Mamas At Work: Melanie Fiona On Making Peace With Not Having The Birthing Experiences She Wanted

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April 11-17 is Black Maternal Health Week. Be informed. Be your best advocate. – Team Lifestyle

For moms like Melanie Fiona, the question of “How are you doing?” is not one to take lightly. For those who truly ponder the thought, instead of quickly responding with “I’m fine!” as often done in a social back-and-forth, it is a moment to truly reflect on your needs.

“It really is the difference between bulldozing through your feelings or actually taking inventory of how you’re doing so that you can be your best,” she says.

So when answering the question, Fiona is honest about having a lot on her plate. She’s back on the road touring, she has The Mama’s Den podcast with Black Love CEO Codie Elaine Oliver, writer Ashley Chea, and influencer Felicia La Tour, she’s a businesswoman, and she’s a married mother of two kiddos at vastly different points in childhood. A lot of adjustment is necessary.

“But I am doing my best. And I think that’s the thing that I just keep holding onto. It’s like, do your best, and everything else will be fine,” she shares. “So I’m grateful I’m healthy, and I feel very blessed to experience all of these things at once, too.”

“How are you doing?” is also the most important question for women to ask themselves as they prepare for motherhood. For expectant mothers, taking stock of how they’re feeling and knowing they are being heard when they answer the question is essential. With it being Black Maternal Health Week, Fiona recalls a time when she was pregnant with her first child, her now 8-year-old son Cameron, and after a weigh-in, found that she’d gained a substantial amount of weight in a short time. Her birthing team didn’t initially take it very seriously.

“I was 11 pounds heavier. And I remember the nurse said to me, ‘Oh, have you been eating a lot over Thanksgiving?’ And I was like, what? It became this question of, well, why did I put on 11 pounds, and is anybody going to investigate what that means?”

She was tested for gestational diabetes, which came back negative, and as the third trimester came and went, “I was so swollen,” she recalls. “I had put on over 80 pounds, and no one seemed to be concerned as to why my body was retaining this much water or responding to pregnancy this way.”

When she went into labor with the hopes of delivering vaginally and naturally, she was told she’d developed preeclampsia. Her team started to discuss emergency C-sections with the singer, and she was admittedly not prepared for the moment.

“I think the greatest advocates I had in the room were my doula, my husband, and my best friend at the time. And all of them gave me this sense of, you need to surrender to what is best for the health and wellbeing of you and the baby,” she says. “And this one nurse, she stayed beyond her shift to stay with me because she knew that I was having such a hard time surrendering to this idea that my birth, my labor, wasn’t going to go as planned.”

In the end, Fiona delivered a healthy baby boy. Though grateful for that, she has spoken openly about the disappointment of feeling cheated out of the birthing experience she wanted. “I left feeling like this huge transformation happened, and I didn’t almost feel like I participated because I was in surgery rather than bearing down and pushing the way I thought it was going to happen,” she says. “And so I was left with some postpartum depression that had me trying to make sense of my experience, and I had to process that on my own.”

Once pregnant with her second child, her daughter Kaia Love, now 2, Fiona did all she could to prepare herself to have the birthing experience she wanted, which involved delivering vaginally despite having a C-section the first time around. But the hurdles were there.

A new doctor she was seeing told her that their practice didn’t support Fiona’s desire for a vaginal birth after a Cesarean (or VBAC), so halfway through her second pregnancy, she was left with the task of finding a new physician. The next doctor she was considering had a personality that wasn’t a match for hers. Another deemed that she could only be a candidate for his care if, based on statistics of Black women’s success rate with VBACs, she agreed to sign a contract saying she wouldn’t carry past a certain number of weeks.

With some assistance, particularly from Kimberly Durden of Kindred Space LA, Fiona was finally directed to a few Black women OB-GYNs. She chose one who could travel to her home for appointments and was a great support and advocate to her. Unfortunately, the star’s hopes for a VBAC still wouldn’t come to fruition as she was told she developed placenta previa, which is when the placenta grows over the cervix in her third trimester. Having a doctor who helped her process her emotions and reassured her as she surrendered once again and scheduled a second C-section allowed Fiona to make peace with the situation and come out of it a healthy mother with a healthy baby.

“I was absolutely devastated, but my doctor, she just helped me, not even just through the physical process of it, but when she came to my next visit, she took literally 45 minutes to sit with me and let me cry about my disappointment,” she said.

