Did you watch the Grammy’s on Sunday? Then you probably saw Beyoncé’s stunning, ethereal, and undeniably pregnant performance of “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles.” You weren’t just watching a gorgeous performance, though. You were participating in the largest public baby blessing ceremony likely in the history of humanity.
Yes indeed she was glowing, although that’s nothing new for Queen Bey. Her performance was methodically slow — the precision and intention with which she moved were certainly due to her bulging belly, but they also punctuated the intensity of being a woman in her most primal. It was the deliberate movement of that heightened awareness every pregnant woman feels—that state of being that’s beyond words, that primal instinct to protect and at the same time parade with pride the gloriousness of the ultimate female experience.
She called on “not one but at least two religious icons,” Quartz notes of the costume influences of Oshun, a West African deity, and the Virgin Mary.
“Beyoncé, draped in yellow, recalled images of the Yoruba goddess of fertility and love. Her ornate gold headdress drew comparisons to the halo that frames depictions of Black Madonna.”
The nods to goddesses of the past make relevant even more so what she seemed to be including us all in: the need to honor ourselves, and our community, as we prepare for motherhood. Not just a public ceremony for her own expanding family, it’s an apt metaphor as millions of Americans, namely women and people of color, feel an urgent need to birth a new country, a new definition of what it means to be American.
Baby blessings go back to the dawning of humanity; every culture has their own variation, but they’re all centered on connecting the mother and the community with the awe and responsibility of life. It’s spiritual reflection at its most coherent, most literal. Preparing for motherhood is abstract, impossibly confusing and beautiful all at once. It is a world apart from just adding organic onesies to your Amazon baby registry.
Yet in modern society, we expect our mothers to do it all. Marissa Mayer, the Yahoo CEO, went back to work just days after giving birth to twins. But even stay-at-home mothers are expected to do more than just lay in bed all day. Most are alone within days of the birth as fathers go back to work (without paternity leave, they burn through a few weeks of vacation time if lucky), and other family members go home after using up their vacation time. Today’s mother is expected to take care of the house, take the baby to umpteen classes a week, and get on with life like becoming a mother is NBD. Like she just adopted a cat.
But as any mother knows, it’s a sleepless, hormonal rollercoaster. It’s bipolar. And unlike our ancestors, we have very limited ways of grounding, few methods or ways to cope with it all, if any. The primal is lost, or rather, it’s buried under the weight of modernity; it’s expected to sit ringside as we look for the most comfortable breastfeeding bra, take hundreds of pictures before the baby’s a week old, finish decorating the nursery in gender-neutral colors. It’s no wonder so many mothers come home from the hospital with a beautiful newborn, postpartum depression or anxiety, and a complete sense of discord.
How do we do this? How do we parent without partners, relatives, and community members to come and hold the baby around the clock while we sleep in between feedings, recover, and integrate ourselves into this position over months or years? Midwives, doulas, and birthing centers barely scratch the surface of what’s needed, what was once common practice. Today, most mothers, even those happily married, do it alone. And it breaks us, whether we admit it or not.
We need a better way. At the very least, as Beyoncé surely knew, we need the reminder of just how intense and supernatural it all is.
Beyoncé, sitting so aware on that stage, like those babies could be born before the night was over, was emblematic of feminism — owning her body, her talent, her power, without ever losing sight of the plight women face today.
Her performance, her nakedness, her irrefutable motherness, most notably pointed to the swollen and undeniably heinous truth about Trump, his cabinet picks, and the longstanding GOP culture of suppressing a woman’s rights over her body. Beyoncé made it ever so apparent that she is in full ownership of hers. I dare anyone attempt to take it from her.
She ended the magnetic performance with a line from the Somali-British poet, Warsan Shire:
“If we’re going to heal, let it be glorious,” she said. “One thousand girls raise their arms.”
And if we’re going to be mothers, let it be sacred, a ritual, a primeval surrender to our instinctive selves. Let it be supported and celebrated. And let it be our choice.
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