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A Conversation With Kya Mara | We Are The House

We’re delighted to announce Raising Mothers’ 2022 We Are The House: A Virtual Residency for Early-Career Writers, which is a year-long online residency with Raising Mothers for one BIPOC nonfiction writer. The residency is dedicated to helping early-career, underrepresented writers who are also parents build their writing portfolio. The 2022 recipient of We Are The House: A Virtual Residency for  Early-Career Writers is Kya Mara. Learn more about the residency here. 


What places inspire you to write and create?

Nature and the outdoors-at-large inspire my thoughts and lead to my writing and creativity. I write anywhere really. For example I once had words flowing out of my mind and hands once in an emergency room. I like to write in the dead of the night when I can hear silence, too.

How do you balance being a writer and a mother?

Honestly, I do not! [laughs] My writing tends to suffer with hardly any time to write or finish a piece, or when it is finished, I fail to edit it. But motherhood inspires my writing, so I suppose they complement each other after all. So for me, it’s not balancing but more inspirational. 

What legacy do you hope to leave for your children?

I sure hope and pray that my girls, and well my nephews and nieces too, will always be present! What I mean is: I hope they will always create memories by being fully present in everything that they do. That they will always find confidence in their passions and dreams and to never let anything labeled a mistake define them. As Kahlil Gibran said, I would hope that they will always know that they are the children of the future!

What’s a fun fact or tidbit about yourself that you wish more people knew?

Mmmmhhh… I was crazy about being a spy. The image I had was of a great female spy like those portrayed in the movies. Also, when I was young, I loved meat so much and worried about the expense to my mother that I planted meat so it would grow and I hoped we would pick it like the tea leaves. Please note, my mother and her family are tea growers!

What do you hope to get from your residency with Raising Mothers?

I hope that I will be an inspiration. I hope that this will be the beginning of closing the door to procrastination and that this will anchor me and other women who dream of publishing their stories to make it possible to find their voice and overcome fear.


Photo courtesy of Kya Mara

Kya Mara
is an East African immigrant to Quebec, Canada. She is a single mother of two daughters. She was introduced to reading by her mother who was a keen literature student and, to-date, loves reading. Kya never gained the confidence of calling herself a writer until 2020 when she joined A Writing Life of Your Own, a scholarship she earned from Juniper Editing & Creative. Even though back in secondary school she had written a winning composition that earned her a scholarship where her school fees were paid for two years, she never considered herself talented enough. Fast forward, she is very excited about the opportunity of being the
inaugural WATH writer-in-residence for Raising Mothers as she also embarks on crafting her memoir—something she has desired to do for years. 

Learn more about the residency here. 

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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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“This wasn’t a Black woman thing.”: An Excerpt from Adiba Nelson’s ‘Ain’t That A Mother: Postpartum, Palsy, and Everything in Between’

“Everyone had always told me I was going to be such a good mother, and I had always seen myself with four or five children, but here I was faced with one and I couldn’t even handle our first day alone.”

Below is an excerpt from Adiba Nelson’s memoir Ain’t That A Mother: Postpartum, Palsy, and Everything in Between, now available from Blackstone Publishing.


Sliding into my matching slippers, I shuffled over to the bassinet to stare at the baby people continuously said was mine. With as much indifference as I offered her, she offered it right back to me, staring at me, blankly. Both of us assessing each other, imagining what the day had in store for us. I wondered if she had an imagination at that young age, and knew that if she did, she was most likely imagining a world where someone else was her mom. The look on her face said it all. “Ugh. God. It’s you. Fuck this up and it’s a wrap, chick.” And I knew it too. I had one job. One job: Don’t kill the baby. That was it—make it through the day with both of us in one piece, mostly sane and fully fed and hydrated. I sucked my teeth, huffed, and kept shuffling to the bathroom and I swear on sweet baby Jesus in the manger I heard that child suck her teeth right back. Served me right. 

Brushing my teeth and washing my face was part of my daily routine, but looking in the mirror, not so much. I knew I had been handling the most basic of my daily living activities—taking a shower, brushing my teeth, wiping front to back. But it was then when I finally looked at my reflection in the mirror that I caught a glimpse of the hot mess I’d become. The circles under my eyes were dark—goth girl dark. My hair, which I had recently cut because pregnancy had me looking like I had mange, was once again matted in the back, and literally running away from my face in every goddamn direction. Did you know hair could do that? Hair can do that. Hair can literally say, “Ah, hell nah, bitch—we out,” and try to make a mad dash for it. My skin was dry and ashy—the kind of ashy where if your grandma caught you outside like that, she would come out and grease you down in front of all of your friends—top to bottom—and dare you to say something about it. You could catch the best Wi-Fi in Houston just off the lines in my forehead. I. Was. A. Sight. If Beyoncé said pretty hurts, I was telling you that new motherhood was a full-frontal lobotomy with no anesthesia. But this is what my kid was getting. I couldn’t be bothered with cuteness when I was busy trying to not lose my shit minute to minute. 

