Being Mama: Ashley Corinne

For over a year, mama of two Ashley Corinne has been chronicling her family’s move from the US to Mexico on her blog, That Black Family Abroad. Full of wit and wisdom, she’s here to chat about pregnancy, childbirth and why she swapped the windy city for Oaxaca, Mexico.

Travel Blogger, Ashley Corinne, and her two children on a beach in Mexico

Growing up in Maywood, a suburb just outside of Chicago, Ashley recalls her childhood as being imaginative, warm and admittedly sheltered.

Her parents would often take her to beautiful natural spaces and travel out of state to visit family. These early memories, coupled with her appetite for reading, fostered a love of travel and desire for discovering and learning about new cultures.

After traveling to Mexico as a teen, Ashley made the concrete decision that she wanted to live in another country one day. She chose TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) as her major in college so that she’d have a useful skill to take overseas. But like most plans in life, things didn’t exactly stay on track. After graduation, Ashley got a job teaching English in Chicago’s Chinatown. After a couple years there, she taught in a classroom of refugees in one of the most diverse zip codes in the U.S.

And then she met Jay…

“I met him at Chicago’s annual Streetz Party, held to celebrate the birthday of Chairman Fred Hampton, the former leader of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in the 60s. Fred was assassinated at the age of 21, so it’s a beautiful way to keep his legacy alive. That particular year, I was becoming more politically aware and I learned about Chairman Fred Hampton and that he was actually from my hometown and went to my high school! I saw a flyer about the party, and decided to go. My husband says he saw my big Afro and was drawn to talk to me. He invited me to dinner and we’ve been inseparable ever since.”

After the pair got married, Jay and Ashley learned they were pregnant at the end of 2012. This was exciting, but also slightly surprising to Ashley, who at age 13 decided she would adopt because she was too afraid of the pain of childbirth.

“I could barely tolerate cramps – how could I give birth? I remember joking that if it happened, I would at least need to be out of mind on pain meds. But then I started researching childbirth and learned what exactly an epidural was and got scared out of my mind. Oddly enough, the idea of a big needle in my back was scarier than the birth for me. So, I decided to go without pain medication, which was the exact opposite of my lifelong plans.”

To prepare, Ashley and Jay took Bradley Method Childbirth classes, did prenatal yoga and exercise tapes at home. They also read Ina May (Gaskin)’s Guide to Childbirth.

“From watching prenatal DVDs to cooking pregnancy-friendly cuisines, to meditation to prayer to childbirth classes, I was literally educating myself to the point of passing out and having nightmares. We also procured a doula to augment my own support during labor as well as hired a placenta encapsulation specialist to ensure a smooth postpartum transition. Needless to say, I’m a planner.”

Finally, the big day came.

“I woke up at 2am on a Thursday morning with what I thought were more Braxton Hicks contractions, which I had been experiencing frequently. I rolled my eyes and turned over, trying to get back to sleep. Except this time I couldn’t… They were pretty uncomfortable. I went to the bathroom and wondered if my mucus plug had just come out as I stared at the tissue. Nothing. I went to lie down again, but a few minutes later, I was back in the bathroom.  And this time, there was bloody show.  My heart began to race – was it time?  I waddled quickly back to the bedroom to ask almighty Google what it meant.

The consensus: either I was going into labor now OR I could possibly still be a couple days away.

I didn’t want to wake Jay in case it was the latter so I laid back down. But soon I began to feel as though the cramps were following a pattern. When I timed them, sure enough, they were 8 minutes apart. I woke Jay up to let him know, but told him to sleep a little more – I didn’t need him quite yet, and I wanted him to save his energy for when I really did. I went out to the living room, put some blankets on the floor, and labored. The contractions felt like horrible period cramps; painful, but familiar. I was thankful the pain wasn’t something unknown or scary. At the beginning of each one, I would go on my hands and knees, sway, and moan deep and low. When it was over, I would rest.

At some point I crawled to the bathroom and threw up. That’s when I had to wake Jay up. He knew it was real when I cut him off mid-question and barked out, ‘Get down here right now!!!’ As I labored, he fed me fruit, water, and honey, rubbed my back, and encouraged me.

When my contractions were 3 minutes apart, we went to our birthing center. When the midwife (whom I took a liking to instantly) checked me, we learned that I was 7 cm dilated.  I was so relieved – I was more than halfway done!  When I finally made it to the birthing room, I headed straight for the bed into my favored all-fours position.

