Staff Picks

Mama Bear: One Black Mother's Fight for Her Child's Life and Her Own

Gabbi Cisneros

September 14, 2021

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Shirley Smith's experience is just one of many examples of why Black mothers need to be seen and supported.

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Mama Bear: One Black Mother’s Fight for Her Child’s Life and Her Own by Shirley Smith, with Zelda Lockhart, Harper 

I'm reminded of the importance of vulnerability and acknowledging others' vulnerability when reading Mama Bear by Shirley Smith. While she frequently mentions being urged and supported by God to share her story, by writing this book, she provides the same sort of guidance and support for other women coping with discrimination, trauma, and other long-lasting complications of human life and motherhood. The book is specifically helpful for Black women, who haven't been able to take a deep breath for generations. Smith shares her own stories of postpartum depression, of the self-directed searching you have to do and abandonment issues you have to overcome when you grow up with an absent or drug-addicted parent, but she also advises readers on cultivating supportive communities, building spiritual practices, and other ways to overcome the challenges of the past–even if her challenges aren’t your own. 

You have to go backward to go forward. You have to figure out what the bricks that are piled on your chest are made of. You have to investigate your past to find out what is causing your Energizer bunny behavior, your people-pleasing chaos, your superwoman act, in order to be able to make healthier choices. 

The main issue raised by the memoir is the struggle associated with a baby born prematurely, but the issues go much deeper than the medical concerns–besides unpacking the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma, she also brings to light the systemic issues that make motherhood statistically more difficult and dangerous for Black women than other races. Smith's life was often strained in all ways—emotional, physical, and mental—yet she maintains an extraordinary strength as she shares her story. Her experience is just one of many examples of why Black mothers need to be seen and supported. Beyond her affective book, Smith is CEO of the nonprofit My Kota Bear that "[brings] awareness, education and support to NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) Families in our communities.”

About The Author

Gabriella Cisneros is usually ‘Gabbi.’ She is a recent graduate of UW-Milwaukee, with degrees in Film and Spanish, and she’s a new addition to Porchlight Books. It’s kind of a dream job for someone who has a 55 page, indexed document of interesting words she’s found in books. Gabbi regularly makes time for taking photos, traveling, attending concerts, trying new restaurants, listening to the podcast "Ologies," blogging, filmmaking, fitness, and—of course—reading.

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