Swaddling Miss Emory and wrapping her into my robe, I held her against my body and shuffled us both along the carpeted pathway to the living room, placing her in the safest place in the house—the round, vibrating, bouncing chair that all babies love. Though I wanted to duct tape her to the dang thing (this way there was absolutely no way she could roll out—even though she was only weeks old and not even lifting her head on her own yet), I secured the straps around her little swaddled self, moved that chair to the very edge of the living room, where the carpet met the tile of the kitchen, and left her there while I made my coffee; while I made my toast; while I made her bottle. She watched me silently, probably making sure I didn’t lace her milk with anything, and I moved silently. There was no cooing, no humming, no singing, only the shuff-shuff-shuffling of my blue slippers on the tile floor. Jeff emerged from the back of the house dressed and ready for work and immediately began doting on Emory. Something arose in me watching their love affair. It was a vaguely familiar feeling, but I recognized it. It was jealousy. I was jealous of the way Emory looked at him, the way he seemed to know exactly how to parent, the fact that he had absolutely zero fears when it came to holding our child. She smiled at him, slept on him, curled into him. She . . . well . . . we, had a marked disdain for each other, clumsily trying to figure each other out, and negotiating our relationship to one another on a daily basis. 

I had to drive Jeff to work that morning and on top of panicking about having to put on clothes that I was pretty sure were not going to fit, I was almost in hysterics at the thought of having to drive my child home, alone, in Houston traffic. Getting there was easy because Jeff drove, but as soon as I sat in the driver’s seat, I felt the walls of the car closing in. I saw the bloody car crash in my mind. I squeezed my eyes shut as tight as I could and tried to breathe my way into a regular heartbeat. After what felt like an eternity (but was probably mere seconds), I was able to begin driving, but my child wouldn’t be my child if she wasn’t going to make me face all the fears at one time. Ten minutes into the thirty-minute drive home, Emory began whimpering in her car seat. I immediately launched into prayer, begging God to keep her calm until we got home and I could get her back into the holy chair of good vibrations. But as usual, God was ignoring me, and this child catapulted herself into a full-on fit on I-45. She wailed at the top of her lungs the whole way home. And you know what? I wailed too. I didn’t know what the hell else to do, and nothing I was trying with my one free hand was working. Not shaking her foot, rubbing her leg, extra-reaching to hold her pacifier in her mouth while steering with the other hand—nothing. Not even the trick of stopping the car two car lengths behind the car in front of you at a stoplight and then inching forward while applying the brakes every couple of seconds. I thought for sure that would lull her to sleep. Nope. But it did piss her off even more—so there was that. By the time we got home my nerves were shot and it was all I could do to not punt her into that damn vibrating chair. I put her down without bothering to strap her in and ran to the hall bathroom. I was sweating bullets, my heart was racing, the tears were flowing, but dammit, we were home, alive, and up to that point, I was succeeding at doing the basics of my job—keeping us both alive. Nobody said anything about keeping us both happy—we were just focusing on alive. Anything else was a perk. 

I would like to tell you that that was the last meltdown of the day and we went on to have the most perfect mommy-daughter day ever because my postpartum depression miraculously disappeared. That would be a lie of epic proportions. What happened later that day is hands down one of the most frightening, heartbreaking, and truly unfamiliar experiences of my motherhood journey. Remembering it, I don’t even know the woman I’m about to tell you about. I’d never met her before that day. But apparently, she lived deep inside of me and just needed an opportunity to introduce herself. 

It was around 6:00 p.m. and Emory had just woken up from her last nap of the day, screaming bloody murder at the top of her pint-size lungs. She was hungry and had no qualms about letting me know. I got up from the couch and walked into her room, already feeling the anxiety rise in my chest. In my head I was trying to talk myself down out of the tree I was climbing, en route to the highest limb I could find.  I wanted to get as far away from my child as I could. In reality I was quietly swaddling Emory as fast as I could so I could place her in her favorite chair and start making her bottle. I needed the screaming to stop as fast as possible. As I attempted to fold the bottom of her blanket up and over her feet, I noticed that my hands were shaking, and in my mind, I was getting higher and higher in that tree, closer and closer to that far out limb. I managed to get her swaddled pretty tightly, perhaps a little more tightly than need be, and got her to her chair but she wouldn’t stop screaming. She was getting louder and louder by the second and the limb was getting closer and closer—that far out limb was now within reach. This tiny baby, who probably felt like I was starving her, scrunched up her face and screamed and wailed the most piercing scream I had ever heard. Every breath and wail felt like an indictment of each of my failures as a new mother. I felt the hot tears pour out of my eyes, and that’s when I grabbed the limb. 

