Grammy Artist Melanie Fiona on Finding Empowerment as a Mom
Singer and songwriter Melanie Fiona has two new projects underway: her second baby, due soon, and MellyBelly.com, a platform to connect and empower mothers through wellness. Unable to perform during the pandemic, Fiona leaned into connection as a way to impart positive change in the lives of others. Her viral video “It’s Time We Told The Truth,” where she details the guilt she felt after a traumatic childbirth experience, was where it all began. But this Grammy award-winning powerhouse (she was in the group The Renaissance with rapper Drake) is just getting started. Here she dishes on her conception story with baby number one, her search for a doctor who makes her feel empowered and the importance of gratitude.
Lauren Kay: We say 2020 was a wild year, and 2021 was a bit of a sequel. How are you feeling in this season of life?
Melanie Fiona: I really feel very grateful and very blessed that through this challenging and uncertain time, my personal life has just come into this beautiful combination of all my wildest dreams. But I’m also very tired because I’m in my final trimester. I’m just hanging in there, trying to hold on.
LK: Will you take us back in time a bit and share your journey into parenthood? Is it something you always hoped for?
MF: I always knew that I wanted to be a mom. I didn’t have this perfect vision of what it needed to look like. I just knew that I really wanted to be a mom of at least one. And that would have been enough. But before I had children, my career always took precedence. Prior to getting into the music industry I went to college, and even then I was pursuing music and traveling back and forth between Toronto and LA. I had a boyfriend in Toronto, and I thought I was going to be married with a mortgage at like 25. But when my career did take off, my whole view of my life changed. All my dreams to be a singer and recording artist were coming true and it was so much fun! I traveled for years and I accomplished so many beautiful things. And then I arrived at this place in my career when I had accomplished the things, number one records, accolades, Grammys. Right after all that I met my now-husband.
LK: And did you talk about starting a family once you found your person?
MF: It’s a crazy story. My now-husband was my boyfriend at the time. We started talking about the idea of children, not in practice, just casually. We just started dreaming about one day having a baby and how beautiful that would be. We were all, “you’re going to be a great mommy someday” and “you’re going to be such a good dad.” And as soon as I spoke about it, I was pregnant. It was a very powerful Melanie Fiona manifestation. I have to be very mindful of my words and my intentions!
LK: You’re not kidding. That must have been a very exciting time.
MF: I was 32 when I got pregnant and I remember feeling nervous—I’m in my 30s and meanwhile, 10 years ago, I thought I’d be doing this with all this confidence. It was wild to me to still feel nervous at 32! I had established myself as a woman and as a professional, and I was in a meaningful and committed relationship. Yet there was still so much anxiety around it all. I think the anxiety came from the seed that gets planted in professional women that having children will change your career and how other people will look at you, treat you and judge you. Looking back, I’m grateful to recognize that it’s all bullsh*t. It’s not real. We have to quiet that noise so we can journey and grow.
LK: You’re so right. In some ways I found the second time harder physically but easier mentally. I had a confidence I didn’t have the first time around. How did you decide to do it again?
MF: I had my son and I was so happy and so content. I was okay with the idea of one and done, never having any ideas around siblings or a vision of three kids or whatever. But I always said if my husband Jared or my son ever wanted another baby I would consider it. I had a pretty traumatic labor the first time around so that left me with a lot of apprehension and questions—could I even do this again? At the beginning of the year my husband came to me and told me he had a dream that we had another baby. My husband doesn’t dream, ever. And he was so excited about this idea of another baby so I asked him, “Is this something you want to do?” We had just moved, just gotten married and were trying to figure out our lives in the middle of a pandemic. And right after his dream, everyone started asking us, “are you going to have another baby?” Out of nowhere it seems, it was on everyone’s mind.
But the crazy story is this: My son came to me and he said, “Mom, where do I get a baby girl? I need a baby girl.” I just laughed and told him to ask his dad. That was on a Wednesday; then on Saturday, I took a test and I’m pregnant. A few weeks later, I did a gender test and it’s a girl. Talk about a manifested baby! I believe that my children chose me when they needed to and when it was time for them to come.
LK: Melanie, you gave me goosebumps! That’s such an incredible story. You mentioned having a traumatic birth; would you share some more about your experience?
MF: My first pregnancy with my son Cameron was wonderful—I didn’t have any sickness, and I was able to keep performing and working. Toward the end of my pregnancy, there was a bit of a red flag. I put on a bunch of weight from one appointment to the next, like 11 pounds. And that made me pause and ask myself, “Am I doing something wrong?” There was no sign of gestational diabetes or preeclampsia at the time so the doctor told me to be mindful. The bigger I got, the more uncomfortable I’d be. By the end of my pregnancy I had put on over 80 pounds, and I was uncomfortable, but I felt beautiful. Then I got to labor and delivery and things happened that I wasn’t prepared for. When I got to the hospital Cameron was sunnyside up and I was experiencing severe back labor and progressing quickly. I was five days past my due date and all of a sudden my blood pressure was going up and I was swelling. They told me I was at risk of stroke and all of my birthing plans vanished. It was heartbreaking in the moment—I wanted a natural, vaginal delivery and now I was being prepped for major abdominal surgery. I had never had surgery before. My Mom wasn’t there.
