"A black mother is a precious gem. She is as brilliant as a diamond; as deeply hued as bronze. Her legacy is as richly veined as the finest marble in the world. All that she has given to us, her children, is more precious than gold. This book celebrates and glorifies black mothers everywhere."
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Giver of Life
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply.
At every child's birth, a mother is born.
As a mother, I have twice been "reborn." Each time, the process was nothing short of miraculous. My mother, Mary Elizabeth Clark, was still alive while I was pregnant with my firstborn son, Lonnie Paul. We'd sit in the late afternoon sun together, talking about the miracle of life and babies. She would tell me about her own experiences bringing seven children into the world; how I was colicky when I was born; how rubbing cod liver oil under my sister's chin when she was three days old helped cure her cold. Her stories, to me, were shining golden nuggets of wisdom, which I gobbled hungrily. I listened intently when she spoke; I wanted to absorb her every word. Ironically, as I was methodically preparing for the arrival of new life, I should have also been preparing for the suddenness of death: Mother died six months after Lonnie Paul was born.
Initially, I saw her death--particularly as it related to my infant son and my new role as mother--as a cruel, bitter twist of fate: God was trying to teach me that life and death are inextricably, intertwined. I began to realize that God was right; life and death are intertwined--and in that knowledge there was no longer pain, but beauty and comfort. With the birth of my son and the death of my mother--dramatic, life-changing events that occurred in such rapid sequence--I came to understand and appreciate that I had been made part of the cyclical, universal motion of motherhood. I had been made part of the miracle of life.
When my daughter, Mary Elizabeth, was born two years later, Mother wasn't there with me, standing at the kitchen sink, showing me how to give her a bath. She wasn't there to whisper gentle words of guidance and comfort as I struggled with our newborn daughter. But God is good that way: He'd already allowed me to fully absorb the life lessons that Mother taught me before she left. And over time, He'd placed within me the everlasting knowledge that motherhood and the concept of mothering never really stops. It lasts forever, even if we do not.
Black mothers leave a legacy of strength and sustenance for their children. It is part of who we are, and who our foremothers were. If we listen very closely, we can still hear their words of wisdom, and in listening, comes learning. We can learn to be good mothers. We can learn to nurture our newborn or yet-unborn babies. And because we want to be as strong for our children as our mothers were for us, we can learn, over time, to sway gracefully with the universal motions of motherhood.
The rhythm within us is intrinsic.
To my Precious Little One:
Never had I imagined that I'd question my judgment in my decision to venture into motherhood. I have long known that this was one of life's greatest joys that I wouldn't allow myself to miss. But because my impending role of mother has preceded my role as wife, I've been forced to ask myself, "Am I the proverbial unwed black mother?"
Never mind that I'm all grown up and have earned a respectable place in society, complete with a career, real estate and a loving man in my corner. Are others watching my growing belly and thinking "what else is new?"
I share this with you only because you, too, will have cause to question your judgment many times in your life. And sometimes it will be merely because of the color of your skin and all the perceptions that brings.
But even as I teach you to say "please" and "thank you" and all the other lessons of childhood, I'll teach you to have strength and conviction in all that you do; to know from within why you've chosen your path and to trust your motivations implicitly.
Then, when you're inevitably labeled by those who know no better, you will not love or believe in yourself any less!
Mommy, with all my love and admiration.
--CELESTE A. JAMES, in a letter written to her unborn child
THE MOTHER'S BLESSING
Hope and joy, peace and blessing, Met me in my first-born child.
--FRANCES WATKINS HARPER, a founding member of the NAACP
A baby is someone just the size of a hug.
When I was most sorely oppressed I found solace in his smile. I loved to watch his infant slumbers; but . . . I could never forget that he was a slave. Sometimes I wished that he might die in infancy. God tried me. My darling became very ill. I had prayed for his death, but never so earnestly as now I prayed for his life; and my prayer was heard. Alas what a mockery it is for a slave mother to try to pray back her dying child to life! Death is better than slavery.
--HARRIET JACOBS, slave
The woman about to become a mother, or with her newborn infant upon her bosom, should be the object of trembling care and sympathy wherever she bears her tender burden or stretches her aching limbs . . . God forbid that any member of the profession to which she trusts her life, doubly precious at that eventful period, should hazard it negligently, unadvisedly or selfishly.
--OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES
For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonder fully made: marvelous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.
. . . Wife and child, Those precious motives, those strong knots of love.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
This is the reason why mothers are more devoted to their children than fathers: it is that they suffer more in giving birth and are more certain that they are their own.
O God, guide my hands in the delivery of this child. Steady my nerves and focus my mind, sharpen my instincts as I help bring this child into the world. Ease the pain and fear of the mother and the anxiety of the father with anticipation and joy in springing forth new life.
--MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN
I hope that people appreciate their mothers. And I also hope that a lot of the young, black girls who become mothers recognize the magnitude and importance of the job that they have. People need to realize--young women in particular--that parenting skills are developed over the course of a lifetime. And it takes at least that long to raise a child correctly.
--BENJAMIN CARSON, M.D. Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital
Table of Contents
Giver of Life 7
Spiritual Anchor 27
Powerful Protector 45
Comforter and Friend 65
Wise Teacher 89
Loving Surrogate 117
Image of Beauty 137
Keeper of the Flame 163
Ode to Black Mothers 187