I bent down and picked Emory up out of her vibrating chair and held her at arm’s length. She was still screaming in my face, but I refused to hold her close to me; to comfort her. Instead, I held her at eye level, and screamed back at her. 

“What? What do you want? Why won’t you stop screaming? Stop it! Goddamn it, just stop! What is wrong with you?! Stop it!” 

In my mind I felt that far-out tree limb I had grabbed onto begin to splinter. In reality, I felt my grip on my screaming daughter’s swaddled body tighten, and in a brief moment of clarity I knew exactly what was about to happen if that limb broke; if I didn’t put her back in her chair, immediately. I was about to shake my baby. I saw her head in my mind snapping back and forth on her tiny neck. Of all the horrific images that had paraded themselves across my frontal lobe since the minute we left the hospital, this image scared me the most—because it was real. It could actually happen. I could actually shake and potentially kill my child. I put her back in her chair before that limb gave way completely. I think I scared the shit out of myself. I was a child and family social worker with a background in child development. I knew all too well what happened when parents shook their babies, and I knew that at that very moment, I was definitely not in my right mind. I was too high up in that tree, too far out on that limb, and I needed to climb back down as fast as I could. I may have been in the middle of a complete mental breakdown, but I knew that regardless of the thoughts I was having, I could not hurt my daughter. I stared at her, still screaming in her chair, still hungry, and walked past her into the farthest corner of the kitchen. I leaned into that corner, slid to the floor, screamed at the top of my lungs, and pulled at my hair, tears flowing uncontrollably from both of us. I cried and screamed and cursed God for what felt like an hour. I felt so ill-equipped for this so-called gift he had given me. Everyone had always told me I was going to be such a good mother, and I had always seen myself with four or five children, but here I was faced with one and I couldn’t even handle our first day alone. I was terrified. I was devastated. I felt lost and alone and truly out of my element, as well as my mind. I didn’t know a single person who had ever experienced postpartum depression, and the only things I’d ever seen about it was in Lifetime movies where white women killed their babies in bathtubs. This wasn’t a Black woman thing. This wasn’t a Puerto Rican woman thing. And if it was, we sure didn’t talk about it—ever. Not to each other at least. I had managed to climb down out of the tree, but there was no one to tell about how high up I’d gone or what I’d seen. 


From Ain’t That A Mother by Adiba Nelson. Used with the permission of the publisher, Blackstone Publishing. Copyright ©2022 by Adiba Nelson.

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Nikesha Elise Williams | Mama’s Writing

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


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

The best motherhood advice I’ve gotten is from my own mom who said, “You need to reduce your stress because your baby feels everything that you feel.” She said this to me after I had my son and while I was pregnant with my daughter. While I can’t always reduce my stress, I try to remain cognizant of how I’m feeling so that when I’m interacting with [my kids] and responding to them or their behavior, it is not from a place of my own stress, which may lead me to snap. I don’t always succeed, but I try.  

How has motherhood shaped your priorities?

I’ve had to reinvent my life. Before having children I wanted this big New York, news [producer] life. My husband hates the North so it was still very far-fetched, but after having my son, I realized that I didn’t want to go back to work in news at all, let alone move all over the country to try to get to the number one market. It was also during my maternity leave with my son that I finished my first novel. That time to write brought me back to a dream I kept to myself in college about being able to wake up and work from home writing. 

It took some years, but I was able to make it happen, to be present for my son (because I hadn’t been, as a producer) and to see where this writing thing would lead. And then I got pregnant with my daughter while I was still trying to build a writing career. 

At [their current ages of] six and four months, I do my best to put my children first. All of my writing work must take place while my son is in school. However, with a baby at home, she’s kind of like, “Nah,” when it comes to what I think my plans are. On those days when she demands my attention, I remember Toni Morrison’s quote about writing on the edges of the day and leave whatever I have to do until then, whether that’s from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. after they’ve gone to bed, or from 5 a.m. to 6:30 a.m. before they wake. 