That support made all of the difference. It also helped her forge a relationship with her physician that she treasures years after she delivered Kaia Love.

“I still send her pictures of my daughter, and she checks on me,” Fiona says. “It made me realize that I’ve had two different experiences. In advocating for myself the second time, I felt so much more supported so that I could have access to the resources and be able to advocate for myself in that way and create the experience that I wanted, understanding that most women do not get that.”

Mamas At Work: Melanie Fiona On Making Peace With Not Having The Birthing Experiences She Wanted
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – APRIL 06: Melanie Fiona (R) attends the Netflix Ultimate Birthday Party Inspiration Event at NETFLIX on April 06, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Netflix)

She adds, “And it’s a huge issue because Black women are dying at a rate three times higher than our counterparts of other racial groups. And so it really made me understand that this is a huge crisis that’s happening and why it was so important for me to have a woman of color advocating for me in the hospital.”

Fiona has been having conversations through The Mama’s Den about Black maternal health and its impact on women. She says a high level of advocacy, like what was required of her the second time she prepared to give birth, is necessary for Black expectant parents.

“It shouldn’t be the case, but unfortunately, it’s the due diligence we must take because we have to be our greatest advocates. We don’t have a medical system that advocates for us in that way. And so yes, we do have to do doctor shopping, sadly. But also, the reality is that not everybody has the time and the resources to do that, and that’s the grave truth. So it can be overwhelming, but I would encourage women and birthing people even prior; if you are thinking about having children, listening to podcasts like The Mama’s Den, doing your research, talking to your friends who had babies, and really starting to think about all the factors of the things that you would like to have, and starting to do the legwork of, okay, well, let me look at some resources that are available in my community to start to educate myself on this when my time comes, it’s very important,” she says.

“Or as soon as you find out you are pregnant, start all of this,” she adds. People think you have to wait until you’re 12 weeks or something like that. It’s like, no if you intend to carry your child for full gestation, you have every right to advocate for yourself from the moment you are thinking about having a child. We have to advocate for ourselves from the beginning.”

When she’s not educating and offering healing and community through the podcast, performing, taking care of kids, or being a wife, Fiona is finding ways to practice self-care. At the time of our chat, she was right outside of the gym, preparing for a workout. Other times, she’s going out for lunch with friends and not rushing home right after. Most times, she’s just getting dressed up and taking care of herself. “I create spaces and ways for me to pour into myself and my own well-being,” she says.

“I think there are a lot of things that we do as moms that make us feel guilty. And I’ve struggled with that from the beginning. But the thing that I do recognize is that life, God willing, is long. And how I show up for my children when I’m there is what is important. And what is equally important is my children seeing me happy and fulfilling my own happiness,” she says.

“You have to make the time for yourself. I don’t care if it’s when you’re at home and you’ve got to put that baby in front of Sesame Street for 30 minutes so that you can get on a walking pad, or you can sit outside and deep breathe,” she adds. “I don’t care if you have to turn to your partner or hire help, or ask a friend, ‘Hey, can you watch my baby for me for an hour so I can go get to this Pilates class real quick?’ We sometimes forget that we are worthy to ask for help for these things.”

Eight years after beginning her motherhood journey, Fiona now finds joy in helping other women as they navigate their own. When asked about the biggest lesson she’s learned as she’s grown as a mother and woman, she thinks back to her pregnancies and says it’s all about the importance of surrendering.

“Surrendering to the idea that there’s only so much you can control. And then there are just the mercury retrogrades of the world that come in, and you’re like, why is this happening? Why would my child spill juice all over themselves as we run out of the house? You have to understand that there are just certain things that are out of your control, and those are the moments that really teach you to have grace and surrender with yourself.”

Fiona adds, “And that’s what truly both of my pregnancies and labors and delivery taught me. After I came out of labor and delivery with my son, surrender was my mantra word because I had to surrender through every single thing. And so when I got pregnant with my daughter, things took a turn. Even though I had done my due diligence and advocated and doctor-shopped and thought I had prepared myself, here came life. But had I not learned the lesson of surrender from my first go around, I don’t think I would’ve transitioned as gracefully through my second time of pregnancy and labor. And so surrender has been my greatest lesson, and it just helps me keep my peace in the chaos.”

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