Healthy Body

Rihanna’s Pregnancy Was More Than a Fashion Statement—It Helped Me Rethink My IVF Journey

Photo: W+G Creative
When news broke earlier this year that Rihanna was expecting her first child with rapper A$AP Rocky, I beamed with a delight typically reserved for close friends. She looked so happy in the snow with her precious baby bump. It was apparent that this wasn’t going to be an average celebrity pregnancy—Riri was going to do things her way.

I cheered her on with every interview and fashionable photo opp—especially the epic silver belly-baring Miu Miu ensemble she wore on Mother’s Day. Yes, girl, I proclaimed, but the haters were plentiful. It seemed that a Black woman celebrating her surprise pregnancy made people Big Mad™: Why doesn’t she cover up? Who does she think she is? There was no shortage of critique hurled her way, but Rihanna seemed unbothered. Her contagious smile made me wish I’d experienced more joy during my pregnancy last year.

I was afraid to feel joy because the joy meant this was real—that all of our prayers and hard work paid off.

After several rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF), my husband and I learned we were expecting. Don’t get me wrong. I was grateful, but my excitement gave way to anxiety when I discovered I’d need to come in for an additional test to confirm the pregnancy results. We’d never made it this far into an IVF cycle, and I had no idea what to expect. But the second test came back positive, and I learned I’d need to return to the clinic for three consecutive weeks to get ultrasounds by myself, during a global pandemic.

Each time I drove to the clinic, I muttered prayers and clenched the steering wheel so hard I’d sometimes forget to breathe. I didn’t know what I’d do if I got there and they couldn’t find a heartbeat. Yes, I would be devastated, but worse than that: I’d be alone.

Eventually, we “graduated” from the fertility clinic to a regular ob/gyn, but I wouldn’t let myself get too excited. I was afraid to feel joy because the joy meant this was real—that all of our prayers and hard work paid off. And if this was real, it could just as quickly be taken away if we got too excited or too comfortable. I wanted to shout from the rooftops and let our family, friends and strangers on the internet know that we were expecting, especially because so many people had followed our fertility journey. But I was afraid of letting those people down if something went wrong. Better to suffer in silence than get people’s hopes up, I thought.

When the time did come to share, I did so in a grand fashion–hiring a videographer to create an announcement inspired by Beyoncé’s hit, “Crazy in Love.” I looked radiant on the outside (that #pregnancyglow is real), but I was trembling with fear that something could go wrong at any moment. I wish I could have been more in the moment instead of worrying too far into the future, much like Rihanna appeared to do throughout her pregnancy.

As my body began to change, I stretched my regular dresses as far as possible and felt limited by available maternity fashion. In a world filled with “mama” sweatshirts and paisley-print prairie dressesI didn’t want my maternity wardrobe to look so maternal. Sure, I was growing a tiny human inside of me, but being a mom-to-be was not my only identity. I wanted to look and feel like myself—just pregnant.

“I’m hoping that we were able to redefine what’s considered ‘decent’ for pregnant women,” Rihanna told Vogue. “My body is doing incredible things right now, and I’m not going to be ashamed of that. This time should feel celebratory.”

We’d worked so hard for this pregnancy, and everyone else was happy for us. I wondered why I couldn’t feel the same.

In my third trimester, I developed perinatal depression. While I was familiar with postpartum depression and knew it was common, I had never heard of being depressed while pregnant. I didn’t realize it impacts between 10 and 20 percent of birthing people in the United States. What I did know was that I didn’t feel like myself: I was sad, empty and more exhausted than seemed normal. There were also frequent crying bouts and loss of interest in hobbies, such as my Peloton (though I made sure to log in every day lest I lose my blue-dot streak). I knew something was off, but, having navigated IVF, I felt I should be incredibly joyful and grateful at all times. We’d worked so hard for this pregnancy, and everyone else was happy for us. I wondered why I couldn’t feel the same.

There were also more universal reasons to be less joyful. I tried not to dwell on Black maternal mortality statistics because I needed to preserve my sanity and emotional well-being. Still, the numbers—that Black women are three times more likely to die from childbirth- and pregnancy-related complications than white women—circulated in my head. How could I beam with joy knowing what could happen once we entered the hospital? How could I be carefree when money and privilege don’t make Black birthing people exempt? If Beyoncé and Serena nearly lost their lives giving birth, what could happen to me?

My daughter was born safely via C-section, and after a brief stay at the NICU, we started to settle in as a new family of three. A few months later, when Rihanna announced her pregnancy, I realized I didn’t enjoy my own pregnancy as much as I could have. Though I know the result is what really counts, I mourned what could’ve been—a joy so apparent in watching Rihanna’s pregnancy.

Of course, we don’t know what happens behind closed doors and details have yet to emerge about her actual delivery, but seeing the Rihanna appear happy made me happy. It showed me what’s possible: I can still look and feel like myself against the scrutiny and stress that plagues pregnant Black women. I can be bold, pregnant and triumphantly joyful.

For now, I’m embracing the joy that comes with watching my daughter try new foods and attempt to crawl, but if and when we add to our brood, I’ll channel my inner Rihanna and not just her style and confidence. I’ll try to embody her unapologetic joy and vitality—because Black women deserve nothing less.

 

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