My name is Bella and I am a mom to six kids. Sounds impressive, right? Many people seem to think so. A lot of praise comes my way when people find that I have birthed six kids. Proclaiming my ability to mother six kids though, is not usually how I introduce myself to others. I mean, it’s not that I’m embarrassed that I have six kids, it’s just not how I thought my existence as a person would be defined. I thought I’d be known as an overcomer, someone who made lemonade from lemons. There were many things that helped shape my path to motherhood. My journey becoming a mom of six has definitely had its share of ups and downs. The road getting there is what I’m most proud of.
I grew up Keisha- a middle child of three kids in the 80’s, in the heart of South Central Los Angeles. The early 80’s was a time when crack cocaine was ravaging neighborhoods leaving families in tatters. My birth mother was the tenth child of fourteen children (growing up in a large family was normal for me). Like many families during this time, my family was not spared the reality of the impact of drugs. My birth mother spent her days caring for my siblings and I the best she could in the projects while scheming how she was going to get her next fix. She was a teenage mom and knew very little about what it took to care for three kids. You see, being a mother wasn’t something that she aspired to.
Being a mother was a responsibility she inherited as a result of her carelessness. Motherhood was her burden. We felt it immensely. When I was four years old, the need to get her next fix outweighed her responsibility as a mother so she took my siblings and I to my grandmother under the guise of a visit. She said she needed to go to the store to pick up a few things and we didn’t see her again for years.
Sheltering in place is not new for me. After the courts granted full custody of my siblings and I to my grandmother, we spent quite a bit of time inside. Outside just wasn’t safe. Drug deals were going down on street corners, helicopters flew so often we referred to them as ghetto birds. There was a neighborhood park, but we dared not go, dead bodies turned up there frequently after nights of shooting. My grandmother was old. She had already raised fourteen of her own kids and the idea of having to raise three of her grandchildren during her empty nesting years was not ideal.
We then became her burden. Our presence represented the loss of freedom for her. A daily reminder of her failings in motherhood as the children of a daughter hooked on drugs. We had no where else to go. She made sure we knew that.
My grandmother was my first example of what a mom was. Her approach to motherhood was very hands off. There were no hugs, smiles were few and far in between, and no one said “I love you.” Love was tough, never tender. Spankings were normal. For the times when you “forgot your place” or there was any confusion as to “who you were talking to” switches (branches from the trees outside) were the norm. It’s how is was raised, and it was how she raised her children.
My grandmother was only a few generations removed from slavery. Her father was a sharecropper in Mississippi. Relationships between black mothers and their children were fragile. It was a dangerous thing to emotionally attach to your child knowing that at any time that child could be ripped from your arms and sold, murdered or raped. For all of her faults, she did the best she could. She taught us how to clean, our roles as children, not to question authority, and to stay as far away from boys as possible. Nothing good ever came from the company of boys except babies. If there was one thing we all knew for sure, it was that she was not raising any more babies. She was done.
My grandmother didn’t drive so if we needed to get anywhere further than our neighborhood we relied on public transportation or the driving abilities of my Auntie Louise (she lived next door to my grandmother for most of our childhood) when she wasn’t working. My grandmother spent her days watching newscasts and TBN. We spent most of our time at church events. If the church doors were open, we were there. That was the rule, and no one went against it.
It wasn’t until my teenage years that I understood that being a mom might be a bit of a challenge. I found my voice as a teenager and that didn’t sit well with my grandmother. We didn’t discuss our feelings, we buried them. If there was a problem, we didn’t talk about it to anyone outside of our home. I wanted desperately to express myself, my grandmother on the other hand wanted me to sit down and shut up. We clashed almost every day. When corporal abuse no longer worked, the verbal lashings began. My self-esteem took a hit. When I finally found a voice to speak up, my aunt (my mom’s baby sister) rescued me. Through her I learned many lessons about motherhood that I don’t think I would have otherwise experienced. It’s her selflessness that I carry with me in my own motherhood journey.
It is a very odd thing to be adopted at 15. There I was though, in another courtroom with social workers, confirming that I would like to live with my aunt and have her be my legal parental guardian. It was at this time in my life that I learned that being a mom doesn’t always mean that you gave birth to someone. Motherhood starts in the heart. My aunt was 12 years older than me (27 when she adopted me). She was the coolest person I knew. She didn’t bog me down with a bunch of rules. There were three rules: no babies, no drugs, no tattoos. I adhered to ⅔ of those rules. I WAS a teenager after all.
