Jan. 2, 2022
Eve After Eden: With Lessons Learned, a New Eden is Under Construction
By Jemi Lassiter
After a whirlwind of events, Tyra Richardson (left) took charge of her life and built a community of sisters along the way.
If Tyra Richardson was the Eve we read about in the Bible, then she has just bitten the apple.
I met with Richardson just before Christmas to understand the catalyst for her health-conscious approach to life. The 40-something mother of two has lost a considerable amount of weight. I assumed her weight loss and dietary consistency were linked to the loss of her first pregnancy.
As the case has been with all of the women interviewed for “Eve after Eden”, I received far more than I expected and certainly not the story I anticipated.
It is during our pre-interview small talk that I learn three truths in under 30 minutes.
We are not standing in her family’s new investment property. This is her house. She has been separated for almost two years and, while our families are friendly, I did not know.
After nine years, Richardson continues to grieve the loss of her first pregnancy. She would have had a daughter but I, like so many others in her extended circle, assumed she experienced a miscarriage. In truth, her daughter faced multiple health concerns that were identified during the pregnancy. Richardson and her husband at the time faced an unimaginable dilemma and made a painful decision that still haunts her to this day.
Her weight loss was just as much for her physical health as it was for her mental and emotional health. However, it was only after she continued to reach weight loss milestones and saw a shift in her appearance that she gained clarity on where she stood mentally and emotionally.
In 2019, Richardson left behind the checklist mentality so many women were raised to follow: earn good grades, get into a great school, land the perfect job, get married, buy a house, have children, etc.
She had checked all the boxes but her life was not the “happily ever after” anyone saw for her including her closest family and friends.
Today, she is the woman Adonna Bannister Green and Angie Blackwell remember from a friendship that started more than 22 years ago as sorority sisters in Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. They are two of her closest friends. (I would later learn how many women connect with Tyra as sisters through her sorority, family, workout regimen, career, and just because she is who she is. Richardson has friends that date back to when she was just an infant. She calls them her “sister cousins” and they are invaluable to her.)
“She is resilient, sophisticated, inspiring and she loves glitter,” laughed Bannister Green.
Believe it or not, she is right. Richardson’s new house has moments of sparkle all over and so does her story.
Adonna Bannister Green, Tyra Richardson, and Angie Blackwell pledged Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. in 1999.
“A lot of the heartache I have started with the loss of the first baby. You can write about all three. I’m sure my story is love and light for somebody else,” said Richardson with a smile on her face that made me think there is an inside joke. “I’m God’s child and, through all of this, I am going to be okay.”
In 2011, Richardson was expecting her first child. The monthly prenatal appointments were going well until an ultrasound to see the baby’s gender revealed one fact and two anomalies. The baby she and her husband were expecting would be a girl. However, the ultrasound technician and obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) could not clearly see the four chambers of the heart or the baby’s brain.
Richardson had a second ultrasound where they learned the baby would need immediate surgery to repair a whole in her heart.
Doctors urged her to get an amniocentesis, a medical procedure used primarily in the prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal abnormalities and fetal infections, to get a better understanding of the baby’s health. The heart condition was a sign that other health concerns may exist. The procedure revealed that the baby did in fact have another condition.
“She had Down Syndrome. We didn’t know at which end of the spectrum she would be on,” said Richardson. Her posture changed from upright an informative position to sunken. She leaned on a pillow as she continued to tell me the story. “It was one of those things where they were like you have options.”
Her OB/GYN provided the full spectrum of challenges the couple would face as parents with a special needs child.
According to the Global Down Syndrome Foundation, children with Down Syndrome can have physical growth delays, mild to moderate intellectual disability, a characteristic facial appearance, and weak muscle tone as infants. They may also experience seizures, congenital heart defects, sleep apnea, Alzheimer’s, celiac disease, autism, and childhood leukemia at higher rates than other children.
“I’m terrified. I’m heartbroken and, at this point, I’m connected with the baby. I’m feeling her move in me everyday. We’ve bought clothes, little red dresses,” cried Richardson as she referenced one color of her sorority that she hoped to dress her daughter in.
The couple had little time to make a decision. They sought counsel from their pastor, spoke to their families, and confided in each other.
“I wanted to keep her. [My husband] didn’t,” said Richardson. Heavy tears streamed down her face as she told me this part of her story and I stopped the interview. She was and is grieving her daughter, the decision that was made, and the reason behind it.
Out of concern for her daughter’s quality of life, the vision for the family they both wanted, and uncertainty of what her husband’s response would be to her for keeping the baby, she terminated the pregnancy.
“I cared too much about him,” cried Richardson. “Afterwards, we went to grief counseling and he didn’t want to go back but I wanted to. I needed to.”
Again, she sided with her husband and never went back to grief counseling. Instead, she forced the sadness aside and tried to move on as her sister-in-law and her best friend welcomed babies the same year she would have had her daughter.
(Left) Tyra Richardson poses with her son, Caleb, while expecting her second son, Jaxon. (Right) Richardson celebrates Christmas with her sons.
Two months later, Richardson was pregnant again. She welcomed her son, Caleb, in 2012 and another son, Jaxon, in 2016.
