Meet Samantha Nacman.
Q: So to start, can you tell me your full name, where you’re from and where you are living now?
My name is Samantha Marie Nacman. I go by Sam. I’m originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Right now, I’m living in Richmond, Virginia which is the capital city. I moved here when I was accepted into VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) in 2014. I got my degree in Marketing, and I graduated in December 2018, a month after giving birth to my daughter Kora, so that was crazy.
Q: How was it going through school while being pregnant? What was it like juggling school and becoming a mom?
Yea, the last 2-3 semesters were rough. Well obviously...maybe not obviously, [KORA] was a surprise. We did not plan her to be in our lives so early. When I found out, it was summer 2018––around May––I was already at the end of my first trimester. I went through the whole first trimester without knowing I was pregnant.
Q: How did you not realize that you were pregnant––didn’t your body change or did you feel any morning sickness?
For sure, I think in retrospect, I started to question like––why am I not fitting my jeans? Why am I bigger? Her dad actually was the one that was like “no, I think you are-you need to take a test.” I was like “ok fine, I’ll take one and we’ll see.” So we did and, almost instantly, it was positive.
Going through school, it was weird because my school is in the city, so there’s not a whole lot of variety in lifestyles. A lot of people are young, trying to make something of themselves here, so there’s not a whole lot of families, especially in my university age group. It was strange, but I honestly didn’t have a whole lot of friends in school anyway, so I was kind of just showing up as “the pregnant girl” in class.
Q: How did that feel? Did you put preconceived notions on yourself, or were you like--I’m going to own this?
I was 23 and all of my peers, you know, were going out. I was going out to fraternity parties with these people freshman year, and here comes senior year––pregnant and ready to have a baby. It was so strange, because when you’re pregnant, you can’t just pretend that you’re not pregnant. You can’t avoid the looks, the conversations, and the tip-toeing around––people don’t know how to act, I guess, when there’s one pregnant person in the room. So I just kinda went with it.
Whatever people said, they said. I took it upon myself to be the wiser one in the conversation if it ever came up. It was a strange experience for sure, but I think the most terrifying part for me was giving presentations in school. I was in business school, so you have to talk to people. You have to be able to present yourself. Sales, marketing––all of those things have to do with people, so I would have to go in front of the class and speak to people. I would just be looking at them, and they’d be looking at my body––not listening to me. I know this because I was saying some good stuff and no one was giving me anything back, so it was frustrating. Unfortunately, women’s bodies are on display no matter what phase of life we’re in, even more so as a pregnant woman.
Q: When we first started talking with you, you mentioned that you had a really interesting religious journey. What was that experience?
I was born into what I now call a religious cult, but I called it a church most of my life. I only call it that now because I’ve done my own research into other very strict religions, and that’s how I would categorize the church I was raised in. I was born into it. My dad was born into it, and mom converted before they got married.
Q: Did you just go along with it as a child?
I had friends and family there, everyone was very close. I found community there because people looked like me, and they knew my culture. I could relate to these people and they had my back. It’s strange now that I think about it. You think you know when your mind is being conditioned to do things that most people in the world don't do. You don’t think that you’re doing anything wrong. You think that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You have friends and family that love you in this community, and so “what’s wrong with that?” Until you take yourself out of it, you can’t actually see what’s going on.
I learned how to compartmentalize my life at a very young age. I knew what I could and couldn’t say to my parents. Essentially, I lived a double life up until I had my daughter. I just knew what would and wouldn’t be praised.
Q: Did you struggle with knowing who you were in the midst of all of this?
Honestly right now, this year is the year where I finally feel like I’m stepping into “me.” The box I was in exploded, and now I’m finally getting back down to ground. I’m seeing who I’ve been all this time. It’s still so fascinating to go through this self-discovery. As a mother, it’s been the biggest blessing to have Kora as a reflection of what I value and what I want to practice and believe in––what I want her to believe in. So, she’s been my teacher in that way.
Q: That’s part of being a mom––it’s so special especially from what you experienced––what made the box explode? Was it getting pregnant with Kora? Were you still in this religion at the time?
When that happened, we weren’t sure if we were going to have her. We went to clinics. We had appointments, and I just couldn’t make any decisions at that point. There was a lot going on. I was in school and about to graduate. Her dad and I were going through some stuff, and we figured we could keep this to ourselves and worry about our own lives. Then, I called my mom at the last second before I had to make a decision, and she told me “don’t go to your appointment tomorrow. Stay home. Me and your dad will come up tomorrow to talk about this.” I called her to tell her I was pregnant, and she thought that it was a joke. She came up the next day with my dad.
