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I Was Still A Kid When I Had My Baby — Now We’re Growing Up Together

Unbothered's Birth Rights acknowledges inspiring mothers and showcases the beautiful diversity and depth of Black parenthood. As Black birthing people continue to reconsider what motherhood looks like, we are spotlighting Black maternity, reproductive health, and exploring cultural conversations on re-parenting ourselves and the next generation.
My daughter’s name is Roux. I started dating her dad when I was 17 years old, and I ended up getting pregnant when I was 19. After we broke up, I was only 20, so it was a crazy transition from independence to parenthood. I had all these plans for my future and all these things I wanted to do, but life was like, No, you're pregnant! So much was going through my head when I found out, and I just felt like crap. But looking back, if it wasn't for Roux, I probably would've never made it to L.A, where I’ve been living for three years, or to this point in my life.
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My family was really surprised when I got pregnant because they didn’t even know that I was sexually active; of all the kids in the family, I was the “innocent” one, so no one expected me to be doing anything that could result in having a baby. Everyone just thought Roux’s dad was my best friend. (And he was.) But my family was supportive of me, especially my mom. Obviously, she was super shocked, but she wasn't upset. My whole family had my back.
Still, I didn't know what to do when I found out I was pregnant because I felt like I was in a pressure cooker. I thought, I have to figure out this, this and this before this person arrives. I know this is really taboo to say, but I didn’t see the upside of being pregnant in the moment. I remember being upset because I didn't want a kid at the time. I had just gone through the breakup with my ex, and I was living in my car. I had two jobs and was literally working from 5 a.m. to midnight, but it was one of the happiest times of my life. I felt good because I was finally doing something for myself, independently, but then, boom…I was pregnant. I resented my situation for a long time, but then Roux came along, and all of that disappeared. It’s hard to explain, but I just knew instantly that I loved her and that I’d do anything for her. Watching her come into herself throughout the years, all the resentment that I had has just melted away.
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The end of my pregnancy was the most stressful part. I didn't feel like I was treated badly by the healthcare system, per se, but there was definitely this sense of, Oh, you're a first time mother and a teenager, so you don't know anything. We're going to tell you what to do, and you're going to listen. 
The worst part of the experience was when I went into labor. I did a lot of research in the months before, so I was aware of how my contractions were supposed to feel, so I knew it didn’t feel right when they started. I was trying to explain this to the nurses and to the hospital staff, but they wouldn’t even hear me out while I was legitimately squirming in pain in my wheelchair. I couldn't stop squirming, but the nurse just told me repeatedly to calm down. Ma’am, I'm in labor! I was trying to explain how my contractions were going, but she kept denying it, telling me that what I was saying wasn’t true and that I was exaggerating. It wasn’t until she hooked me up to the machine to see what was really going on that she actually understood what I was going through. I couldn't believe that in one of the worst moments of my life, pain-wise, I was being treated that way. It was just a sad moment in the middle of what should have been a beautiful experience.
After giving birth, they tell you to sit down and to allow other people to support you. But I don't like people in my house, so it was really tough to let somebody else take the wheel while I sat back. I learned my lesson the hard way; a couple of weeks after I gave birth, I was cleaning, and my exhaustion finally caught up to me. My body was so tired already, and on top of that, I was breastfeeding and waking up every two to three hours for months at a time. I was defeated, and I needed help.
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It’s still hard for me to ask for help, and that might be because that’s how I saw my mom operate when I was growing up. She was so busy, working three jobs, taking care of five kids — she just had a lot going on. My dad was more of the youthful one, but somehow, he was also the stern parent. There are parts of me that really take after him in that respect because with Roux, it’s as if I'm just a big kid myself. My dad was my favourite for that reason, so I just naturally attach to that parenting style. Yes, we have a lot of fun together, but she also knows that when I'm serious, I'm serious, and it's not a game. Growing up Black, you're told to stay in a child's place. You're told to stop crying, to not be so emotional. I know exactly how that affected me: it made me an anxious person. It made me go into a shell, to not trust my feelings. I was insecure and scared of myself, honestly, and that’s something that I don't want my child to ever feel. I don't think my parents did that intentionally; it’s just a matter of how they were raised and what they knew at the time. But I'm so self-aware as a parent that I take that into account while also doing things differently. I've adopted my own method of parenting as far as allowing my daughter to really use her voice rather than shutting it down. I tell her, “You can say what you want and feel how you feel, but be respectful. Cry if you need to — throw a tantrum, even. We can always talk it out.”  
