Motherhood as Poetry: Digging In With Erica Nichole

Editor’s note: Erica Nichole is the voice behind www.everythingenj.com. You can follow along her motherhood journey on Instagram at @edotnichole.

Erica and me // 2014

To Erica: We were just kids back then. We were two women writing our way through and fighting hard to find our footing in an online world that barely knew our names. At least that’s how I remember that serendipitous day back in November 2013 when we met for the first time at brunch on 140 7th Street.

It’s nearly impossible to believe all that has transpired between us and within our spheres since then. Losses and gains. Accolades and upsets. Ripped ropes and restoration. Beginnings and endings. Ground zeroes and heavenly skies.

Erica, you are my soul sister. Through and through. To the moon and back.

I can’t tell the Internet world exactly what I said on a hot day in late summer when you asked me to be Kairie’s godmother. But what I can say is that I have always believed in living a big life, and when you entrusted me with that responsibility, you made my life that much bigger. You made it grand. You made my world extend beyond myself. I am so honored and excited to share a bit of your motherhood story here. Your motherhood – how it ebbs and flows, how you share it and protect it, how it moves and matures – has always been a unique and sacred form of poetry.

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During the past year, we have witnessed your evolution from a mother of two to a mother of three. This coincides with the ways in which you’ve changed as a writer and storyteller. Tell us a little more about what’s been surging through your head and heart in the past year. 

Wow. Well, I believe giving birth to a daughter after having two sons changed the dynamics of how I view womanhood and motherhood, and those two things definitely are large components of my writing. Looking back at my journey of storytelling over the years, there was a rawness to my words and tying that into life at home with boys, reflected my style of parenting–being very straightforward, no cookie-cutter, unfiltered truth. In having a girl, that same way of guiding her is going to exist, but I’ve been focusing a lot more on my words and my why’s. Part of that is attributed to my own mother who was very straight-to-the-point, but didn’t explain the methods to her madness, so there was an air of mystery to her that complicated how I looked at parenting. I said that if I ever had a daughter, going into depth with things as to help her develop a sense of understanding on what we go through as women would play a major role in how I raise her. That promise I made to myself for her manifested itself in the letter I wrote to her which to me, is the strongest piece of writing I ever put together.

Although you were on sabbatical from blogging throughout your pregnancy, you often times chronicled your experiences through social media, specifically Facebook. What about social media lends itself to self-expression in a way that’s different from blogging?

I think with blogging, you have to be very strategic about content, especially if you’re aiming to make the shift from an online space to a brand. That’s at the forefront of my mind at this stage with Everything ENJ, so I knew that I wanted to come back strong and that would be through the open letter after my daughter was born. With social media, I was able to get my thoughts out in a way that wasn’t so structured, but still allowed me to document my pregnancy without thinking too deeply about format or editing. With blogging, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can be a bit of a perfectionist, whereas on platforms like Facebook where I’m ‘friends’ with people I actually know outside of the screen, I write without much thought about “fancying” the content. The smaller pieces on social media segue into bigger posts on the blog which is a good balance for me as far as writing on different scales.

Since your daughter Kairie was born, you have combined stunning black and white photos with short narrative on Instagram in such a captivating way. How does photography enhance your work as a storyteller? How do the two forms of art play off of one another?

As a storyteller, it’s important to paint a picture to draw the reader into my reality. For me, I found it’s one thing to write on the memory of what something was; its another to have the ability to capture an exact moment in time and be able to relive that experience through visuals that make for more in-depth storytelling. You can look at a photo and form your own conclusions on the why and the how behind it, which is one of the things I love about photography, but it’s fusing a personal narrative with what you see that changes the point of view. I’ve always said “shifting the perspective” is one of my top goals as a writer. So incorporating pictures gives the reader direct access into what it is I’m seeing and drawing inspiration from exactly; adding a blurb or an entire blog post gives the reader insight without room for interpretation, from the angle of a mother.

Erica’s children (L to R)
Kairie – 3 months
Kamryn -7
Kaevon – 8 [photo by Erica Nichole]

You also do a great job anchoring your work with quotes and voices of other writers. What are some of your favorite quotes about motherhood?

Thanks! There are so many words I use from women of color, women that are mothers, women that have never bore children in my work, but my favorites are from Black women in the arts. I love a quote from Toni Morrison that says:

“…I never felt more free in my life until I had children. They were just the opposite of a burden. But for Black women, enslaved, to have a child that you were responsible for that was really was, that was really freedom. Cause they took those children; you didn’t have children; you may have produced them, but they weren’t yours. They could be sold [and] were sold. To be a mother was the unbelievable freedom.”

