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.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.Feature image courtesy of Richelle Carey.
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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Here Are The Best Plus-Size Resort Wear Pieces For The Season
Your destination getaway is right around the corner. Everything is nearly together – travel excursions planned, hairstyles selected, and you have found the perfect plus-size swimsuit thanks to Gabi Fresh, but what about your outfits, specifically plus-size resort wear? And no, ladies, we are not living in chaos this summer and relying on rush shipping to provide pieces that may or may not work. So, if you need options, we got you covered.
First, researching current summer trends is a great way to select resort wear options. Some of our favorite travel girlies gave us the scoop on resort trends to look out for this summer. This includes sheer, crochet, and of course, the classic all-white pieces.
Next, look for interchangeable pieces. I love to mix and match to create a look, and I want to wear items that can carry into other seasons. Luckily, finding trendy plus-size resort wear that matches these criteria is easy. So, whether you are searching for something flowy or more revealing, you won’t be disappointed because we have curated a list of this year’s best plus-size resort wear.
Lissette Sheer Tropical Print Wide Leg Pant W. Pockets ($39.90)
Rebdolls will always be a favorite due to their sizes, ranging from 0 to 32. Therefore, we are starting this list with the Lissette Sheer Tropical Print Wide Leg Pant W. Pockets These are the perfect sheer pants to add to your vacation wardrobe. It is a part of the “Intro to Summer” Collection and can be dressed up or down. These wide-leg pants are ideal for rectangle and triangle body shapes.
Lisette Sheer Tropical Print Button-Up Shirt ($39.90)
Of course, we needed the matching button-up top to match the pants. The Lisette Sheer Tropical Print Button-Up Shirt is the perfect combo with its wide-leg companion above. Whether you wear it over matching pants or as a twist-tie top with a pair of jean shorts, this shirt will not disappoint.
Plus Crochet Ruched Beach Dress ($24.00)
Boohoo is a hot spot for summer options and consistent sales, making them extremely affordable. Their Plus Crochet Ruched Beach Dress is great for relaxing at the pool or beach. The material is lightweight, and the ruched detail is flattering for all body shapes.
Plus Rust Linen Look Ruched Side Split Midi Dress ($34.00)
(Via Pretty Little Thing)
This is for the girlies who love a high slit. The Plus Rust Linen Look Ruched Side Split Midi Dress from PLT is a must-have glam piece for your getaway. Heads will turn as you walk through any resort or new destination, and it’s flattering for all body types.
Curve & Plus Satin Floral V-Neck Ruffle Hem Dress ($30.00)
Asymmetrical is in this summer! And adding the Curve & Plus Satin Floral V-Neck Ruffle Hem Dress from Cider is the statement piece to add to your plus-size resort wardrobe. In addition, an asymmetrical dress is flattering for rectangular body shapes.
Satin Duster | Orange Mix ($62.95)
(Via Divno jé)
There’s something about a duster that makes you feel like you’re gliding while you walk. The Satin Duster (Orange Mix) from Divno jé is a showstopping piece that will compliment your tank dresses, shirt, and jeans. This long duster is flattering for all body shapes.
MakeMeChic Women's Plus Size Casual 2 Piece ($40.99)
The MakeMeChic is a cute, casual addition every girl needs. You can add a cropped or regular tank or nothing underneath. The fabric is comfortable and perfect for a beach day or island excursion. Depending on how you choose to style, this set is excellent for all body types.
Gabi Fresh Swim x ELOQUII Ring Front Cutout Coverup Maxi Dress with High Slit ($119.95)
Gabi Fresh has done it again with her latest collection at Eloquii. This Ring Front Cutout Coverup Maxi Dress with High Slit is a relaxed fit, and the cinched-waist maxi dress is gorgeous. It has cut-outs and a high slit. This dress would work well with an hourglass body shape.
Mini Challis Off Shoulder Hi-Low Skirt Set ($47.95)
This dazzling set is ideal for any cruise, beach day, or stroll through a seaside town. The Mini Challis Off Shoulder Hi-Low Skirt Set gives “main character” vibes. Another two-piece set that can be worn together or separately.
Plus Khaki Twill Cargo Midaxi Skirt ($24.00)
Two fashion trends that are in this season are cargo pants and maxi skirts. And Pretty Little Things gives us both with their Plus Khaki Twill Cargo Midaxi Skirt. Style with a combat boot or heel. This is another piece that suits all body shapes.
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