Parenting six children in 2020 (or any year, to be honest!) would send many of us scrambling for the nearest exit door. Troy Michel, however, has taken it all in stride. She and her husband Dave, parents to a crew that ranges in age from nine months to fourteen years, plan to wrap up 2020 celebrating the holiday season like any other year. “We’re still going to design holiday shirts, watch a traditional Christmas movie that the kids get to pick out, and make cookies or brownies. I usually go a little over the top,” says Troy.
The 33-year-old blogger, media personality, actress, and entrepreneur is as easy-going as it gets. In a year that has been like no other, she maintains a positive outlook on just about everything.
Troy, who moved to Richmond with her family from Memphis when she was five, is used to having a lot on her plate. After becoming a single mom to Rocky at the age of twenty, with the help of her own mother, Troy balanced raising her son while working an office job and taking courses at Reynolds Community College.
She had hopes of a future in the dental field, but that all changed the day Troy entered a contest at CW Richmond, a local TV station. The contest winner would be the next on-air personality, hosting different TV shows and sketches, and Troy was perfect for the job. “I had liked working at an office, but I didn’t love it. This [the position with CW Richmond] was something I could be passionate about.” Despite the busy schedule and a growing family – she and Dave had three kids by this time – Troy transferred to the University of Richmond and graduated with a degree in journalism in 2016.
Today, she lives the mom life while working on air for B103.7 Play and G104.3 Classic Hip Hop and managing the website she created, the themothertougher.com.
“It’s fun to keep busy,” she laughs, “as long as you love what you do.”
Social Media Momma
The more time she spent in traditional media and online, Troy says she grew tired of the mom-shaming she was seeing on a daily basis. On social media especially, she saw many women pretending to be perfect when, in reality, the trials of motherhood are far from that. “I just thought, ‘Why isn’t anybody keeping it real?’”
Troy’s blog at themothertougher.com does just that – sharing the joys and tribulations of birthing and raising children. Troy writes about everything from breastfeeding and sore nipples to grocery shopping, feeding her crew and the recipes that work for her family. The website has also helped launch the Mother Tougher apparel brand. “I wanted to create shirts that help start a movement of mom empowerment,” says Troy. “It takes a tribe to support a mom. Moms can wear these shirts and feel as if they are part of a community. Maybe it will spark a conversation, or two moms can share a laugh. The clothing is meant to empower and encourage mothers.” The blog and the brand have also helped Troy gain another title, that of social media influencer. “Social media is really changing everything, but being an influencer can actually allow you to bring some positivity into people’s lives,” says Troy, adding that this kind of social media presence can also create a decent stream of income for moms who want to work from home.
Pregnancy is Tough
When it comes to weighing in on topics related to the reproductive health and wellness of Black women and women of color, Troy is positioned perfectly to share what she knows about birth and labor. “It’s actually one of the main reasons why I started Mother Tougher. I feel like a lot of women just simply lose control of their pregnancy experience. I really wanted women to take control, especially Black women. Our mortality rate is much higher, and there is a thin line between listening to experts and listening to your body.”
Troy stands by this dual-pronged recommendation for pregnant women: 1) Come up with a pregnancy plan you are truly comfortable with, and 2) do not be afraid to speak up when you have an issue with something.
“Research the differences between having a midwife and an OB-GYN. Research different providers and pick who best fits with your birth plan. Don’t think you have to stick with your doctor because not all doctors are created equal,” says Troy, adding that healthcare providers have different stances on issues like natural labor, surgical interventions, and many other facets of the birthing process. “We have to remember that even though they [doctors] are the experts, we are still paying them to provide a service to us. If we don’t like our waiter, we ask for another. It’s the same for doctors. You don’t have to accept what you are uncomfortable with.”
She speaks from experience. The birth of her first child did not go as well as it could have. “The only birth plan that I had was that I was getting the epidural. I was twenty years old. I didn’t know that my doctor might not be there and that I would have a random doctor telling me that I wasn’t pushing right. I eventually ended up having a C-section.” Troy also remembers an awful experience with a nurse that happened right after the birth for which she never received an apology. “I ended up passed out on the bathroom floor after being forced to walk too soon. It was a terrible experience, and I told myself, Never again! The next time I gave birth, I would be prepared.”
When it was time to birth baby number two six years later, she was ready. “The best thing I ever did was to get a doula.” Troy says that working with a doula provides a different level of comfort, especially when it came to keeping communications open. “Again, you don’t feel like you have to be the expert. You sometimes don’t know what you can speak up about. It’s nice to have someone who has the right tools, and you can ask, ‘Is there another way we can go about this?’”
Doula or no doula, Troy wants women to take their bodies back during their pregnancy experience. “It’s about using our voice. Speaking up and knowing that you do have a choice. Own your body, and ask yourself, How do I want to give birth?”