And that’s when everything exploded for me emotionally. I had that feeling of being a failure, of doing something wrong or my body failing me. It was very psychologically traumatizing. I just felt so cheated. I had a long road to recovery, from walking up a flight of stairs to getting back in shape and feeling healthy again.
One day, I put it out there—I posted a video to my YouTube channel and started this journey of being vulnerable and transparent when it came to motherhood. I recorded this personal diary entry about my labor. It was intended to be just for me, but I knew I had to share it. It was therapeutic for me and brought about the healing journey.
LK: That just breaks my heart. I feel you on the guilt—I have no doubt if I were in your shoes I would feel exactly the same way, even if at the end of the day the ultimate goal was achieved: healthy mom, healthy baby. I’m sure that’s why your video resonated with so many people who also felt cheated. You opened up about something that’s rarely talked about in that way.
MF: I said it in my video and I meant it—I am so grateful that we are both here. It was the right decision. And I look back and think, “I wish I could talk to that girl, to tell her you grow so much and you learn to be gentle with yourself and how to surrender.” There’s no right way. But my story and my journey planted the seed for me to really grow into this passion for motherhood.
LK: Did you feel like you were able to advocate for yourself in the moment?
MF: I was cared for—my husband was there, I had a doula, the nursing staff was incredible. When you’re in that position, especially the first time around, you are relying so heavily on the people you trust. You’re in the most vulnerable position of your life. There was a moment during my labor that I knew. I was told I needed a c-section but I wasn’t having it. Everyone cleared the room, and then Jared came back in, alone. He took my hand, looked me in the eyes and said, “I have to leave this hospital with both of you.” This is my partner and the father of my child. It hit me, we are here and I have to surrender. It was him. He made me take off the armor and stop fighting. It was the best decision.
LK: That’s really powerful. How are you preparing for baby number two, namely your labor and delivery?
MF: It’s important for me to have a VBAC if possible. I found a wonderful doctor—her bedside manner, her approach, her philosophies, all of it was wonderful. When I went to see her for my second visit she talked about scheduling my c-section for a week before my due date. I thought, wait—I don’t get the option to try and have a natural vaginal delivery? I asked her outright: “Do I have to have a c-section because I had one before?” And she said, “It’s our practice’s policy.” So then I asked if there was anything medically or health-wise that says I cannot have a VBAC if that was my choice? And she reiterated that it was just the policy and that she wouldn’t be able to deliver me. That’s when I realized there are some failures in the maternal health system as far as women empowering themselves and having a choice.
I asked her to refer me to some other doctors who would be willing to perform a VBAC. I had to retrieve my operative report from my first c-section and have it sent to the doctors for review. What I learned during this process is that the risk of a woman having a ruptured uterus is less than one percent.
The second thing that stunned me was the calculation they use to determine if you’re a VBAC candidate. They generate a success percentage based on age and ethnicity, among other things. When these doctors input my ethnicity as Black and South Asian, my percentage was 33. When he changed my demographics and ethnicity, I shot up to 50 percent. Many doctors use statistics calculators, but this immediately made me feel that I was going to be viewed as a statistic and not as a person. I knew he wasn’t going to be the provider for me. Although he was a wonderful doctor, and I felt like I would be in great medical hands, I didn’t feel like our philosophies were aligned. I didn’t feel personalized or humanized, I felt like a number. And that was when I realized, “Wow, there are so many women, especially women of color, that go into these situations with statistics and factors stacked against them [in terms of] being treated as equal in the health care system.
I realized at that point that I couldn’t stop there. I ended up passing on those two doctors and looking into midwifery. I realized that I had to be my greatest advocate and do the homework and do the research. I feel so grateful to say that I did find an ob-gyn that is very VBAC-supportive, very holistic in her approach and very supportive of what my desires and plans for birth are. I have so much faith and trust in her that if we got to a place in my pregnancy or labor where she said, “We’re going to have to take a different route,” that’s okay. I built this trust with her and I believe that she is putting my well being first and I’m not being treated as a statistic.
I’m feeling good about feeling empowered and where I am in the journey. I want other women to feel that way. I want the system to support a woman’s right to ask questions and not be judged. I want women to feel trustworthy and trusting of the systems that are in place to protect them and provide for them. Unfortunately, we see so many stories, especially with Black women, where mothers die. Why is that happening more often to women of color? These are the questions that need to be asked. And these are the answers we deserve to have from a healthcare provider.
LK: I love that you’re feeling empowered and want to help others feel the same. As such, you’ve recently made a career shift, moving away from music and toward wellness. How did this come about?
