An Intersectional Analysis of Black Motherhood: On Public Transportation and Mental Health Issues

I’m ashamed that when I first became involved with activism and organizing I’d sometimes, often unwittingly, weaponize intersectionality in an effort to highlight the ways in which other people benefit from privileges…instead of utilizing it as a framework within which to understand my own. Now I appreciate the theory mainly because it, when not weaponized, can serve as a way to bridge gaps, make connections, and highlight the far-reaching, choking grip of global, elitist, white supremacist, capitalism.

Now that I’ve crafted that long-winded segue, I’ll get to the topic at hand: an intersectional analysis of motherhood, particularly Black motherhood.

I’m typing this as I get ready to leave the apartment. It will be the first time my baby, named Io, has ever been on the subway since being born in October 27th of last year. For nearly four months I’ve managed to do what I need to do with and for Io without taking the train.

Part of the reason why I haven’t taken Io on the train until today is my agoraphobia. I could probably count the number of times I’ve gone further than ten blocks since Io was born on two hands and maybe a foot. Maybe. I’ve been vocal about my mental health issues and eating disorder recovery for years so for most of you reading this you won’t be shocked by that admission.

Since the birth of Io, though, my anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder have become difficult to manage now that they’ve teamed up with symptoms of PPD and my ever-lasting insomnia. All of that combined with general fears I have of the world outside related to Blackness, state violence, random crime, and paranoia have made my transition into motherhood…interesting to say the least.

It terrifies me how many Black people, Black and Brown mothers and babies are subject to violence (that’s often fatal) in a daily basis around the world. Be it obstetric violence, police violence, Intimate partner violence or otherwise, we’re dying, being imprisoned, facing abuse, and being silenced constantly and at disproportionate rates. No matter how loudly we #SayHerName the violence continues.

Further, as a non-binary femme who has been openly queer for over a decade, my experiences are marked by an added sense of danger and anxiety. Now that I’m a mother, those fears are multiplied exponentially and navigating all of this with mental illness while recovering from years of trauma is difficult. What’s worse? I know I’m not alone in this. I’m nowhere near alone in this.

What’s even worse? I’m privileged AF in so many regards so I’ve had the opportunity to stay inside and live my they-at-home-mom life. Mostly because I have 1) an amazing husband who is able to provide for me and Io in such a way that I can stay home and 2) incredible friends who often go out of their way to cross boroughs and take 1-2 hour commutes to visit me. I’m honestly blessed when it comes to having a solid support system I can trust. That’s quite a privilege.

Another privilege I’m afforded is that so many of the things I need to survive are available to me right downstairs or around the block. When we can afford it, we can get groceries delivered. In a few instances, generous friends have offered to cook us meals or buy us staple food items for the week.

While I have suffered from chronic pain for years, that’s been exacerbated by complications and physical trauma due to childbirth, I can walk (no matter how slowly) to the bodega or nearby market to buy essentials. That’s a privilege.

Whenever we needed to take Io to the doctor or if I had an event to attend, a rare occurrence because I genuinely hate to leave the apartment, we would take a car service. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I wasn’t taking daily Ubers around NYC. I can also count on two hands the amount of times I’ve taken a round trip uber since October and that includes the uber we took to the hospital due to my emergency transfer after a complicated 20 hour labor at home before Io was born.

I say all of this to openly and honestly acknowledge my privilege in the face of systemic and structural racism and inequity before getting into the main reason I’m typing this.

Before my husband went to work today we briefly talked about my commute today. I’m headed to the UWS to be a featured guest on a podcast and I’m really excited. I’m not excited, though, to take the train.

In theory I love the train and it’s the main reason I moved to NYC a decade ago in the first place. This place is my home and I can’t imagine living anywhere else. So while in theory I love the train…it fills me with anxiety and paranoia for countless reasons: General issues with the MTA, people who BLATANTLY stare at me because of my Vitiligo, men who relentlessly harass and follow me, irrational fears related to terrorist attacks and rail accidents, the list goes on.

Lately, though, I’ve added a new fear to the list: dying on the staircase.

The tragic death of Malaysia Goodson could have been prevented. Even starting to type this out is making me emotional. I’m reminded of when I was 30+ weeks pregnant, suffering from a chronic illness that caused me to vomit 10+ times a day, suffering from another chronic illness that impacted my ability to walk, but still going out of my way to help people carry their strollers up and down staircases.

The amount of times I’ve watched people walk by struggling parents is abundant. That being typed, it’s definitely possible that some people who pass by without helping are battling illnesses or disabilities we can’t see. So many of the time, though, people with children on public transportation (or in the stations and such) are either glared at or completely ignored.

It doesn’t hurt to offer help. It doesn’t hurt to offer help. It doesn’t hurt to offer help. It doesn’t hurt to offer help. It doesn’t hurt to offer help. Offering to help might save someone’s life.

Before my husband left for work we talked about which train(s) I would take to the studio and it pains me that part of my day planning now includes asking myself: “how can I make it from point A to point B without having to worry about possibly needing assistance?”

It’s a privilege that I only have to ask myself this when I’m having debilitating flare-ups due to chronic pain or…when I’m thinking about taking the train on a rare occasion with Io. I mean, the fact that I can even afford to take the train today is a privilege. (Though I’m immediately reminded of the time a pair of cops harassed my husband and I [and nearly dealt with ICE] in the train station when dealing with a fare evasion situation AS THEY WATCHED SOMEONE ELSE DO THE SAME THING AND LET THEM GO FREE WITHOUT THE $200 TICKET THEY GAVE US. After that experience I researched fare evasion and found out that over 1,000 people have faced deportation as a result of fare evasion. Less than $3 was the reason for…let me stop now because that’s a whole other conversation…)

The tragic death Malaysia Goodson is a horrific reminder that issues related to accessibility are too often ignored. But, given the rampant lack of ADA compliance in the United States in general…then the transnational issues related to accessibility…issues related to Black maternal health…poverty…

Then there’s the interpersonal, everyday issues like people who just don’t take the extra few seconds to help someone carrying a stroller. It’s not always just that the MTA is slow to repair elevators or change infrastructure to make stations and trains more accessible.

It doesn’t hurt to offer help. It doesn’t hurt to offer help. It doesn’t hurt to offer help. It doesn’t hurt to offer help. It doesn’t hurt to offer help. Offering to help might save someone’s life.

As I type this I’m scared. I’m full of rage. I’m sad. I’m aching.

I’m blessed. I’m privileged. I’m at risk.

Be that as it may, I wish you all safety.

Rest In Peace, Malaysia.

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