A quote from Jada Pinkett-Smith that reads:

“I think the re-massaging that we, as mothers, need to have and gravitate to is that you have to take care of yourself in order to have the alignment and power to take care of others at the capacity that we do, because it fills the well. What I believe that I do takes so much energy, so much work from the heart, spirit, and creativity, that I have to be responsible enough to take care of me.”

And a quote from Shonda Rhimes:

“All the greeting cards are about sacrifice. ‘Mother, you gave up so much for me. You worked so hard for me. You sacrificed so much. You were so wonderful and giving and selfless.’ Where is the greeting card that says, ‘Mother, you taught me how to be a powerful woman,’ ‘Mother, you taught me how to earn a living,’ ‘Mother, you taught me how to speak up for myself and not back down?’ Those are the greeting cards that should be out there. Those are the qualities that we would want for our daughters to have. I don’t want my daughters to grow up and think, ‘I should shrink and be in the background. I should be selfless. I should be sacrificing. I should be silent.’ That’s not what I think a mother is.”

How would you describe each of your children?

Kae, 8, is definitely the most compassionate and sensitive of the bunch. His challenge is acceptance, and he tries really hard to fit in and make people laugh and feel good. When that falls through, it sort of crushes his spirit because he “feels” so much. So his dad and I are working on helping him understand rejection, while letting him know there’s nothing wrong with the emotions he shows. A lot of parents kill that side of Black boys from early on, and I really want him to embrace that, but channel it properly.

Kam, 7, is the more quirky child who dances to the beat of his own drum. He’s definitely the more rebellious one and fitting in isn’t his forte. He’s incredibly smart (he’s currently in first grade reading on a fourth grade level) and he likes to be left alone most times which he takes up from his father. I’m excited to see who he’ll evolve into over time just because there are already so many layers to him that are fascinating to witness.

Kai, 3 months, already displays sides to her that are interesting because I see so much of who I am now in her as a baby. She has sass, she has attitude, she demands attention that her brothers didn’t at that age. I think she’ll pose more challenges for me as a mother and there will be more self-examination as a woman being in her presence, and that’s what both excites and frightens me for the future.

Kae, 8 [photo by Erica Nichole]

I recently joked with GG that being a mother of three seems like it’s in a different stratosphere from being a mother of one or two. What’s different about you now as a mother of three? How have you changed as a parent since having your first child?

Ha, this reminds me of a quote that’s been circulating on Instagram that said “Having one child makes you a parent; Having two makes you a referee; Three or more? You’re basically a bouncer.” On the letter to Kairie, I went on this whole journey on my road to motherhood and reflecting on the last eight years has been cathartic. Having my sons in my early twenties and then back-to-back, I don’t think I ever had a chance to really sit back and spiritually measure how much I’ve grown through raising my children until piecing that together. I just wanted to get it [parenting] right.

When I had Kae, I was very much uncertain about who I was and again, my mother and her relationship with her mother set the tone for how I viewed motherhood. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what it is I wanted to adopt from my upbringing and my mother’s methods of raising me. Honestly, I’m still trying to figure it out, but from Kae to Kai, I’m more patient with myself and with my children. I’m more accepting with failing than I was years ago. I’m more understanding of my shortcomings, but cognizant of the fact that the mistakes I make don’t define my motherhood and I have plenty of opportunities to shift those shortcomings into successes.

What is unique and special about mothering two black sons?

Teaching them that they’re valuable in a world that views them as disposable. Guiding Black sons and telling them they matter and more so, showing them they matter, is revolutionary. They’re very much well aware of color and I know that as they grow older, they’ll become increasingly conscious of how others view them. I hope they hold on to the words and the actions that live with them because it’s going to be vital for their survival. Being the root of their existence–not just in terms of being the vessel that carried them, but the one that raised them to believe the opposite of what the world will–makes mothering them special.

What is unique and special about mothering a black daughter?

Being a daughter who absorbed everything that was said and being a mother who writes, words will always take precedence in my style of parenting, so although it’s only been a few months, I’d say knowing the words I speak into my daughter will be the reason why she’ll hold herself at such high regard. Like her brothers, she’s going to hear she’s everything but worthy, and powerful, and magical from the world, but I pray none of that becomes her because she was raised listening to affirmations of her value. If that’s radical, so be it.

From Chrissy Teigen recently sharing her struggle with post partum to Beyoncé’s twins reveal, there is a lot of rhetoric in popular culture about pregnancy and motherhood. What is affirming about these narratives? What is challenging about them?

What’s affirming is knowing that although motherhood looks different for every woman, we all share similar stories about how our lives are changed through our children. We all experience some form of loss and gain. In Chrissy’s story, it’s feeling like she lost herself after giving birth to her child; in Beyoncé’s, it’s having the ability to bare twins after having a miscarriage. No two mothers, as no two children, are the same, but it’s that underlying theme that connects us. That’s the human experience.