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Every step of my motherhood journey has been me just trying to figure it out as I go. At every stage of motherhood, you’re still processing and thinking on your feet, so even as you try to teach your little ones about life, they teach you things, too. Roux's taught me how to be softer. I’m naturally a really big tomboy, but my daughter's so feminine, super girly, super soft. She's just really delicate — I love that about her. Whether she knows it or not, she's teaching me how to become a well-rounded woman so that I can set a better example for her. And that's the cool part of parenting: it really is rewarding in so many ways. 
The majority of my friends don't have kids, and they're older than me, so it can be a little lonely at times. You feel misunderstood because you’re dealing with things that they can’t relate to right now. And then, when you’re around older moms, they look at you funny because your way of doing things is different from how they operate. I feel like with a lot of Gen Z parents, the main focus with parenting is allowing our kids to be themselves and to cultivate their respective voices. To learn that it’s okay to navigate life on their own a little bit and explore. That kind of parenting can go against the grain, but I have no problem with that. I'm totally okay with speaking my mind, and I want my daughter to feel that same confidence. The results speak for themselves; she's a pretty great kid, and she's super well-spoken because her dad and I have given her the space to be herself. (The kids of Gen Z parents are doing just fine, thank you — put some respect on our names.) No matter what, we just want our kids to be comfortable in their own skin. For me, I just want Roux to always feel like herself. Whatever she wants to do and whoever she wants to be, she has my full support. I feel like that's the best thing anybody can ask for.
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That's why it’s so important for parents to be on the same page. A lot of my family wanted my ex and I to stay together when we first found out I was pregnant, but I knew that would be best for both of us to end things then and there. And it took a while, but I feel like now we're finally on good platonic terms for the first time in Roux’s life. It takes accountability and vulnerability on both ends to get to that point. I don't know how it is for other people, but I didn't realise until some months ago that we never got closure; I was done with the romantic part of the relationship, but I was also holding on to so much of my bitterness. We had the baby, I ignored him for a long time, and then I just...moved on. I didn't want to talk about anything that happened between us. I only recently realised that no matter what my feelings towards him were, they would affect our kid, so I had to fix it because working on our dynamic would make her life better. 
The key to healthy co-parenting is being honest, being raw, being real, and getting to the root of whatever the issue is. I'm at a space in my life right now where I don’t harbour anger or any other negative feelings. So much of that pain derives from hurt, which derives from just wanting to be loved, and when we speak honestly from that space of our needs, we can get through to each other a lot faster. That's what I had to do with Roux’s dad, and he did the same thing for me. It was beautiful, so I have faith that it's going to get even better as time goes on.
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Photographed by Djeneba Aduayom
Top Image: Hanifa top; Hanifa trousers; DM Jewelry Designs earrings. Above Image: Izayla jumpsuit; J Norahz Collection earrings; Moore’s own shoes.
Much of that emotional growth has been a testament to me working on my mental health. A lot of us don't actually like ourselves and have a hard time looking in the mirror, but when you learn how to deal with your issues by going to therapy, you learn how to love yourself in the process. And if you love yourself, then you have the room to love other people — and you need to love the person that you're bringing into the world. That's the most important thing. Kids don't need to have the best clothes or the brand new cell phone or the brand new toys. They want your time and your attention, and they want to be tended to and loved on. Studies say that the first five to seven years of a kid's life creates the foundation of who they are going to be. I think it's important to go to therapy and learn to love yourself, so that you can create that foundation of love for your babies to build on in the future.
While having a kid teaches you to be selfless, you also can’t afford to lose sight of who you are. The one thing I never wanted was to become a mom and struggle with my identity as a person. I was the kid who needed a lot of alone time, and I'm still the same way as an adult; I still get overwhelmed and overstimulated pretty easily, so I have to take time for myself very often. Becoming a mom is one of the most important, most rewarding things you can do, but you have to take care of yourself. And if you're not, you're not going to be able to take care of this other person you brought into the world. I know the first couple of years are pretty tough, but pencil in that time to figure out what you need to stay whole. Take those opportunities to do whatever it is that you would do if you didn't have a kid. If you want to do something, don’t let yourself get stuck in that mindset of, I'm a mom now, I can't do this or that. Yes, you can. You're not just a mom; you're also you, too. 
Twenty years from now, if Roux were to read this, I’d want her to know that I did my best. I've had struggles with my mom in the past where I was like, Why would you do that?, and it wasn't until I was in my twenties with my own kid to realise that my mother did the best she could. We think our parents are superheroes, and we’re not able to look at them as humans, but really, they're just like us. I’m prepared for moments when Roux may feel like I failed her or like I let her down, and I'm prepared to explain why if she wants me to. But I still feel like I’m just a kid too, trying to figure out who I am and where I fit in this world — we’re doing this life thing together. As Roux is growing up, I'm growing up right alongside her.
As told to Ineye Komonibo. This interview has been condensed from its original transcription. 

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