When I found out I was pregnant, I had an anxiety attack. I called my first cousin/ brother freaking out and my first question was “am I going to be successful? How will I continue to have a career?” I just finished an orientation for the KIPP Alumni Accelerator program in partnership with the Management Leaders for Tomorrow and I was coming off a career-planning high. It was also early in the year, and I was in full goal setting mode. Though I was on track in terms of my 5 years goals, I was a little early in checking off the “starting a family” box. In my mind, I gave myself another 7 years before I was officially “ready” to get married and start a family. 32 always seemed like the perfect number; I actually found this old journal I wrote when I was 12, where I planned my life and coincidentally, 32 was also the number I planned on having children. They say if you want to make God laugh, tell her your plans.
Well ok, sis, I hope I got you ROTF at this point.
My first fear was my career. My second was judgement. I wondered, “will my network be disappointed?” “Will they judge me because I’m not married, still ‘young’ ambitious and driven?” Then, the thought of intergenerational trauma and money settled in. And a few weeks later, a screening test I took early in the pregnancy was flagged for abnormalities. I began to wonder, “Am I a bad mother already, is this my fault?” despite looking on endless forums and blogs reassuring me that the screening test, the Quad Screen, is notoriously inaccurate and outdated, I still worried that there was something wrong with me. The questions about choice ebbed and flowed in my mind every day. Was I ready to be selfless? Was I ready to take a pause on some of my goals? How am I going to raise a little human unproblematically? How will I be able to take care of myself on my worst days so that I can care for my baby? Will I be a good mom?
Because of my anxiety, shame, and uncertainty about the baby’s and my health, I did not share the news of my pregnancy for months. I waited until I took a few more screening tests, until I was ready to answer an abundance of questions, and willing to talk to my family and friends individually to share the news. I kept getting the questions: “are you happy, are you excited, how do you feel?” and it was an overwhelming question for me to think about. I wasn’t sure how to answer because my first trimester was terrible- physically, emotionally, and mentally. And I didn’t want to admit that because I felt guilty that I felt those things.
But as I shared with each member of my circle, I saw their faces light up, and their support lifted me out of my loneliness and depression. I remember being nervous to tell my grandmother, thinking she would comment on the fact that I wasn’t married, and she smiled and said “Oh honey I am not worried about you, you have lived many lives. You have travelled the world, graduated college, and continued to be excellent. Having a baby will not stop you, it will propel you even further.” A mentor of mine made the comment, “Wow how lucky is your child that it will be able to say Afrika is their mom.”
And I realized my biggest critic was myself. I was so afraid of judgement from others, because I was judging myself. As I shared with my network, I felt the warmth and light of my people and felt the embodiment of “it takes a village to raise a child.” Because the village doesn’t just raise children; it uplifts mothers, fathers, aunties, uncles and grandmas too. To my village who has respect my privacy these past 8 months, and who has been a constant stream of support, thank you. My child is blessed to have a sea of aunties and uncles who will shape them into a fearless warrior that is loved, valued, and supported.
As I reflect on the past 8 months, I find it ironic that I stressed so much about my career, when I have accomplished some of my biggest goals to date. This year, my baby and I:
- Travelled to 5 states and 1 U.S. territory
- Gave a TED talk
- Spoke on panels for Legal Aid Society, NAACP LDF, Vera Institute, The J.C. Flowers foundation, KIPP, and Columbia University
- Interviewed Ava DuVernay in front of 6000 Kipp School Summit attendees
- Attended the Aspen Ideas Fest and shared my story with the CEO of the Aspen Institute, the Walton Family Foundation, and The CEO of The Atlantic
- Almost brought a house (more on that later)
- Saved up substantially, and invested in my retirement fund. Learned how to invest my money properly
- Networked my ass off
- Grew closer to my family, my partner, and my friends
- Moved into my own place
- Got accepted in several grad programs with full scholarships
- Discovered more about myself and my limitations, held myself accountable, and loved myself as best as I could in order to be the best that I can be for my child, my partner, and my family
- And whole bunch of other things too (I’m not used to sharing this much y’all).
