In 2021, Victoria Monét had a test of strength so intense, she tells SELF, that “I felt like Rocky.” The 30-year-old dancer-turned-singer isn’t talking about logging intense hours in the studio, though she’s very familiar with that: She’s co-written hits for Chloe x Halle and a little song called “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande, and on August 25, Monét released her second album, Jaguar II.

Sitting down with her over Zoom, I’m excited to discuss the album, but in this moment, we’re talking about how she became a mom—when a short walk to see her baby was one of the most taxing physical feats of her life. It was February 2021, and Monét and her partner, John Gaines, had just welcomed their daughter, Hazel. After an unexpected C-section, Hazel emerged, but had breathing complications. “They took her to the NICU after I breastfed her for a little bit,” Monét recalls.

The medical staff told her that she would have to be physically able to get out of bed and walk in order to see her newborn again—a common precautionary measure after a C-section. “Literally, I was screaming to turn sideways in the bed and getting up and down, and they were like, ‘You know, you can’t be in the NICU and fall,’” Monét says. The moment her strength came back to her, she made her way right to Hazel.

Monét’s birthing experience paralleled my own. I also had an unexpected C-section. Mine was seven months before she and I spoke in April, so I understand the mix of emotions that rush through your body when you’ve just given birth to a child who needs comfort—and you need comfort, too. Research indicates that unscheduled cesarean deliveries are far higher for Black women than for white women. My delivery was terrifying, and all the more so because Black women have the highest rate of maternal deaths in the US—nearly three times as many as white women.

Monét remembers how extreme her experience was, too. After leaving the NICU and heading back to her own hospital room, she had to face the intensity of everything that had just happened. “I had episodes of screaming, crying,” she explains. “[My] hormones were out of control. I just didn’t understand why I was feeling this way,” she says. Thankfully, Hazel’s breathing steadied, and Monét recovered, too. Once she was feeling up to it, she went back to work. “I went home with her after four or five days in the NICU. Six weeks later, I was taking her into the studio,” Monét says.

In this way, Jaguar II is quite literally a labor of love. The project captures Monét’s cross-genre singing abilities and the writing skills she’s fine-tuned over her decade-long career. In its songs, Monét delves into the thoughts whirring through her mind about self-image and parenthood in the direct aftermath of giving birth. “After I had Hazel, I went into a full depression. I was very hard on myself, and just judging so much and worrying about what I used to look like and what I used to have. It’s just all living in the past, which is the setup [for feeling like a failure],” she says. “[But] you have to think forward. It’s been a battle to be okay with whatever size I am at the time. So if I go to Disneyland with Hazel, I’m not going to be worrying about the churro, because we’re only at Disney one day.”

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