Amerah and her family
Amerah Shabazz-Bridges with her children
By: Amerah Shabazz-Bridges, BSW
Recently, I read an article via the Internet entitled, New Study: Black Women Have Highest Rate of Children with Different Fathers, written by Abena Agveman-Fisher. When I first read the article, my blood pressure rose so high I wanted to scream, “Nobody asked me. Nobody surveyed me. I am a Black mother who has children by, not with, different men. The article did not ‘tell’ my story in its entirety.” My second reaction was to write the following comment:
Let me give another side of this “picture.” Being a MOTHER of children with different men was a tough place for me—a tough place for my now adult children. Just a brief story of how I come to have these beautiful children: This is my truth—no excuse—just my truth. When a young girl grows up without important knowledge of herself...her body...about sex, the pill, condoms, or abstinence—and no role models, she will make unhealthy decisions—looking for love in all the wrong places, i.e., sex—because that’s all she learned...the message was...if you want to get and keep a man you gotta have sex with him. Well, she “finds” the man...then, she gets pregnant...and by the time she is 7-8 months along, she and that father break up. Then, she starts “going” with another man...oops, pregnant again, you break up; another whatever, another pregnancy—and the vicious cycle continues. And therein is where society kicks in and gives her a label. And the sad thing about it all is she keeps on trying to find a husband and father for the children she already has, because society says we must have a husband, white picket fence, and two and a half plus children to be a normal unit in society. And nobody knows what normal is. And what really gets me is all the folks who point their finger at these mothers who are sleeping with Mark, Tom, Dick, and Harry. They don’t get pregnant or they have an abortion...but they are still having sex, though! But if there is no evidence (like a pregnancy), the finger pointing starts. We must continue to educate our girls AND boys about the challenges of being sexually active before they are prepared to take care of a child.
After posting my comments, I still was not satisfied. I needed to tell another side of the story—my story in more detail.
I was not underemployed, considering the era I was born in and the type of work I was doing. I was a maid. And there was status in being a maid, depending upon “who” you worked for. Keep in mind, 56 years ago, living in the muddy bowels of the deep south, some of the Black parent(s) of some of these Black women were not educated in the institutions of higher learning, and what they learned from their parent(s) was what they passed down to their children from generation to generation. With each generation, they “did better when they learned better.”
I did not understand why my mother reacted to me the way she did when I went to her and told her I had started my period. (Menstruation was not a part of my vocabulary at the time.) Her reactions, when I told her that my period had started, left a lasting “print” deep in my soul. The conversation went something like this: Me: “Mama,” I said scared to death, “I started my period today.” And as quickly as the last word left my mouth, she responded with a look of disdain on her face, “Whatcha telling me for?” Luckily for me, my sister was listening (because she was the one who told me to “go tell mama”), walked over to me, put her arms around my shoulders, and said, “Come on, Fluggie, I’ll take you to the store to get some Kotex.” Kotex? What in the world is Kotex? There never was a conversation about menstruation, periods, or sex...ever.
Later, when I was older and having my babies, my mother shared how when she was 12 years old, her mother told her, “When you get ready to ‘be fast,’ you better get married,” and when she started her period she said that she did not tell her mother. Every month she said she would go down to the creek, get in the water, and try to wash the blood off. She said she felt dirty, over and over and over, until finally she became ill. Now, this is when her mother told her that babies came from tree stumps. Sometime after that episode, my mama got married, and pregnancy followed. Mama said that she did not know what was happening to her body. She was not feeling good. She told her mother, and her mother told her she was going to have a baby. Mama said that every day until the baby was born, she would go down in the woods looking for tree stumps to get her baby. Eventually, she learned babies did not come from tree stumps. Thus, the “miseducation” of this Black woman began.
Since I am my mother’s daughter, I believed what I saw...what I heard...and in most cases did what I saw and heard. Not one living soul discussed sex with me...not one person discussed what to do if you have sex...no condoms, no birth control methods, and certainly no conversation about abstinence from sex (a term I learned later as an adult).
