BBM Revisits: Black Adoptive Mother Nefertiti Austin

In April of 2013, Nefertiti Austin wrote an essay for us about her choice to adopt a son as a single black woman. Hers was one of our most popular posts, in part because of something she mentions in her essay: the lack of reporting on black single adoptive moms. It seemed our readership was intensely curious about the process and about Nerfertiti’s experience, so we asked her to give us an update on what the last two years have been like for her. We hope you’ll be as happy for her family as we are, when you read what they’ve been up to.

The author
The author

 

October 12th is a seminal date in my family. It will mark my grandmother’s 90th birthday and the day my daughter came home.

For six years, my son and I had been grooving along. He, the intellectually curious, and I, equal parts Tiger-Western-Black mama, enjoyed our place in the world. While I flirted with the idea of a second child, I had no intentions of raising two kids as a single parent. Of course, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as I would learn in May 2013.

Confident that adding to my brood was fiscally not a good idea, I ignored my then kindergartener who began asking for a little sister. After all, we had two dogs and a Betta fish named Quinn Brandon. Our lives were filled to the brim with school, traveling, sports and my writing. But I couldn’t outrun the mommie-jones. Her ass was back and once again, my antennae for all things baby was up. A glutton for punishment, I began the adoption process… again.

The assumption was that since I had a man-child, I would request a little girl. A pair, my cousin suggested. Not true. For starters, girls are more expensive than boys. Let’s take clothes. Boys need a shirt, a pair of pants (shorts if you live in Los Angeles) and clean (not new or busted) tennis shoes; that’s it. Girls have to be accessorized. They need matching socks, hair bands, earrings, sandals, tennis shoes, boots and maryjanes in suede and patent leather. And while I had those things in my own closet, it never crossed my mind to make those purchases in miniature. Money aside, baby girls in the foster care system are easier to place than Black boys. “Sweet”, “angelic” and “precious” are flowery buzz words used to describe them and give the impression that little girls bring quiet adornment to a family. Girls, some think, do not present with ADHD like Black boys, nor will they join gangs, get hauled into the principal’s office for fighting or shot dead by those charged to protect and to serve. None of that is true but for prospective adoptive parents, myths and rumors about Black boys serve as unfortunate deterrents, thus rendering girls more desirable.

Meanwhile, I was happy with my son and adopting another boy was a no-brainer. Six years prior, I had successfully adopted one, so I knew I could do it. Second, I had a male community in place and knew they would shepherd another young brother along. Third, my son’s hand-me-down toys and clothes were washed and waiting. Plus, I already had a daughter, a twelve-year old Yorkie-Lhasa Apso mix who had more attitude than the law allowed.

But then, I met a six-month old doll in a blue dress and all my excuses for why I didn’t want a girl-child to mold and raise in my image went out the window.

A chance meeting with my son’s siblings set in motion the craziest chain of events. Until that time, my son was aware that he was one of several children, but had never met the younger set. Coordinated by my son’s former social worker, we agreed to a meeting. We were both excited and open to the idea of a biological connection. Because my son was an only child, I hoped that a relationship with his siblings would remind him that he was not alone in the world. And that was the goal of the meeting. That’s it. That’s all.

Not only did he leave that visit with a brother and two sisters, I returned home wondering what it would be like to mother the baby girl I held in my arms. Her essence lingered and several weeks later, I could feel her tight grasp on my finger. So there I was, taking steps to adopt a baby boy and unable to shake the feeling that this little girl should be with me. The universe agreed.

Almost two years have passed and my daughter is the four “Fs”: feisty, frilly, funny and fearless. She entered our lives like she’d always been here; assured of her space in my heart and confident that I would figure out how to raise two children alone. It hasn’t been easy and my concerns about physically, financially and emotionally affording a second child have manifested. Under grace, I have weathered them and would happily do it again.

There is no denying the deep connection the three of us share, and her arrival on my grandmother’s, now her great-grandmother’s birthday was more than coincidence; it was divine. My daughter is a gift it seems, to all of us.

Nefertiti Austin is a certified PS-MAPP trainer who co-leads classes for adoptive and foster parents. She blogs about adoption at mommiejonesing.com, and is currently working on a memoir about adopting as a single woman of color. Austin lives with her children in Los Angeles.