As hours passed, I recall the midwife filling the birthing tub for me and my water finally breaking – such a sweet, relieving feeling. I went into the birthing tub and began to have a slight desire to push… pretty quickly it turned into an overwhelming desire. Now back on the bed semi-seated, Jay and the doula helped push my legs with each contraction as the midwife did something to intensify the urges. I pushed for quite some time and I was making progress, but slowly… I was exhausted and a bit fearful. I shared my fears with the midwife: Would I tear? What if baby gets stuck? It’s gonna hurt! She soothed them all away. They decided to get me upright, so gravity would work for us. They whipped out the birthing stool, and Jay sat behind me on the bed, supporting and rubbing me. The pushing was out of my control now. The surges would seize me, and I breathed deep and down, growling the baby out. ‘Keep going! We see so much black hair!’ they said… I was skeptical, but finally she began to crown. At this point I knew I needed to finish – I wouldn’t be able to push again after feeling that! So with the final surge I pushed with all my might and her head emerged.

A few seconds later, her body slipped from out of mine. I reached down, grabbed her, and joy did more than wash over me – it drowned me as I looked into her exquisite little face. I cried, and held her warm, slippery body to me.

As they began the process to clean me up, Jay rubbed the vernix into both her and his skin, then once the circulation in the umbilical cord had ceased, the cord lay flat and pulseless; Jay clamped it. While Jay was holding her skin to skin, she tried finding milk on him – hilarious – so he put her to my breast. At last, our daughter, Tsage, was here.”

Fast forward four years to 2017 and things with her second pregnancy went quite a bit differently.

“I felt nauseous all through the 1st trimester and couldn’t eat my favorite things: onions, garlic and avocado, and bizarrely, raspberries – I couldn’t even smell them without vomiting. I craved beef, but as I hadn’t eaten red meat for a couple of years, eating it made me feel sick. I felt heavy and sluggish and gained tons of weight. Not only that, but for our first ultrasound, the doctor told us it looked like the fetus may not be viable or would be born with some kind of abnormality – but she wouldn’t know for sure until 20 weeks. So the next 14 weeks were pretty angst filled with all the uncertainty. At the 20 week ultrasound, it was thankfully found that everything was fine.”

Even though Ashley didn’t prep or exercise as much as she did with Tsage, she did focus a bit more on positive affirmations and felt even more prepared going into this delivery, which is why she opted for a home birth.

‘While my experience birthing at a birthing center was okay, I just felt more comfortable and confident with birthing in my own space, on my own terms. We hired a midwife and a doula from our community and it was a beautiful experience. I felt so grounded and connected as we welcomed our son, Fanon. I even used herbs growing wild in my backyard to help me heal afterwards. (Comfrey, plantain and dandelion makes for wonderful sitz baths!)”

Now that Tsage is 7 and Fanon is 3, Ashley looks back and reflects on all that she’s learned so far.

“The most surprising thing is seeing “little me” in them – in both pleasant and not so pleasant ways. I’ve also noticed that being around two little talkative, high energy beings all the time is hard for me. I’m an introvert and before kids, my husband and I enjoyed each other’s company, but we also gave each other space and could be in comfortable silences together. I also was the only child at home and got used to reading or just entertaining myself. So now, I have two kids that I’m pretty sure are extroverts who would happily spend all day talking to me and playing highly involved games – it’s rough for an introvert mama!

With that being said, I love being able to relive childhood again. For example, I remember the first time Tsage noticed the sky when she was a little baby, or the first time Fanon went to the beach. Their wonder fills me with wonder and joy. To guide and help two wonderful souls navigate this space and time has been both a blessing and an honor. And I get to watch cartoons as an adult and it’s totally cool.

However, the most important thing I’ve learned about motherhood is: The love and tenderness you have for your child, extend to yourself. Be gentle and patient with yourself.”

The other thing Ashley has learned is that it is possible to make big moves with little kids. It was around the time Tsage was two (2015), that Ashley and Jay started considering moving abroad.

“We were just tired of the reality of our lives…. Jay was giving the best of his time and energy to his job and there was little left over at the end of the day. Combine that with the insane Chicago winters, the police and community violence, and how expensive it is to try to carve out a nice life in the US; we just knew we wanted something more and realized that we could have it if we moved abroad.”

It took a few false starts, but they eventually settled on Mexico and moved there in 2019.

