I can remember, as early as four years old, sitting in between my mom's legs on the living room floor while she plaited my hair adding barrettes, having conversations about how I came to be hers. "You're my baby, but I didn't have you," she'd say. "D gave you to me. That's why you're so special."
I'd simply reply, "Okay mom." And special is how I always felt.
I never felt "adopted."
I never felt an emptiness or the desire to search for answers like many adoptees experienced. It was never a secret. It couldn't be, because my birth mom was always around.
July 4, 1991 - the day I became my mom's
I was born the fourth of seven children. My birth mom, D, and my mom are first cousins, raised like sisters. From what I know, D was a partier (that's who I get my dancing skills from). She was slim-thick, beautiful and chocolate, and a sweetheart. But at the time, she was more attracted to going out than being at home.
D would often leave me in the care of my grandfather, who was blind in one eye with glaucoma. My mom checked in on him often and helped him care for me while she was there. From the moment she saw me, she says it was love at first sight.
My grandfather did his best to care for me, insisting D would return, but time passed and after a conversation with my aunt (D's sister), my mom suggested she take me off of his hands for a few days. He obliged and on July 4, 1991, at five months old, I left my grandfather's house with a onesie on my back, on the hip of my mom, and was hers from that day forward.
My dad, who was my mom's boyfriend of six years at the time, accepted and loved me immediately. They broke up when I was around 8 months old. But, he had me every weekend and they coparented. My childhood was glorious. My dad spoiled me, literally. I had all the material things one could imagine: diamonds, custom trench coats, a princess themed room at both houses, toys galore.
More importantly, I had an abundance of love.
They both took me to school every morning, together after a hearty breakfast at a local diner. We took photos together, celebrated holidays as a family – the whole nine. It was like they never broke up.
As the story goes, D called one day before I turned two and told my mom that she was on her way to get me, permanently, but my mom refused. After that, my mom officially filed paperwork to legally adopt me. My dad brought receipts to court to show that they were caring for me. The judge signed off. But, the angel that my mom is, never blocked D from having contact. She gave her open access to me. As a I grew older, I'd ask why. "I love her because without her, I wouldn't have you. One day, you'll understand."
Me and Dad when I was about 2 years old.
As time passed, D picked me up from school often and I was able to spend time with my siblings. I even stayed with her at times. Things were fine. It wasn't until around middle school that I started to feel resentful. I began to notice that when D picked me up from school, she'd tell the other parents that she was my mom. That irked me. I didn't know how to verbalize how I felt when I was younger, but now, I can say that I don't feel she had the right to claim that title.
She gave birth to me, but she wasn't my mom.
I've always been the "let go and let God" type, even as a child, so that's what I did. After one of many breakdowns, my mom finally left it up to me to determine whether or not I communicated with my birth mother and her family. I decided to step aside and if any relationships would form, it would have to be on my terms.
I stayed in my own world for a long time. That changed my junior year of college when my mom called to tell me that D was having a serious and potentially fatal surgery. My mom insisted I call, always reminding me, "I wouldn't have you if it weren't for her." I then called her to tell her that I loved her and prayed her surgery went well. Thankfully, it did.
After that, I tried to establish some form of a relationship, without everyone else's interference or input. Something about that phone call created a form of an epiphany for me. After all, she did give birth to me.
So in 2017, we started talking a lot more often.
In August of that year, my mom and I went to a birthday celebration at my aunt's house. Just as we pulled up, D was leaving. I asked her to stay for a bit and we ended up spending a few hours together, drinking, talking, and taking pictures. There was a feeling of nostalgia – of peace – I thought to myself, This is how it should be. Little did I know, that would be the last time I'd have that opportunity.
The next month, I got a call from my aunt one Saturday evening. D had a stroke and she told me that it wasn't looking good. I went to the hospital and we were told she wouldn't make it through the night. She did.
The next three weeks were filled with hospital visits and meetings between my siblings and I with various doctors. I wasn't expecting that my siblings would involve me in decision-making regarding her health since we weren't raised together, but D always told us, "You're brothers and sisters." It must have stuck with us, because for the first time, I felt included.
