Category: Relationships

  • Last night I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at The Scarborough Hospital (Grace Campus). The discussion was organized by the Family Advisory Council on Maternal and Infant Care. My role as a member of the Advisory Council was to speak on the valuable role that choice plays in improving outcomes in pregnancy and birth care.

    Overall, I think the presentation went very well! I was very pleased with the points that I chose to raise, as well as the audience response. The bad news is that my digital recorder failed on me (or maybe I failed on it) — so was not able to present My First Podcast (as I’d hoped). Well, maybe next time. Instead, I’ve listed some of my notes here of the main points that I put forward in my presentation. Your feedback and comments are always appreciated.

    • What solidified my interest in Family-Centered Care (FCC) is what I call my two-track prenatal experience
    • RELATIONSHIP WITH PHYSICIAN: My physician and I had a good relationship prior to my pregnancy
    • She was open and kept me informed on all matters, illnesses, checkups, etc.
    • Bonus: We also had a shared cultural background so she understood my issues and perspective, jokes i.e. “I’m wearing my Sunday baggie.”
    • My pregnancy changed the Code of Conduct, script, choreography of visits
    • I lacked an understanding of this new “prenatal culture” — i.e., concept of “trying to get pregnant” and question of “are you keeping it?”
    • Suddenly I was not qualified to participate in my own care
    • Even shared cultural background wasn’t enough to bridge the gap (the culture of prenatal care trumped our previous relationship)
    • Handouts were not culturally relevant
    • Ongoing issues around diet, midwifery, homebirth, birthplan, sick vs. healthy attitude, etc.
    • My husband and I would joke about what government secrets were lurking in my med file (information not shared, results of tests not forthcoming)
    • Increased tension; not enough information provided to make informed choices and doctor seemed offended by my questions
    • Issue of control of my care at a time when I was “losing” control of my bodily function — control of any kind was very important to me
    • Parted ways with physician over issue of HIV Test (physician made bad judgement call when I refused an HIV Test that I believed was optional)
    • MIDWIVES: I transitioned my care into that of midwives
    • I was treated with respect
    • I was allowed and encouraged to participate in my care
    • Weighed self, tested own urine and reported results to midwives — medical file always open on the desk, I could see and comment on the comments
    • Debated pros and cons of all tests, final choice always mine
    • Birth plan was encouraged, discussed and respected
    • I didn’t always get my own way but discussion helped me to understand why not
    • My culture was respected
    • BLACK WOMAN AND CHILD: At that time, I felt that mothers of any cultural difference or having any difference in perspective could not get fair treatment or choice in a physician-run hospital system
    • As a result, I began publishing a magazine to promote and validate the cultural perspectives of Black women around the world
    • I held fast to the ideology that “smart,” healthy, empowered women gave birth at home with midwives and only “sick,” scared women gave birth in hospitals with physicians
    • home birth = choice and hospital births = challenges
    • Working with the magazine, I had an opportunity to speak to many different kinds of women
    • Learned that some women were having healthy, safe, empowered and successful births in hospitals too — what made the difference was the level of involvement or choice
    • I learned that it doesn’t have to be polar opposites
    • Home birth is not for everyone but having choice can empower birth outcomes for families even in a hospital
    • NEW VIEWS: Hospitals like TSH are promoting that they are open to Family-Centered Care
    • Women and their families can benefit from having options, benefits also roll over to staff and overall view of hospital
    • Example: a birth plan helps to address issues and opens dialogue between pregnant mothers and caregivers
    • A birthplan also takes pressure off staff: the hospital is note solely responsible for successful birth outcomes
    • Example: Cultural ideals can be good ideas that staff can learn and pass on to other patients
    • Culture doesn’t happen in a vacuum
    • We all want to belong; not check our culture at the hospital door
    • In childbirth, we may be at our most vulnerable but mothers are not monsters — we can actually be reasonable
    • Example: I like to eat barley porridge right after giving birth. I don’t expect to get that in the hospital cafeteria BUT is the hospital open to having a family member bring some for me? Let’s work together.
    • When a mother is relaxed, happy and confident, we get better outcomes, better births, less snapping at nurses and bad attitudes
    • The input of relatives is validated, helps mother, speeds healing
    • The birth experience, whether hospital or home, set the tone for future attitudes about childbearing and child-raising
    • I am on Baby Number Four, so I know that there’s some truth to this

    Nicole Osbourne James


This is a public service information request. In the Winter 2009 edition of Black Woman and Child magazine (November 2009), we are working on a piece about blended families. Meaning, he has a child from a previous relationship, maybe you have a child as well. And now that you are together, maybe you have more children together. How is it working for you? Are you able to balance the needs of the children, previous partners, grandparents, society and, if you’re lucky, yourselves? Are you happy? Do you have any advice for others in a similar situation? Is there anything that you wish you could do differently? Please share. Your comments could go a long way in supporting one of our readers — and, if you are interested, you could even be one of our featured families for the article. Let us know where you live; our goal is always to go global as much as possible. If you don’t want to use your real name, just don’t.