Love Quadrangles: Ciara, Future, Russell, and Co-Parenting While Dating.

This weekend, singer-dancer-model Ciara became the latest celebrity subject of single-mom scrutiny after a photo that surfaced of her, her one-year-old son Future, and her new beau, NFL quarterback Russell Wilson made its way to Hot 97 host Ebro’s Instagram account:

Ebro In The Morning Discussion: Do you think Ciara is doing too much exposing her son to Russell Wilson so early?

A photo posted by Ebro In The Morning @HOT97 (@ebrointheam) on

The online debate hit its peak when T.I. weighed in on the Instagram post by saying that Ciara was “outta line,” bringing her son to Wilson’s training camp, and that he would go off, if he were in Future’s position. All sorts of opinions have flown in the past few days about the age-old topic of whether or not the time is right for a single custodial parent to let a new partner meet the kids. For a sampling of some of those opinions, you need only scan the comments section of Ebro’s Instagram post or do a Twitter search on “Ciara baby.” Here are a few representative tweets from those search results:

We also asked our Twitter community to weigh in:

(Single moms by choice have the opportunity to make dating decisions without outside consultation.)

Though it’s impossible to know what Ciara and Future’s co-parenting situation is actually like, it’s telling that both of their actions, as parents who are dating other people, have been the source of constant speculation and scrutiny for over three days. Unsurprisingly, double-standards are at play, and everyone’s projecting their own circumstances,  ideals, and the limited information tabloids provide to indict both parents. Future is catching flak for having four children with four moms and for criticizing Ciara’s parenting and decision to date, after having been an unfaithful partner to her. Ciara is being indicted for dating someone else less than a year after breaking off her engagement to Future and taking her son with her to visit Russell Wilson, while their relationship is still relatively new.

There are no hard and fast right answers here. There won’t be much general consensus between single mothers and fathers on this, except for the obvious: when dating, all parents and partners should act in the best interest of the children. But the dynamics of every family are more complicated than that company line. Who defines “best interest?” What happens if both parents can’t agree on what’s in a child’s “best interest,” as it relates to introducing them to a new partner? When, exactly, is the time right for that introduction? Is there a plan in place to manage any emotional fall-out the child may experience if the new relationship doesn’t work out? If the new relationship does work out and the non-custodial, but involved parent still isn’t on board, how should the custodial parent proceed?

The answers will be different for a mother who’s solo parenting with zero involvement from her partner than it would for a mother who has a custody agreement (legal or verbal) in place with the father of her children. A solo mom would obviously make the call without having to consult anyone else. A co-parenting mom has to negotiate not just when her child will meet the new partner, but when her co-parent will, as well. The co-parents will have to have conversations, both with and without the new partner present. And in cases that resemble what seems to be the arrangement with Ciara and Future — Ciara has the child the majority of the time, but Future isn’t entirely uninvolved or absent — the lines, conversations, decision-making, and final calls are murkier and likely less civil.

Mistakes will be made. Emotion will cloud judgment. Children will be introduced too early in some relationships and too late in others. And all of it is hard. Even in cases where all parties are gracious and able to communicate amicably, it’s still a situation that requires a great deal of trust, some calculated risk, and a willingness to relinquish a bit of control.

The only way for the co-parenting relationship to remain healthy and for the new relationship to have a chance to thrive is to keep the lines of communication between all involved parties as open and honest as possible. Understand that not everyone will respond to the changes in the ways you’d like. And cope with the changes through seeking family counseling and/or reading books that will help co-parents, children, and the new partner deal with the situation in a drama-free (or at least drama-reduced) way. A great book to consult is Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce. This passage on co-parents and dating gets right to the root of some issues most families in this position face:

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As a humorous segue into the serious work of co-parenting while dating, you can also use this short, profanity-laden video from comedian TC Illkillya, as a conversation-starter — but only if you already have a somewhat candid, amicably relationship with your co-parent:

 

BBM Revisits: Yasmine McMorrin

Spelman graduate and single mother Yasmine McMorrin made her writing debut on the Beyond Baby Mamas nearly two years ago in August 2013. Her first post, “The Sometimey Guilt of Single Motherhood,” about her experiences as a young mom and law student with an estranged co-parent remains one of the site’s most-read posts. She followed up with an inspiring post seven months later, “Journey to Better,” encouraging other single mothers to be open to positive change, as she challenged herself to do the same.

