Melanie Fiona has become my newbie-mom-girlfriend in my head with the release of one viral video.
Here’s the backstory: At seven months pregnant, and with a supportive village of women who have been helpful throughout, I’m still realizing there is a lot to learn. Despite getting some information, I have a lot of moments where I wonder why the heck no one told me this before! Before I ever even considered pregnancy, I knew about common symptoms like nausea, mood swings—you know—the things that often get joked about in pop culture. However, there is so much more to being pregnant and having a baby that we just don’t seem to talk about, so it was refreshing that the Grammy award winning singer dropped the aforementioned video where she got really real about her pregnancy and labor and delivery journey.
First time moms learn quickly that not only can pregnancy symptoms be incredibly strange and unpredictable like the numbness in my right leg, for example, but they can come and go. You could literally be fine one day and feel terrible the next. Your pregnancy could be low risk for the vast majority and then, all of a sudden, you find yourself in your third trimester with gestational diabetes, or preeclampsia or having gained 70 pounds despite eating healthy and exercising, or having to get an unplanned C-section despite your plans to have a vaginal birth, and it doesn’t help being bombarded with images of celebrity women who seem to be so glamorous and amazing with their cute baby bumps (eye roll).
Once the baby is here, there are the mental and physical tasks of your body getting adjusted back to the way it was (kind of) before you gave birth and a lot more. It’s overwhelming, but one of the most important lessons that Melanie Fiona has learned is to let go and she’s sharing her newfound wisdom. Essence caught up with the singer/songwriter to chat about why she reached out to new moms with her story, fostering a support system for new mothers, and how she is adjusting to life after baby.
What inspired you to share your very personal birth story?
MF: I’m a very emotional person. It was honestly therapy for me and, if anything, I’ve learned through putting my emotions into my music and I’ve seen the success and the happiness and the connection that I’ve experienced with people through music—I knew that becoming a mother and sharing and tapping into the things that I was afraid to talk about, or things that I was holding aside, it was good for me to get it out. To just say it and be truthful—it was just another layer for me in expression, without having to write a song. There were times where I wanted to do it earlier on after I became pregnant and I wasn’t ready. I didn’t feel like I was strong enough to be able to share, or I hadn’t even processed everything that happened, so I waited my six weeks for my doctor to say, “Hey, you’re okay, you can start to work your way back to wherever it is you want to go to from a physical standpoint and you’re in the clear, your health is okay.”
So, once I got the okay, that’s what made me feel like it was time for me to share the truth.
How did you expect your pregnancy to go versus how it actually went?
MF: My mom got really, really sick during her pregnancy, and so I expected to have a awful pregnancy. I expected to be sick every day because I was sure that it was going to be hereditary and genetic. I didn’t, thankfully, get one day of morning sickness. I had an awesome pregnancy to be honest. I mean my pregnancy was excellent until the end. The final trimester I started experiencing edema, which is water retention.
That really put me over the top when it came to weight and discomfort, because I had never carried that much weight on my body in my whole life. It’s one thing to gain weight and then work it off or you know you can do something, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t walk it off. Walking provoked the swelling and standing provoked the swelling. Then you have to drink a lot of water, which seems counterproductive when you’re swollen because you’re retaining water, but that’s the trick, and then you got to pee a lot.
I couldn’t get my shoes on. I couldn’t even wear my favorite maternity things I had bought. My water retention just kept getting worse and worse. It got so bad I could grab my leg and my skin was so tight that it would leave an indent like a Posturepedic pillow. It was crazy, so I wasn’t expecting that and it was really, really difficult, because like I said, my pregnancy was so good the whole time. I was travelling, I toured, I was doing shows and I didn’t let it stop me, but at the end I was just so tired from carrying around all that weight. I knew a lot of women who would just told me, “Oh, you’ll get tired from carrying the weight, but, I didn’t expect to be carrying that much weight.”
I’m actually in my seventh month now and it’s kind of the same thing. I was pretty much fine for the most part, but then I noticed my feet started swelling, which freaked me out because I’ve never seen that before. Every time I go to the doctor I freak out, every time I look at myself in the mirror, I’m just like I’ve never been this big but when people see me they’re always like, “Aaaw, you’re glowing,” and I’m just like, not exactly.
MF: I know! And it’s like no I’m not! I’m growing [laughs]!
MF: My belly was huge. My stomach was massive by the end the end of my pregnancy. It was huge, it was a big baby, super tall, and my belly was huge, and I know exactly what you’re talking about. I would go to the doctor and it almost, to add to what you said about how my pregnancy was it almost took a very quick turn. Where everything was manageable and then all of a sudden I went to the doctor and it was like, oh you’ve already gained 40lbss, and I’m like, wait a second I still got three months to go, what do you mean I’ve already gained 40lbs? And I was like, how? All I eat is salad. I’m not eating cake. I’m eating healthy. You know, and that’s when the water started and then all of a sudden it was water, water, water.
It’s comforting to hear you say that, because I have my next doctor’s appointment soon and I’m just terrified because I’m just like, I don’t know about what the scale is going to say, and I really don’t want to freak out more than I have been.
