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Cardi B's pregnancy announcement on 'SNL' sends a powerful message about modern motherhood

Electing to become a mother amidst burgeoning stardom is unconventional. But so is most everything about Cardi B’s rise.
Image: Cardi B performs \"Be Careful\" on Saturday Night Live
Cardi B performs "Be Careful" on Saturday Night Live in New York on April 7, 2018.Will Heath / NBC

“Saturday Night Live” made news during its latest broadcast; its musical guest, rapper Cardi B, finally confirmed her pregnancy after weeks of dodging rumors. With a feathered outfit camouflaging her belly during her performance of hits “Bodak Yellow” and “Bartier Cardi,” Cardi played it coy in her first set. But in the second set, the camera slowly panned down to showcase her baby bump wrapped in a custom white Christian Siriano gown.

Cardi’s fans were quick to fill social media with congratulatory tweets and Instagram posts. References were made to Beyoncé’s baby bump reveal at MTV’s VMA Awards in 2011. But congratulations aside, the artist's announcement represents a big win for young women who choose motherhood at the start of their careers — even as they are still often advised against it.

Despite the rise of feminism and conversations about gender parity in the workplace, anxiety over a working mother’s fertility remains high. In the last several years, stories of childless women in their 40s desperate to start the family they put off have made the rounds on the internet, as have articles about women freezing their eggs (for a variety of reasons and with varying success.) Facebook and Apple even offered egg freezing as an employee perk.

The artist's announcement represents a big win for young women who choose motherhood at the start of their careers — even as they are still often advised against it.

The underlying message here is that despite the progress women have made both culturally and politically, they still should not (or cannot) try to build the career they desire and have kids too. Just look at this March tabloid story discussing possible Cardi pregnancy rumors: "'Cardi is keeping the lights on at Atlantic, and considering she has an album dropping next month, if she’s pregnant, it would derail a lot of the plans they have put in motion for her,' an unnamed source revealed, adding that 'Promo runs, and album tours will be threatened significantly.'" And yet, Cardi has continued to meet her obligations. Her debut album, “Invasion of Privacy,” was just released on April 6 and is expected to come in at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Meanwhile, her April Coachella shows are still a go, as is her upcoming tour with Bruno Mars.

But the 25-year-old Bronx-born artist is challenging more than just workplace conventions by choosing to have her baby now.

In late October, Offset, of the hip-hop trio Migos, proposed to Cardi on stage in Philadelphia. While Cardi is expecting her first child, Offset has three kids from previous relationships. There have also been rumors of Offset’s infidelity. Of course, the stigma of having a child while unmarried never seems to affect male artists, who can actually use their various relationships as proof of their masculine virility. Meanwhile, society tells women that getting married before having the baby is still the “respectable” thing to do.

Such criticism is especially pointed when it comes to women of color. Myths about “welfare queens” and other negative perceptions of mothers of color have long prevailed in the popular imagination. Even as motherhood before marriage has increased among all ethnic groups, black women and Latinas have not been able to shake the historic stigma attached to unmarried pregnant women of color. As the Latino population has grown in this country and amid the recent hysteria around immigration, Latinas have been doubly stigmatized. So Cardi is making a strong statement not just about career moms, but also moms of color and moms in blended or non-traditional families.

If TMZ and others are correct, the mother-to-be will have her baby in July, less than two full months before she is scheduled to begin Bruno Mars’ "The 24K Magic Tour" on Sept. 7. Some say that’s when the problems will really begin. But Cardi seems very confident that she will be able to juggle childrearing and her music career. And why shouldn’t she be? After all, lots of women with limited assistance and far less lucrative jobs do it every day — and have done so throughout history.

Electing to become a mother amidst burgeoning superstardom is boldly unconventional. But so is most everything about Cardi’s rise. From her humble beginnings as a stripper, college dropout and minor reality star to her current pop stardom, Cardi has emerged as a surprisingly strong voice for women who dare to make choices society may disagree with. And that’s why, despite her frequent talk of haters, lots of young women have been rooting for her success, especially over the last year. Becoming a working mother is just another reason to do so.

Fellow female rapper Remy Ma, who is now also a mother and a stepmother, perhaps summed this feeling up best. Welcoming the news on Instagram, Remy Ma noted that women in the music industry are too often forced to put their lives on hold in service of their fans and labels. “Meanwhile you feel trapped in your own body, a prisoner to your own career, and so unhappy when you supposed to be having the time of your life,” she wrote. “I am so happy you are free too.”

An updated portrait of working mothers, and especially mothers of color, has long been overdue in our society — why not Cardi B?

Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer and cultural critic. Her work has appeared on The Root, NBC BLK and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

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