Every woman pictures how her first pregnancy will be at some point, even if just for a moment.
Maybe it's the brief walk-through of the baby section of a department store or a friend's baby shower. Or it's the gentle reminder from an older family member that you're "not getting any younger." Either way---the thought of making your body home to a developing human implants itself.
You imagine your reflection with a swollen belly in a supremely adorable flowing maxi dress and flower crown while your very handsome and supportive partner cuddles you in a loving embrace. You see the tiny beautiful being in your arms while you rock in a meticulously decorated nursery and hum Beyoncé songs quietly. Everyone is proud of how you embrace motherhood and have three snaps in-waiting for your preemptive "snapback."
You are the crown jewel of new parents. It is a lovely vision.
But what if it doesn't happen the way you've imagined? What if you're 25, freelancing to make ends meet, waiting for your "big break" in the industry, and one month away from not being able to keep a roof over your head? Will you still be the picture-perfect vision of a woman's "true purpose?"
That is what I had to ask myself.
On the day that I scheduled my abortion, I made three lists. One was all of the things I wanted to do before I became a mother, the other was all the reasons why I wouldn't be able to enjoy my pregnancy, and the final was all of the people who would be disappointed in me. That final list was the one that seemed to crush me the hardest.
Yes, I'd been irresponsible. Yes, I knew better. Yes, I was a Christian. Yes, I had all these goals and dreams but who said I had to throw them away because I was a mother? But seeing my own name at the top of the disappointment list followed by that of my mother and mentors was unshakeable.
So I made the call. But, that was just the beginning of the process.
First, you have an appointment. I remember sitting on the clinic bed, undressed from the bottom down, with one of those cheap, itchy gowns on. The nurse, who had clearly been in this position more times than not, was very clinical. She told me she had to do an ultrasound to find out how far along I was. I thought I knew...I gave a number of weeks...she checked...I was wrong...by 2 weeks.
Because of that, my only option was to have a surgical procedure.
Not knowing what I was getting myself into, I opted to do it with no medicine. After all, it was my irresponsibility that brought me here, why should I not have to feel any pain?
My appointment was for the next week...
In the meantime, I was still pregnant.
I told a few close friends. They all expressed that they'd love me no matter what I decided. I ate a few whole pizzas. Considered that maybe being a mom wasn't the worst thing for me right now. Watched some birthing videos. Threw up. Tried to enjoy my swollen breasts. Slept...a lot. Lifted some heavy things. I'm not proud of the thoughts behind that decision. I waited for the week to be over...for all of it to be over.
On the day of my abortion, I pulled up to the clinic and there were protestors outside.
Signs with broken baby limbs and discarded fetuses created a sea of sadness for me to part on my way in. I was uninsured at the time so my ex paid the cashier a bit over $300. We sat in a pretty crowded waiting room in front of a girl who was crying onto the shoulder of a boy who could not have been older than 18 and behind a man who was talking loudly on his cell phone about how he "knew she was pregnant" and was "glad that she wasn't just getting fat."
A nurse came out and called my name. I went to the back and was told to put my things in a locker and, of course, to undress. Another itchy, cheap gown. A waiting room with other women making a decision that they'll carry forever who were all "watching" a National Geographic special on penguins came after.
Then another ultrasound.
A moment of panic when the nurse tried to hand me a photo of the baby I wasn't keeping.
An outburst of tears.
A really intimate moment with a woman I'd never met where she held my hand and told me "you'll get to have this moment again and it'll be a happy one."
Then, more waiting.
"Milner" is the way I was called into the procedure room. Then introduced to a man who told me I could hold his hand at any moment if I needed to. I held the hands of a lot of strangers that day. The doctor was nice enough. Scrolled down the details of what he'd be doing. I heard none of what he said. "Can you please turn the screen, I don't want to see the baby" was my only response. I remember pain. That's all really. And the hand holding. The man I held hands with said "you can sit up when you're ready"---that's how I knew it was over.
The pain was still there.
I was crying.
When I finally did sit up, blood rushed down my legs.
I apologized to him.
He told me it was fine and handed me the biggest maxi pad I've ever seen in my life. There was a recovery room where I held hands with another woman I'd never met. She also gave me saltine crackers and pain medicine.
I went home.
You can't do much after an abortion.
I know that pro-lifers would have you believe that us heartless c*nts kill babies and then kick, ball, change into a Starbucks to meet our girlfriends and rehash the dirty deed. But that's not what happens. You spend a significant amount of time still feeling pretty pregnant.
Your boobs are still swollen. You still have some cravings. You're still exhausted. You're sad. You're confused. You wonder if you really are a baby killer. You think that maybe God won't allow you to get pregnant again because you've done this. You pray. You try to be normal around people who don't know. You cannot lift heavy things. You cry.
You don't eat. You avoid eye contact with mothers and babies. You can't take the "what-ifs." You heal...slowly. Your body is still weird. You bleed...a lot. You write a script about the day that your boyfriend refuses to read because it's "too hard to go back there" for him. You slowly start to tell the people who should know. You try to forgive yourself.
It is a life marker.
You now sort things in BA and AA. Before the abortion. After the abortion.
You cannot look at your partner the same. You cannot look at yourself the same.
You feel the tension race up your spine when abortions become a subject of national conversation and try not to take it personally when Facebook statuses from childhood friends condemn the women who "do that." You volunteer to work at clinics walking women in past protestors. Sex makes you too nervous to enjoy it anymore. Even with protection. Because nothing is 100%, you know?
