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How The Pandemic Has Women Redefining Motherhood

"While the world is experiencing chaos, I am creating life."

Motherhood

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to so many things that we all took for granted: going out without masks, going to concerts, visiting family and friends, and traveling wherever we want. However, there is one thing that COVID-19 cannot stop and that is the miracle of childbirth. When babies are ready to come into this world, they are coming no matter what is or isn't going on around us. The addition of a global pandemic to a time in a woman's life where there is already so much going on, so many things to decide, so many things to do, and so many emotions seems unfair. Yet, that has been the reality for many women for almost a year now. However, it should come as no surprise that women all over the world have accepted the new normal with strength and grace and do what women do best: get it done (and beautifully, might I add).

I recently connected with five incredible women who either gave birth during the pandemic or are currently expecting. They shared everything from their reactions to finding out that they were pregnant, to how the pandemic reshaped their initial thoughts on pregnancy and motherhood. I was both touched and inspired by their outlook and their strength. Despite the fact that things looked different than they imagined they would, with limitations on who can attend prenatal visits or the hospital during the birth, these women have been able to pivot, remain positive, and adjust to their new normal.

Check out their stories below.

Erica James-Strayhorn  

Photo Courtesy of Erica James-Strayhorn

Erica is a first-time mom to a baby girl born in December 2020.

"I was very excited to find out that I was pregnant. I knew that things might be different, I just wasn't exactly sure what that looked like. I remained open and focused on how I wanted my pregnancy and delivery to be and focused on that. One thing that was impacted was the decision to have a home birth instead of having her at a birthing center. I made this choice based on the number of people allowed to be present at the birth center.

"My pregnancy and motherhood, so far, have been pretty close to how I thought it would be, even during a pandemic. I was focused on creating the experience I wanted when it came to the pregnancy and the birth. I have an amazing community, friends, and family who have supported me. It was upsetting knowing that my husband could not attend doctor appointments with me and that he could not attend our baby's appointments with us. However, that encouraged us to find creative ways for him to be involved in that part of her life and for me to make sure I was communicating information from those appointments to him.

Photo Courtesy of Erica James-Strayhorn

"Becoming a mother during this time has encouraged me to continue to be really mindful of the messaging and fear-based narratives that I have taken on so that I do not pass those on to her. It has also encouraged me to continue to take a stand for myself and for my family and honor what I feel is best for us. Slowing down and being present in each moment are two major things I am focusing on now that she is here. It goes beyond cherishing these moments. For me, it is about connecting to how each moment feels, without distractions."

Marshana Dahlia Spavento  

Photo Courtesy of Marshana Dahlia Spavento

Marshana is a first-time mom to a baby boy born in November 2020.

"We found out on March 10th that we were pregnant. We had just returned from our delayed honeymoon to Dubai. We landed, and the first thing I did was take a pregnancy test. We had married just seven weeks earlier and were thrilled that we got pregnant with relative ease. I was 38, one day shy of 39, and my husband was 49 at the time so we knew that we were blessed to be pregnant. The day after finding out we were expecting was my birthday and the same day that COVID-19 was determined a pandemic. Then on March 12th, I lost my job due to the pandemic. Needless to say, it was challenging looking ahead with so much uncertainty around us. Our plan was always for me to be a stay-at-home mom, but due to the pandemic, those plans were thrust upon us a little early.

"The pandemic really restricted the view that I had for myself as a mom. My mother passed away unexpectedly in December of 2018 and I always saw my motherhood journey with her by my side. Losing her was not only crushing, but the idea of becoming a mom, without her guidance and help was frightening."

"When I found out we were expecting, I was met with the reality that not only would my mother not be here for me, but no one would. None of my aunties or friends could come and help me out as a first-time mom. I was going to have to go at this one on my own. Of course, my husband is a great support, and he is so hands-on with our son. I would be lost without him. However, there is something to be said about having help from a fellow mom, and I just have to go without for safety reasons.

Photo Courtesy of Marshana Dahlia Spavento

"Becoming a mom in a pandemic is a true testament to the resilience of womankind. We truly hold inherent and innate power. From time, women have brought forth children, during times of war, times of peace, times of sorrow, or times of joy."

"As much as I wished my husband would have been able to attend my prenatal appointments, or that we could have toured our hospital's maternity ward ahead of time, I realized that even in these dire times, other women were bringing forth life just the same. That gave me hope. If they could do it, so can I."

Jessica Cooper

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Cooper

Jessica is expecting her first child in June 2021.

