The time someone mistook me for my daughter’s nanny was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. We were leaving the first session of our new music class in Georgia when the teacher said to me, “So you can just tell Eliana’s parents that I will email them.” My face burned, and my heart sped up when I stuttered, “She’s my daughter.” The teacher apologized, and as I went to get our shoes, another mom said to me, “She just said that because you look so young.” I thanked her and ran out of there as fast I could. Once I got a safe distance away, I finally allowed the tears to fall and my heart to break.
The confusion about what the teacher meant when she assumed I wasn’t the mother was cleared up when she kept referring to the moms and dads and the nanny for the next couple of weeks. Surely she wasn’t talking about me, I thought, as I looked around the room. It turns out she was, and after one final embarrassing conversation where I reminded her I had already corrected her mistake, Nanny-Gate 2014 was finally over.
When I first saw my daughter, I mentally started preparing myself for the assumption that she wasn’t mine. When it actually happened to me, I was deep in the struggle of postpartum depression and the grief it unlocked in me was surprising. I had spent many of the months prior wishing I wasn’t a mom. I felt like I wasn’t ready for my daughter, and I worried that I was failing her. I loved my daughter deeply, which is precisely why I felt she deserved better.
The person who mistook me for my daughter’s nanny made her assumption based on the color of my daughter’s skin. When I married a man of a different ethnicity, I never imagined that my daughter might not look like me one day. I wear my racial identity on my skin. My daughter’s skin is white, and besides her curly hair, it would be easy to assume that she is not part of an interracial family.
The mistake here was obvious. There were very real and upsetting racial undertones involved, but the underlying hurt resided in my thoughts that said, “Of course she doesn’t think I’m Eliana’s mom. It’s because I’m a horrible mom.” I have been dealing with subtle and overt racism my whole life, but what ultimately broke me in that moment was the stripping of my mom title.
It was one thing for me to tell myself I shouldn’t be a mom, but for someone else to tell me that I wasn’t a mom was too much for me to process. I thought about all the things that one seemingly simple assumption took from me and I mourned.
After 23 hours in labor, my daughter arrived and made it clear from the start that she was here to rock my world. As a newborn she refused to sleep unless she was held, forcing me to hold her all day and all night for several weeks. She also had horrible reflux, a discovery that sent us to the emergency room and forced me to run down the hall in tears while talking to 911 because I was sure she had stopped breathing when her body went rigid. I was the one, along with my husband, who woke up with her several times a night, and the one who walked like a zombie for close to two years because she was never a very good sleeper. I was the one who breastfed her on demand for 21 months of her life.
It wasn’t until someone thought that I wasn’t her mother that I realized how important that title was to me. My resistance to being a mom had more to do with my self-doubt and guilt than anything else. I had spent so many months fighting against my new role as a mom and now I wanted to claim it with a resounding roar. I wanted people to look at me and see my battle wounds. Every day was a struggle then. I needed to know that people would give me the credit for all of my hard work. I desired to not only feel like a mom, but also to also be recognized and identified as one.
Little by little, I am starting to believe that I am enough. The memory of being referred to as my daughter’s nanny motivates me to believe in my capabilities as a mother and to claim my rightful place. I know that there could be no other mother for my daughter. There is no white woman waiting to pick her up at the end of the day.
My hope, as Eliana gets older and interacts with the world more, is that people will be able to look past the differences in our skin tones and see the mother-daughter relationship that is so clearly there. I hope when they see me holding her hand they know instinctively that I am Eliana’s mom. I hope my baby’s heart never breaks when someone asks her why her mom is black. I hope she is able to find a self-identity that doesn’t plague her or limit her. I hope they give me the credit I so deeply crave. And if not, I hope I have the courage and strength to channel my inner Brandy and Monica and respond, “I’m sorry that you seem to be confused. She belongs to me. The girl is mine.”