The challenge, however, is determining how much of your motherhood should be exposed. I remember posing a question on my Facebook when I was pregnant with Kairie on a parent’s decision to share photos of newborn babies and the feedback was mixed. There were mothers who felt women shouldn’t “tease” the public; then there was the other side that thought mothers shouldn’t have to prove something so private. Social media is to thank or blame for this.

I think with Bey and the controversy that surrounded her pregnancy with Blue sort of came this demand to share pictures of your belly. That’s unfortunate because the world we live in calls for constant access to your every move and your body. We’re sharing maternity photos and milestones, we’re sharing stretch marks and breastfeeding journeys, and while a lot of those things should be celebrated in hopes of normalizing them, it just sucks that some mothers feel the need to give, give, give just to satisfy a cultural desire and prove a point instead of aiming to shift the narrative.

Kairie, 3 months [photo by Erica Nichole]

What’s next for you as a mother? As a writer?

Well, I’m done in the baby department, so I’m just excited to raise my children and watch them grow because I know with that comes more growth within me. They’ve been my greatest teachers.

As a writer, Everything ENJ is about to undergo a major makeover for my thirtieth birthday, so that means more content soon! Nothing will change as far as what I write about, but I’ll be documenting more on motherhood because the vision is to have my children read the blog in the future. I have a few surprises I hope to roll out by the end of the year, and early next year that involves working alongside other writers, so fingers crossed that comes into fruition. And I hope to write for one or two major online spaces, so I’ll be jumping back into the pitching pool, too, in hopes of strengthening my writing.

Finish this sentence: Motherhood is: a testament to the depths of love, a reflection of ourselves through our creations, and a signifier that God does exists.

Erica Nichole is a twenty-something native New Yorker, mother of two boys and one daughter, a woman in a complicated situation and the writer behind Everything EnJ. She has penned for notable outlets including VIBE Vixen and xoNecole. Connect with Erica Nichole via Twitter and Instagram and @edotnichole.

Guest Writers Week | It’s Time to Change the Narrative

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By Cristina Cross

It was around 2 p.m. on a Sunday St. Patrick’s afternoon when life took on a sobering reality. I looked down at a stick and saw two bright red lines staring back at me. As I sat on my porcelain throne, thoughts throbbed through my head. Did I see this correctly? What did two lines mean again? No. NO. Can’t be. That’s impossible…

I was 26, an academic honor student in the middle of college transfer decisions, finishing up midterms and living the comeback-kid dream.

And then I found myself pregnant and in love.

I had the course of the next five years of my life mapped out and in progress. The plan was to transfer into a four-year university, do amazing work as a student and intern, network and graduate. Afterwards, it was grad school, travel or a career depending on the outcomes… starting a family was not a part of that plan. At least, not yet, and while I had my plans, life had other ideas.

Naturally, the experience weighed heavily on me. I sought advice from trusted friends and family and one conversation stood out in my mind. As I expressed my dilemma and my latest stance on it, I recall a confidante saying, Bbut you’ll be on welfare for the rest of your life! You’ll be one of those moms living in the struggle. And that’ll be your life.” At that moment, it became clear to me all of the social implications attached to disenfranchised mothers and welfare for that matter.

Then it hit me. Why is the topic of having a child amongst my millennial peers met with such disdain? Upon contemplating motherhood as an option, why is the “Your life is gonna be ruined!” spiel the immediate and at times the only response? Granted, it wasn’t necessarily a planned pregnancy that I was experiencing and yes, I was unmarried. However, I’m no longer a teenager dealing with the issue, but rather am mature and responsible enough to grow into the role.

So what’s going on?

Do our peers, schools and workplaces punish women for what our bodies are biologically designed for? If so, at what costs? Studies have proven that there is a wage gap for women with children under the age of 35. Somehow there’s an implicit message that devalues women and mothers systematically.

I too always thought that if I were ever in this situation, I would not have the child. It seemed like a no-brainer. I was never one to woo over other people’s babies nor did I have the fantasy of being married with a family by a certain age. None of my friends had children yet and I understood that motherhood was not a prerequisite for womanhood. However, once I was faced with the decision it was much more complex than that. For once in a long time, I was genuinely conflicted.

Equipped with this knowledge, I had a choice to make. After days of deliberating and planning, I pursued motherhood and the responsibilities that came with it. Of course there were many other factors that led to that decision, like the fact that I have a supportive man and family. We were in this together, which is something I understand not everyone has.

So here’s my journey… It’s been quite some time since I looked down at that test in shock. My son is now a year and a half old and I am finally in my senior year of college. My man and I have such a strong bond and my son is growing up in a home filled with love and laughter.

My life hardly looks like what it was pre-baby days. So how am I doing it? Simple.