"The pandemic did not affect my reaction as my husband and I were actually trying to conceive. Although, we were apprehensive about getting pregnant while in the middle of a pandemic, we knew that God wouldn't give us more than we could handle. Lastly, because we had been trying for a few months, we were absolutely elated to find out we were expecting!

"The pandemic has reshaped my views on the superficial aspects of my pregnancy like hosting certain social events like a gender reveal or a baby shower. I am a social butterfly and love to entertain, so I've been planning my baby shower long before we were even trying to conceive! Due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, it's very likely I won't be able to have a formal, large baby shower, but I am OK with that because I am just grateful for my health and those of my close family and friends. I realized it's more to the pregnancy and motherhood than just the 'social' aspects of it and that I am more than blessed when it comes to embarking into the motherhood phase of my life.

Photo Courtesy of Jessica Cooper

"I have a newfound respect for moms and moms-to-be who are preparing for and/or raising a family all while still working full-time and still finding time to work on their dreams and aspirations. I started to feel anxiety at the beginning of my pregnancy just thinking about how I was going to juggle becoming a mother, working full-time as an educator, building my consulting business, The Savvy Counselor LLC, building my brand The Stylish Organized Wife, and maintaining a meaningful godly marriage! I realized though that the power of God is within me and that he has built women to naturally be strong beings. Giving myself grace and patience and asking for help when necessary is definitely OK."

Diamond Nurse

Photo Credit: Kathryn Hastings Photography

Photo Courtesy of Diamond Nurse

Diamond is a mom of a 2.5-year-old named Emerald. Diamond 's second daughter is due in April 2021.

"Initially, I was quite anxious and nervous due to all of the unknowns of COVID-19 and how it would affect my birthing experience and its effect on expecting mothers. I knew the hospitals were having more restrictions and it was important to me to have my husband and my doula to be a part of/assist in the birth of our new baby. I could have never foreseen a world stricken by a pandemic nor could I have known what that would mean for my life as a mom, wife, and owner of Diamond M.I.N.E Social Media Group. While my goals have not changed, I have learned to think about these things a little differently.

"COVID-19 has made me more efficient and intentional about how I spend my time. I love that I get to watch my daughter experience the world around her. It brings me so much joy and I hope to inspire her the way that she inspires me. As a mom, this pandemic has shown me the importance of community and being intentional about the time we spend together. We have shifted to having playdates with our 'COVID-19 bubble' who also have daughters the same age. This has been super helpful for us, as our children are mostly impacted by the restrictions. A toddler does not completely understand why you have to social distance or wear a mask. It's been such a blessing to be able to continue our playdates.

Photo Credit: Kathryn Hastings Photography

Photo Courtesy of Diamond Nurse

"This pregnancy has been physically draining, due to nausea and fatigue, but I have also been emotionally drained due to not only COVID-19 but also the racial unrest our country is facing."

"It's important to me that I keep a level of hope and positivity as I am carrying new life and also reflect on what's going on and continue to be an inspiration to my daughters. I love what a mom friend of mine said, 'While the world is experiencing chaos, I am creating life.' That in itself is powerful! Being a woman is powerful. I am grateful to be a woman and love being a woman. Living through the crazy times we are in has made me feel even more vulnerable, strong, and powerful. I love encouraging my sistas, especially my mamas. Through this all, I intend to give myself permission to take a break, show up as my authentic self and be present in my home life, where it counts the most."

Whitney Rene Osborne

Photo Courtesy of Whitney Rene Osborne

Whitney is expecting her first child due in Feb 2021.

"My then-fiancé and I were still doing long-distance at the time we found out, so trying to coordinate travel and other things were extremely difficult and scary at the beginning of everything shutting down. Having to experience doctor's appointments alone or on FaceTime was also a little disappointing, but we eventually got used to it and made the best of it!

"I don't think the pandemic has reshaped my thoughts of pregnancy or motherhood since I haven't experienced it any other way. I've pretty much convinced myself this was the best time to be pregnant since everyone is missing out on things, not just the pregnant lady that can't drink or handle late nights! As far as motherhood, I will absolutely be more cautious and protective of my little one since the pandemic has made me even more of a germaphobe than I was before.

Photo Courtesy of Whitney Rene Osborne

"Even with the challenges we all are facing during the pandemic, I have been blessed to have a very healthy pregnancy. This has allowed me to focus my energy on creating a healthy foundation for my little bundle. Being a business owner, a wife, and soon-to-be mother, I feel like I am unlocking my superhero powers one at a time. It is overwhelming to think about what it truly means to carry my own legacy as I go through my day — a constant reminder of the power of womanhood."

Featured image courtesy of Diamond Nurse

Originally published on January 29, 2021

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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