My aunt did everything right as a new mom. She showed interest in what I liked, she remembered what I didn’t like. As a parent, she gave me space to adjust to my new life as an only child, and let me know that she would be there whenever I needed her. She took me school shopping (my first experience) and she met all of my teachers. I was always a smart kid, but I never really lived up to my potential. Shortly before I turned sixteen my aunt moved from LA to Orange County.
I wasn’t thrilled about moving out of LA and away from my friends, but my aunt showed me that motherhood was about sacrifice. She was willing to uproot me (and her) to give me a better education. Staying in L.A. wasn’t going to afford me that option. We had to get out. With everything I endured, she wanted me to succeed. She believed in me, she was my mom.
I hear stories of women who say that they couldn’t wait to be a mother. It was their lifelong dream to have children of their own. They oftentimes credit their need to be a mom with their relationships with their own mothers. I didn’t have that urge. It was never a desire of mine to be a mother. I grew up with a negative view of motherhood. Motherhood was a burden, it wasn’t something that someone like me aspired to. Once you became a mother, your life was effectively over. I didn’t seen the joy in it so I decided not to participate.
At eighteen I left home for the first time to attend college 800 miles away. Junior year I became close to an incredibly handsome and sweet guy. My mom instantly dubbed him “the one” without ever having met him. Her mom instinct was right. He most definitely was my person. We were engaged ten months into our relationship. It was during our very first premarital counseling session that I learned about his desire for a family. I was scared shitless. The discussion of kids had never come up before. I didn’t want to have kids, so I thought there was no need to bring it up. I won’t say I was blindsided by the news, I saw how my fiancee lit up around children. Of course he would want kids of his own. I was the issue. How was I, the one who didn’t grow up with a mother, be a good mother?
When my motherhood journey began nearly fifteen years ago I was a nervous wreck. I found motherhood to be a very lonely journey. I didn’t have a source of reference when it came to babies. It was hard knowing I couldn’t call my mom to ask her about how to get our new baby to sleep because she didn’t have that experience either. I was on my own, at least until my kids became teenagers. I read as many parenting books as I could. My husband and I attended parenting classes. If I was going to be a good mother I would have to learn on my own.
My motherhood style is a combination of my experiences as a child growing up with the three women responsible for who I am today. I take each of those experiences and put them into two categories: what to do and what not to do. From my birth mother I learned the importance of not viewing my children as burdens. They are blessings given to me to nurture and cherish. From my grandmother I learned the importance of rules and boundaries. My mom taught me how to be selfless and patient. I am sure there were times in those teenage years where she wanted to skin me alive, but she refrained. Her belief in me kept me on track. She prayed everything would turn out in the end.
I’m a competitor at heart. I married a competitor. Together we decided that we would equip ourselves with whatever we needed as parents to be successful. Growing up motherless wouldn’t be an excuse for me not to be a good mother. We found mentors in older parents, we took adults-only vacations to reconnect with each other outside of being Mommy and Daddy. Together we decided to be truthful with our children. We would apologize to them when we needed to. Similarly, we would show our kids as much affection as they needed (and much more when they acted like they didn’t). Above all, we would say, “I love you” often, and make sure we provide them with the best education we could. We try not to take ourselves as parents too seriously to the point where we don’t laugh and have fun with our kids.
Being a motherless child and having six of my own kids has been quite the journey. I have had many days where I question what I got myself into. There are days where I wake up and I want to crawl back under the covers and go back to sleep. Some days I feel like I’m crushing this mommy thing and other times where I feel like a complete failure. My teenage son gives me a run for my money and I immediately think back to my teenage years and try to be for him what my mom was for me. I don’t bury the lede when I don’t tell people that I have six kids when I meet them because honestly, anyone can birth six kids, it’s the mothering that matters. As a result, it’s what I am most proud of in my motherhood journey.
This blog is my most open and honest blog to date. In sharing a bit of my story I hope to show that no matter how your motherhood journey begins, motherhood involves a willingness to put in work. I am thankful for those that encouraged me to give motherhood a try. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made.