On any given Saturday, you'll find my children and me closing out our usual Saturday morning dance party with a stirring a cappella rendition of "If I Ain't Got You," wherein we substitute each other's names in the chorus. My kid-friendly traveling CD features Alicia's live-out-your-dreams anthem, "Unbreakable." And when I'm feeling overwhelmed, Alicia's lyrics from "Superwoman" -- "Still when I'm a mess, I still put on a vest, with an S on my chest. Oh yes, I'm a Superwoman" -- really speak to me. Oh, and please don't get me all riled up about "Empire State of Mind."
But I've got a growing problem with (or real concern about) Alicia Keys -- and many black women like her -- when it comes to pregnancy. A few weeks ago, I held my breath as I watched Alicia Keys climb her preggers self on top of a piano at the BET Awards, albeit during an incredible tribute to Prince. But still. And then last weekend, she fell off her 4-inch heels and landed on her backside while performing at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans.
I'm concerned because for over five years now, I've been on a personal mission to help black women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. When my first book, "The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy," came out, it was the first of its kind -- a hip and funny book that really talked to a new audience of savvy black women about the lifestyle issues and unique stressors that are affecting our birth outcomes.
Studies show that even successful, college-educated black women are still twice as likely to have a low-birth-weight or pre-term baby than their white peers, and they're nearly three times more likely to die during childbirth. Nobody knows the exact root cause of these disparities, or why education and class don't protect black women from poor birth outcomes (as they do white women).
But one of the biggest self-destructive behaviors among black women is what I call the "Strong Black Woman" syndrome -- the exact problem Alicia sings about in her "Superwoman" song. We notoriously carry our communities, our families and our pain, but put an "S" on our chests and project a "strong" image, regardless of how broken we are inside. In our culture, we are raised to view "weakness" as a character flaw. We must be strong. Period.
Having that conditioning is helpful in so many scenarios. But it can be damaging during pregnancy. After my many years of talking to black women about pregnancy and championing the black female's parenting experience at www.MochaManual.com, I am still struck by the number of black women who don't see pregnancy as any deviation from their normal state of being. They expect to be able to continue to work just as hard, to continue to carry others and to not take special care of themselves. We work and work and work because that's what we do. Even while taking on the most phenomenal journey known to womankind, we act like indestructible machines that can just keep going and going -- not as fragile humans charged with shepherding new life into the world.
Alicia, we love you! But as one hardworking black woman to another, I'm personally begging you to ease up on work and the piano-climbing and allow yourself to be still.
Respect the journey of pregnancy. We know you are a "Superwoman," but your baby needs you to be super careful, super mindful and super stress free. We've got plenty of your great music to hold us over ... I just want you to focus on the most important production of your life.