I write this list not to humbly brag and act as if I have no struggles; I write it to remind myself that I did all of this while I was enduring some of the hardest physical changes on my body and mind. I write this to remind myself that it’s OK to brag to myself. I write this list as a reminder that I am the shit, and it’s ok for me to acknowledge it. I write this as a reminder of blog topics I should write about. I write this list for other young women, especially Black women who are considering starting families and feel this pressure to be great, or worry about the world casting judgement on their decisions. I write this because, there is this pressure for Black women who are first generation, the first to overcome, accomplish, graduate, accelerate etc. to constantly put success and perfection first, which in many cases, means the opposite of having children, and if one does want a child, waiting for the perfect partner, job and a house. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong for waiting for those things, I think we’ve forced ourselves to fit into yet another box of perfection and others’ expectations which can make us constantly feel inadequate, when the truth is, we create our own truths. Fuck what society has to say.
I’d like more Black women to continue talking about raising children and pursuing careers and businesses, because we need to rebuild our villages y’all. We need each other. The first thought for young women who find out they’re pregnant shouldn’t be a fear of continuing a career. I think that it is a logical thought process, but it is also one that highlights how unfriendly America is towards women of color who would like to have children and embark on ambitious careers. I am grateful to work at an organization that is family friendly and promotes work life balance, but I worry about my sisters who do not have that privilege. I worry about those who do not get paid maternity leave. Worried for those who do not have health insurance and deal with hostile doctors. For that reason, while I have these privileges, I will continue to advocate for those who do not (especially because Black women have the highest maternal mortality rates in the country).
When I shared the news that I was pregnant, I mentioned several times “I now understand the meaning of pro choice in a different light.” I want to highlight that I also write this post for women who have had abortions because it’s your body, your choice, your decision. I have always been pro-choice, but throughout my pregnancy, I grew closer and more conscious with my body, and understood the meaning of having choice over one’s body in a new light. I understood pro-choice beyond the abortion debate (and to be clear I am all the way a pro-choice and abortion, pregnant or not). While pregnant, I’ve also thought of pro choice as a women’s right to give birth naturally or medically induced, partake in certain screening tests, undergo IVF, or other fertility treatments, choice to be single or married, choice to share publicly or keep private, choice to breastfeed, return to work, and most importantly, the choice of having access to quality health care. I will write more about my health experience being pregnant alongside the healthcare system and my observations about the hostility against pregnant women at a later date.
Here’s one last thought it want to share: I don’t owe social media world an explanation for why I did not share my pregnancy; this is NOT what this is. I am writing this because I feel ready to share this chapter my story, and begin writing the chapters for my newest member of my family. I am sharing because while I was pregnant, I isolated myself because I thought I’d be misunderstood and shamed. I hope that by reading this, other women who may relate to me can find solace and comfort knowing they can reach out and find comfort, and reassurance that their feelings aren’t abnormal. I writing so that I can invite other Black women to be part of my village, and build a network of fly ass Black moms who are out here climbing the career ladder, baby in one hand, briefcase in the other. I am writing this for myself, because I finally feel free from my own mental shaming to share without fear of judgement. I am writing this because while I am extremely private, and debated sharing the news or waiting until after the baby is born, sharing is healing.
I feel healed, I feel happy, and I feel hopeful and I hope my words will ignite those same feelings in those who engage with this post.
“So, what’s next?” Is a question I’ve been asked frequently. The answer is:
- I’m still grinding, hustling, moving and shaking
- I am plotting, persisting, goal setting, and focused
- I am loving myself and continuing to work on my mental and spiritual health
- I am ok with failing, pausing plans, and taking a break because I am always on track even when I may feel like I have changed directions.
- I am ready to be a Fly ass mommy who dresses like the fly ass auntie, and still acts bougie at all the family gatherings with her fly ass baby.
Readings that may be of interest: