Motherhood. Haiti. Fashion. #ManmanKreyol

Name: Joelle Fontaine

Birth place: Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

Current Residency: Boston, MA

Occupation: Fashion Designer/ Entrepreneur

I became a mother when I was 20 years old. My son was breech and I had low amniotic fluid, so I had to have a c-section. I went in one morning see my doctor and set an appointment for the c-section five days later, and then that same evening- I went into labor. The experience was interesting. I gave birth at a teaching hospital, so I was surrounded by students on the operating table. I couldn’t see the operation (of course). I probably would have gone into shock to see a baby being removed from my body. But, I could feel everything. I was awake. My ex-husband was taping the whole experience and was fascinated, telling me when the doctors were taking out my uterus and what it looked like. I felt pulling and tugging- no pain (I had been given the epidural) but lots of pressure. The room was bright (too bright) and it felt somewhat impersonal to have all of these students at the front row of such a personal, private moment in my life. But, once I heard my son cry, nothing really mattered. Everything was Perfect!... Isaiah Gabriel Jean-Fontaine was born at 12:01 a.m. on April 27th, 2001, and my whole world was transformed.

Through motherhood, I have learned that I am enough. I think we often think we have to be perfect- especially in our culture. There are so many stigmas as to who you “should” be-- how you “should” raise your children. As a young mom, I was really afraid that I would fail. I thought of myself as such an irresponsible human being and now I was gifted with this child. What if I messed his whole world up? What if I couldn’t handle it? I knew nothing about taking care of a baby. Hell, I was a baby… I remember the 1st time he got sick with a cold and I placed Vick’s vapor rub on his chest. He immediately turned bright red and started screaming on top of his lungs. We were alone and I had no idea what to do. I started to rub it off his chest but he continued to wail and then I began to cry right along with him. He was maybe 3 months old. When it was said and done, he was left with a rash all over his chest that then turned into a scar. I was devastated.


Today, at 16, there is no scar on his chest. So many things that I thought were major mistakes on my part, he has no idea ever happened- no recollection. But, what he does remember is me loving him, listening to him, speaking to him like a human being- treating him like a friend, and teaching him about God. It’s all the simple things that have shaped him and made all the difference in our world. He never needed me to be supermom (those are societal views we unconsciously adopt). Me simply being there and loving him was more than enough.

My hope for my son is that he lives a life where he is blissfully happy. That sounds like a simple thing, but think to yourself how many people you know that are truly living out their purpose in life, making a good living doing so and being used by God to the fullest. We are all here for a reason- all a part of the bigger picture. My hope is that he finds his purpose quickly and spends his life fulfilling it. That is happiness.

My son taught me to let things go and to love unconditionally- not only others, but most importantly- he taught me how to love myself.

I honestly don’t think I can describe this in words what it means to be Haitian. It’s not exactly something you read and/or write. It’s something you feel. It’s coconut juice running down your chin, or picking sugar cane fibers from your teeth, or the smell of salty water mixed with fried fish and bannan. It’s that feeling you get on the inside when a Kompa song is playing and that funny sounding instrument comes on and your fingers motion like you’re playing the guitar. It’s that moment when you’re tired as hell at 3am but you stay up til 6am to finish your paper because “good” is never good enough. “Best” is the only option. It’s when everything seems to be going wrong and all of the elders (and now you and your friends) gather up for jeune and bring it all to God. It’s a father working 20-30 years as a taxi driver to put his kids through school and to provide a good home for his wife (because education, ownership, legacy is everything). It’s resilience at the face of adversity- community above all.

I am a Haitian woman living in America, because I am highly influenced by Haitian culture to the core. It’s a really interesting dynamic actually because both cultures have shaped me, but I had somewhat of an identity crisis on my hands trying to define and figure out where I belong in the spectrum. I have never felt at home in America, but when I go to Haiti, even though I was born there-  I am a foreigner- diaspora. They call me “Ti fi blanc”, which means “white girl”. So, for a while, I never felt like I belonged anywhere-- that is until I realized that “home” is within. So I am influenced by both Haiti and America. I am Haitian born, have lived in America for almost 30 years, but til’ this day I am still a permanent resident- not a citizen- also known as an “alien”. So, that is what I identify myself as- an alien.

I think Haitian women/ mothers are regal. I am reminded of the older Haitian women back home I’d see on their way to the market early in the morning with their baskets on their heads- no hands- back straight- beautifully patterned garments. The clothes may be torn, but they are always clean. That’s what I think of Haitian women-- hard-working beings that do what they got to do, and even when everything is not peachy, they still hold their heads up high like the queens they are.

