Babies Before Marriage: “A Black Community Theme?”

May 30, 2010  |  

This is the exact question a white co-worker of mine, KC, asked me a while back. I, a very single mom, was taken aback for a minute, OK, for about a half hour.

But then she came back to me and explained that she was asking because her younger sister — a 30-something, Ivy-league graduate and self-professed “career-woman” — was about to become a mom and had absolutely no plans to marry the baby’s father. KC’s sister just sprang the news on her family who were initially shocked and disappointed (totally normal), but after a bunch of family meetings settled into the idea and embraced (not always the norm) her sister’s decision to be a single mother.

So why did KC ask me if having a baby before marriage was a “theme” in the black community? Like a Halloween party theme, like a baby shower theme? What does that term really mean? Yes, I was getting defensive but I think it was because her choice of words was confusing to me. Then she said: “Well, my Dad is from the old-school and before he accepted ‘the decision,’ he made an off-color joke.” No pun was intended, I’m sure. KC went on to say that her father said her pregnant sister was going to be down with the “black community” by having a baby out of wedlock. How much do you want to bet that her old-school Dad didn’t use the words “black community”?

Along with magazine-cover grabbers like Angelina Jolie, Halle Berry and Bristol Palin, KC’s sister, now a 39-year-old mother, is part of a now record-breaking trend of women who give birth outside of wedlock.

Nearly 40 percent of babies born in the United States in 2007 were delivered by unwed mothers, according to data released in 2009 by the National Center for Health Statistics. The 1.7 million out-of-wedlock births, of 4.3 million total births, marked a more than 25 percent jump from five years before.

“I wish people spent as much time planning when to get pregnant, with whom, under what circumstances as they do planning their next vacation,” Sarah Brown the CEO and founding director of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy told CNN.

Some women are not concerned about the statistics nor do they feel the pressure to marry.

When LaShanda Henry, of Greenville, North Carolina, and her boyfriend of now five years, Jean Paul, had Christopher two years ago, she tells CNN there was no pressure to race down the aisle.

“Culturally speaking” taking vows wasn’t expected, said Henry, who runs the Black Moms Club, an online social network, and the Web-only Mahogany Momma Magazine. “Do we want to spend that money on a wedding or a house? … I guess it’s about priorities. I was never one of those girls that dreamed about the wedding dress.”

What Henry said about cultural differences and expectations might help explain the disproportionate number of unwed mothers in our community. Other data released in 2009 showed the percentage of unwed mothers differs from race to race. While 28 percent of white women gave birth out of wedlock in 2007, nearly 72 percent of black women and more than 51 percent of Latinas did.

I also found this blog, Storked!, by Christine Coppa, a young mother whose baby’s father is not in her son’s life. A whole blog of –presumably–white women talking about the highs, lows, and different experiences of being a mom who has never married.

“With the publicity of our first family,” meaning the Obamas, Henry said in a discussion group entry, marriage might “slowly become more of a norm for all.”

I know the numbers don’t lie, but after talking with friends, I realized that I happen to know happily married moms, unhappily married moms, moms who became single through certain circumstances, and moms who have chosen to be single. We all have challenges, but the best thing as a mom is to make choices that are right for you and your child.

What are your thoughts about unwed mothers? Do you think it’s a “theme” in the black community and just a trend in other communities?

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