To find out more about BWAC, visit

So I just watched Will Smith’s new movie “Hancock” two nights ago. I don’t mind telling you that it was somebody else’s bootleg copy and I’m glad I didn’t spend any money. Maybe somebody else might have really enjoyed this power-packed, action flick but somebody with my racial-sensitivity issues and my sometimes out-of-control “What’s the real message here?” angst…well, maybe I should explain.

shining example of a Black superhero

Hancock: shining example of a Black superhero

First of all, Hancock is a superhero, a Black superhero. Great! Someone our children can relate to, right? Sure, if you don’t mind the ragged, unwashed, alcohol-guzzling, profanity-laced, irrational, out-of-control dysfunctionality of the character.

And, considering that he seems to be the only one of his “kind,” you can almost understand him. He’s lonely. He’s confused. He’s isolated. All that stuff. He inadvertently finds a kind of mentor — a PR man named Ray whose life Hancock saves. But for some reason, Hancock seems to be “drawn” to the man’s wife Mary: your typical tall, blond, slim white woman whose wiles have been making men go crazy on (and off) the big screen for longer than I have been alive!

Take, for example, the slick way that the writers managed to elevate these white women to sainthood. Mary is actually Ray’s second wife, and his son’s stepmother. As the story goes, Ray’s first wife died — giving birth to their son. Pretty good way to get rid of her, I had to grudgingly admit. There is no more saintlier way to die. And that saves the writers all the problems of divorce, alimony, child-support and the bitter legal battles that can make the average woman look considerably less than sweet. Mary (I don’t think that name is a coincidence!) swept Ray off his feet when he was the confused single-father of a brand new infant (how touching), trying to figure out diapers at the supermarket (we all know how hard THAT can be — I think any non-movie dad would be insulted at this point). And the rest, as they say, is history. Mary and Ray fell in love and Mary generously raised the son who was not her biological child — the only mother he ever knew! She’s no scheming homewrecker, instead she’s Ray’s saviour.

After one excrutiating scene after another where this “tension” between Hancock and Mary is played out, finally we are let into the mystery: Mary has the same powers as Hancock! A cruel trick of amnesia has separated the two: she is his powerful alter-ego and wife!

Unfortunately, when the two are together, they are like Kryptonite to one another: causing them both to weaken and lose their powers. So Hancock is safer and better off living his life separately and leaving her to continue to live her own.

The picture-perfect suburban family

The picture-perfect suburban family

My frustration with the film was not really built around the fact that this white woman is the center of all power, beauty and desirability in the film — come on now, I get that on a daily basis just from your everyday shampoo commercial! What concerned me is that the film continued to portray this loving, happy, functional white family with angelic mother, devoted dad and spunky son. Hancock had no such situation. Even when all the drama had passed with Ray finding out about his wife’s hidden superpowers (total deceit!) and matrimonial link to Hancock (umm…that had to be a shocker!), at the end of the movie, they were still able to pull it together (magically?) and come through as a stronger, still functional family. Hancock, of course, was the lone ranger, cast out on his own — and pretty damn happy about it all the same.

And you wonder why it is so hard for Black actresses to find quality roles. Whether lead character or sidekick, the Black man almost never has a quality life-partner, wife, girlfriend, whatever. Anyone remember Hitch? Would it have been so crazy to have Will Smith fall in love with a Black woman instead of the usual “pseudo-mixed-maybe-Latina” symbol? Anyone see “The Game Plan” starring The Rock and Morris Chestnut? Morris was all good playing the functional family man. The only problem is that his family was never once shown on screen. I just experienced the disappointment of Jennifer Holiday’s nothing-role in the Sex In the City movie. Maybe SHE could have played Hancock’s wife; turned that poor sucker around.

Well, at least I can take comfort in the fact that the real Will Smith is married to a real strong Black sistah and not selling out in that regard (thank you Ms. Jada Pinkett). But, with as much influence and bang for the buck that he has in Hollywood (or maybe I’m making a big assumption here), I just think that he could do a lot more to help portray images of functional Black families in movies. And that’s my rant of the day. What’s yours?