My mom has taught me many things, but without ever saying a word- she has taught me to be a virtuous woman and a great mom. With her sacrifices and resilience, she has been such an awesome example of strength and character. Most importantly- my mom has allowed me to be myself. That is the greatest gift that any parent can give to their children-- acceptance and room for them to truly be who they are and to flourish into who they are destined to be.

My hope for Haiti is that more of the diaspora returns home to build-- to work with the youth to change the mindset that has permeated our culture since the beginning of time. Colonialism has taught us to resent ourselves (maybe not out right, but there’s an underlying complex) Haitians are not taught to acquire education and return home to contribute to development, economic growth, urban planning in the ways that other foreign groups (such as Asians or Indians) do with their countries. In Haiti, we go to the US, Paris, Canada, get our education and stay there to build someone else’s territory. We have a beautiful country, with many resources and the potential for success. Everyone else sees that but us. Foreigners are building businesses in Haiti and taking over, while we are sleeping. There have been talks of Haiti becoming an American territory. How devastating that would be!! To be the first liberated black republic only to give up that legacy to American rule? My hope for Haiti is reconstruction of not only the land itself but of the values of the people.

My style is honest. I dress how I feel. Sometimes it’s simple and quiet and other times it’s bold and damn right obnoxious. It just depends on how I feel that day. But, I believe that my style is always rooted with vintage inspiration from my upbringing- the women I saw growing up, going to church with large hats and lace gloves, bold colors and patterns, heels with full a-line skirts. I have partnered that with my love of Asian cultural elements and masculine androgynous touches to create a style that fits ME. I love lace dresses and combat boots (Yes. Together) and men’s jackets with heels, wide brim bowler hats with fitted dresses. I believe that I am an oxymoron by nature and my style is a reflection of my being.

Though I have always loved and admired fashion, I did not out seek to have a career in this industry. For most of my youth, I was in love with architecture. I thought I was going to be a major architect building stucco homes in Cap Haitien, Italy and South of France :) Fashion chose me. I started to sew simply as means to express my creativity and just stay sane when I was home with my son in his early years. It turned out to be my gift. Fashion is great as a means of expression, but what attracts me the most to the industry is the possibility for forward advancement and economic growth through garment production and artistry. I always saw my work as a way for me to one day be able to go back to Haiti and contribute to the economic development of women. 

I Am Kreyol is a high fashion label that utilizes fashion as a means for social impact. Our goal is to utilize beautiful design and garment production as a catalyst for change for disenfranchised women in the US, Haiti and abroad. We aim to teach production skills to impoverished women so that are equipped with the means for sustainable living through art. We are a small company, but growing quickly. Most recently we were featured as one of the top Haitian designers to know by Teen Vogue ( and named “Best of Boston” in fashion by the Improper Bostoninan (

A Mother's Covenant...

On a recent visit to Berlin, a place I hadn’t been to in over 20 years, I was entranced by the Selfie culture happening at the Holocaust Memorial in the middle of this progressive, vibrant city. Filled with a majority of foreigners on holiday, mixed with a handful of young local Germans, almost everyone had an iphone and were taking quirky, upbeat photo's on what were meant to represent the tombstones of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The only other Holocaust Memorial I have been to is right outside of Jerusalem and is divided into several aspects of the Holocaust, the most somber being the Children’s Memorial which is a dark room, where a visual image of a candle is shown, one at a time, as one by one the names of the 1.5 million murdered children are said aloud, along with their ages and their countries of origin. I think I only made it through 50 or so names, it was enough, and felt like a lifetime, I left feeling drained and heavy, a sharp contrast to the brevity and almost fun atmosphere of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.


As I looked around the memorial in Berlin with visitors posing for selfies what was clear to me is how free the younger generation of Germans are from the history. For them it is already history. They have moved on. In contrast, were I live in Israel there is not a day that goes by that strong reminders of the Holocaust are not used by the government, by celebrities, by the media in order to remind us of the horrors and the tragedy that befell the Jewish people. When I first met my husband and asked what it was like living in Israel where there is no Christmas, or Halloween, barely a New Years, or Thanksgiving…..and only Jewish holidays and culture are acknowledged , he answered that every Jewish holiday relives that ‘ you tried to kill us, so we killed you, let’s celebrate’.

