The goal was to keep promoting parties after college. It wasn’t the most stable strategy, but I’ve been doing it since I was 17. I could excite a crowd, make friends out of strangers in the time it took to hand over a flyer. I knew how to spread a message. It was shortsighted, but it was familiar, and it was enough. Until, of course, I had my daughter.
Mia was never part of the plan, but propelled bigger plans into motion. I was 22 when I found out I was pregnant, and unemployed. The country had gone into a recession, and the safety net I’d taken for granted swiftly unraveled beneath me. I always had a parent to navigate adulthood for me, who made it look easy to make a doctor’s appointment or keep every bill in order. But after my first visit to apply for Medicaid, I knew motherhood would come with great turbulence. I showed up at the DC Department of Human Services at 9 am not knowing what to expect, only to find a waitlist of more than 100 people. I spoke with an employee, who snapped that I should have been there two hours earlier to expect any service. I tried again another day and completed my paperwork. I stumbled through the next steps of finding a clinic with no one’s help, and finally met with a nurse practitioner near the end of my first trimester. While it was unfair, the massive lack of resources seemed entirely unnecessary and avoidable. I know I’m not the only young mother to struggle with a system that refused to accommodate me.
My advocacy began with volunteering at the clinic that assisted me through my pregnancy. I wanted to assist other parents in the way I never was. I also started taking community college courses, and was fortunate to have teachers who allowed me to bring my daughter to class. I was hired at the clinic as a breastfeeding peer counselor a year after I started volunteering, and my job was incredibly understanding when I needed time with Mia. By the next year, I was promoted to Family Services Manager. Most of the mothers I worked with didn’t have the same luxuries. Our most vulnerable populations don’t have access to paid family leave, and have had to use sick leave to spend time with their newborns. Or worse yet—are terminated from their jobs for starting a family. I’ve met mothers as young as teenagers who returned to work less than a week after giving birth for fear they’d lose their only source of income. This doesn’t allow enough time for their bodies to heal after birth, or establish a relationship with their newborn. The lack of resources and protective laws is not only destructive to families, but harmful to new parents’ health as well.
My own experiences and similar stories from other moms turned my frustrations into action. It’s why I’m an advocate now, helping residents of low-income neighborhoods navigate the health care system and demanding policymakers to let parents reach their full potential through initiatives like Paid Family Leave and the Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) program, a federally funded child care service offered to young parents on college campuses. Like I said before, I know how to spread a message—I’ve been doing it since I was 17. I’ve just traded late night raves for early evening public hearings.
It’s why I’m proud to celebrate Mother’s Day this year. I want my daughter to see the impact she’s made on my life, and why I’ve been pushing so hard. I’m 30 now, and the constant turbulence has slowed down to occasional bumps in the road. But for many others, that winding journey has only started, and I’m committed to providing the support they need to care for their children and to ultimately be successful.
Sade Moonsammy is Young Invincibles’ State Organizing Manager and a doula. As a Millennial parent, Sade is passionate about being an advocate and connecting new families and single mothers to the health care resources, education, and social services they need.