It Takes a Village

If daycare awarded superlatives, then nine-month-old Nairobi Velda Vance would win “Best Dressed Baby,” according to her parents. Every day, the vivacious bundle of joy sports a colorful onesie or an adorable shirt and pants combo, which she stylishly pairs with a matching headband or set of ribbon bows, for good measure. Yet, outfit coordination is just one aspect that Erica Johnson Vance and Robert Vance, Jr. tackle as they navigate the waters of newfound parenthood.

“I’m still me, but now there’s another part of me. There’s Erica the Mom, and that was never there before,” said Erica Vance. “If anything, there’s extra. There’s more to me now.”

The Vances pose for a family photo.

Having a baby was on the agenda for the Vances after they married three years ago. However, when his wife declared that she was expecting their first child, Robert Vance, Jr. was at a loss for words.

“I was shocked. I wasn’t expecting her to tell me she was pregnant,” said the thirty-one-year-old new father. “I was happy, though. I was happy and nervous.”

The feeling of happiness was mutual for Erica Vance. Although her pregnancy tests were negative, she knew that something was happening. Robert Vance, Jr. insisted that they go to the doctor to confirm her intuition. When the doctor showed them the ultrasound, she informed the couple of the wonderful news: Erica Vance was pregnant.

“I was right, and it was good to know that I was right,” she reflected. “I think that feeling carried throughout my pregnancy, and I was interpersonally aware of every little change that [Nairobi] had. I was really excited.”

News of the pregnancy elicited widespread enthusiasm among the Vances’ families and friends. Last summer, Robert Vance and Erica Vance visited his parents in Baton Rouge and hid the ultrasound picture of Nairobi in a Mother’s Day card. When Cynthia Vance opened the card, along with her husband, Robert Vance, Sr., the two became instantly emotional and elated that they would soon be grandparents for the first time.

“It was nothing but joy, excitement, shock,” Cynthia Vance recalled. “Everything just changes. I can imagine changes for Mom and Dad, but for grandparents, it just changes for us. We have another purpose to try and be the best we can be.”

To make the preparation for Nairobi extra special, Cynthia Vance teamed up with her daughter-in-law’s family to organize an extravagant baby shower. Last November, Erica Vance entered the venue at La Quinta Inn & Suites in Kenner to her loved ones shouting, “Surprise!” For the mother-to-be, the attention to detail in the decorations and guests’ genuine happiness for her pregnancy were very touching.

“It just kind of conferred to me that [Nairobi] was going to be amazing,” Erica Vance said. “I already knew she was going to be amazing because she’s mine. I’m going to give her every opportunity to be the best that she can be and give her all the tools she needs to excel.”

The Vances cut the cake at their baby shower.

Thanks to the baby shower, the Vances had plenty of clothing, supplies and other essentials to prepare for their baby’s arrival. Nearly two weeks after her due date, the couple welcomed Nairobi Velda Vance on January 23, 2017 at 6 lbs., 12 oz. Named after the capital city of the African country of Kenya, Nairobi officially became the latest addition to the Vance family.

As Erica Vance asserted, the adjust to new parenthood was no easy feat for both her and Robert Vance, Jr. While she was still pregnant, Nairobi was a part of her, which meant when she ate, she was also feeding her child. On the other hand, now that she had given birth, Erica Vance had to find a way to take care of herself and Nairobi, but this time, she had to do so separately.

“The hardest part is losing yourself. For the longest time she and I were one,” she explained. “I put myself on the back burner. There were nights when I wouldn’t take a bath, but she would. There were nights when I wouldn’t eat, but she would.”

To cope, Erica Vance began reading blogs about motherhood and joined group conversations with other mothers. Then, she began to realize that her fears and struggle to adjust to being a parent were completely normal. As a new mother, moreover, she formed deeper connections with women in her life who also had children.

The number one person Erica Vance bonded with was Nairobi. The main bonding activity the mother-daughter duo participate in is nursing. They also enjoy singing, where Nairobi responds to her mother’s voice, and taking walks outdoors while Nairobi relaxes in her stroller.

For Robert Vance, Jr., the bonding activities are central to his relationship with his daughter as well. He and Nairobi often engage in what he describes as “screaming matches,” in which Nairobi exercises her vocal chords and attempts to out scream her father while they roll around on the carpet. The two also watch television programs together, including “Sesame Street,” and Disney movies such as “Moana,” a favorite of Nairobi’s, according to Robert Vance, Jr.

“I don’t care what she’s doing. She could be anywhere. Put on the first twenty minutes of ‘Moana,’ she’s a statue,” he declared.

With two sets of grandparents, three aunts, one uncle, two godmothers and a host of cousins, Nairobi has no shortage of supportive adults and child playmates who are willing to watch her favorite programs with her. As Erica Vance recognized, her and her husband’s families, as well as the professionals at the daycare, have helped tremendously with Nairobi’s growth.

Witnessing the changes in Nairobi from her birth to her teething period is a part of fatherhood that Robert Vance, Jr.  profoundly enjoys.

“I like seeing how she grows. I like seeing what she’s going to do. I like seeing her personality develop,” he said. “I like the fact that I know I can take care of another human being because I didn’t know that I could do that.”

Although it started off as a challenge, the new parents recognize the joy of taking care of Nairobi in themselves and in each other.

“It’s so funny to see [Robert Vance, Jr.] grow and have his own relationship with her, and for her to recognize him, not just as her dad but as her friend,” Erica Vance said. “I wouldn’t have married him if I didn’t think he’d be a great dad.”

“I like being a dad,” Robert Vance, Jr. said. “I can’t imagine myself not being one.”

Erica Johnson Vance is a music and movement specialist at KIPP Believe Primary, and Robert Vance, Jr. is a junior network administrator at East Jefferson Hospital. Their daughter Nairobi will turn one years old in January 2018.

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