One. Step. At. A. Time.

Juggling college and family responsibility is definitely not easy; however it becomes more manageable by the day. Though, my son came at a time when I least expected it, he is charismatic, bright, handsome and a plethora of other great adjectives. He exceeds my expectations far more than any child I could have asked for.

Yes, it would have been ideal for us to have met once I graduated, got married and had a secure job with benefits, but that’s not how it works. Plans go sideways. Surprises reroute the path of our visions. And we must adapt. My son’s existence shows me how much more I can grow, pushing me to build and discover the best parts of myself, allowing me to expand upon them.

Along the way, I continue to learn lessons and try to better myself through it all. Sure, life has changed, but I still enjoy my youth and many times do so with my child in tow. I look forward to living out this new chapter one adventure at a time.

Major changes like these challenge us to take a deep look into ourselves. I’m not in any way condemning the decision not to undertake motherhood or opting for an abortion. Those are some very personal decisions to make. The best choice looks different for everyone. I am saying however, that having a child does not have to be a death sentence for our goals and dreams. It is still possible to achieve them and live them out. I’m simply calling out the pattern of judgment and premature condemning and assumption of a life unfulfilled by our peers. Yes, life will change dramatically, but adjustments, a shift in perspective and support go a long way.

My story is not unique. There are many other positive ones out there, but they go untold or are overshadowed by the stigma of unplanned pregnancy. A supportive, patient ear can make a tough topic and decision much easier to digest. Regardless of the outcome, events like these are a growing process and can be equally empowering. Let’s not rob each other of that. I hope you’ll consider changing the narrative with me.

Cristina is an optimistic-realist navigating through life’s daily mishaps and adventures. She’s almost at the finish line with her undergraduate degree in Public Policy. If she’s not studying, she’s venturing out with her little family in the sunny Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area. She’s new to the blogosphere and working on launching her blog. In the mean time, welcome her and connect with her on and Instagram @cocoa_belle and Twitter @bronze_muse

Guest Writers Week | Something From The Fire

ev quote

By Ev Petgrave

When I think about a “journey,” images of exotic, faraway lands and an expectation that a profound meaning of life will proclaim itself come to my mind. My journey into womanhood has been anything but those things.

My exploration of womanhood (which I’d much rather call it), has been saturated with mistakes, ignoring my intuition, feeling the consequences of ignoring my intuition and ultimately learning why I should never ignore my intuition.

Being a woman means being an embodiment of love. Love was something that I never had a lot of growing up with a mother like mine.

My mother is not the archetype for all mothers. We aren’t close and she was never very affectionate. Throughout my childhood and still to this day, I’ve watched her jump from relationship to unhealthy, abusive relationship and put her children last, all for the love of money and herself.

You’ve seen enough Tyler Perry movies to know what kind of effect this would have on a young woman. I struggled with self-love and feeling like I wasn’t good enough, which led to my own period of unhealthy relationships.

I didn’t have a blueprint for becoming a woman. No one showed me what it took to take care of myself, my heart, my mind or body. Most importantly, no one taught me to trust my intuition. The very thing that would’ve spared my heart from one-too-many hard lessons.
The thing about lessons is that while they can be tough, there is always something life-changing to be gathered from the ashes after all of the smoke has cleared.

The greatest item I have ever retrieved after a fire has been a small, inimitable human being. I named her Amara.

Amara means “eternal” in Greek and “grace” in Igbo. And my daughter has brought a deep understanding of both of those concepts to my life. Young and absent of positive support, I lied in a birthing suite studying for a psychology exam, not realizing that a few hours later, I would be giving birth to the greatest and most challenging test of my existence and womanhood.

Womanhood. The very thing I didn’t know how to embrace, let alone know how to teach a young girl. How was I going to teach her how to love herself when the rest of the world didn’t? Teach her that sexism is a social construct and that she could be anything she damn well pleases? Teach her that she is much more than a body and face and that she can be comfortable in her own caramel-coated skin devoid of enhancements?

I didn’t know. The weight of my choice landed on my chest and I decided what I had to do next.

I started to work on myself. I started questioning all of society’s mass beliefs and coming up with my own opinions. I sacrificed time with Amara to work my ass off to finish my degree while working two jobs so that when she gets older, I could give her the time and guidance that she deserves.

I became selfless. I became a mother and a woman. I learned to love.

What society doesn’t tell you is that there are multiple ways in which a girl becomes a woman. It doesn’t have to happen after a cherry pop or becoming a wife, sometimes a girl becomes a woman after a fire is placed deep inside her womb. It is up to her to choose what to take from the ashes.

Ev a twenty-something figuring out life as I go along. She explores her creativity and womanhood one self-loving day at a time. Connect with her on Twitter @underpriv and read her work at www.underpriv.com.