Last week, Black women all over collectively gasped with excitement when Gabrielle Union and her husband, NBA star Dwyane Wade, surprised fans with the news they’d just welcomed a newborn daughter via surrogate. They shared the news by posting a photo of them posing together with the newborn at the hospital. The photo showed Union in the hospital bed, wearing a headwrap, sans makeup and fluff, holding her baby close and practicing a common and critical newborn bonding process called skin-to-skin. The list of benefits of skin-to-skin is long, but the reassurance of bodily contact after the baby leaves the womb, reducing anxiety and stabilizing body temperature are a few to note. Many news outlets reposted the couple’s sweet photo online and what followed next in the form of negative comments was something that both surprised and disappointed me.
The snarky questions, unsupportive and hateful rhetoric came almost immediately, which sadly is an unfortunate byproduct of sharing our lives on social media and something many os us have come to know and hate. “Wait was she pregnant?” “Why does she look like she just gave birth?” “What’s up with the hospital gown?” A bullying tumbleweed began to take shape and head straight for the couple’s joy, and as I read one blissfully-ignorant comment after another, I began to feel compelled to extend a mother-like hug to Gabrielle and Dwayne. The couple has been very open about their difficult journey to this moment—during which they tried for years to conceive and experienced multiple failed attempts at IVF multiple miscarriages. What right do any of us have to judge their journey? What right does any mom, or woman period, have to mom-shame them? What about all of the families who shared their story-should we unleash on them as well?
According to Psychology Today, mom-shaming is defined as unsolicited parenting “advice” or “suggestions” that makes you feel guilty or uncertain. On social media, even the most benign parenting practices are subject to criticism. Unlike the rest of us, celebrities are publicly “mom-shamed” more frequently on the Internet. Additionally, the urban dictionary defines mom-shaming as criticizing or degrading a mother for her parenting choices because they differ from the choices the shamer would make.
I woke up the next day feeling compelled to do something. As a mom influencer I have an audience of other mothers, many of whom intimately know what it’s like to have trouble conceiving children, have a difficult pregnancy (me include) or have multiple miscarriages and many of them have adopted or used surrogacy as a way to help them complete their families. I decided to post on my own Instagram page and share my personal feelings about mom-shaming. I called out the practice of mom-shaming and attempted to shed some light on how it can make another mom feel. I wanted to change the narrative surrounding the reaction to the Wades’ new addition to the family because the normalization of becoming a mother is important. No mother/father or parent who is willing and capable to provide a healthy and happy life for a child should have to deal with negative feedback from a personal, albeit public, photo they shared with the world. The community agreed with me and responded and so much positive feedback and support. My audience seemed to collectively let out a sigh of relief that someone had spoken up about this, so I’m sharing it with the ESSENCE community of moms too. They cheered for her but also for themselves and all the times they had been mom-shamed or witnessed it. The post went viral and people have been calling and texting me nonstop ever since. I think it struck a nerve and hopefully will make more people think before they comment, especially when they’re speaking about factors so intimate.
On Saturday afternoon, I got a call from a friend who had been one of those online supporters. She said she was having lunch with her male friend and he feels differently about the situation. She asked if I’d be wiling to talk to him. I agreed. She handed the phone to him and as he ran down how he felt the post by Gabrielle Union was irresponsible and inappropriate and that she had to know or expect these comments on social media dressed in a ‘hospital gown’. We got into a pretty excited exchange, but ultimately, my rebuttal went a little something like this: Why does she have to abide by these weird social rules or stigmas that we have created for ourselves? Gabrielle Union finally has the child she’s always wanted, she clearly stated that is was via surrogate and they had both probably been there for the labor and delivery and no matter what it should have been a purely-positive moment for them. Her celerity should not negate our humanity. That’s the long and short of it, but one thing that’s clear to me is that people have strong opinions on both sides. In short, social media has broken a lot of barriers for people. It gives you a coat of armor to say things to people you may never say to their face and it promotes bullying by design. Where is the human nature in that? It’s a larger conversation about our state as human beings, but as a mother, I rallied the troops to welcome Gabrielle into the Mother Hood and to push back on the mom-shamers to provide support versus tearing each other down and I’ll do it all over again and extra loud for the folks in the back too.