Black Mothers Share Their Journey Into Motherhood Amidst A Pandemic

Courtesy of Ryan Norville
Becoming a mother is tough. And with black women being three to four times more likely to die before, during, and after childbirth than white women in the United States, becoming a black mother can be even tougher. While we’re navigating trying times in 2020 — including the COVID-19 pandemic that has affected thousands across the globe and added to the healthcare threat already disproportionately looming over black maternity — we wanted to make sure we held space for the powerful black women entering motherhood during a very unique and unprecedented time this Mother’s Day.
We spoke to new mother Jessica Clemons, MD a.k.a. Ask Dr Jess, and expectant mother Ryan Norville, founder of floral arrangement company Oat Cinnamon. Both were gracious enough to share their touching stories with us. Our hope is that, while uplifting their stories, we’re able to uplift other new and expectant mothers as well.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mummas. We see you.
Jessica Clemons, MD, Board-Certified Psychiatrist
"Finding out I was pregnant was pretty surreal. My husband created what felt like a dream world. We spent the day [after our baby was born] with soft music in the background, it felt like the sun was shining beautifully in the room during the day, it made that time with him all the more sweet. 
We met eight years ago at a Nipsey Hussle show in NYC and have spent nearly everyday together ever since. We married in New Orleans in 2017 during a hurricane. Despite major adjustments, it was a dream and was featured in Brides magazine. We have started a tradition to celebrate our anniversary with our close friends and families in a huge 1920s party we call The Juke Joint. This year, we got to share we were pregnant and learned our baby’s gender in a pretty emotional gender reveal. 
We were both excited when I found out I was pregnant. The hard part was keeping it a secret for a while until we were ready to share. Things didn’t change much for me. I care for patients in the office — or outpatient setting — and I started showing during the winter season, so I chose to wear concealing clothing for a long time, which gave me time to share with my patients on my own terms.
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🌟⁣ True story - We got married in a hurricane and will soon be welcoming our first baby together in the midst of a pandemic. ⁣⁣ ⁣~⁣ When I shared this connection with my husband, he also found these events to be wild, but unlike me and my typical reaction to sulk in my sorrows — no baby shower 😪, no maternity shoot😪, no possibility of being surrounded by family 😪😪 —, he brilliantly and calmly shared, “You can and will have those things - it will just look different than what we’ve planned”⁣⁣ ⁣~⁣ There is no one in this world that I could imagine or even want to go through life’s obstacles with. LAW, you always find a way to pivot, to keep me on my toes, showing me ways to make the most of what I have. Doing it all with confidence and a smile. Never wavering in your belief that it will all work out. You challenge me (us) to create our own traditions, our own interpretation of “the norm”, to focus on the love and honoring that. The way you move in life and the lessons I’ve learned from you have arguably opened my eyes to how adjusting to life’s twists and turns have given us our best. ⁣⁣ ⁣~⁣ The best is yet to come. 💙⁣⁣ ⁣ 📸: @supremestreet #lawandjess⁣⁣ #askdrjess ⁣ W H E N • T H E • U N T H I N K A B L E • H A P P E N S ~ F I N D • A • W A Y • T O • C R E A T E • P E A C E ⁣⁣ 🌟

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We planned for a home birth before the pandemic. With Black maternal death rates from complications of pregnancy and birth three times higher in the US than white women and 12 times higher in New York City, I was concerned my voice would be silenced in a hospital birth. My pregnancy went very smoothly and I imagined having a birth that would also. After much research, we came to this choice because it would give us autonomy and the option to have a gentle birth. It was such a beautiful experience. My husband made red beans and rice when I went into labor and that was the first meal I had after the baby was born. 

In most cases, you do have everything the baby needs: love and your presence. That’s a pretty amazing fact.

