
“Reproductive health? Like abortions?” He asks.
“That’s not the only aspect of reproductive health but yeah, abortions too.”

He becomes angry and states that I’m a horrible person for advocating for abortion access. How could I fight for immigrant rights and at the same time, aim to provide others with abortions? It’s a disappointing and a very sad aspect of my life, according to him. He didn’t stop at that but kept pushing and pushing, “So, you’re telling me, if you were to get pregnant tomorrow, you’d have an abortion?”

One side of me believes I should stay quiet since it really isn’t his business what I do or don’t do with my body. The other side of me however, didn’t want to be ashamed of the decisions I make. So I proudly state, “if I need one, yes I would.”

Abortion Mississippi

Silence.

He said something about me being a bad person, that he believes whole-heartily in the bible and that he had to go so it was best to hang up.

Click.

I sit there shocked at his eagerness to hang up on me but also amused and how the conversation had made a 180 degree turn because of what I believe in. It’s okay to advocate for the lives of immigrants, but not for the lives of women and men who need an abortion. But there’s a discussion that’s missing, the one about life going on beyond the 9 month gestation period.

It’s frustrating after a while, hearing folks discuss the value of lives and the importance of community, but only for a fetus. What happens to that life once it’s outside the body? What happens when the family cannot afford food or health services? They’re called a leech on the system. What happens when that life is LGBTQ? They’re excluded and dehumanized. When it becomes undocumented? That life is no longer considered valuable. We would rather detain and deport it. When that same life is walking home from the store we shoot and kill it for wearing a hoodie and “looking suspicious”. When it’s Muslim? We bomb them. Black and brown lives? Incarcerate them.

Don’t you dare sit there and talk to me about the value of life when our children cannot even access a decent education, housing, comprehensive sex education or contraceptives. This isn’t a black or white issue where some are against abortion and some are for it. Abortions should be made available to whomever needs it and it’s not up to us to judge those who have one. At the same time, we should be working together to create better living conditions for all so that maybe, in the future, that one abortion won’t be necessary.

I’m also fighting for lives.

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Post By Nicole Catá

Originally from Cortlandt, NY by way of Flushing, NY, Nicole Catá now studies at The George Washington University Law School and the Elliott School of International Affairs.  During her time as an undergraduate student at Columbia University, she worked from January to August 2010 as a policy and advocacy intern at the Latina Institute.  Nicole spent this summer as a legal intern at National Advocates for Pregnant Women and will work this fall as a student attorney for the International Human Rights Clinic at GW Law School.  Nicole will serve as the president of GW Law School’s chapter of Law Students for Reproductive Justice during the 2013-14 school year.

Birth Justice as a Matter of Reproductive Justice

With news of Prince George’s birth dominating the Internet, it may be helpful to highlight the lived realities of birthing experiences in the United States for women of color. Given that the royal birth cost $15,000, whereas the average cost of birth in the United States is $30,000, you have to wonder whether we’re getting what we pay for.  For poor, uninsured women of color in the United States, too often the answer is “no.”

Last year, Denene Millner published a piece called “Birthing While Black” that details the abysmal treatment she received at an upper Manhattan hospital while delivering her first daughter.  Despite having paid for “upgrades” to secure the birth experience she had envisioned, Millner catalogues a litany of maltreatments she experienced the moment her baby was born.  For example, she describes as follows:

Once in the private room, the nurses disappeared for nine hours! Seriously. Nine. I had no diapers. No idea how to breastfeed properly (and no bottle or milk to feed my baby if I chose to formula feed). No instructions on what to do to care for my post-birth body (was it okay to walk? Pee? Wash?). Nothing. I seriously thought I was being punished for asking (nicely) for what I’d paid for. When a nurse finally did show up, she came with a “gift bag” full of formula and coupons for… formula.

Millner’s piece highlights the injustices too often leveled against women of color on what should be the happiest days of their lives.  The notion that she was treated so poorly after having paid for hospital upgrades speaks volumes about what poor, uninsured women of color face when giving birth in many hospitals around the country.

We know that everyone deserves access to high-quality health care, that birth justice is a matter of reproductive justice, and that health and dignity are human rights.  Millner reminds us that everyone deserves to be treated like royalty during and after their birthing experiences.

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“I’ll count to 10 and you hide!”
“That’s not fair, I WAN TO COUNT!”
“I’ll count and you can count next time?”
“Ok!”
“1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10! Ready or not, here I come!”

The kids ran around the conference room looking for each other, oblivious to the fact that their mom’s and dad’s were in the other room getting information and building on their skills in order to raise healthier families and better futures.

Playing hide and seek in a conference room

Playing hide and seek in a conference room

However, it wasn’t all rainbow colored ponies. As I took a small break from the conference and made my way to the bathroom, I caught a conversation between two of the guards on the floor. Both were annoyed at the children. The screaming, laughing, jumping and overall awesomeness was too much for them. Complaints were exchanged about several things. Both agreed that the work environment was being disrupted because of the presence of children (I’ll mention that it was Saturday).

Some of the young families and their supporters

Some of the young families and their supporters

Were the kids really bothering anyone? No.

They were simply being kids. How do moms and dads get work done while raising a kid? Easy. They’re super heroes.

Maybe, if you opened up your mind and watched these kids laughing and playing you wouldn’t be so quick to complain. I had a headache from all the screaming but was able to function perfectly fine. Maybe, a notice should have been put up in the hallway that there was going to be kids on the floor that day. Maybe, if event spaces and public spaces were as welcoming to families as they are to food and drinks, organizers wouldn’t have to get creative and turn offices into day cares. Unsafe spaces shouldn’t have to transform into play areas only because most spaces are dominated by patriarchy. Bringing a child to a conference or event is not wrong. And feeding your child at an event or public space is not wrong. C’mon. In a country where women exhibit breasts on almost all ads, is breastfeeding really that disgusting?

Octavia and her son Tracy

Octavia and her son Tracy

Maybe, if resources were made available to young mom organizers and supporters, spaces where families are welcome would be accessible. If everyone just stopped for a moment and opened our minds and hearts to something new. To all the haters, keep in mind that young family gatherings are not about you but about the future of the kids in front of you.

photo 1

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