“None of us knew what Tyra was going through,” said Bannister Green. “I only learned the full story last year when I was pregnant with my son and confided in her about his heart condition. They kept it very quiet but her story helped me.”
Bannister Green’s son was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition before he was born. At one month, he underwent open heart surgery. Today, he is five months old and looks like a happy, bouncing baby boy but Bannister Green informed me he will have surgeries throughout his childhood, and possibly his life, to keep him in good health.
Richardson and her husband had ups and downs throughout their marriage. According to Richardson, her husband was in and out of work for the first eight years of their marriage, had inappropriate relationships with women, and was emotionally abusive.
“It’s emotional abuse anytime you want to focus on family, friends, hobbies, anything that is important to you. I had let all of that go. His friends became my friends,” explained Richardson. “The hurt there is that I allowed it to happen. I allowed myself to get lost in him and it was a slow process in me seeing that.”
Bannister Green and Blackwell were largely unaware of all that Richardson was enduring. She made a concerted effort to maintain the appearance that her life was going as planned.
“I’m dealing with it in silence because I’m embarrassed. I’m embarrassed because I’ve always been the strong one. I’ve always been the no nonsense one. I’ve always been the one that’s not dealing with any of that bullshit. I’ve always been that one,” said Richardson. “I am embarrassed that I am allowing a [man] to carry me through these changes and for so many times.”
It was during the three friends annual drive to homecoming at North Carolina Central University, where they met and pledged to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. as undergraduate students, that Richardson slowly began to divulge the status of her marriage.
“Five or six years ago, during our girls’ trip , she broke down and said she couldn’t take it,” said Blackwell. “But, she was determined to do whatever she needed to do to make it work.”
Surprised by Richardson’s revelation, Blackwell offered encouragement and a listening ear whenever needed but knew that the Richardson household was not all it appeared to be.
“So many times, you come into contact with people who love you only as much as they know what love is and how they experienced love,” said Blackwell. “It broke my heart that she was going through that. You never know what someone is dealing with.”
Bannister Green offered the contact information to a marriage counselor. The couple had some sessions but without much success. What Richardson needed was a change in her husband’s behavior. What she desired was affection and intimacy. Despite counseling, Richardson would not get them consistently, if at all, from her husband.
In 2019, while her husband was packing to go on a trip to Miami to visit friends, he placed his unlocked Apple Watch on her charger. According to Richardson, when she took the watch off her charger, explicit text messages between her husband and another woman appeared.
“She called me that morning when she found the messages and her voice told me she had already made some decisions,” said Bannister Green. “That’s when I found out that this was not the first instance, this was her lived experience dating back to their courting days. I couldn’t believe it. I think the part for me that was hardest was learning all of this after she had already clearly suffered through it by herself.”
Richardson took her husband to the airport as if nothing was wrong. When they arrived, she informed her husband that she knew about the woman who would be meeting him in Miami and wished him well.
She rented a townhouse in another community and started life as a separated woman.
“It was hard. It was hard because I felt like I was giving up a whole lot of stuff that I worked hard for [but] when I tell you that I know that was the best decision,” said Richardson. “There has not been one day that has gone by that I have regretted my decision.”
In hindsight, Richardson sees the contradiction she had to battle. As a woman, she was expected find a good job, establish herself, and then get married.
For men, Richardson believes they are encouraged to “sow their wild oats” and live life to the fullest before settling down. She wishes she had lived life for herself first, then gotten married with more life experience and sense of self under her belt.
“We’ve got to stop pressuring girls to get married,” said Richardson. “We’ve got to start telling our girls to go be yourself. Find yourself. Know yourself. Love yourself. Do the things that you want to do, that make you happy and bring you peace.Travel, do the jobs that you want to do, live where you want to live, and date as many men as you want to date all at the same damn time. We’ve got to start encouraging them to have these same experiences [that men are encouraged to have].”
Today, Richardson finds pleasure in being herself without apology. She reconnected with family and friends. She credits them with keeping her grounded as she navigates co-parenting her sons and living on her own for the first time in more than a decade.
“My friends are amazing. Between my family and friends, they have been keeping me sane, uplifted, and supported,” said Richardson.
Richardson has shared her experience with her sorority sisters.
“She’s been very open with our linesisters since this experience. It’s very visceral,” said Bannister Green. “She’s shifting from the notions others created for [her], saying this doesn’t work for me, and so I’m going to stop doing [this pattern of behavior].”
Her weight loss continues but, now, it is for her and no one else. Having transformed her body, Richardson is enjoying this version of herself.
“I see a difference in who she was and who she is today,” said Blackwell. “She is more comfortable in her own skin. She’s looked in the mirror and now she loves what she sees.”
At the end of our interview, Richardson’s pain has shifted to resolve and she sounded lighter. Her smile returned and she seemed eager for what might be just around the corner now that she has bitten the proverbial apple.
This Eve is creating a whole new Eden with every new day.
* "Eve After Eden: With Lessons Learned, A New Eden is Under Construction" was originally published January 2, 2022 on Medium.com.