Today, Yasmine becomes our very first mom to be profiled in our new series, BBM Revisits. We’ll be checking in with many of the BBM Community Members who wrote for us during the blog’s first two years, to update you on their families’ progress, their personal growth in love and life, and to provide you an opportunity to encourage them as they continue to move forward.

Beyond Baby Mamas is proud to re-introduce Yasmine McMorrin, now a co-parenting, newly sworn-in lawyer. Please join us in congratulating Yasmine on her latest accomplishments in the comments section below! 

The author with her daughter and parents on the day of her swearing-in as an attorney
The author with her daughter and parents on the day of her swearing-in as an attorney

I’ve been a mom since I was 19 years old and a sophomore/ entering my junior year of college. Thinking of someone before I think of myself is such a natural thing, I don’t even think twice about it. My daughter is such apart of who I am and my story.

But because I was so young, motherhood made me feel less than. I felt like I needed to shrink and explain away my young motherhood because I was unmarried and still a teen. I shied away from my truth.

Now that I’m 26 (almost 27), I celebrate my me-ness and all my truths.

I now communicate with my daughter’s father’s wife to share photos and coordinate potential visits. Their contact with her is sporadic but she is aware that she has a dad, stepmother, and brother, and she loves them all. I actively co-parent with my amazing parents and my daughter is a spoiled grandchild. My family and friends are extremely supportive of my daughter and I as we journey on to accomplish our respective goals. (Yes, I’m one of those mother’s that makes vision boards with my daughter, lol).

That’s my truth.

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I balance my career as an attorney and single mom with lots of collaborative effort. My parents help me a lot with drop-off and pick ups. They show up at school events when I can’t make it. I’m so glad I have them as my proxy, because let’s face it: we can’t be everywhere all the time.

I believe my daughter is proud of me. She held the bible for me as I was sworn in as an attorney, which was a very exciting day for us.

The coolest part of being a young mom is that she has a front row seat to me as I grow. She’s seen me graduate from Spelman, then Rutgers Law. She watched me study for both NY and NJ bars and subsequently pass. By watching me, I hope she sees that nothing comes to you without hard work but that with hard work and determination you can have whatever you dream of.

I’m probably guilty of oversharing with her. But I share my ups and downs with her. Actually, we started sharing our “high and low peaks” at the end of our days when she was in kindergarten. This way, although we can’t go over everything that happens each day, we can check in with each other. I let her know about my work, where I’m struggling, and where I want to improve. She shares her updates about her BFFs and teacher.

We have a strong supportive relationship toward each other. I’m grateful as I grow in my career and mommyhood to have her as my teammate.

I used to compare my upbringing to my daughter’s, and I thought that she was lacking something because her father wasn’t as active in her childhood as mine was. I was speaking with a friend and I described the situation as “unfortunate.” My friend immediately said, “Is it? Your daughter looks happy, she’s well taken care of, and she is loved by so many. She is the definition of fortunate.”

That perspective shook me to my core.

A part of me growing as a woman and a mother is my journey of just accepting what God has placed in my life, acknowledging that his plan reigns supreme over anything I could’ve thought of, and thanking God for his grace during my low and high peaks.

Motherhood isn’t perfect. It’s often messy, unpredictable, and it involves a lot of feeling around in the dark (smile). But if your child is happy, doesn’t need for anything, and is loved by their family (who I define as the people you trust, who show up for you and your child and gives you and your child love/support), you are fortunate and blessed.

Never shrink or shy away from your truth. God doesn’t make mistakes.

Love and light to all the mamas! You can do it!

What to Do When You See Unaccompanied Black Children in Public Spaces.

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Laura Browder/Source: Houston PD

This weekend, a black single mother was arrested for leaving her 6-year-old daughter and two-year-old son sitting unaccompanied at a table in the food court of  Memorial City Mall in Houston, TX. “My children weren’t even 30 yards away from me,” Laura Browder, a college student, wrote in a statement following her arrest. A potential employer scheduled a last-minute interview with her at the mall food court (the position itself was not located at the mall) and Browder was unable to secure childcare for her children in time for the meeting.

