Mama's Writing

Adiba Nelson | Mama’s Writing

Mama’s Writing is Raising Mothers’ monthly interview series, curated by Deesha Philyaw.

What’s your favorite thing about being a mother?

This is actually a really tough question. I feel like it shouldn’t be difficult to answer, and I’m slightly embarrassed that it is….so…I’m going to give you the most honest and real answer I can give you, and I really hope your readers understand. I don’t really love being a mother, per se. I’m not really cut out for the so-called (i.e. made-up) “mom things.”  BUT…I absolutely LOVE being Emory’s mother. She truly is just an absolute joy and is funny as all get out. So I would have to say my favorite thing about being Em’s mother is just getting to be goofy together when no one is watching, and then watching her stare at me in horror when I’m goofy in public, or in front of her friends. Or when she works overtime to prank me – we live for a good prank in our house.

What’s your least favorite thing about being a mother?

*THIS* I can answer! Ha! My least favorite part of being a mother is the seemingly unending list of responsibilities – specifically as a single special needs mom. While I have a great support system and a great relationship with my ex-husband, I am mom. Everything defaults to me. Parent-teacher conferences, doctor appointments, medical decisions, medicine administration, future planning, bills, maintaining my career, growing in my career, navigating friendships (mine and hers), navigating emotions (mine and hers), trying to explain things in a way I *think* she’ll understand most, and then hoping she understands, having to travel for work and then coming home to hear (or getting calls while I’m away) that she’s acting out because she misses me….it’s tough, man. It’s really tough…and it’s a lot. I thank God for the ability to juggle it all, but my lord…

How do you balance motherhood and finding the space to write? 

I am not a morning person, meaning I do not want to get up first thing in the morning and deal with another human – no, not even my child. So this means I’m up at 4, every morning, so I can have an hour to myself to do whatever I need/want to do. Write, meditate, yoga, whatever. Then, I will write during the day while she’s at school (if I don’t have meetings or 89,873,837 emails to return), and then some more after she goes to bed at night. Basically, as the saying goes: “get in where ya fit in.” If my writing wore a tee shirt, that would be it.

What real-life mother do you admire in your community? What attributes do they have that inspire you? 

There’s this woman in my town…she doesn’t know that I admire her, but perhaps I’ll share this article with her so she knows. Somewhere, in her motherhood journey, she lost a baby. I think he was stillborn. A few years ago, her husband was hit by a car while crossing the street and almost died. He ended up losing his leg but also, the family lost his income while he recovered. She covered her family, monetarily, spiritually, lovingly. She got pregnant a few years ago and gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl. Due to ongoing health issues with her husband, in many ways she continued to cover her family [solo]. Without complaint. She was always straight forward in calling out the ways the system works against communities of color, but she kept right on hustling. Doing art, making jewelry, clothes and textiles. [Her family] had to move a few times but she’s never quit or complained. She goes above and beyond for her family, making sure everyone has what they need, and then some. During all of this, she even completed work to become a doula, practicing ancestral care during labor and delivery. The love she has for her family, her community, Black people as a whole…I just admire how she moves for her family so much. Adia, if you’re reading this…I see you, sis. I see you. You’re doing a phenomenal job.

Was there a noticeable shift in your writing before and after parenthood? If yes, how so? 

Oh, 100%! Writing saved my life after I became a parent. Honestly, it probably saved my kids’ life too. I had pretty intense postpartum depression, and writing was one of the ways, well, the ONLY way I coped with it. Motherhood somehow opened me up and gave me permission to speak truths I didn’t think I would ever speak, in ways I didn’t even know I was capable of. I used to write a lot of poetry about love and relationships and social issues. Today, I don’t think I could write a poem about love if you paid me…but I could write you a long ass personal essay about losing a child, living with an eating disorder, watching a parent suffer the effects of long-term domestic violence injuries, or coming to terms with who my father was, and then forgiving him posthumously. I can write about those things all day, and not feel the least bit concerned about what people thought about me. Oh my goodness. I just had an epiphany while answering this question. Motherhood has forced me to live and write openly and authentically, without shame, because I saw a lot of [shame] growing up in my family, and I didn’t want to raise my daughter that way. There are A LOT of things we don’t talk about in my family, and in a lot of ways, writing has forced me to break the generational curse of parenting from a place of fear, shame, and anger. It has forced me to write the scary things, the hard things, the real things…because then I’m free. And I want my daughter to be free too. Whew! These questions!!

What makes you a bad-ass mother? 

I love questions like these because they force me to own it. I said it. I better own it. Ok…what makes me a bad-ass mother. The fact that I’m still here. The fact that after all I’ve lived through, and all that I wasn’t supposed to live through…I’ve taken all of those lessons and that wisdom and by the grace of God, been able to apply them to my mothering journey and so far, we’re doing pretty dang good. To have come through what at times felt like the proverbial fire, and use it as gasoline to propel me forward….to fail *up*… to believe that no matter what I always land on my feet because God/the universe/Jah/Big Homey got us…I think those things are what makes me a bad-ass mother. And shameless plug: readers can decide for themselves by pre-ordering my memoir, Ain’t That A Mother, available wherever you buy books.

What’s the best motherhood advice you’ve ever gotten? 

My mother gave me this advice, and it was passed down from the woman who raised her – her grandmother.  “Tu vida es lo que haces. Si no te gustas – cambialo!” Translation: Life is what you make it. If you don’t like it, change it. This applies to motherhood in that nothing in motherhood (or in life) is static. We all have the power to change the trajectory of things. I keep that in the forefront of my mind, even as I rail on about all the responsibilities of single, special needs mothering. Even that will change as my finances change…because I’m working to change it. So yes, even in motherhood, life is what you make it.

Photo credit: Kathleen Dreier Photography

Adiba Nelson is an author, screenwriter, performer, disability rights advocate, and most recently, subject of the Emmy Award winning documentary, The Full Nelson. She wrote and self-published her first children’s book, Meet ClaraBelle Blue in 2013, and her memoir, Ain’t That A Mother (Blackstone, 2022)  is currently available for preorder, and will be available everywhere books are sold May 2022. Adiba has also penned several articles for Huffington Post, The Washington Post, The Lily, Parents, Parents Latina and Kindred magazine (among others), focusing on issues around race, parenting, disability and womanhood. In 2017, she gave her first TEDx talk (Skating Downhill: The Art of Claiming Your Life), and is a regular contributor to the NPR affiliate show, Arizona Spotlight.

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Filed under: Mama's Writing


Deesha Philyaw’s debut short story collection, The Secret Lives of Church Ladies, won the 2021 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the 2020/2021 Story Prize, and the 2020 LA Times Book Prize: The Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction and was a finalist for the 2020 National Book Award for Fiction. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies focuses on Black women, sex, and the Black church, and is being adapted for television by HBO Max with Tessa Thompson executive producing. Deesha is also a Kimbilio Fiction Fellow.