I just love Alicia Keys. On any given Saturday, you’ll find my children and me closing out our usual Saturday morning dance party with a stirring rendition of "If I Ain’t Got You," where we substitute each other’s names in the chorus. My kid-friendly traveling CD features Alicia’s live-out-your-dreams anthem "Unbreakable." And when I’m feeling unstoppable, Alicia’s lyrics from Superwoman: "Still ,when I’m a mess, I still put on a vest, with an S on my chest. Oh yes, I’m a superwoman," really speak to me. Oh, and please don’t get me all riled up about Empire State of Mind.
But I’ve got a growing problem or real concern about Alicia Keys and many black women like her when it comes to our pregnancies. A few weeks ago, I held my breath as I watched Alicia Keys climbing her preggers self on top of a piano at the BET Awards, albeit during an incredible tribute to Prince. But still. And then last weekend, she fell off her 4-inch heels and landed on her backside while performing at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.
I’m concerned because for over five years now, I’ve been on a personal mission to help black women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. That’s what the Women’s eNews Black Maternal Health Project is all about. When my first book, The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy (Amistad/HarperCollins) came out, it was the first of its kind, a hip and funny book to really talk to a new audience of savvy black women about the lifestyle issues and unique stressors that are affecting our pregnancy and birth outcomes.
Studies show that even successful, college educated black women are still twice as likely to have a low birth weight baby, twice as likely to have a pre-term baby and nearly three times more likely to die during childbirth than their white peers. Nobody knows the exact root cause of these disparities, and why education and class don’t protect black women from poor birth outcomes as it does for white women.
But one of the biggest self destructive behaviors among black women is what I call the Strong Black Woman Syndrome. The exact same problem Alicia sings about in her Superwoman song. We notoriously carry our communities, we carry our families and we carry our pain, but we put an S on our chest and project a "strong" image regardless of how broken we are inside. In our culture we are raised to view "weakness" as a character flaw. We must be strong. Period.
Having that conditioning is helpful in so many scenarios. But it can be damaging during pregnancy. In my many years talking to black women about pregnancy and championing the black female’s pregnancy and parenting experience at www.MochaManual.com, I am still struck by the number of black women who don’t see pregnancy as any deviation from their normal state of being. They expect to be able to continue to work just as hard, to continue to carry others, and to not take special care of themselves. We work and work and work because that’s what we do. And even while taking on the most phenomenal journey known to womankind, we act like indestructible machines that can just keep going and going, and not as fragile humans charged with shepherding a new life into the world.
Alicia, we love you! But as one hard working black woman to another, I’m personally begging you to ease up on work and the piano climbing and allow yourself to be still.
Respect the journey of pregnancy. We know you are a superwoman. But your baby needs you to be super careful, super mindful and super stress free. We’ve got plenty of your great music to hold us over. I just want you to focus on the most important production of your life.