She decided to buy them a McDonald’s lunch and seat them within her view while she interviewed. An onlooker, seeing them unaccompanied, called police, claiming the children had been left alone and crying. When Browder went to retrieve her children, an officer approached her.

Browder has already appeared before a judge who ruled that she could maintain full custody of her children, but Child Protective Services is investigating the family. Local news affiliate KHOU says that CPS has also offered to help Browder, who is new to the Houston area, find suitable childcare for her children.  Read more

Single-Mom Squad Goals.

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When I started Beyond Baby Mamas in 2013, my daughter had just turned 3 and I was working part-time as an adjunct professor, trying to take my freelance writing career to the next level. I knew I wanted BBM to be an online support group for single mothers of color, and I thought I understood how very broad a category that was. I anticipated BBM drawing mothers of all ages with different professional goals and interests, different self-perceptions about being single mothers, and a common aversion to being called “baby mamas.” In fact, that latter idea was supposed to be a unifier; our point of common interest would definitely be that none of us enjoyed being labeled as “baby mamas.” No matter our other personal beliefs, we’d band together to turn that term and the stereotypes it connotes on its ear.

BBM did draw a wide range of single mothers of color. A Latina PhD student. An unpartnered black adoptive mom. A poetry professor with a special needs son. A web design entrepreneur and mother of two who strives to conquer her inner voice and stay trill daily. A mom of two preteen daughters with an aim to run for public office. A Spelman grad raising a small child while studying for the bar (which she recently passed!). A chemistry professor whose husband abandoned her while she was pregnant with twins. A creative writing MFA, like me, with a daughter just a few years older than mine who not only didn’t mind being called a baby mama but would also begin to build her own brand around it.

These women expanded my views about what my own single motherhood journey could look like. Through the reading and sharing of their stories, I learned that I had greatly limited my own ambitions and expectations, when I had my daughter. At the time of BBM’s inception I was feeling a bit sidelined. All my childless friends’ careers were soaring forward and I was low-income Disney Jr. diaper-land, trying to gather clear, concise opinions for essays over the din of Doc McStuffins.

Everyone says this; it’s widely known, yet I cannot stress it enough: there’s power in surrounding yourself with people who understand the landscape of their lives. For parents in the Beyond Baby Mamas community, unpartnered, unmarried, divorced, and/or solo motherhood is one facet of our landscapes. And it’s completely navigable, but it can also be isolating.

I took some time off from Beyond Baby Mamas because my writing career did, in fact, pick up. Last fall, my daughter’s dad relocated from California, where he’d lived since her birth, to Baltimore where we’ve lived since she was one. Long-distance co-parenting became right-up-the-street co-parenting. And my mother, who’d been my daughter’s alternative caregiver since birth, moved hundreds of miles south just last month.

Those big adjustments led to a much longer hiatus than I’d intended. But that hiatus gave me time to consider how this space should be used and who should benefit most from it.

We’ll still be called Beyond Baby Mamas, but we won’t spend as much time myth busting as we did before. Now I want most to center women’s stories. I think single mothers benefit most from understand how best to get from Point A to Point B, when Point B is a huge undertaking like finishing a degree with a breastfeeding baby, transitioning from an admin office job to a career as an executive, or starting a time-consuming business without much childcare support nearby.

I also want to continue taking the occasional look at media representations of nontraditional black motherhood. It’s worthwhile to examine those story lines and images, to discuss how they make us feel, and to challenge them when necessary.

And I want to resume community-giving initiatives like our Back to School Supply Drive, our Holiday Dinner Giveaways, and our Toy Drive.

But mostly, I want all our mothers to get their squads together. This space exists primarily to remind single mothers of color that they’re not alone, that their goals are achievable, and that there are women like them, overcoming the same impediments every day. Meet one another. Connect on social media. Make mom friends who understand your life. We’re out here, ready to roll deep, amped to support you.

I want people to revisit this blog and read, hear, and watch real women share their real concerns and conquered challenges, and my hope is that only two words spring to mind when they leave here: squad goals.