Momview: Starring Niketa Calame-Harris
Can you share a little bit about yourself?
My husband and I are new parents to a beautiful 16 month old little girl Zara. I am an actress, professor and photographer all with a focus in the arts. In Motion is the name of my acting coaching business which I started in 2017. I have been living with type one diabetes for the past 23 years and am currently the Chair of the Southern California Advocacy Committee for the American Diabetes Association. I'm very blessed to have had a baby at all and without any NICU, which I was really nervous about.
What was your birthing experience(s) like?
Because I have type one diabetes my OB scheduled an induction at 38 weeks. At the beginning of my second trimester they said my cervix was shorting and that I needed to go on semi bed rest as well as taking progesterone suppositories. I began to just praise God for every week that passed with my baby staying in my womb. A few days before I was scheduled I fell on my side and went into triage. The baby was fine but my doctor happened to be there and asked if I wanted to just stay and “get the show on the road” because of the empty beds and unpredictability due to covid. They administered the balloon and it took a few hours for my water to break. When it did then they started the pitocin which made the contractions feel like the worst thing known to man and humanity. That agony was a few more hours and somewhere in the middle of all of that I received the epidural. It didn’t work right away and they kept telling me it was pressure I was feeling. I told them I know what pressure feels like this was indeed pain. After a few hours they came in and gave me a higher dose and I feel asleep. When I woke I said right away, now this is pressure. I got to about 6cm and stayed there for a few hours before the doctor came in and said that the baby was in distress and my oxygen levels were dropping so they took me to the OR to perform an emergency c section. When she came out the doctor said she was staring up at them. She cried immediately which was music to my ears since I couldn't see anything. My husband and I started singing happy birthday when they finally placed her in my arms and all the doctors and nurses joined in. One of the happiest moments of my life was seeing her little face and feeling her little breath move up and down on my chest.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had as a mom? Do you think some of them, or all of them, could have been avoided or lessened if we had a more supportive maternal culture in America?
Well having a baby in the middle of a global pandemic brought unique challenges that I never expected for my first baby journey. I always imagined a waiting room full of people waiting to come rushing into the room to see my baby. We were alone for at least the first 3 months. From going to the doctor alone while video chatting my husband because he couldn't come in, to baby girl hubby and I having to stay in the room with no ins and outs for a week, to my child being born into a world where everyone had on a mask.
In your opinion, how do we evoke and incite a sisterhood of motherhood?
During the pandemic I created a show on my instagram live called Moms Share Panel. I have had over 13 episodes now because people who watch say when are you going to do another one. We have talked about all the things that don't usually get shared when you are just talking and sharing with mothers and daughters. That space has created great insight to what motherhood is really like and the mothers or expecting mothers have appreciated the transparency and vulnerability of the mothers on the panels. So those two attributes transparency and vulnerability are what we should evoke to create bonds and sisterhood on this motherhood journey.
We’re aware that deep inequality exists among moms in America. How do you think we help amplify all mom’s voices?
First to recognize and stand in solidarity with the mothers of color who are experiencing significant disparities in the health system. The numbers don't lie so people have to stop acting like the stories that they hear are.
I witnessed a few microaggressions, some “black women are strong” inequities and certainly withholding of some information for care but luckily I had a multicultural tribe and I was able to bring up things that they shared with me was happening at their visits. Sometimes the doc would say yes we can do that, how did you know about that. I smiled and said I have people.
Speaking of maternal inequality, how do you think we go about encouraging moms to care about other mom’s problems, even if they aren’t shared problems?
Well that is just it. If it's a problem for one you should have empathy and realize that it can happen to you. It's hypocritical to criticize or ignore a problem and then if and when it happens to you, you are expecting everyone to come to your aid and move mountains. Unfortunately that is the way of the land. I do have hope that shifts are happening. You can only make changes within yourself and hopefully that positive light that is shining will be contagious. A positivity pandemic.
If you could create a new maternal culture tomorrow, what would it look like?
Creating a culture of empathy, kindness, cultural sensitivity and a village community are key traits for what a maternal culture would look like for me.
We talk about how you can’t put the maternal social policy cart before the maternal connection and equality horse. Do you agree with that?
I do agree and I also think that the policy decision makers should look and reflect the community it is addressing. That doesnt mean just throw a women in for the diversity piece do you have black women, white women, asian women and latinx women, indigenous women and queer women to name a few, in the conversation because all have different perspectives even within their communities. If you don't then you're just running a dictator policy platform.
What maternal social policies do you think the U.S. should have? And why?
All of the policies that it seems like every other place but the US adheres to in order to support new parents and moms. Longer paid family leave. I think the first full year is critical and a lot of other countries get a year to bond with baby and some places assign a “helper” as part of the leave to help mom.