MF: I always say my great awakening came in 2012 when I had gone through very aggressive changes in my personal and professional life. I lost my voice—I physically lost my voice and couldn’t sing. I went to several specialists and no one could diagnose me, so I turned to spirituality. I recognized the lack of grounding I had within my life and the lack of mindfulness. I was approaching everything wrong. It was a wake up call for me to say, “Hey, what is your relationship with a higher power? What is your relationship with the power within yourself?” Once I got a hold of that and found my stride, everything changed. Wellness started to be this thing that kept coming up. How do you feel about that? What does your intuition say? Once my son was born, I had other career shifts and wellness got me through it all. I realized that it was life-saving and had to be the foundation of my life.
I realized singing and music wasn’t for fame or success. It was about bringing vulnerability and truth to people so they could connect and not feel alone or isolated in whatever they were going through. I lived life with that purpose. During the pandemic, when I couldn’t sing or share that part of myself, I started sharing my wellness practices online. And that opened me up to a whole new audience and a new way of sharing that narrative. With everyone online more in 2020, I got to share a new part of myself that is so authentic and aligned with that idea of purpose in your life. I think that everyone has to just be willing to be more vulnerable in the fact that we are small in this big universe of magical events. We can be students forever. And we can find beauty and gratitude in the hardest of times.
LK: That’s beautiful. Tell me about your rituals or any daily practices that help ground you, especially now that you’re pregnant.
MF: No matter where you are, no matter what your faith is, no matter what you’re doing in life, gratitude is the practice every single one of us should have. Because when you are grateful, it’s hard to be upset, it’s hard to complain. I can say I didn’t sleep well last night, I’m exhausted and that’s going to put me in a sh*tty mood all day. Or I could turn it around and think, “I’m so grateful I have a bed to sleep in, and that I opened my eyes to live another day, and that even if I’m tired, I have this life growing inside me.” The notion of gratitude is a big one. I also love simple mediations—even laying still for five minutes to do some deep breathing is helpful. I recently bought myself crystal singing bowls and I love them! And because of pregnancy, baths have become a ritual. I feel like water is so healing and that there’s something very spiritual about washing away whatever energies or thoughts that you need to release and seeing them go down the drain.
LK: You have had such an illustrious career in music, and now you’re starting a new chapter with Melly Belly. What are you looking forward to most?
MF: I am really excited about expanding my audience in the wellness space and motherhood space, because this is authentically who I am. This is what I live. This is what I practice. Motherhood, music, wellness. These things are the pillars of my life.
Music is still a part of my life and it will always be a part of my career. It’s a validation for my audience in my voice. But I feel like with this pregnancy, I’ve been reignited back into my greater purpose, which is to reach people to impact positive change. I have this beautiful community of women who are very interested in wanting to talk about motherhood in this very vulnerable and transparent way. And that’s what fuels me and what makes me really excited for the future. I don’t think there’s ever enough we can share. There are all these amazing people sharing their stores of labor, birth, pregnancy, motherhood and finding connection with other women. And until I can get back out on the road again, I love that I’m still able to connect with people in this way.
LK: I’m going to go out on a limb here and say Cameron must be thrilled he’s getting that baby girl. How are you all feeling as you prepare to welcome baby number two?
MF: If I’m being completely honest, the idea of having a daughter is equally exciting and terrifying at the same time. I’ve only had a son and so I only know what that is. It’s a weird feeling to feel like you’re going to see yourself in someone little. I see so much of myself in my son, but to have a little version of me running around with hair to be brushed—I don’t even know how to do my own hair. But we are all so excited to have a new member of the family joining us. I’m really looking forward to putting into practice the work that I’ve done for myself as a woman and as a mother. I’m really looking forward to seeing my son be this amazing guide for her because he’s such a special kid. He’s so filled with love, so filled with light, my empathic, spiritual baby. The things that come out of his mouth! I say, “What lifetime are you on right now? Where did you get that wisdom?!” My husband is looking forward to having a little princess, yet he too is terrified. He was always sure we’d have another boy. I think this is the universe reminding us we are never really in control.
Favorite lullaby? My husband actually wrote a lullaby for our son, and I often sing “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons” by Sam Cooke. But Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” always comes to mind when I think of babies—it’s so sweet.
Favorite pregnancy or parenting advice? Surrender to your journey and live in your truth. There’s so much advice out there it’s easy to get overwhelmed or influenced. No two journeys are the same. You have to accept that and surrender to your journey. I also always think, “Consider the source of the advice.” It’s very easy for people to project their own experiences onto you and that’s not fair. Empower yourself for your own journey.
Pregnancy cravings? Fortunately fruit and more fruit. The fruit has changed based on the trimesters: grapefruit, watermelon, honey crisp apples, golden kiwis.
Favorite form of self care? Baths, and up until recently, working out with my trainer. My belly has dropped so it’s more difficult to do what I was doing, so now I’m moving my body and doing yoga, and I’m good with that.
Motherhood mantra? I’m getting to the final stretch and it’s becoming uncomfortable. I just keep reminding myself it’s temporary. Everything is temporary. You can do anything for 10 seconds, and then 10 more. I’m taking the days one at a time and giving myself grace.