Singer Brooke Valentine on why she left the limelight to focus on caring for her special needs son.
Today, Kanesha Nichole Brookes is a 27-year-old new mom navigating her way through the many challenges of parenting a special needs child. When you last saw her in 2006, she was Brooke Valentine, the new artist with a hit single (“Girl Fight,” anyone?) and a bright career in her future who seemingly faded to the background a few years later – releasing mix tapes and writing for other artists. What you didn’t know is that she chose to take a leave of absence from her career to focus on personal growth and to give birth to her son London, now two, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
Now she goes by B. Valentine, and she’s back with new strength, a new attitude about life and upcoming album called Forever. Brooke opens up about what her life has been like as a parent of a “little hero.” Her words will inspire all moms.
ESSENCE.COM: When did you first learn of your son’s diagnosis?
VALENTINE: When I went into labor with my son, things started becoming a little complicated. After I had him they kind of whisked him away. I didn’t get a chance to hold him or breast-feed. They were telling me I had some complications. I had hemorrhaged and I needed a blood transfusion, so I thought it was me. So the whole time I thought I needed to get stronger so I could see my baby. But what I didn’t know at the time was that my son had suffered a stroke and it was either during delivery or right after delivery. I could see the look on everyone’s faces and I knew something wasn’t right and they weren’t telling me something. A transport unit actually came in and told me they were taking him to another hospital on a “life flight”. Luckily, a nurse there noticed he was having seizures – they thought at first that it was sleep apnea. They gave him an MRI and within 30 minutes he had over five seizures. He was only a day old at this point. I drove two hours to get to him. That eventually led to his diagnosis of cerebral palsy and hemiplegia. I’m thankful to God that the seizure disorder is not an issue as of now. He was on medication, but he isn’t anymore.
ESSENCE.COM: What are the challenges you face raising a child with cerebral palsy?
VALENTINE: To be completely honest, I didn’t even really know what it meant to have a son with cerebral palsy. I had to go through what I call “special needs boot camp” and dig in and find out what it is and what it means. I learned that no two cases or situations are alike. Conversation about special needs is almost like a forbidden language. It’s almost like something people are embarrassed to talk about and they don’t want to take their child out in public because he may act out – things like that. I know a lot of parents that actually keep their kids at home because they’re afraid to talk about it with their friends and family. I just want to be that voice that says it’s okay and we can make it through this. Our kids aren’t aliens. It just means you have to pay a little more attention to certain things, but they’re gonna be okay. We have to stand up and show other parents that it’s okay. It’s not going to go away any time soon, so we have to take it head on.
ESSENCE.COM: What keeps you going?
VALENTINE: Honestly, smiles. I always tell my son that his smile could save a life. Sometimes I’ll be on the floor crying, looking through his medical records, and London just comes into the room, stops and looks at me, and he just smiles. He’s just a child. He’s so happy. He doesn’t have a care in the world. He always wakes up happy. I had to learn from him that it really is okay. That’s what keeps me going.
ESSENCE.COM: Did you take a break from your career before this happened or after?
VALENTINE: I did need to take a break. I needed to understand London’s diagnosis and situation. I needed to research doctors and try to find the best therapists there are. I really didn’t feel like that was the right time to be working on an album. I knew my life and I knew myself, and what I wanted, but I knew that this was London’s shot. I didn’t want to miss those moments in his life; I wanted to set him up the right way.
I think it’s also important for my fans to know that I fell out of love with the industry – not music. I kind of needed a break from the politics. I needed to take a life break. I had been trying to be a star and get a deal since I was 19. I feel like I skipped being a teenager. I didn’t even know how to drive when my album came out. I lost myself – that’s exactly what happened. I got on one of those flights and took off and the real Brooke never came back. I realized I was out of touch with real life and real love. During that break, I did have my son. I always say if I didn’t have that break, I wouldn’t have this beautiful baby and I wouldn’t have had that time to grow up. Now I can appreciate things better. I can teach my son better because I know now. How was I going to teach London how to be responsible or independent if I wasn’t?
ESSENCE.COM: What’s coming up for you?
VALENTINE: Big things. I’m so excited. There’s definitely a lot of positivity and a lot of smiles. That’s my mission. Along with this album, Forever, there are many more videos to come and I’m excited about my second single. I’m just excited to connect with people. Before I felt like I was performing for the fans, but now I want to perform with the fans. I feel like as an artist, if you’re not doing that, you’re wasting your time.