All of us must remove the expectation of unconditional emotional labor from Black women and femmes—in their pregnancies and otherwise.

-michal "mj" jones

By michal “mj” jones

She stares into the heart of the camera, a backdrop of ocean shore behind her and a swollen, pregnant brown belly below. Neck draped in seashells and her body in the watery spirits of Yemaya, she looks certain, calm, confident.

As I gazed up at this photo of my partner during The Black Woman Is God exhibit opening this past July, I stood in awe of both her sacredness and of the miracle of her growing creation. From the moment she first showed me the positive pregnancy test some six months earlier, we both individually and collectively experienced such a momentous shift—joyful and nerve wracking—that I anticipated that the world around us would have to shift along with us.

In the early months, my partner received plenty of unsolicited advice from white and middle class folks about “taking advantage” of her pregnancy: she should just cut in line if she needed to use the bathroom, ask for people to carry her around and fan her, etc.

In one of the pregnancy video channels we follow, we watched as a white woman shared her surprise at the kindness of those around her. Men ran ahead of her to open doors and carry heavy items. While watching, she gave a knowing glance and she said something like, “must be nice to be white girl pregnant.”

The world around us did not shift, even as my partner became more visibly pregnant.

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We often stood for ten, fifteen minutes in crowded restaurant lobbies where no one offered her a seat, forcing us to return to the car. Recently, dozens of white faces stared as I tried to balance a large, heavy package (containing our stroller) and carry it out of the Walgreens, and they neither moved nor assisted. And not only has she never been offered to move to the front of a long line, white women have actively cut in front of her.

To make it explicit: no one has offered her a seat during this pregnancy, not ever. No one has offered her to move ahead in line, not ever. I just sit with that and my blood boils.

Although it’s beautiful and miraculous in many ways, I wouldn’t describe my partner’s pregnancy as an “advantage.” That honor is only bestowed to white women—and she ain’t white girl pregnant. Whiteness and class privilege did not extend to her the second she conceived—far from it.

Now, as my partner sits at thirty-seven weeks pregnant, exhausted and “ready to just have the thing already,” I feel naive for expecting that she—a Black queer femme—would be treated any differently in response to the life forming inside of her.

After all, Black women have long been seen as caregivers only for other people’s children at best, and a drain on the welfare system at worst. Eugenicist J. Marion Sims performed agonizing gynecological exams on slaves and Black women in childbirth without anesthesia, claiming that they “did not feel pain.”

The expectation of Black women and femmes to just grin and bear it may or may not be conscious in the case of useless strangers, but it has deep tangled roots that informs our treatment of pregnant Black people.

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What’s more, the basic resources on pregnancy and parenthood cater first and foremost to middle-to-upper class white women. I had to search deep in the recesses of the internet to find my partner a book on Black women in fibroids (I don’t even have room in this article to get into the medical disparities), and resources on queer Black families are almost non-existent.

This reinforces the notion that pregnancy and family-making is only for the privileged, and that the rest of us don’t deserve to bear children at all. The added layer of our queerness often makes me wonder whether the majority of people just ain’t got no manners, are racist, classist, homophobic or transphobic, or all of the above.

The expectation that Black women and femmes play the role of a mammy or emotional caretaker also lends itself to the belief—conscious or not—that they should be able to handle not only all of what is going on in their own world, but also in everyone else’s. And though this belief is deeply rooted in white supremacy and patriarchy, it is constantly reflected in our organizing communities and intimate relationships.

As a masculine person and someone who struggles with codependency, I often dump all of my fears and feelings onto my partner, latching on and sucking her dry without consideration of the weight she physically, emotionally and spiritually carries before, during and after this pregnancy. As conscious and self-reflective as I try to be, this dynamic is one that I have internalized and carried out for so long that I often don’t even notice in the moment.

Sometimes in my lack of empathy to her emotions and control over my own, I have contributed to the same cycle of exhaustion that I critiqued above. Not only are the daily changes in her body and heart enough to overwhelm her, I frequently ask her to carry on my burdens as well.

All of us must remove the expectation of unconditional emotional labor from Black women and femmes—in their pregnancies and otherwise. All of us must work to consciously uplift Black women and femmes—in their pregnancies and otherwise.

As I look to the state of our world—one that inflicts violence upon Black children and deprives them of the love they need—I meet parenthood with an influx of conflicting emotions. Wanting to do all I can to protect this child while knowing that I am not in control. Wanting to shower them with love and affection but also prepare them for the realities of growing up Black.

To me, the miracle of my partner’s pregnancy and the creation of family doesn’t lie in privilege or advantage, but in the ways that our communities—much of them queer and Black—have come together to hold us up. The miracle of this process is that so little knowledge exists that we get to create and share our own experience to make new knowledge with our community. This is being Black, queer and pregnant as an act of resistance and profound love.

michal “mj” jones is a Black, queer, non-binary writer and poet living in Oakland, CA. mj is deeply committed to liberation struggles, youth empowerment, intergenerational movement building, and anti-oppressive education. read more of their work or contact them here.