Jessica Clemons, MD
We didn’t get to have the traditional milestones of pregnancy, but our philosophy in our relationship is very much about embracing the moment and focusing on the good. So that’s what we have done. My husband shot pictures of me for an in-home maternity shoot. And since our baby was born, we look at this time as a period for our family to develop a deep bond as we remain safe at home together. We have used video chat to introduce him to all of our family and friends. The special feelings were all there. I don’t feel like we missed out on anything. We also look forward to when we can all get together because we know how to celebrate life. Spending moments with family is so important to us.
I practice mindfulness every morning. I usually wake up early as the sun is rising, I listen to the birds, watch the colour in my room change. And now, I embrace my sweet baby, who changes everyday, and do my best to remember the moment, the way he smells, the feeling of his hand in mine, the sounds he makes. It really grounds me for the day and helps me to remain appreciative of all I have.  
I think it’s best for new mums to practice self-compassion. Striving for perfection is a set up. Just enjoy the ride. Accept there will be good days and others may be challenging. But it will pass.
You are more prepared than you think. In most cases, you do have everything the baby needs: love and your presence. That’s a pretty amazing fact."
Ryan Norville, Founder of Oat Cinnamon
"I've known my husband Kyle for most of my life at this point. We met 12 years ago as teenagers while we were at summer camp. We were part of the same church community, so we always had mutual friends and eventually became friends as well. He went to college a few years before I did, so we remained really good friends after meeting, for about five years. We definitely liked each other, but we were both immature. Kyle went through a few huge family transitions, and I knew he really needed me as his friend for a while. 
We then dated for almost four years and now we've been married for a little over three years. It's been such a journey. He's my first love and was my first boyfriend, but I can never stress enough that our dynamic works so well because of those first years of strictly being friends and nothing else. We've put in 12 years of prior work, which results in all the cute Instagram photos, and I'm sure becoming parents is about to introduce a whole different set of challenges.
Right now we are pretty much in the home stretch at the beginning of our third trimester. I haven't told our friends our exact due date so they don't get too antsy and pass along any anxiety. But I would definitely say the mum journey honestly just started off as quite a surprise. We weren't even thinking of having kids for maybe a few years, so I think the first trimester we were both just processing the reality of it. The second trimester was spent mostly at home during quarantine, so it allowed both my husband and I to take as much mental space and time as we needed to do research, address any fears, etc.
I found out I was pregnant around Thanksgiving, and it honestly wasn't one of those typical pregnancy scares; I didn't even think I was pregnant. It was more like 'eh, we kind of have been pretty reckless lately, let me just make sure I'm not.' So seeing the positive test result actually knocked the wind out of me.
I was shocked, it didn't feel like real life, I was alone at home. I assumed the test was wrong, expired, malfunctioning. Because surely, there was no way I was pregnant. So I took another test, and then went to my doctor. After the doctor confirmed it, I think first I just felt extremely incompetent to be a parent, like I just didn't think I should be allowed to. I knew very little about babies and pregnancy and had a five-year plan. But after talking to Kyle and praying about it, we felt like we had the resources to love and care for a new family member, and it would never feel like the perfect time to have a kid.
What I’m most looking forward to about motherhood is the tax breaks and drinking wine again — heh heh. But really, I think getting to teach our kids the world as we see it, to shape them with so much love and support and see what talent naturally manifests from them. I'm excited to see this new form of love I've never experienced with any other human before, and all the baby hugs and kisses.

I'm excited to see this new form of love I've never experienced with any other human before.

Ryan Norville
Kyle and I had such different upbringings that we've had to talk, and continue to talk so much about what parenting means to us. I had a really difficult childhood filled with a lot of different challenges, while also dealing with so much generational trauma passed down from older generations. Kyle is a first generation American born from two parents who grew up in Barbados. So while hard work was really instilled in him, his parents were really easy going, and we realised we grew up on totally different principals — but we both like how we turned out as adults. 
We talk a lot about giving our child a sense of balance, letting them have respect as an individual and allowing them to (respectfully) question everything and encourage curiosity. And definitely teaching them not only about their rich history as a Black American, but also instilling a global sense of education on the world around them.
It's definitely really an unconventional time to have a child. While Kyle does have his dad and lots of family still living in Barbados, his Bajan family members that are in the states mostly live very close to us in Brooklyn. All my family is from New York and they still live here, so luckily we still have access to a great majority of our family if they want to go by our house and see us from the window, or get creative with staying socially distanced while still being involved in our lives.
Given that, I really haven't been worried, we feel so lucky to have our families that close. We were never planning on having a maternity shoot, or gender reveal. The gender is actually still a surprise to everyone. We take photos at home that are meaningful to us and stay private. I've enjoyed the privacy of this time since my job is largely based on telling people about my life. These honestly seem like very small sacrifices to me given what other people have experienced during this pandemic.
I’m practicing self-care by avoiding all extremes. I take naps when I need to, exercise when I can and in ways that feel right for me. I make sure I eat enough veggies for the baby but I'll still have a milkshake if I want one. Kyle has helped me mentally but also has instilled in me that my body may not be able to do some of things it could pre-pregnancy. By creating a human, my body is working harder than it ever has before, and for that I need to be kind and gentle to it.
I am still learning so much every day. To other new mums, I would say be ready to ask for a lot of help because you are certainly going to need it. Lean into whatever resources you have and be honest with how you're feeling at all stages, whether physically, emotionally or mentally. Finally, try to still embrace what makes you feel like an individual. For me, that means being able to still do the things I enjoy for myself — within whatever is possible and still healthy for the baby."

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