Stacia L. Brown is a writer, a writing professor, and a single mother to a two-year-old daughter.
Like many young black women, she’s known more than a few single mothers in her day. And like many young black women, she didn’t anticipate becoming one herself. “I’m the daughter of a single mom who was raised by a single mom. I was also raised in church, where premarital sex is a sin — obviously — but premarital pregnancy is a public sin,” she chuckles. “It’s the kind of background that should, by all accounts, deter you from unmarried parenting.”
And for a long time, it did. But at 29, she found herself staring into the tiny plastic window of a pregnancy test and seeing the telltale two-line confirmation. She and her partner of eight years parted ways shortly thereafter. “In retrospect, the timing wasn’t great–especially for him. He wasn’t ready for parenting and, even though I strongly believed I was–even if it meant that I’d be going it alone, I was disabused of that notion fairly quickly.” Eventually, the two repaired their friendship and have been able to develop a healthy, communicative co-parenting dynamic. “We had to remember that neither he nor I were bad people. Neither of us fit the stereotypes prescribed for the other, and we had to stop anticipating that he’d turn into a ‘deadbeat’ and I’d turn into a vindictive ‘baby mama,” because that wasn’t our story. It took awhile, but we got there. And now things are much better.”
Working as an adjunct English professor in Michigan during her pregnancy, Stacia didn’t realize that having her own car, own apartment, and own income did not necessarily equate to mother-readiness. “Adjuncts don’t typically have health insurance. I certainly didn’t. And my income fluctuated from term to term; four months at a time, I might earn a livable salary, while in the next semester, I might be near the poverty line.” She supplemented her income with freelance writing gigs and received medical assistance until after delivery.
It didn’t take long for her to realize how often situations like hers were met with derision, criticism, and disdain. “Single motherhood is one of the most maligned family dynamics there is–especially in cases where the mother is a minority who has never been married. Stereotypes abound. You find yourself feeling the need to defend your choices to people who believe you’re a drain on government resources and their tax dollars. You find yourself working to convince people that you aren’t promiscuous, unintelligent, or immoral. You may even feel like you need to prove that you’re raising your children to be productive members of society, rather than underachievers or criminals.”
For minorities, Brown says the pathologizing of unmarried mothers has a lot to do with the number of studies that focus on the disproportionate number of black and brown single parents–as well as the manner in which various news outlets report those numbers as tragic and endemic.
She decided to create an online community that actively seeks to provide greater context for those numbers, by inviting the discourse of single mothers of color. Beyond Baby Mamas was founded in September 2012 as a way to talk to minority unmarried mothers, not just about them. It’s an initiative that seeks to form a base of support, education, communication, and encouragement, rather than an environment of condemnation. Through social media and video chats, Beyond Baby Mamas is quickly connecting mothers from a plethora of backgrounds and experiences–and Stacia couldn’t be happier.
“On the day I announced our first Conversation with Single Mothers of Color on my personal blog, over 200 readers spread the word. Within a week of our existence on Facebook, 60 moms joined our group. Our Tumblr account, which provides daily posts on issues of relevance to single mothers of color, is also quickly growing. And I’ve already gotten a great deal of feedback and thanks from mothers who’ve been looking for just this type of community. I’m very excited about our potential.”