Stay Out of my Bedroom: Momma Said Knock You Out

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

by Shantae Johnson

Mother of five, business of no one. Throughout women’s reproductive years, judgment and opinions are issued by family, friendsm and sometimes even strangers. The War on Women is alive and well, both in and out of the bedroom. It’s alive in the limitless questions, loaded with judgment, that even complete strangers feel justified in asking women about their bodies and reproductive choices.

Society has very rigid prototypes of motherhood and who should have the privilege to parent. A regular mama like me has felt the backlash every time I have ever taken a pregnancy test.

If you happen to be a woman of color, you simply don’t have any business that is your own, as far as society is concerned. The Jezebel and Welfare Queen stereotypes shape the responses you receive from others when you have a belly full of baby.

Who should parent? What resources do you have to give to a child? Who shouldn’t parent? Can I parent right now? How many children should you have before it’s considered too much?

The day I found out I was pregnant with my third child was filled with mixed emotions of excitement and what the hell am I going to do? I already had two children 10 and 6 and two stepsons 7 and 4. Our newly blended family was just settling into a comfortable state.

I was nervous about how my partner was going to respond and how our families were going to receive the news. So I kept my pregnancy private from family and work until I was ready to share the news and deal with everyone’s unsolicited judgments and advice.

When my baby bump began to reveal itself people started popping off at the mouth like popcorn. I heard people’s pregnancy and birth horror stories. Witnessed the raised eyebrows when I said how many children I had. Listened to unsolicited comments about my growing belly – “wow you look really big today,” or the unwanted pats on my belly.

The most irritating and common question was, so is this your last one? I have been asked this same question since I gave birth to my first son eleven years ago. And the answer is still WHY? Why do people feel the need to ask and what is the response they are seeking? Should I be ashamed that I gave birth and might want to parent another child?

Last week I strapped my chunky baby into the Ergo sling and climbed aboard the bus to take my daughter and niece to my daughter’s soccer game. As we were getting settled, I noticed an older grandmother-like women and smiled. I continued to talk to my daughter about what was next on the agenda, lotion on the knees and having fun on the field.

As I was getting ready to get off the bus, the grandmother asked me “Are all those your kids?” All while looking at the different skin color of my children and niece. My children are all different shades of brown and tan, along with my nieces and nephews.

I paused and instantly began to feel anger that this woman was casting judgment on me . If I was Ann Romney, would I be interrogated like this? Who was she to ask me about how many kids I had? Before I could respond she said, “Girllllll you need to stay out of the bedroom.” As if I had never heard of birth control and was this young black woman she needed to school on keeping her legs closed.

In the same week I received two different responses to my reproductive choice of parenting, both from grandmothers who felt the need to advise me on child rearing. While working as a breastfeeding peer counselor one grandmother told me, “keep on having them babies,” after I helped her granddaughter. While another grandmother told me to “stay out of the bedroom.”

As a black woman, I’m often perceived as promiscuous and a burden upon society with each child I choose to parent. It is society in general that needs to stay out of our bedrooms. The reproductive choices that women make for themselves are no one else’s business, whether that be to parent or not. There are no honorable mentions or peace prizes given out to everyday mamas. Single or co-parenting, motherhood is often not valued in our society. Parental support services are lacking in most communities.

So the next time someone asks me how many more babies I’m going to have, I will have to respond with a “Girllllll, stay out my bedroom.”

Shantae Johnson is a doula, a mama, breastfeeding counselor, and volunteers as a Talk Line Advocate with Backline. Advocates provide unbiased and unconditional support before, during and after your pregnancy experience, no matter which options you are considering or what decisions you make. For more information please visit our website or call the talk line at 1.888.493.0092.

This blog is part of Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.