My first born, due on Christmas Eve, arrived a full three days late—an ounce shy of 10 pounds. I had an emergency cesarean section that didn’t go well. The first time I remember not thinking about my kid, he was only an hour old. I’d never experienced the degree of sheer pain I immediately suffered post surgery. I’m convinced that I wasn’t given enough anesthesia; the physical trauma of being sliced open wide enough to remove my robust baby wasn’t masked long enough by drugs. Imagine novocaine wearing off after a root canal before you’re even out of the chair—times 1,000! It was terrible. Not very long after my son’s birth, I was wailing in pain, screaming for help, literally begging the Creator to save my life.

Once I was stabilized, the euphoria that had overcome me the moment I first saw my baby returned. Funny how extreme sensations can linger in your psyche: I vividly recall the nurse hoisting him above the sheet that separated me from the sight of “delivering” him, and how he took my breath away. That sudden rush of emotion was almost suffocating. My arms were tied down, wide open so that my body made a cross. Though I was restrained for those first few slow-motion minutes, I felt bird-like free. Even my eyes tingled. “Oh, my God,” I heard someone say. It was my own voice.

“You’re a mother.” I was finally a mother. Nothing would ever undo this beautiful and tremendous fact. (Who knew that an hour later, pain would later make me want to.)

Only now, much further along on the motherhood journey, have I recognized that to experience conflicting emotions, warring feelings and diametrically opposed realities is an inherent—and defining—characteristic of motherhood itself. The day I first gave birth was a symbolic foretelling; I’d been higher—and lower—and higher again than I’d ever been. Even today, I bounce between thinking I am the Absolute Best Parent 100 Percent to knowing I am the #worstmomever. Sometimes when I find myself tripping (like us Moms do so expertly), I simply try to remember that this path of shepherding the lives of others is supposed to be complicated: It takes necessary winding roads so that we might discover the things we weren’t even looking for. It is wrought with self-analysis—and when we are lucky, self-revision—so that both mother and child are made better.

At least, that’s how I see it.

I love my children sooooo much (you’d think I’d stop after one, yet my first has a little brother). But let me say this and free all the Mamas of the world at the same damn time: I love me, too. My latest internal conflict is one that has to do with where I (me, Kierna) end, and where the next phase of motherhood (“Mommy! Ma! He won’t let me have the Playstation!”) begins.

Now that my boys are tweens, I am unsaddled from early childhood parenting, a time where virtually no need can be met without Mommy’s intervention. Now as my kids’ independence flourishes, mine happily threatens to return. I actually like to read for hours and not be bothered. I like to shop for hours and not be bothered. I like boutique hotels, new restaurants and sexy grownup places. But being away from my babies as much as I already am for work, means that indulging myself now feels extra selfish. If I’m only home two weekends out of the month, and one of those is deliberately spent mostly without Frick and Frack, what the heck kind of mother am I? The truth is, it is also still a pure joy to curl up with my growing boys and watch WWE or whatever weird thing that’s captured their imagination. Oh, the Yin and the Yang of it all.

All throughout this issue you will find stories steeped in the complexities of Black motherhood. Star quarterback Cam Newton’s mom shares about the power of giving adult children space (p. 100); a mommy-to-be offers anti-stretchmark tips (p. 45); Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux reveals her fears as a mother—and frustrations as a daughter (p. 40); CNN anchor Don Lemon gets personal about his mom AKA best friend (p. 110); Lifestyle Director S. Tia Brown encourages single moms to Keep. Their. Sexy (p. 92).

Working on this issue was my reminder that, hey, perhaps we should judge all mothers a little less. Moms do their best the whole world over. Speaking of the world, you may also sense a more international reach in these pages. Travel with us throughout the Diaspora as we go near and far. Mother Africa’s children (alla us) span the entire globe, y’know.

Sprinkling #BlackMomMagic,

Kierna Mayo,