Making the decision to become a mother is the bravest and most selfless choice any woman can make. You sacrifice your life (and body) to help raise another human being. It's a choice I've grown to understand over these past eleven months, and one that has helped me to realize what a true gift motherhood can be. But if you had asked me a couple of months ago if I imagined myself holding my beautiful baby boy, Mateo, in my arms, I would've told you no.
In fact, I had every intent on giving my baby up for adoption.
I never imagined that at 23 I would be a single mom juggling a full time job and raising a child who is just over a month old. When I graduated from college in Chicago, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. Like many graduates, I struggled with the post-grad blues. I couldn't find a job, and after hunting all summer for something to pay the bills, I ended up working at a Pizzeria before I received the job offer I've been waiting for. I was nervous, but excited. Finally, I was getting my big break! I was going to get started on my career path to being a news producer. I packed my bags, left my Baltimore home behind, and relocated to a city in Illinois. But two weeks into my new life in journalism, I was hit with my own breaking news:
I was pregnant.
The news hit me like a wrecking ball. My first thought was how, at 23 and just fresh out of college, was I going to raise a child? Better yet, would I even still have a job after they find out that I was pregnant? I spent all of college preparing for my dream career, and because of a careless decision it no longer felt like it was within reach.
In the midst of my anxieties, I knew the obvious—the father would not be in the picture. At 32, he had his mind focused on his own struggles: raising his six-year-old daughter while trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his own life. Two months before when we first met he seemed like just the man I needed. I was fresh out of a “situationship" with the guy I dated in college, who caused me so much pain that I started to question myself and lost my self-esteem. I was looking for something new, and at the time, my child's father seemed to be the antidote to my broken heart. He won me over with sweet words and deep laughs, and a shared interest in video games. He was taking care of his daughter and taking care of home. Him being older made me feel as if he would be more mature, able to handle any situation thrown his way. But when I broke the news that I was having his child, he immediately suggested that I get an abortion.
I wasn't surprised by his lack of enthusiasm for being a father the second time around, but I didn't expect him to not want to be around period. An abortion was out of the question, as I had been through it before with my last guy, and had no desire to repeat history. I wasn't ready to provide for a child, and I knew I wasn't going to get the support that I needed from my child's father. Not to mention that I was ashamed to tell my family for fear of being judged. So I decided that adoption was the best route for both my baby and me.
In my line of work, a week doesn't go by where a report of a young woman involved in the murder of her child pops up. Most recently, we've been introduced to Mubashra Uddin, a Pakistani 19-year-old who allegedly dropped her newborn out of the window of her family's Chicago apartment. A close friend told the media, she may have been overwhelmed by the pressures coming from her strict immigrant family. I grieve for her little girl; but I also mourn for Mubashra, too.
So often, we see young women take on the task of motherhood when they're not ready or don't have the proper support. At it's lowest, it ends up with social media posts about chasing their baby's father for child support and at it's worst, it ends up like Mubashra's situation.
I had no desire to fall victim to either outcome.
As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I contacted the adoption agency to start the process. I informed them that I wanted an open adoption, in which I would still be able to see my child regularly and be involved in his life. Months later I was matched with a few potential families. Although I was hoping for an African-American couple to raise my son in a world that would devalue his worth, I found that there were a lack of Black families who looked to adopt, despite the fact that there are over 100,000 children waiting to be adopted in the United States, with more than half are minorities.
[Tweet "We see young women take on the task of motherhood when they're not ready."]
When I met the Chow's—an interracial couple with a Chinese husband and Mexican wife—I was drawn to their fun-loving nature and love for travel and good food. They had a six-year-old daughter who was also adopted at birth, and she was a sweetheart who seemed just a bit spoiled. They were also in Chicago, which was just over two hours from where I would be.
Over the course of the few months I would go through the pregnancy process alone. I stayed in contact with my child's father, sending him pictures of sonograms and keeping him informed about the adoption process, but he remained relatively cold and distant—never offering to assist in any way.
A week after my November due date I found out I needed to have a c-section. I didn't have anybody to call, since at this point I still hadn't informed my family. I had even gotten into a disagreement with one of the friends that I did tell because she felt that I should've informed my mother and not put my child up for adoption. I couldn't rely on my child's father, so the only people I could turn to were the Chow's. I called Mrs. Chow to let her know that I was going to have my baby later that day, and she offered to come by the hospital and be there for me during my c-section.
As I lay on the operating table, a thousand thoughts crossed my mind. The child who I had carried for over nine months managed to make it through healthy and beautiful.
Mrs. Chow and the adoption agency representative came by the next day to see Mateo and I, but it wasn't until the following day after realizing that this was real--this was my baby--that I decided that I couldn't let him go.
