Adopting Joshua completely changed my life
Kym Whitley has a lot to be thankful for. Four years ago she thought she was being pranked when she got a call saying her baby was waiting to be picked up from the hospital.
She was 50. She hadn't given birth and wasn't considering adoption — motherhood was the furthest thing from her mind.
So when she got the call from someone claiming to be a social worker, the comedian made a joke and hung up.
“Do fries come with that baby?” she asked.
The now irritated social worker called back. It was no joke — a baby boy was waiting for her.
“He was four days old and was the son of a girl I mentored,” Ms Whitley said. “She put me down as a guardian and left the hospital without him.
“The social worker said if I didn't want him he would be put into the foster care system.”
While she mulled it over, her parents pointed out the obvious — this was likely her last chance.
“My mother, Kaysonia, said, 'You have no man and you have like one egg left, and that egg is coughing',” she said.
When she made contact with the baby's mother several days later, she learnt she had always intended for her to raise the child.
According to the Los Angeles-based actress, adopting Joshua was the best decision she has ever made.
“Whether he came through me or to me, he is my son,” she said.
Ms Whitley is known for her roles on such television shows as Animal Practice, The Boondocks, Young & Hungry and The Parkers.
This weekend she will perform in Extreme Entertainment's Live Laugh Love Comedy Show at The Fairmont Southampton.
She brought Joshua and her father, William Whitley, with her to celebrate Thanksgiving.
Her mother died a few months after Joshua came into her life.
It was at about that time that she discovered her son suffered from severe food allergies.
“When he was a baby I started to give him eggs and he would be spitting up a lot,” she said. “I couldn't understand what was going on.
“My friend suggested I get him tested for allergies, but I was like, 'He's only a baby'.
“I'm so glad I did because it turns out he has food allergies — to eggs and other things but most especially to nuts. Luckily, I hadn't given him any yet.”
The real difficulty came when Joshua was left with sitters or was at nursery school. Ms Whitley would leave notes explaining about his allergies but they were sometimes ignored.
“One day I was laying in bed and Joshua was inside with a new sitter. Suddenly, I heard him coughing. I ran into the kitchen and the sitter had just given him a bite of a peanut butter sandwich. She didn't know.
“The whole side of his face was swelling up. I called the doctor and he said to basically overdose him on Benadryl.
“He said if his lips started to turn blue we were in trouble because it meant his throat was swelling shut. Luckily it worked, but we've had lots of near-misses.”
To remedy the situation she created a special T-shirt listing his allergies.
“It was for when he went to school or went out with a caregiver,” she said. “Lately, I thought he was probably old enough to speak for himself, but I was at a birthday party with him and I turned around for a minute. When I turned back, a woman was about to feed him banana nut bread. He didn't know there were nuts in it.”
Ms Whitley now sells the T-shirts online at www.dontfeedme.org.
“I know we are saving lives,” she said.
Joshua was not wearing his T-shirt the day his mom talked to The Royal Gazette.
A well-meaning hotel staff member plunked a large platter of nuts in front of him as she talked briefly on her phone.
Other adults present had the nuts quickly removed.
Whitley said she was a little nervous about how the Bermuda audience would take her humour.
“In standup, you always worry about how far to go,” she said. “I try to do my comedy just for people.
“I am looking forward to this show because we have such a wide range of people on the show — males, females, black and white. It will be a lot of fun. We have a little something for everyone.”
Adopting a child changed her life and career in ways she never imagined.
“The way I date is different,” she said. “The way I walk around the house is different. A lot has changed.
“The first thing I did when I made the decision to adopt Joshua was to call all my friends and ask them if they would help me raise this child.
“I didn't mean babysit, I meant more than that. That's how the Oprah Winfrey Network heard about it and I ended up with a show called Raising Whitley, a reality show about raising Joshua.”
Being a mother and a comedian is difficult, and probably one of the reasons there are fewer female comedians than males, Ms Whitley said.
“A lot of women get knocked out of the game because of motherhood,” she added.
“Mothers are still the primary caregivers in many families. They have children to feed, homework to do, bedtime.
“As a result, women are very underrepresented in comedy. At an open mic night in a club you might see 100 comedians standing in line to tell jokes and only ten are female.
“When they do get to the mic, sometimes the men won't let them take the stage.”
Whitley believes she is edgier as a stand-up comedian than she is on television.
She was here last year for the release of her friend Robin Givens's play, Joy in the Morning, and in 2007 with comedian Steve Harvey for the Bermuda Music Festival.
Her first trip to Bermuda was a family one when she was 12.
“You know how kids are at that age,” she said. “I was all 'Bermuda, who's ever heard of there?'. But I loved it. It was my first experience with an island.
“That's why having Thanksgiving here with my dad this year is special.”
•Live Laugh Love will also include comedians David Arnold, Sam Morril and Aida Rodriguez. Doors open at 8pm on Saturday, the show starts at 9pm. Tickets, $65 regular admission and $85 for VIPs, are available online at www.bdatix.bm