Becoming a mother in 2020 took on a whole new meaning to so many women of the world. With global chaos ensuing, incompetency leading the way, and drastic changes taking place in hospitals, giving birth during this time meant...well, we aren't sure. Many women took the challenge head-on, accepting that their new normal, no matter how different from the stories they've always heard, were just that: their new normal.
From baby showers that were masked and mobile, to having a q-tip shoved up your nose multiple times a month, adjusting took its damn time. And a year later, we're all still adjusting.
These babies are now turning one-year-old, one year of surviving it all. We found four women who shared their journey about how exactly the adjustment is going.
Here are the beautiful stories that we heard:
Audrey: Dallas, TX | @southernsophis
I actually gave birth to my daughter back in August (2020), and this entire time I've just been kind of basking in the whole moment of motherhood and pregnancy. I'm sure you can imagine this was a huge eye-opening shift in my life, and in my family's life, because this was not what we expected whatsoever.
During my first trimester, it would suck to have to go to my doctor check-ups without any support. Like, they couldn't even wait in the waiting room. And because Dallas was considered a 'hotspot' for COVID, our rules were strict. From the constant questioning to temp checks, it was all a mess. Many first-time mommy classes had gone virtual. I wanted to have a water birth, but I couldn't. I even had to wear a mask during labor. The changes were nonstop.
I ended up having a C-section because after being in labor for 24 hours, with no medication, I couldn't take the pain anymore. It was go time.
Afterwards, I allowed my body to heal. I didn't rush it. My main goal was to safely recover. And even through all the pain and worry, my baby made it home with me, happily and healthy.
Being pregnant during a global pandemic and a racial injustice war has brought on many emotional highs and lows. If you had told me a few years back that this is what I'd experience during my first pregnancy, I probably would've laughed in your face.
But one thing I will say, despite the chaos, I've been able to truly pause, self-reflect, acknowledge my fears, doubts, and worries as well as tap into a different level of strength I didn't know existed, so I'm grateful for that opportunity.
Ianthia: The Bahamas | @iamianthia
I never imagined that I'd give birth during a global pandemic or that my husband wouldn't be by my side as our child entered the world. But thanks to the COVID-19, nothing I had planned for my birth experience happened. From having to cancel our baby shower, not being able to shop for and set up our nursery, to my husband being kicked out of the delivery room at the last minute COVID-19, really stole many of our joys.
My moods would go from super happy, to just heartbreaking as the virus took over the world. Quarantine forced us to social distance from our friends and family and had us on government mandated curfews and lockdowns. But after a lonely, hard experience...there were tears of joy!
I'm so blessed to have the shoulders of so many amazing women to stand on as I navigate motherhood; so much strength, so much resilience, so much love I've witnessed and received and I'm now equipped to give my little one.
I'm learning early on that support from everyone around you is crucial, from friends to family, and even those who end up becoming family. Every time I think about what I'm going to tell her of this time, her birth and the uncertainty that consumed the world, I'll show her the picture I have of her meeting her grandfather for the first time.
I'll tell her, "This is you at two days old meeting your grandfather for the first time...through a closed window. A deadly virus had already killed thousands of people around the world and several right here at home. We were warned to take extreme measures to keep you and everyone else safe.
"Those first few weeks were hard too; physically because you had a sleep schedule all your own, emotionally because we had to do it all without family and mentally because no one knew when it all would end. Still, you were loved unconditionally, through video chats, phone calls and...windows."
And now, with seeing us triumph, and how blessed my family is, I wouldn't have it any other way.
After a completely healthy pregnancy, my husband and I lost our baby girl, Junie at 41 weeks on May 19, 2020. And the pregnancy and birth took place during the COVID pandemic. As I am navigating this loss, I have found some comfort in others sharing their stories to help me in my journey, which is the purpose of me speaking out. I felt alone and I want to share for anyone who may feel how I once did.
Everything leading up to it, was completely normal. We had never heard the word "perfect" so many times in our lives. At that point, I was having appointments weekly, ultrasounds, stress tests. I woke up one day, my routine was completely normal. I was doing my daily talks with her, my affirmations.
On the way to my appointment, things changed. I hadn't felt her move in a while. My ultrasound tech started the process of checking the baby at my appointment, and she had a blank look on her face. She wasn't blinking. My intuition was off the charts.
And then, my doctor looked at me and said, "I am so sorry to tell you this, but your baby doesn't have a heartbeat."
And I said... "OK."
You know, it's funny how the brain works. My mind was racing, but I couldn't articulate anything. I was having an out-of-body experience. And that's all I could say. "OK."