I took on a role of silent support. I only gave my opinion in terms of what should be done medically when asked by my siblings or when I felt a certain treatment would not work. Otherwise, I tried to tend to my younger siblings, as they were the ones she raised and needed the most support.
She passed away on October 25, 2017.
Once things were all said and done, I had time to process things. It was the most confusing time I've ever experienced. On one hand, I was regretful and felt guilty about all of the years I closed D out. On the other hand, I was grateful for the last time we spent together and how my siblings rallied around me in a time where I expected the complete opposite.
It was hard to openly vent to people about how I truly felt about her passing. I had my parents of course, and my boyfriend and my sister were amazing. But at night with my own thoughts, I felt alone. I realized that in this instance, I'd have to do some deep soul searching, rely heavily on God, and truly heal myself.
I spent a lot of time thinking about D not as my birth mother, but as a woman.
How hard it must have been for her to pass me along to another caretaker and watch me flourish while trying to figure out where or if she belonged in my life. How perplexing it must have been at times for her to try and enforce relationships between her children when she didn't necessarily have that authority to do so, but knew that it needed to be done. She, like me, was just as confused trying to navigate this modern family that was created.
It was agonizing some nights. But I eventually found peace knowing that her love for me was magnified by 1,000 by her choice to give me not one, but two chances at life when she gave me to my amazing mom.
My mom used to always tell me, "One day you'll love her as much as I do because she loved you enough to give me you."
That day came.
Featured image by Giphy
Brenda Alexander is a West Philly native with a love of the 3 W's: writing, wine and Whitney Houston. When she's not working or overanalyzing life, you can catch her praising Jesus with a bomb Gospel playlist or annoying those who love her as she listens to Christmas music all year round (her fascination with the holiday even produced a Christmas book). Her work has been featured on Mayvenn's Real Beautiful blog and CurlyNikki . Follow her excursions via Instagram @trulybrenda_
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
Russell and Nina Westbrook are one of those low-key, unproblematic couples we don’t talk about enough. They met in college and got married in 2015. They also have a beautiful family with three kids. While Russell is an NBA star, Nina is a licensed family and marriage therapist and a mental health advocate.
She recently launched the podcast The Relationship Chronicles with Nina Westbrook, and in the latest episode, she had none other than her husband on as a guest. The college sweethearts dived into important topics from marriage to children and how they navigate it all.
One of the topics they touched on was dealing with resentment in your relationship. The former MVP highlighted the sacrifices his wife has had to make in order for him to pursue a career in the NBA, and that’s why it’s also important for him to support his wife whenever he can.
“For me is respecting and understanding what your partner do and the time it takes,” Russell said. “Not kind of downplaying what they do, understanding the time and energy and effort they're doing to make sure whether it’s their job or making sure home is taken care of, and understanding that, I think that is the challenge of not being resentful.”
Nina agreed and also shared her thoughts on resentment. According to her, one of the best things couples should do is have their own identity and passions outside of the relationship in an effort to be fulfilled.
“I also think that when you’re in a relationship, that’s why it’s so important that each individual kinda pursue their own passions and follow their own dreams as I feel like it only becomes or leads to resentment when one person is not feeling fulfilled in what they're doing in their lives,” she explained.
“And so, they will start to look at the other partner who’s happy or excelling or promoting or moving along in their journey, then they’re left feeling stuck like they sacrificed themselves, their happiness, their career, their future and have not pursued it in the name of the relationship or their partner. So, it’s so much easier to avoid those feelings of resentment when you’re each equally pursuing your passions.”
The couple has many passions that they work on together and separately. Outside of basketball and his family, Russell has become known for his eclectic style and started the fashion brand Honor The Gift. Nina has her podcast, and she also started the mental health website Bene. Together, they run the Why Not? Foundation, which works with kids in underserved communities.
“I’m a firm believer that one person can’t be everything to you, so you have to sort of seek out those different friendships or groups or hobbies or activities that help to fulfill you,” Nina concluded.
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Feature image by Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images for Religion of Sports