Project Butterfly Book by Niambi Jaha-Echols

Project Butterfly Book by Niambi Jaha-Echols

Now available from the Black Woman and Child Mama’s Market:

  • Project Butterfly: Supporting Young Women and Girls Through the Transitions of Life – a great book written by Niambi Jaha-Echols.
  • Also available – the corresponding write-in workbook.

Niambi made a great presentation at the recent Family, Culture and Lifestyle Show in Toronto on June 28. Exerts from her speech will be posted here on Blog Woman and Child. Stay tuned.

To get your own copies, visit the Black Woman and Child Mama’s Market at

Please bear with me as I try to sort out my mangled thoughts.

Last weekend, I went to a “Parent Forum” at a family event. The children were engaged elsewhere in various activities geared towards their age groups (it was an EXCELLENT event) while the parents had an opportunity to talk about different issues that were affecting us as parents and our families.

One brother shared his frustration with what he called the “Babylon System.” Separated from his former girlfriend, he was now caught up in the crazy world of family court, child support, custody and visitation. I think he said that he was allowed to see his daughter only once a week on Wednesday plus every other weekend. His rage was directed at his ex who had thrown their entire family into a turmoil by calling Babylon on him (which included Children’s Aid or what is sometimes called Child Services) but it was obvious to him that in the end, his daughter would be the one to suffer the most.

Two days later, I was driving with a girlfriend of mine. She is recently separated from her husband and lives alone with their daughters. She shared her frustration that her husband is not holding up his end of the financial responsibility. She says that she has been more than patient while he got a job and got his financial house in order. However, after taking note of his new car and a new computer while he still claims that he has no money to put toward the support of his daughters, she is ready to take her request to the next level. Thinking of the comments that the brother made on the weekend, I shared his concerns with my friend, especially around the impact of Children’s Aid and the court system on the children. She repeated, vehemently, that her daughter’s father gives no money for food, no money for their schooling and seems bent on punishing her at the expense of their daughters. She asked me, “What am I supposed to do?” I didn’t have an answer.

My anxiety is centered around the realization that we have too many fathers who are not helping to support their children, either with money OR with their time. Then, when a mother is forced to go to court, brothers are quick to say “Can you believe it? She called the MAN on me!” It is seen as the ultimate betrayal. On the other hand, we DO have mothers who play the games, holding out their child as a pawn for the most money, denying visitation, telling lies, everything. And we DO have those fathers who use fake addresses to avoid the court papers, work under the table to avoid having their wages garnished, get their driver’s licenses revoked, passports revoked and still jump through all kinds of hoops, all to avoid giving money to feed their children!

But we also have hard working mothers who wish they didn’t have to take it there, having the court in their family business just to make a father do right — and usually unsuccessfully. And we have fathers who genuinely want to be a part of their children’s lives but are just not able to get a fair break in the legal system.

My question to you is: Have you been involved in the family court system for child-support or custody issues? If yes, why did it come to that? If no, is it something that you would do if you had to?

The other thing that blows my mind is the hate that sometimes comes along with the rage. When I heard this man talking about his ex-girlfriend, it seemed like he forgot there was ever a time that he had loved this woman. That he CHOSE to have a child with this woman. I think if I could talk to every angry “babydaddy” or ex-husband out there, I would ask them, Do you remember what it was like to love this woman? Before she became, as you say, a “crazy, deranged babymama?” Same for the sisters: Unless this was a hit-and-run, I’m thinking that we CHOSE to have a child with this man. What happened? How do things fall apart?

Last night I was reading (re-reading for probably the millionth time) Pearl Cleage’s book “Mad at Miles” where she talks about her personal struggle, loving the music of Miles Davis knowing that he was a proud and self-confessed woman beater. Two quotes from the book really stand out for me:

Miles Davis Album“I wonder how much good all those poems about beautiful African queens can do in the face of a backhand slap across the mouth and a merciless rape in the bedroom of your own house.” (p. 2)

“Can we make love to the rhythm of ‘a little early Miles’ when he may have spent the morning of the day he recorded the music slapping one of our sisters in the mouth? Can we continue to celebrate the genius in the face of the monster?” (p. 19)

QUESTION: Is the music separate from the personal behaviour of the person? Rappers are being hauled up on gun crimes every day, R&B crooners are doing the dirty with underage girls and drugs are a rampant part of the industry. How do you feel about the music when you know about the artists’ personal lives?

I admit it: I am still struggling with R. Kelly – do YOU see something wrong with a little Bump and Grind? Help me out here people!

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