There are so many factors that played a “role” in my life that are possible reasons I am a Black woman who has children with multiple men: sexual abuse, witnessed domestic violence, abandonment issues, trust issues, confusion about the difference between love and sex, lack of parental guidance, no “healthy/normal” role models. Before I started my healing journey, I was caught up in a cycle of “having” babies and wanting a man to save me...to love me...to take care of me...to be a father to my children...to take us out of our “hell.” Here is where I make it personal and raw: After my first child was born, I did not have a menstrual cycle for 16 months, because I breastfed her. This was a form of birth control for me. Needless-to-say, I did not know it at that time, but it was. As a result, all of my magnificent children were born two years apart.
The father of my first child was soon out of my life after I told him I was pregnant. He was a senior in college, and I was a sophomore in high school. After she was born, he became an active parent, not a husband. This was the pattern for each pregnancy: met Jimmy, dated for several months, have sex with Jimmy, get pregnant by Jimmy...child was born and Jimmy was gone. Meet Jake...meet Tommy...meet Ray...and the same pattern continued. I was not, I repeat, I was not dating the daddies at the same time. Time lapsed before I started dating, because I was pregnant with another man’s child. However, after the birth of the child, the pattern continued—wanting to make me and my already existing family whole. And then in stepped Claude.
During this entire cycle, no one said to me, “You have options.” Not the doctors who delivered my beautiful children, not my mama or daddy, not the gossiping neighbors—absolutely no one. As a result, I internalized my emotions/feelings: guilt and shame, my low self-esteem. I was at the bottom of the barrel. But I learned early in life not to show any signs of “weakness,” so I went about life pretending and playing life as I knew it. It’s what I saw in my community. It is what I learned from the folks around me...my environment!
In between some of the pregnancies, I would get married several times—got to have a “father” for my children...wanted not to have them “shamed” when they went to school; wanted a “father’s name” on the signature line on the birth certificate. However, on occasion, when I was proposed to, I would accept the proposal, and before the wedding day I would back out, ending the relationship. I knew I did not “love” the “suitor,” and I had used his kindness to meet my unhealthy needs. Again and again, another layer of guilt and shame!
For me, the article/study that I read triggered my response. It did not state or identify all the “human” facts that surround the issues of “Black Women Have Highest Rate of Children with Different Fathers.” The article implied that Black women “make a decision” to have children by multiple men. This was not true for me! And neither was I getting pregnant to have a husband. I would be in a relationship hoping that it would lead to marriage, thus, establishing a “whole family unit.” Due to the lack of knowledge (no excuse, just a fact), a child would be conceived as a result of having unprotected sex, hoping the results would end differently.
Today, I am married to a wonderful man who lovingly greets each of my children in his beautiful upbeat voice, “Hi, my favorite daughter/son.” They respond to his love with, “Hi, Poppa, how are you doing?” And at the end of a visit with our family, they tell us both how much they love and appreciate us.
As the article stated, “And when said woman gets tired of waiting, she often breaks it off with her child’s father and starts the next relationship anew, hoping that this relationship will be the one that finally elevates her from ‘girlfriend’ and ‘baby’s mama’ to ‘wife.’ ” This describes, in a nutshell, where I was on life’s journey when I was having multiple babies by multiple men.
Amerah Shabazz-Bridges, BSW, is a survivor of incest, childhood domestic violence, and date rape. For more than 19 years, she has advocated for survivors. Bridges has facilitated training on college campuses and at group homes, churches, and conferences. She has volunteered with the Jackson Rape Crisis Center, the Mississippi Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Mississippi CASA, and currently with the Memphis Child Advocacy Center. At the Memphis Child Advocacy Center, she has helped train Memphis police recruits and has served as a speaker with local executives, schools, community groups, and faith-based organizations. Bridges is a living testament to the power of healing. She is the recipient of numerous awards, most recently the Spirit of Kindness Award, the Volunteer Memphis Spirit of Giving Award, and the Memphis Child Advocacy Center’s Nediva Award.
This article appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Fall 2011, Vol. 18, No. 4, pages 20-21.