MF: Let me tell you this: Don’t let the scale beat you up, because the scale is a liar. First of all, you’re making a life, so you need to put on weight. I had a big baby so I knew I needed to put on some kind of weight to have a big baby. Water is water; it will go away. If you’re doing everything right, if you’re eating well, if you’re being good to your body as best as possible, don’t let the scale make you feel bad, like you’re doing something wrong. Unless you’re eating cakes and Ding-Dongs every day then you’re okay. If they tell you that you’re blood pressure is okay, and your sugar levels are good, then you’re good.
Who were some of the women in your life that kind of helped you through with advice and in support?
MF: Mostly all of my girlfriends have kids, so I got to be an aunt most of the time and witnessed what they went through, but when I got pregnant it was really my mom, and my manager, who is a mom as well. She is also like my best friend so I’ve watched her raise her kids and she was the first person I told when I found out I was pregnant and she kind of really helped guide me along the way and give me all the tips and advice. She’s only ten years older than me so it was like having another big sister, and then I have a sister-in-law, who’s my brother’s wife, and then I had a doula. I hired a doula towards the end of my pregnancy to help me out in my labor, which was awesome and that was really empowering.
What was some advice they passed on that stuck with you? It could be one thing that pops into your mind the most.
MF: Surrender to the process. For real, because I am a controlling person I am an A-type person. I am very much in control of myself, and with getting pregnant your body changes so fast and your life has to change so quickly and you have to start to think of this little life inside of you already, before it’s even out in the world. It’s a lot, and so you have to surrender to all the change that is going to happen, and has kind of been my word to go to, even now that he’s here, is to surrender to the process.
I think one thing we women don’t think of is what happens to your body after-birth in terms of recovery. How has that been for you?
MF: That has been hard. That has been really hard both mentally and physically. I felt that my belly was huge. My belly needs to bounce back into a smaller size again because it had to stretch out. I mean like, even singing I feel the difference in my diaphragm. You have to understand what it means that your abdominal wall has to stretch that far to carry a baby. It takes time and it takes recovery. From a mental standpoint I had to forgive myself every day, try to take the negative comments that I want to say about myself when I look at myself in the mirror, not to beat myself up over holding on to who I used to be and what my body used to look like. Embracing the changes of what has happened to bring him here. It’s hard. It’s a hard thing when you see your body looking one way for so long, and I’ve always been in shape, I’ve always been athletic, I’ve always worked out and been physically fit, and even the physical process of having to be slower now just not being able to bend as far in Yoga, or run as long on the treadmill—it’s a process. It’s a real, real process that takes a lot of patience with myself. When you start to do something you want to see results right away, and every piece of advice that every amazing woman has told me was, it took nine months to get this baby here, give yourself at least nine months. Give yourself at least nine months before you start to feel like you’ve made some kind of progress.
It’s amazing to hear you say that. We see all these celebrity women who, one week later are back in a size two, and it really just makes you feel some type of way, like you have to snap back that fast too, when that’s just not always the case for everyone.
MF: Girl, let me tell you something. My vision of that, and it’s so true, because it’s so hard to like, it puts a lot of pressure, and for me, too, and I’ve said it in the video blog. I’m a woman in the media and there are women in the media right now who are having babies and everybody is going to compare every woman to every other woman, like, oh she didn’t snap back the way that she snapped back, she didn’t snap back the way she snapped back! Every woman’s story is so different and so for me, it’s like, I don’t know. Maybe that woman had a 5-pound baby and she only put on 25 pounds because she was sick her whole pregnancy and she couldn’t gain weight because she was throwing up all the time.
Me, unfortunately, and fortunately, I kept everything down, so my weight didn’t come off. I didn’t have that period of sickness where weight wasn’t gaining. I was holding on to everything from the beginning. So it is a lot of pressure and I want to encourage women to not put that pressure on themselves. I want to encourage women to live a healthy lifestyle, physically, nutritionally, mentally, and spiritually. When it comes to becoming a woman and a mother and what that requires to evolve into that.
Now that you’re on the other side, what are some important lessons you’ve learned about motherhood that you can leave us with today?
MF: One would be, there is no right or wrong. The only way is to make positive, healthy, sound, good choices for yourself and your child. There is no right or wrong, because we will compare ourselves like, oh, well Sarah did it this way and Jenny did it this way, and it’s like, hmm, you got to do what works for you. It might not work. You can take in a lot of information and then figure out what works for you.
The second thing is, don’t let anyone criticize the choices you make for your child. People always have opinions, and they’re like, oh you’re doing this and you should be doing it like this, and it’s like no, this is the way I’m doing it.
Three is, be good to your self. You are a person, and you are a woman, and you have your own needs, and your own desires, and your own worth, that do not have to completely change and sacrifice because now you have a child. You have to evolve into the new woman of self who is a mother, and include that on your roaster and your resume, and be like okay, now I get to add that on to all the other things that I was before. Too many women abandon themselves because they feel like they’re so consumed with the role of being a mother, and the best thing I think a child could see, is a mother still happy with her choices for herself and an active mother and a beautiful mother who’s taking care of herself and being good to herself. I think that’s really, really important.
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