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Samantha Mumba: ‘I’m a black woman, and I’m raising a black daughter. At some point she ... will absolutely experience racism’

Parenting in My Shoes: Singer and actor doesn’t get much of an opportunity to miss Ireland or its culture, because she comes home at least three or four times a year with daughter Sage

There was always an expectation, years ago, that a person would have children, Samantha Mumba, singer, actor and mother to eight-year-old Sage, believes. “Back in the day, it wasn’t, ‘Oh, do you think you’d want kids?’ It was, ‘When are you having kids and how many kids are you having?’ So it wasn’t something I gave a huge amount of thought to when I was younger, but it was certainly something that was always in the plan.”

California-based Samantha met her husband, Torray Scales, in 2007, and their daughter Sage was born in March 2015. Pregnancy suited Samantha. “I absolutely loved being pregnant. I loved her being in me and knowing that she was safe in there. I loved my body changing. I got such a kick out of it. It just fascinated me, the whole thing.”

Close to the end of her pregnancy, however, Samantha was involved in a crash involving multiple cars. “I was probably a bit in shock”, she says, explaining how she posted some photos online without thinking, which made the news and led to family members ringing her in a panic. She and her unborn baby were fine, but Samantha says she was “mortified” by the reaction that followed. “My car was completely written off. We were very, very lucky. We were in terrible traffic anyway ... going bumper to bumper.”

But, she adds, “it honestly wasn’t traumatising in that regard”.


While she enjoyed being pregnant, giving birth, she says, “was horrendous”.

In the end, she was induced. “I was a little bit unlucky when I got into the hospital. The first nurse that we had wasn’t great. The monitor that they put on your stomach to monitor everything – she hadn’t put that on properly – so she wasn’t seeing any of my contractions. She was coming into the room and I was saying, ‘No, this is getting really intense’ ... and she thought I was just being very dramatic.”

The next nurse spotted the error, and “was amazing”, Samantha explains, but because she had initially decided she wanted a drug-free birth and had declined an epidural, when she changed her mind, no doctor was available for a few hours to provide one.

It’s not possible to be any person of colour and avoid racism. That’s just a fact

Her labour was “about 23 hours”, she adds.

“I went in with this hippie mindset and, ‘Oh, I’m going to have a natural childbirth and it’s great, and my body’s built for this’.

“And I was like ‘what?!’” she exclaims, laughing. “I still can’t even articulate that pain correctly. It’s just unbelievable.”

Samantha doesn’t plan to have any more children, but she says her birth experience wasn’t the determining factor in that decision. “This is going to sound ridiculous, and I know anyone that has multiple children absolutely rolls their eyes at this, but even some of my friends have been, ‘Listen, I’m a mother as well and I love my kids, but you’re really obsessed with your child.’

“I just love my life with her and I love our life and I love that I’m able to give her amazing things and have amazing experiences with her. I just love it, and I just don’t want another one,” she says, honestly.

Samantha says that perhaps if she didn’t have a 20-year-old stepson, she might feel differently about this decision, but she isn’t sure. “Funnily enough, another big factor in that, is that she [Sage] really doesn’t want baby siblings.

“It certainly isn’t that the labour was terrible. It certainly isn’t, ‘Oh God, this parenting is so hard, I never want to do it again.’ It’s absolutely none of those things. You’re almost ingrained to have multiple kids, or have a family. Once I sat and thought, I was, ‘Why am I even feeling almost the guilt, or the pressure to have to? Do I really want to? No, I’ve done it. I’ve experienced it, I’ve loved it’ ... it’s just, I don’t want it.”

When she was a new mum, she settled into breastfeeding Sage with relative ease, continuing with breastfeeding her until she was aged three-and-a-half. “Here [in the US], it was nothing. I found myself a little bit more aware when I was in Ireland.

“I breastfed anywhere. I’m not trying to rub my boob in your face or anything, but if I’ve to feed my child ... I find it wild, that conversation, ‘Would you not go into a toilet to feed your child’? I mean, absolutely not, that’s disgusting. I did it, loved it, don’t judge anybody who doesn’t. I think I was just lucky in that it worked.

“She had the best of both worlds. She obviously at that point [three-and-a-half years] was eating loads, she was a healthy eater, but the immunity in breastmilk is incredible. I think she only had her first antibiotic a year ago. The child has never been sick, and I really do credit that to breastfeeding her for so long.”

Samantha shares a love of clothes and shopping with her stepson, Mason, with whom she says she has a “gorgeous relationship”. “He was always a really, really sweet kid,” she adds.

Although he’s now 20, Samantha has been in his life since he was aged three and she was 25. “I absolutely love him to death. I would say, in hindsight, I would have loved to have been a mother already, because I think that would have made for a much easier transition.”

She travels back to Ireland frequently with Sage. “We spent all of October in Dublin. She loves being at home. She did Halloween trick or treating, everything, at home.”

But Samantha is not oblivious to an “energy shift” in Ireland. “Obviously, I live in America. Obviously, it’s a wildly racist place. However, I live in California, which is a wildly liberal place. I’m sure there are states that if I lived in [them], in America, I would have an incredibly different experience, and probably wouldn’t stay there very long, to be honest.

“We have a lovely life in California. It’s a very liberal place. I think there’s racists everywhere. I think it’s unfortunate. I think also with maybe social media and things now, things are much more out in the open, and people feel much more comfortable being so open about it. Maybe before, back in the day, maybe it’s always been there, but it was always, ‘God, you’d never say that out loud, or I couldn’t’ ... but I think there’s power in numbers, and I think maybe people feel comfortable [expressing racist views].”

When it comes to worrying whether Sage might experience racism, Samantha says, “It’s inevitable. It’s not possible to be any person of colour and avoid racism. That’s just a fact. So my job is to protect her to the very best of my ability, [and] that’s her father’s job, and for as long as we can. We talk to her about things in a very age-appropriate way. Everything has to be just appropriate for her and where she’s at.

“Obviously, I’m a black woman, and I’m raising a black daughter. At some point she, unfortunately, will absolutely experience racism. My job is that she’s able to carry and hold herself in a certain way. My job is also to make sure that she has an understanding and a self-worth that cannot be compromised by any ridiculous statement or behaviour that somebody else can put on her.

“I think that’s just our job as a parent. I think that’s why parents are failing and even raising racist children. Why? [Kids] are total sponges and they soak in what they’re around, and what they see.

For Mumba, the low of parenthood is a fear that creeps in every now and then. ‘It’s like, Oh God, please don’t let anything happen to me. I have to be here for all of her life’

“I don’t know that racism is a new thing in Ireland, it’s just that it was never such a topic or an issue, because it wasn’t such a multicultural place. Even as a child in Ireland, I had an amazing childhood, had a great experience, but of course I experienced racism.”

Samantha doesn’t really get the opportunity to miss Ireland, or its culture, because she comes home at least three or four times a year, for extended periods. “I actually feel like Sage has the best of both worlds. I’m grateful for it because I love her being around my friends, my family and my friends’ kids ... but also I love that, where we live, I can bring her to Disneyland on a random Tuesday.”

For Samantha, the low of parenthood is a fear that “creeps in every now and then. It’s like, ‘Oh God, please don’t let anything happen to me. I have to be here for all of her life.’ That’s my only anxiety, and I’ll go through phases where I’m like, ‘Oh God I have to be healthy, because [of this]’.”

The highs are “just that I get to have her in my life. I’m so grateful that she chose me to be her mother, I love it. I really do. And I love how it’s changed me as a woman, too.”

Parenting in My Shoes

Jen Hogan

Jen Hogan

Jen Hogan, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about health and family