Your biological clock starts to tick louder and louder. You think it's selfish to want kids after you've been given the opportunity and choosing differently. You tell yourself you don't want to be a mother. It's easier that way. You hear that someone you considered a friend tells someone your story, she texts you a denial, "no worries, your secret is safe with me." You block her. It is not a secret. It is part of your truth. And you get to decide who knows.
Years go by. Most of your closest friends are now mothers. You make sure they know how proud of them you are. You send baby gifts. You relish being Auntie Iman. And a Godmommy! You no longer feel like God will punish you...at least you hope not. You find a man who makes that vision of parenthood seem more real. You get a year's worth of birth control while you still have health insurance because in Trump's America...
You seek out advice: what's motherhood like? You recognize that you made, what you felt, was the best decision at the time for your life. You cannot erase it by pretending it never happened. You cannot bury it down beneath your first heartbreak and next to the words you never said to an old friend. You parted ways with a part of yourself and that void will remain.
But even still...you are whole.
You are not ruined.
You are not a walking graveyard.
You are human.
And one day, when the decision is yours to make again...you'll do what you deem is best. That's all you can ever do:
Act. Learn. Heal. Repeat.
xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- What facts about abortion do I need to know? ›
- 14 Abortion Facts Everyone Should Know | SELF ›
- Should I Get An Abortion? | Information to Help You Decide ›
- Everything You Need To Know About Abortion - Gurl.com | Gurl.com ›
- 10 things you wanted to know about my abortion but were too afraid ... ›
- 41 Things You Should Know About Abortions And The Doctors Who ... ›
- Here's what you need to know if you need to have an abortion ... ›
- 26 Women Share Their Abortion Stories -- New York Magazine ›
- My Abortion, My Life | Read Stories ›
- What It's Really Like To Have An Abortion - Real Stories of Abortion ›
- Abortion stories: From a 'sense of relief' to a 'broken heart' - BBC News ›
- Here's What It's Really Like To Have An Abortion ›
- My abortion made me happy: The story that started the ... ›
- Why I Filmed My Abortion ›
- Personal Stories of Abortion Made Public ›
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.”
Director of Content: Jasmine Grant
Campaign Manager: Chantal Gainous
Managing Editor: Sheriden Garrett
Creative Director/Executive Producer: Tracey Woods
Cover Designer: Tierra Taylor
Photographer: Ally Green
Photo Assistant: Avery Mulally
Digital Tech: Kim Tran
Video by Third and Sunset
DP & Editor: Sam Akinyele
2nd Camera: Skylar Smith
Camera Assistant: Charles Belcher
Stylist: Casey Billingsley
Hairstylist: DaVonte Blanton
Makeup Artist: Drini Marie
Production Assistants: Gade De Santana, Apu Gomes
Powered by: European Wax Center
Text This Before You Ghost Them, Sis.
We’ve all been there at least once (or a few times) along our dating journey. Maybe you’ve had a date or two with a potential suitor, but the spark just wasn’t there. Perhaps you convinced yourself that just “one more” date would help you overlook a non-negotiable ick. At this point in the dating cycle, you’ve probably reached the point where you must decide to either communicate “why” things won’t be moving forward or simply ghost them.
What Is Ghosting?
“Ghosting” refers to the act of suddenly and unexpectedly cutting off all communication with someone you've been dating or talking to without any explanation or further contact. It typically occurs in the early stages of dating but can also happen after a few dates or even in more established relationships.
The act of ghosting has become quite a common practice in our modern dating culture and can manifest in a number of different ways. From days of ignored text messages and phone calls out of the blue to not showing up for pre-arranged plans and sometimes disappearing from someone's life without any notice or explanation.
Morsa Images/Getty Images
The Problem With Ghosting
Being ghosted may seem like a harmless act of “self-choosing,” but the person on the receiving end of your decision can be left feeling confused, rejected, and even abandoned, wondering what happened and where they went wrong.
And we get it, what explanation do you owe someone for leaving after a few cocktails and a $100 date? While that may seem like the perfect opportunity to cut and run, taking an alternative approach to fizzle out a fling is a great time to practice clear and effective communication that can pay off in the long run.
While there is a time and a place for ghosting (and even blocking) if your boundaries have been crossed or safety has been threatened, if we’re looking to live out our best healed, secure-girl summer, there are ways to date freely without leaving others with damage of their own to recover from.
Being honest and upfront about your feelings while being respectful of the other person's time is the best way to leave a situationship or fling with both parties emotionally unscathed. So if you’re looking for ways to break things off with care and consideration, we’ve provided five text scripts to send instead of ghosting somebody’s son:
Morsa Images/Getty Images
5 Texts To Send Instead of Ghosting Them
1. If you want to take the honest but gentle approach:
"Hey [Name], I've really enjoyed getting to know you, but I've been doing some thinking, and I don't see this going any further. I wanted to be upfront and honest with you rather than leaving you wondering. I wish you all the best."
2. If you want to express gratitude before saying goodbye:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to reach out and say thank you for the time we spent together. You're an amazing person, but I think we're better off as friends. I hope you understand and that we can still maintain a positive connection."
3. If you want to leave a note of appreciation:
"Hi [Name], I wanted to let you know that I've had a great time with you, but I don't think we're compatible for a romantic relationship. I appreciate the moments we shared, and I hope we can both find what we're looking for."
4. If a face-to-face convo is needed:
"Hey [Name], I've been doing some thinking, and I believe it's important for us to have an open conversation about where we stand. Can we find some time to talk about our relationship and how we both feel? I think it's important to address things honestly."
5. If you want to keep things cute and concise:
"Hey [Name], I've realized that we're not on the same page, and it's best if we part ways. Take care."
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.
Featured image by Morsa Images/Getty Images