There’s a protocol in this church when an unmarried individual gets pregnant, especially if it’s with someone who is a non-member. First, they encourage the non-member partner to get baptised into the church. There are lessons and bible studies they have to go through, and then they can get baptised. Once they do that, then the couple can get married in the church.
Q: Unless that happens, is it technically not acceptable?
There’s basically only one way for that situation to be valid by the church. Just a quick backstory, I went to Colorado for a month or two with Corey, her dad, because he had a job out there and I found a job to do. I was 7 months pregnant at the time, and I took that time to be away from family, church, and school––we just took that time to figure out our lives. When I got back from Colorado, I was technically “expelled,” but I still tried to attend worship services because to me, church and faith shouldn’t be about the people. It should be about you and your God that you worship––it’s very personal, right?
When I got back, I visited my family and I went to church with them, but they didn’t allow me to attend worship service that day. Instead, they put me in a room with my dad next to me, ministers, and deacons who I’ve known since I was a child. The head minister gave me an ultimatum:
I had to either write a statement saying that I was not going to stay with my child’s father so that I could continue to worship, or he had to get baptised, marry me in the church, and then I would be able to come back to church. The other option was that I leave the church forever. That’s what the minister said to me in front of all of these people and my father, who was sitting next to me did not say a word about anything. I didn’t know what to say, other than “thank you” and then I left. I didn’t get to worship or even talk to my parents after that.
Q: At this point, are you still with the father of Kora? So, he doesn’t want to convert––you don’t want to push towards marriage, you just had this baby, and you still want to worship. So, you’re still trying to be back in the church without having to do all the things?
Yea, I was still trying to find a loophole––if I could pray hard enough and Corey would just be like “ok, I’ll do the thing[convert].” It was strange because I wanted to get back into the church to feel accepted again. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, lose all my friends, or change my life drastically. So I was in survival mode––how can I have all of the things that I want in my life and all of the things that I feel like I need in order to survive?
None of that happened, obviously because you can’t force people to do something that they don’t want to do. So, when Kora was 3 months old, I remember sitting in our new apartment that we first lived in as a family of 3. I was still super hormonal because I was freshly postpartum and I had started doing my own research on the church at this point.
I had the time to get some space, so I wanted to see what everyone else in the world had been saying about this church. I did some research and a friend of mine, who actually left the church around the same time as me, sent me a link to a subreddit of ex-members from this church where they just talk and share their experiences. On that subreddit, I found some links to some pretty intense investigations of the church from different countries.
It was like a flip of a switch in my brain. For so long, I was in so much distress, trying to figure out how I could have my life back together. At that moment, when I watched this one video, I changed my mind about all of it. I just let it all go. I said that’s not what I want for Kora. That is not something I want to be affiliated with. I told her, “You can be anything you want to be.” In an instant, it didn’t matter who was mad at me and it didn’t matter who I lost. I didn’t care.
Q: First of all, we commend you for your courage. How has it been since with your family? What does that look like, and is it hard for you?
It is hard for me, but I definitely think that time heals all. I’m learning that now. At the end of the day, are you going to let your child come home and just attack them on what they’re doing with their life or are you going to let things be the way they are, and enjoy the little time that you have with them?
We still hangout and keep each other updated. However, I’ve learned that some relationships, even the ones that you want to keep the closest, can’t be because you have to live your life. You can’t keep revisiting old and toxic patterns, even with the people closest to you. It’s a strained relationship, but we’re ok.
Q: How has it been owning the new you and life’s current journey?
I have the privilege to be able to stay home with Kora. I have a partner who takes care of us and allows me to be free to live the way that I want to. With the newfound freedom from the church and a good immediate support system around me, I’ve definitely been able to not only feel free to be myself, but also feel grounded in what it is that I’m doing.
When you’re constantly being fed what to do, what to think and who to see, you don’t have space to think for yourself. I now have that freedom to get to know Sam for the first time outside of all of these constructs. It’s been amazing to be able to choose how I raised my kid, and future kids. I’ve actually used it as a way of rebellion. I’m raising a child to think for herself and who knows that other people can also do the same thing. I’m not expecting her to be perfect. I want her to have the freedom to be herself.
For me, empowering her to become herself is important from the moment she arrives here on this earth. You are here. You begin. You are valid. You can believe. You can be whoever you want, because who says you can’t?
Q: What does being a mom mean to you?
To me, being a mom means being the first line of defense from the world and being the first to show what life is all about. I love children, but to raise a child of your own is to see how you see the world for the first time. I think that being a mother is the greatest honor and privilege you can have as a woman because you get to create life inside your own body, and then you get to set up a person’s future. There’s nothing better than being able to do that. It’s fun. It’s crazy. It’s exhausting. It’s the one thing you cannot get anywhere else.