Becoming A Single Mom To A Newborn At Age 49 Was The Best Choice I’ve Ever Made
I am a 51-year-old single mom who lives at home with my parents –and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
But it wasn’t always this way.
I spent most of my adult life working as a broadcast journalist. After graduating from Baylor, I moved a lot and often far from home– anchoring in Waco, Las Vegas, and St. Louis, then eventually in Atlanta.
I had a dream career: I worked at CNN’s Headline News for seven years.
I was an Emmy award-winning journalist, and my work often focused on women and children. I interviewed a number of women who had overcome major challenges, including Mary J. Blige, Janet Jackson, Misty Copeland and one of Afghanistan’s most prominent politicians Fauzia Koofi. In 2016, I relocated my life to Doha, Qatar to be a presenter on Al Jazeera English.
From the outside looking in, my life probably looked amazing. Doha was incredible. I did what looked like, and often felt like, glamorous work and international travel–frequent trips to Dubai, Seychelles, Bali, Addis Ababa and Venice. If you judge success in life by distance traveled and miles accrued, I suppose you could say I was winning.
The reality, as always, was more complex. For all my travels and adventures, I was often alone. Sometimes this was by choice, but other times I found myself longing for a partner with whom I could share those experiences.
But the farther you go, the harder it can be to find a companion who can keep up. To talk about my failed relationships would take too long, and they were never the true focus of my life or my story. Still, that solitude occasionally crept into loneliness, and I could feel time starting to slip away.
When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I didn't think much about starting a family. I was focused on my career, and I assumed my domestic bliss would just work itself out. In my younger years, I already had a dream job working in Atlanta, a mecca for successful Black professionals. Surely I would meet a great guy, have a picture-perfect destination wedding, and start a family. That didn't happen.
While I was waiting to get married to start a family, I could sense my biological clock ticking.
I remember hoping that feeling would go away and also being envious of my friends who knew they didn’t want children. But that wasn’t me; the desire to be a mom never faded. I realized I kept putting off motherhood by waiting on some imaginary person.
In my 30s, a friend of mine worked for one of the most prominent fertility clinics in the country; she suggested I consider freezing my eggs. I didn't know much about the process other than it was expensive!
I had a well-paying job but spending up to $50,000 for something I didn't know I needed or wasn’t guaranteed to work, was a major financial commitment. So I put it off for a few more years while still looking for love.
At 43, scared my fertility window would close while I was waiting on a partner, I realized I needed to stop giving other people power over how and when I created my family. It was time to freeze my eggs.
Most studies suggest that women who freeze their eggs before age 35 have a better chance of a successful pregnancy. Because I had put it off for so long, the doctor was only able to retrieve five eggs, but at least I had those for when the right man came along. Over the next three years, the right man did not come along. I also considered having a baby with a male friend but then nixed that idea, because … boundaries. Time was ticking.
At 46, I finally grew tired of waiting and decided it was time to use the eggs. That meant going through a sperm bank. My friends helped me pick the right donor.
It was a surreal experience, but I was very realistic that the chances of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) working were slim, so when it didn’t work, I was disappointed, but not devastated. I considered trying again but decided it wasn’t worth the cost or the risk. It was time to pivot on my path to motherhood.
The next step was adoption, so I started researching options. At the time I was living in Doha, which presented a few hurdles. First, I had to hire and foot the bill for a social worker.
If I was living in the United States, I could have more easily found a social worker to conduct the home study—a comprehensive screening of prospective adoptive parents that has to occur prior to approval for adoption. I found one who was based in Germany, but I had to fly him to Doha to complete the inspection.
Another challenge was finding a U.S. agency that would work with me despite the fact that I lived abroad. Miraculously, I was able to get on the waiting list with an agency in Texas—and was approved to become an adoptive parent in late 2018.
Richelle Carey and Avery
Courtesy of Richelle Carey
After a couple picked a different family over me, probably because I lived too far away, I started previewing the disappointment in my head and thinking about how striking out at adoption would crush me much more than my struggles with IVF did. Maybe because it felt more final, or because I was relying on the judgments of others.
Still, I remained hopeful. I kept telling myself that the right baby would find me no matter where I was, but I could improve my odds if I was more focused on my journey. So, I left my dream job.
Leaving a career is always tough, especially when you don’t know how things will work out, where you’ll be, or when you’ll work again. But I knew it was time. I had little left to prove to myself professionally. So I quit my job as a news anchor more than two years ago and moved home to Houston.
I fully acknowledge that my choices come from a place of privilege. I was successful enough in my career to save money, quit without having another job lined up, and move to my parents' fully furnished studio apartment above the garage.
I was still a bit uneasy about it, and at times even scared. I was staring down the barrel at 50, and if you told me that at that age, I would be single and living in my parents’ guest house, I would’ve thought that I had screwed up my life. I certainly never aspired to it.
I think we intellectually know life can happen for us in a variety of ways but find it hard to accept the non-traditional path might be the one we end up taking. Even if we do and receive everything we want, it feels wrong until it feels right.
Matching with my son was a years-long process. Then finally in March 2021 in the depths of pandemic isolation and global despair, I received a call from the adoption agency, saying a birth mother who had a six-week-old baby was interested in meeting me. The very next day, I drove three hours to Dallas to meet them.
As soon as I saw that beautiful baby boy, I knew at once he was the baby I’d been waiting and trying for all this time. The next morning, I told the agency I wanted to adopt him. Four days later, Avery was home with me.
My life now has transformed from globetrotting to potty-training and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Everything you hear about parenting being exhausting is true. What is also true is seeing your child happy makes all that exhaustion worth it. The absolute best sound in the world is a child laughing, which my little comedian Avery does often.
In my work, I often focused my coverage on women and children. In many ways, my motherhood journey is a continuation of that work.
I hope people learn from my story that your path to motherhood doesn’t need to look a certain way or happen in a specific order. I hope my journey encourages women to embrace a variety of paths to motherhood.
You may have your heart set on having a child that is biologically yours, but if that doesn’t happen for you, be open to other options such as egg donors or adoption. Some companies offer insurance options for egg freezing and IVF or can also help with adoption costs. You can even consider becoming a foster parent, which can lead to adoption later on.
Being a single mom over 50 wasn’t how I thought I would end up. I dreamed of something way more straightforward and dare I say it, conventional. I think I knew the road ahead wasn’t going to be comfortable, but it has been more rewarding than I could’ve ever imagined.
And, that road is still just beginning.
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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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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
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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Featured image by Vuk Saric/Getty Images