Babies are Tougher
Having a well-thought-out birth plan is one thing but, as many veteran mothers know, plans can go out the window once you get your newborn home. Troy wants all moms to remember to take care of themselves during such a stressful time. “Allow yourself to rest,” she advises. “You need to heal! Your health is important, too,” she says.
Staying tuned in to mental wellness is also important, especially as hormones are pumping and affecting a new mom. “You can’t pour from an empty cup, and that goes for your mental health, too. Don’t be ashamed to seek therapy. Mothers are often expected to carry this unbearable burden of independence and strength, but we are not just pillars. We need support, too,” Troy says.
She also reminds new moms to say yes to help. “Accept help when it’s offered, and don’t be afraid to ask for it when you need it. It takes a village to raise a child, and a tribe to support a mother. Give yourself some credit, too,” she says.
Troy, who at 5’6″ has what you might call a trim and athletic build, says women take body judgment from all sides during and after pregnancy. Celebrities appear in public weeks after giving birth looking like they were never pregnant, and living up to the expectations of others can be daunting.
“Snapping back is awesome, but so is allowing your body to take its time and heal how it wants to – for as long as it needs to. There is no deadline and no need to rush,” she encourages. “In the meantime, be proud of all it has accomplished: growing a whole human, then birthing that human, then nourishing and sustaining the life of that human with milk from that SAME BODY! Truly amazing – you did that!”
Finally, Troy reminds new moms to give themselves the gift of grace. “Motherhood doesn’t come with a manual. We’re all just figuring it out as we go. You don’t have anything to prove, so don’t feel as though you need to measure up or have it all together. No one does, and that’s okay,” she says. “Also, don’t buy the sleepers with the snaps. Zippers only. You’ll thank me (and yourself for listening) later!”
Parenting While Black
Pregnancy and labor decisions are only the beginning of tough choices when you are raising children. For parents of Black children, the issue of racism is a discussion that needs to happen sooner than later and not just once. “We start the conversation around kindergarten,” says Troy. “When we know the children are going to have to go out into the world without us.”
Troy and Dave always make sure the conversation is age appropriate. “It’s geared toward the fact that people are going to treat you differently, but that it’s okay to be different. You cannot control how people react toward you. You don’t have to apologize for it and you don’t have to beg for anyone’s approval.”
Troy acknowledges how difficult these conversations are during a time of renewed commitment to racial justice and equity in policing. “It’s just so hard to be a parent with all that is happening right now. We don’t want them to see all of the violence and to constantly be nervous or scared and to have questions like, ‘Is walking across the street going to get me killed?’ All of this can be so traumatic for a child.”
Troy and Dave are also careful to not push a certain agenda; they want their children to come to their own conclusions. “We just want them to be happy kids right now, but to also still be aware.” In keeping with that mindset, they have a strict no social media policy with their teenager. “I think he will be eighteen when he gets Instagram.”
Troy says this means her oldest son might be perceived as naïve on many topics and not tapped into some of the dialogue. “We really just want our kids to be kids. We are creating a safe space for them. They are not living in a bubble – they are aware – but they are going to still live their lives,” she says.
Troy’s oldest son is also biracial which comes with its own set of unique questions. “It’s tricky with him. I can only speak from the Black perspective. We have had some hard conversations. I tell him that he doesn’t have to pick a side. Society is always telling you that you have to pick a side, but to pick one side is to ignore the other side. We want him to form his own opinions and to do his own research,” says Troy, adding that this goes for all of her children. “We just raise them to be unapologetically who they are.”
For her oldest daughter, parenting looks a little different right now. Troy and her husband have recently noticed the 8-year-old struggling with some identity issues. “I am really working on building her confidence as a young Black girl. Right now, she picks the white dolls, draws only white girls, and wears a shirt on her head like its long hair. I really see the struggle in her,” Troy says, punctuating her statement with a sigh. “Someone told her that her skin was dirty. She stood up for herself, but I can tell it crushed her a little bit.” Dave and Troy are working to build her up every day within their strong family framework. “We tell her, ‘You are beautiful, but your skin and your beauty do not solely define you. You are brave and kind, too.’ That’s one thing I’m working through with her, and I think all girls go through it,” says Troy.
Troy is grateful her daughters get to see her represent Black women in a positive way out in the real world and the digital world, and she continues to strive to be the best role model she can be for all of her children. “It’s why I do what I do on the radio and when they see me on TV. It is important for me to be the representation that I never saw in the media. It was also important that they saw me finish college with three kids,” she adds. “I want them to see me juggling everything and achieving every single day.”
Photos: Megan Garrison, Dave and Rocky Michel