I was numb to everything happening around me. I was broken.
I went to the next hospital to deliver my baby girl, and had to take a Coronavirus test, which came back positive. I was moved to another side of the hospital, swept away from my family, quarantined by myself. And on top of it all, I had to somehow process how my baby was no longer with me. It took a while for me to process it all. I still am, actually. But ultimately, I learned I am not alone.
Educating myself, and learning the statistics of stillborn births aided me in coping. Additionally, I had to learn that it wasn't my fault. My midwives and nurses would assure me all the time that we did everything right, everything we possibly could have done.
But listen ladies: my story is traumatic. And unfortunately, so many women experience the same as I have. But my pregnancy was also a beautiful experience. I would not rewrite or delete this chapter of my life at all. The grieving has been exceptionally hard.
And without my support and the amount I had, I don't know how I would navigate this, honestly. Family, my husband, friends. I have two amazing therapists that have helped me. In the end, working with them, and telling my story, has given me peace. I hope it does for any mama out there reading this, and that has experienced the same as I have, as well.
Alanna: Atlanta | @alannafoxx
Giving birth during COVID-19 is just a little different, so my heart goes out to those of you who were not able to have anyone in the delivery room with you. I was blessed enough to have my husband right there by my side in the delivery room, but my baby boy did come a little earlier than expected. I actually had a scheduled C-section. But my little boy decided that he wanted to come a few days before the scheduled C-section.
Something that was very important to me was that my doctor looked like me, due to the statistics that we hear nowadays definitely can make being a woman of color [who is] expecting pretty nervous.
With me moving to a new area, and with the pandemic, I wanted to make sure I felt 100 percent comfortable with whoever was delivering my baby. I trusted her 100 percent.
Around this time, my husband and I had a very deep conversation about what the world is going through. There are a lot of people that were really sick and thousands that lost their lives. People are out of work, resources in some communities are limited. Children that once looked to college or school as an escape from toxic homes don't have that anymore.
Domestic abuse and child abuse is at an all-time high...and to top it all off, I gave birth and lost one of the most important people in my life. He lost his battle with COVID. The only dad and father that I've ever known. Literally my everything. My support system, my superhero, my advocate, anything that I ever needed, he was there for me.
But now, walking into 2021, I've achieved a newfound wisdom and grace over our family. Perspective is everything right now and even if you don't have much to give, just compassion and prayer is sufficient.
Featured image by Ianthia Ferguson/Instagram
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Charmin Michelle is a southern native and creative spirit who works as a content marketer and events manager in Chicago. She enjoys traveling, #SummertimeChi, and the journey of mastering womanhood. Connect with her on Instagram @charminmichelle.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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Queen Latifah On Her Journey To Self-Acceptance: 'I've Been Trying To Maintain My Freedom To Be Me'
Actress and rapper Dana "Queen Latifah" Owens is defying societal standards by refusing to be confined in a box regarding her personal and professional life.
Owens, who has been a part of the entertainment industry for over three decades, is widely recognized for her empowering songs and the variety of acting roles she has obtained throughout her career, among other things. The list includes Living Single, Set It Off, Chicago --with which she earned an Oscar nomination-- Just Wright, Girls Trip, and most recently, The Equalizer series on CBS.
Owens is also very tight-lipped about her personal life. However, in 2021, The Last Holiday actress showed appreciation to Eboni Nichols, who is reportedly her partner, and their son Rebel after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award.Since then, Owens has revealed why she doesn't want to be defined as anything but herself and how she maintains her sense of freedom. In a resurfaced video from theGrio Awards, Owens opened up about those topics when she accepted the Television Icon Award for her past contributions
In a clip uploaded on theGrio's Instagram account last week, Owens explained that she often had to fight to be herself because "the world" kept trying to put her in a box based on what society thought a woman should be.
"My whole life, I feel like I've been trying to maintain my freedom to be me. And the world is trying to put these things on me to stop me from being who I am," she said.
Further into the speech, Owens explained that although many would have their own opinion about her from what the media spews out, she would continue to be herself by wearing "beautiful gowns and dresses," playing in the dirt, participating in basketball games with men and loving who she loves because that's what makes her happy.
The Beauty Shop star also added that despite her celebrity status, she would continue to show respect for others because that's who she is as a person and how she was raised.
"So I wear these beautiful gowns and dresses because I want to because that's part of me. I play in the dirt. I play basketball with the boys because that's me,” she stated. "I love who I love because that's me. I love all of you who have supported me. I give you your respect. I don't have to be above you because that's me. I know me."
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