I informed the agency that I wouldn't be following through with the adoption. I also had no idea how I was going to break the news to Mrs. Chow. I knew that what I had done was horrible, and I couldn't bare to see the pain in her eyes once she realized that the months she spent preparing for a new addition to the family--all of the time and emotion invested--was in vain. I proceeded to block her on social media to prevent any further pain. I planned to send them cards apologizing for any pain that I may have caused; I certainly didn't want them to feel like I had taken advantage of the kindness and generosity that they had shown me over the last few months.
To help get me started on my road to motherhood, the social worker at the hospital told me about an organization called the Women's Choice Center. They provided me with diapers, a car seat, a crib, and other donations to get me started as a new mom, which I'm truly grateful for.
[Tweet "I never imagined that bringing in a new life into this world would change mine."]
It's been over a month and I've never been happier about keeping Mateo. I finally told my mom about his birth, and instead of judging me she was there for me. Even my grandmother flew out to help me as I balanced motherhood with working the night shift at my job. Although Mateo's father hasn't been involved, he's at least shown signs of interest of wanting to be a part of his life, and I can only pray that he sees his son for the blessing that he is. I never imagined that bringing in a new life into this world would change mine. Where there were once tears of sorrow has now been replaced with feelings of warmth and joy. As he grows, I'm growing—even the depression that I battled with for years has turned into feelings of positivity in which I now look at myself in an entirely different way. I'm no longer the broken, college graduate who struggled to find her self-worth, but I am now a mother who is strong enough physically, mentally, and emotionally to overcome any opposition that comes my way.
Thanks to Mateo, I can confidently say that I am truly a better woman.
And I am so glad I did not give my child up for adoption.
As told to Kiah McBride.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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When we think about our overall health, how we keep up without physical strength and emotional endurance are often a top priority. But another muscle that’s just as important to keep sharp and in shape is our brain.
Our brain is the control center for everything we do. From its ability to keep our memory and motor skills in running order to maintaining the millions of subconscious functions that we’re unaware of, our mind is essential for overall well-being and quality of life. And while the wonders of our brain’s full capacity still remain a mystery, one thing that we can be sure of is its complex nature that controls one important factor, cognition.
“Brain cognition is a term for the mental processes that take place in the brain, including thinking, attention, language, learning, memory, and perception,” Anna Braunsdorf, VP of Content at Elevate Labs, tells xoNecole. “It's a critical part of our day-to-day life as it helps us understand and interact with the world around us.”
The brain is responsible for the storage and retrieval of information, allowing us to remember past experiences and learn from them. It controls our ability to focus on specific tasks or stimuli while filtering out irrelevant information and is crucial for language processing, including understanding, speaking, reading, and writing.
As we age, the need to keep our minds sharp and focused is more important than ever, and it’s never too early to start.
With November officially serving Alzheimer's Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize and understand the causes and preventive measures to take with this common disease that primarily affects memory, cognitive function, and the ability to carry out daily activities.
Thankfully, there are a number of specific exercises and practices that can contribute to and improve cognitive well-being. “We can do a lot of easy things to support our cognitive well-being on a daily basis, such as completing memory exercises, playing word games, meditating, and practicing mental math,” Braunsdorf says.
“Unsurprisingly, in this digital age, there are a host of apps available to support us in improving these skills while also making it fun. From Elevate, which trains practical cognitive skills in the areas of vocabulary, memory, reading, writing, speaking, and math through fun, research-backed games, to Balance, which is a highly personalized meditation app that can improve people's stress, sleep, focus, and mood, people can easily work on improving their cognitive well-being with the help of mobile apps,” she adds.
Engaging in activities that stimulate the brain promotes improved memory, clearer thinking, and reduced anxiety and depression, better mental health. Improved cognitive health is essential for overall cognitive well-being.
“The National Institute on Aging clinical research has reported that engaging in activities like music, theater, dance, and creative writing can improve quality of life and well-being in older adults, boosting their memory and self-esteem and reducing their stress and loneliness,” she says.
“As I like to put it: Physical health can help you live a long life, but cognitive health makes that life worth living.”
The road to a stronger and healthier brain doesn’t have to feel like mental gymnastics. In fact, Braunsdorf says that solving puzzles, especially crossword puzzles, is an effective way to maintain cognitive sharpness and have fun while doing it.
“Studies published in top medical journals have found that solving crossword puzzles, in particular, can improve cognition, problem-solving, and memory skills. According to a Harvard study, crossword puzzles can improve thinking and memory almost as much as an FDA-approved memory-enhancing medication by engaging multiple regions of the brain and training them to link new concepts together,” she says.
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