Tsage was still fairly young when we were putting things in motion, but we just kept telling her excitedly, ‘We’re moving to Mexico!’ We played her Little Pim Spanish DVDs, went to Mexican restaurants, told her how fun it would be – beach all the time, no cold, lots more time to play together as a family. Together, we packed our favorite clothes, toys, photos, books and sentimental things into our 8 suitcases and 4 carry ons and flew south to create a new life.”

Police terrorism and systemic racism played a major role in Ashley and Jay wanting to move abroad. After being pulled over at gun point with Tsage in the backseat scared out of her mind, they had to start helping her navigate the racial injustices the Black community faces every day in the US.

“It wasn’t until Tsage was 5 that I told her about American slavery – and this was after years of telling her about the beauty of our history and our ancestors.

She often brings up injustices that she observes. She’s sadly had the opportunity to ask why the police were so mean to us in a few instances in Chicago, or why the neighborhood she went to school in had more ‘fun things’ than the neighborhood we lived in. Most recently, we saw a mural of George Floyd here in Oaxaca and she asked who he was. She also noted a few weeks ago, ‘There are brown people here (in Mexico), but not too many people are as brown as us – except the poor ones.’

Breaking down colonialism into 7 year old understandable terms can be quite daunting, but Tsage always surprises me with how perceptive she is. I keep the answers to her questions honest and simple, and try not to leave her feeling helpless. I point out that things are not right, but so many people around the world are fighting to make them better.”

Curious about the logistics of parenting as an expat in Mexico, we asked Ashley to give us some insight into what a day in a life there looks like.

“Tsage has done three modes of schooling while here in Mexico. When we were in Merida, she went to Waldorf Yakun, a Waldorf preschool/kindergarten that she absolutely loved. It was completely in Spanish and it was the perfect gentle easing into the language for her.

In Oaxaca, she’s gone to the public school a block away from our home. She enjoyed making friends, but unfortunately we landed with a not so great teacher. We were debating pulling her out when COVID hit, which made the decision to home school easier. I’m a big believer in keeping things play and nature based, especially with young kids, so our homeschool lessons have been fairly informal. I recently bought Blossom and Root, a secular literature and nature based homeschool curriculum for the fall, so I’m excited to see how that’ll be.

Before Covid-19, our days were a bit more adventurous….hikes through mountainous forests, trips to archaeological ruins, wandering through colorful ‘mercados’ together, visits to museums, playdates with friends. Now, we may go to a nearby playground, walk a nature trail, or go downtown to a plaza or park to explore. After we tire the kids out a bit, we head to a breakfast spot and enjoy memelas, huevos Mexicana, avocado slices, rice and beans and a big jug of agua fresca – we’re all happy and full and have only spent $5 or $6 USD.

I get work done around the kids nap times – our lives are really about going to their rhythms. We get them outside when they’re at their highest energy and work during rest times. When Fanon wakes up, we drink tea, hubby goes to the mercado to pick up fresh fruit and veggies, and perhaps something to cook for dinner. I play with the kids and do some playful learning activities with them on the roof (if it isn’t raining). Then we go outside all together for one more walk, have dinner and then it’s bedtime.”

As if we couldn’t be more jealous… Ashley continues about how she finds time for herself.

“Thankfully, it’s very inexpensive to get pampered here, so I treat myself to some kind of spa service at least once a month. (I’m talking $15 for an hour long full body massage!) The hubby takes the kids out a few times a week, and that’s my time when I read, pray, play around with herbs (herbalism is my hobby), or just zone out taking in our mountain views while eating snacks. At night, if I’m not too sleepy, that’s my time to meditate, exercise, and write. I’ve recently found some Qi Gong videos on youtube that I really enjoy doing.

I also really love to look back and see how far we’ve come.

Hearing my daughter speaking beautiful Spanish to a surprised local, or seeing my husband completely relaxed and happy at the end of a day; watching my son grow up without a care in the world or chilling and looking at Monte Alban from our rooftop… I’m just so proud that we did it. We did what we said we were going to do – move and live abroad. It hasn’t always been easy, but we didn’t give up and we’re the most content that we’ve ever been as a family, and that makes me proud.”

 

Want to find out more about Ashley and her life abroad? Visit: 

 

IG: @thatblackfamilyabroad
FB: That Black Family Abroad
Blog: thatblackfamilyabroad.wordpress.com

 

 

Continue exploring