Now after having lived in Israel for almost 10 years, the only place I have ever mothered my three children, I too live out this legacy. From periods of armed conflict when the survival mentality gets activated and militarism comes to the forefront of our daily lives, to the collective motherhood over obsessing about whether our children have had enough to eat, past traumas are easily reactivated. Some of these traumas are passed down genetically from generation to generation in our DNA. The research on epigenetics has shown that like trauma from Colonialization and Occupation, or Slave Trauma Syndrome when a Peoples have been enslaved, there is specific cellular trauma from having endured genocide such as in the Holocaust. But I think the bigger impact is from the coping mechanisms and emotional patterns that get passed down generationally that are more complex about scarcity, not trusting and the world being a hostile place.  A couple of years ago I had just given birth to my third baby when the war broke out here. There was one incident when a missile was landing very close to our house and it set off the neighborhood siren alerting us to run to a bomb shelter. I couldn’t respond in time and so I huddled with my newborn and two older children in the living room until it was over. The incident left me fired up, edgy, angry, blaming my husband for bringing me to this conflict ridden land and overwhelmed. This is one dramatic incident that I experienced personally but it was enough for me to understand some of the automatic responses to stress that people have here. At a certain point I made a conscious decision that despite the very real history of genocide, refugees and turmoil along with intermittent violence and conflict that reactivates those historical traumas, I would not passively accept this for my children’s worldview. I realized that I needed to be loud and clear with my children that the world is not ‘ out to get them ‘, an idea perpetuated here based on a really messy, tangled combination of very legitimatecriticism and outrage at Israel for the Occupation of the Palestinian People along with baseless toxic Anti-Semitism.  


As a mother I make sure that we all discuss what WE THINK about a situation not what we are being told. We also practice how the same situation might look if we were a different ethnicity in a different country. Living in a country where identity is collective along with individual we talk about WHY we do the things we do, from a Brit Mila or joining the Army ( even though it is illegal not to do the army in Israel). I try to make the ‘ lessons of the Holocaust’, not specific about the Jewish People but about Universal principles for handling prejudice and inequity. Social Justice and political involvement is woven into our lives even though it is not cool but actually brings a lot of suspicion from both ‘sides’. Often we are considered naïve at best and a traitor at worst. But, I see that my children’s hearts are open to embrace all peoples and their minds are critical of all group think imposed on them.


As a mother, I am working through my own family trauma and trying to release patterns that are destructive. At the same time I try to be conscious of releasing generational trauma and embracing the aspects of resilience that have been carried forward. Sometimes all this baggage is very very distant and other times it feels like a heave weight. For my own peace of mind I have developed practices to work though the more burdensome aspects of generational and persona trauma. Along with eating replenishing foods, making sure I have a handful of close girlfriends I can share with, getting enough rest and staying involved in activities that are fulfilling I believe the most important practice is a deep self love. Self love to me means relentless pursuit of upholding my self worth. This has been a practice that has evolved in recent years of really checking in on whether people, places, situations are a good fit for me. Asking myself if I’m vibing with what is happening around me. Being discerning about who has earned my trust and remembering that ‘ hurt people hurt people’ so that I have to surround myself with people who are capable of responding in a way that supports my most evolved self.


I am really not someone with all the answers but I do believe that how we feel is our truest guide to what we should pursue. I am becoming the woman I want to be, more honest with myself, ready to be clear about what I need and willing to put my wellbeing first. I do believe that healing is an ongoing, and not linear process, but that even the deepest wounds can be transcended.


I wish for us all the wisdom strength and resilience of our ancestors and freedom from the collective burdens that no longer serve us.


With love, genevieve   

I am a therapist with an M.A. in Psychology and recently earned certification in Narrative Family Therapy. I am also a certified Birth and Post Partum Doula and Childbirth Educator. I have been deeply active in peace activism and social justice work for over 20 years. Most importantly to me I am a married mother of 3.

After working with women in therapeutic settings for years, once I gave birth to my daughter I was caught off guard at how unprepared I felt to cope with early motherhood.  I felt a deep longing for family support and community and it seemed as though something very important was missing. While I was still breastfeeding and on maternity leave I began taking a course as a birth doula. Along with all the incredible knowledge I gained about pregnancy, childbirth and the postpartum transition, the real wisdom was found within the healing that took place within our motherhood collective. My fellow doula students became my motherhood community as we shared family challenges, asked questions about our baby’s development and shared women’s wisdom traditions, remedies and practices.