I also include them in my work. Whether that’s breastfeeding while typing, checking homework at a book event, or letting them both play in my home studio while I’m editing a podcast. I try to make sure their wants and needs are first, but [I] also show them that [even though] they’re first, I haven’t forgotten about myself. I think that’s important for both of them to see.

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

Figuring out what’s for dinner. I saw a meme that read, “Not to be dramatic, but being in charge of what everyone eats, WHEN THEY EAT IT, and how the food f****** appears, EVERY single day, is unreasonable AF.” 

I wholeheartedly agree.

What fictional mother gets on your nerves?

Yancy Braxton’s mom from the E. Lynn Harris novels. I couldn’t stand that lady. I didn’t really like Yancy either, but her mother was a mess.

Knowing that your children will read your work at some point, how does that impact your candor when writing?  

It’s the reason I write fiction. Ha! Hopefully, they’ll get lost in the story and not ask about the inspiration. However, the spoken word collection and corresponding one-woman show I did may be the truest to my own life they can glean something from, along with a few freelance pieces here and there. Whenever they come to those works, I hope they have empathy and grace, and if they have any questions I’ll answer them honestly. 

What’s the secret to surviving motherhood?

Friends. 

What makes you a bad-ass mother?

I’m relentless.


Photo credit: Toni Smailagíc

Nikesha Elise Williams is a two-time Emmy award-winning producer, an award-winning author, and producer and host of the Black & Published podcast. Her latest novel, Beyond Bourbon Street, was awarded Best Fiction by the Black Caucus of African-American Librarians in the 2021 Self-Published eBook Literary Awards. It also received the 2020 Outstanding Book Award from the National Association of Black Journalists. Nikesha’s debut novel Four Women received the 2018 NABJ Outstanding Literary Work Award and the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Award for Adult Contemporary/Literary Fiction. Nikesha is a Chicago native. She attended The Florida State University where she graduated with a B.S. in Communication: Mass Media Studies and Honors English Creative Writing. Nikesha writes full time with bylines in The Washington Post, ESSENCE, and VOX. Nikesha lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with her family.

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Pregnant woman standing outside against a sunset.

Three Poems

Immaculate Conception

The day my mother confessed 
She had conceived me though IUI,
Guilt swallowed her eyes. 
Her voice grew quiet
And shame took over her body.
She had betrayed God 
For a baby.
Wanted something 
So natural, 
Motherhood,
And obtained it artificially. 

Throughout my life, 
She repeatedly told me
I was special. 
I never quite understood why 
Until that day. 

 

Feliz día de las madres

I think about the first interactions 
Between my mother and I.
She’s the first person 
And place 
I called home.
The vibrations traveling 
From her mouth to her belly—
Yo sentí el español antes 
De oírlo, hablarlo, leerlo, ni escribirlo.

She would tell me 
You ate whatever I ate
In an attempt to argue
I should like the foods she eats.
I can’t deny I adore chiles rellenos
But I also can’t digest garlic or onions.
I inherited taste and malaise. 

I look down to my belly button,
It once was connected to my mother.
And her belly button was once connected to her mother, 
And my grandma’s was connected to my tatarabuela.
We all have reminders we were connected to each other—
Una red de cordones umbilicales 
Alimentando la una a la otra
Isn’t that beautiful?
Isn’t that amazing?

 

Translate This

“It seems like she doesn’t need a translator,”
The call nurse told her colleague,
While I was still on the line.

Caught off guard 
By the offhand comment, 
I am suddenly enraged 
With my healthcare provider
For the first time while pregnant.

I am upset—
My Hispanic name 
Gave me away. 
They assumed my abilities 
Based on my name and ethnicity.

Speaking in my white voice, 
Not slipping a single word in Spanish,
Even after 
Transitioning 
From English learner 
To fluent English speaker
In third grade,
To graduating college,
There still remains the doubt 
That I can speak the language.

I remember how my mother 
Was rushed out the hospital 
After she gave birth 
Because my parents were 
Poor, immigrants, and spoke little English.

Always rushed. 
Never tended to. 
Adequate medical 
Care:
Does that exist 
For me

Or does that only apply to white mothers 
Who plan,
Who have saved their coins 
Across multiple generations,
Where a baby is a blessing, 
Not a concern
nor a mistake?


Thanks for reading! If you enjoy Raising Mothers, please consider becoming a sustaining member to help us remain ad-free. Invest in amplifying the voices of Black, Asian, Latine(x), Indigenous and other parents of color at our many intersections. Tiers start at $5/month and reflect your financial comfort. 

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