After supporting women as a birth and post partum doula I recently completed a 3 year certification process in Narrative Family Therapy. My academic and professional training along with living within a matrilineal culture steeped in ancestral women’s wisdom, has provided me with the ability to guide women in early motherhood.

My life’s calling is supporting women navigate motherhood by strengthening their matrilineal lineage, healing generational trauma, creating a supportive community and living a life of meaning and purpose.

I am a Mama Bear

I am a mama bear.

I don't really think I had a choice, to be honest. I can remember defending my younger brother and cousins when we were in school, pouncing on anyone who hurt or threatened them. Once when I was in 5th grade, I slammed a 2nd grader against the lockers because he was picking on my brother. For as long as I can remember, I've always had this innate instinct to protect those I love.

So my kid never stood a chance.

When he was learning to ride a bike, he was covered head to toe in protective gear because wasn't no concrete gonna hurt my baby. When he plays sports I'm the first to jump up to the field if he gets hurt. Even when he was younger and we were at the playground and I would hear his cry of injustice, that scream that would indicate that someone has hurt or wronged my baby, I would spring into action, ready to fight whomever it was that made my baby cry. I am not above confronting toddlers, either.

My love for this boy knows no bounds and I will literally anything to make sure he is safe and protected. And that's how we ended up moving to Japan.

About 2 years ago, we were traveling through Penn Station and my son needed to go to the toilet. So, I pointed him in the right direction and left him to it. Time passes and he hadn’t come back, so I went to investigate to see what was taking so long. I find him wandering around, completely missing it. So I show him where it was before he wet himself.

When he came back I asked him why he didn’t ask the officer that was standing near the bathroom for directions. And he just looked up at me with this look like he was afraid to. And as much as I wanted to tell him that he had nothing to be afraid of, I wasn’t entirely sure that was true.

You see, I have a pretty big kid. He can easily be mistaken for a teenager at his young age of 10. And after the deaths of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice - two children who were approached as grown men and gunned down by police - I knew I needed to do all that I could to keep him safe.

So we moved to one of the safest countries on the planet. But after we got here I was soon confronted with the need to not keep him physically safe anymore but I would now need to fight to preserve his personal identity and sense of self.

So I'm raising a Third Culture Kid, I knew that being in other countries would be a challenge. Especially with him being so young when we moved and being in a place where not many look like him. But the challenge we faced wasn't with the locals, it was at his school.

The place where he spends more time during the week than he does at home, I needed that place to be a safe space of support and acceptance. But instead they were instead sending him messages that what he looks like isn't acceptable.

So, mama bear came out. And I found myself at the school weekly defending my son against a principal who made snide comments and suggesting that his hair could look more mainstream, like everyone else’s. My claws came out when his teacher began to target him and sent him to the principal’s office for reading on the carpet without permission.

I ultimately pulled him from his school and moved him to a place that was more accepting of his individuality.  

I know that raising a TCK can have a profound effect on his personal identity, especially in places where not many look like him. But it is my hope that I'm able to help him understand who he is through our travels and by connecting with others. That he can find bits of himself in those who don't speak his language or look like him.

In this journey, I want him to know that he has endless possibilities, but I will challenge anyone who tries to place restrictions on him. I want him to believe in himself and I’m ready to stand up against anyone who makes him question his abilities.

I know that the other side of being a mama bear is allowing him to go off into the world with all that I've taught him. That he will one day apply all the lessons I’ve taught him and walk in the examples I’ve tried to set for him of how to move throughout this world on his own.

One day I’ll be ready. But until that day comes, I'll be there ready with the Vaseline.

Elmeka Henderson is a psychologist, photographer, and mother who is currently living in Japan. She is the creative voice behind Adventures in Raising a Vagabond, a blog that offers a first hand account of a mother traveling with her boy. There, Elmeka offers a unique perspective on not only traveling abroad, but surviving parenthood in a foreign land. You can read more about her at or follow her on Instagram @elmazing.


Elmeka is also the founder of Raising Vagabonds, a family-centered travel company whose vision is to change the perception of single parent travel by dispelling beliefs and encouraging parents to travel with their children by eradicating barriers and challenging the mindset and misconceptions of family travel. Their mission is to empower parents to break out of their comfort zones and live their best lives unapologetically. Through cultural immersion and community service, Raising Vagabonds helps to strengthen the family bond through adventures and first-hand geography lessons. Visit their website at and follow them on Instagram @raisingvagabonds.