Dascha Polanco became a star when she landed the role of Dayanara “Daya” Diaz in Orange Is the New Black. Now she’s opening up about what it was like to become pregnant at 17 and a mother at 18.
Polanco is a mom of two, an 11-year-old son, Aryam, and an 18-year-old daughter, Dasany. “I grew up in a very Catholic household, where women were expected to get married, have kids, and dedicate their lives to raising their family,” she told Parents.
However, that’s not the path her life took. For years, Palanco struggled with not defying cultural stereotypes. “I was the shame of my family,” she told Parents. Now she’s celebrating her life and her kids.
While her father was in prison and she, her siblings, and her mom were homeless and living in a shelter in New York, Polanco had a dream. That dream was to graduate and get into college.
Then Polanco learned she was pregnant.
“I remember sitting in the cab on the way home from the doctor with my daughter’s father, telling him, ‘I don’t think I want to have this baby. I’m so young.’ He said, ‘What you’re thinking is a sin. Don’t worry. I’m going to be there for you.’ It’s hard to convince me to do something I don’t want to do, but he did. Yet, as it turns out, he wasn’t ready to be a parent either. We were kids, and he was also in and out of prison.”
The hardest part of choosing to keep her daughter was hurting her mom. “She cried so hard,” Polanco remembers from that time in her life. “To hurt my mother was the worst thing I could ever do.”
And while the people around her didn’t understand why she was becoming a mom, she still achieved her goal of graduating and getting into a college to study psychology. “I was making the best decision that I could. I knew that having a baby was going to make my life harder, but I was also determined to turn every obstacle into a blessing.”
Then midway through her first college semester, she went into labor two months early and had a c-section. Dasany was born weighing just two pounds. She spent her first weeks of life in the NICU and Polanco continued with her studying and working to support Dasany and her mom.
“I have no idea how I got through my twenties,” she says. “I barely slept.” Sadly, as Polanco focused on finishing college, working to provide for her daughter and mom, her mother’s autoimmune disorder progressed. She was at work when she learned of her mother’s passing.
Dasany was incredibly close to her grandmother, who helped raise her, as Polanco attempted to continue on with her life. And that came with guilt.
“I could’ve dedicated myself to taking care of my mother, but she was helping me and my daughter. I made it harder for her.” Nonetheless, Polanco carried on. However, she stopped celebrating the big moments in life and kept her feelings to herself.
“I’ve never been one to show my vulnerabilities, and of course, in the Dominican culture, we never talk about mental health, but one day I finally opened up to one of my psychology professors. I told her I hated being a mother, and ever since my mom passed, I didn’t celebrate anything. She told me the reason I got angry was that I had a subconscious jealousy of my daughter, because she had her mother and I didn’t have mine. I was like, ‘Oh my God, I never thought of that!’ She told me I wasn’t being fair to my daughter by not providing her with good memories.”
Polanco told Parents that conversation was the wakeup call she needed.
She got back on track and lived for her daughter. She graduated from college and became a hospital-operating-room manager. “In that world, I was That B*tch. I became a boss, and I was finally living my life.”
Then eight years after becoming pregnant for the first time, she became pregnant again at 25. This pregnancy was also unexpected and while she and her son’s father attempted to make it work, they eventually split but without the drama. They still co-parent to this day.
Polanco then started living her life for her and eventually decided to get back into acting, something she loved doing as a child before they were homeless. That’s when Orange Is the New Black came into her life and she booked the gig. “I started crying so hard in my lab coat. ‘I booked what? What do you mean series regular?’”
And now there are several more projects in the works as she has catapulted into stardom while continuing to kill it as a mom of two. “I’m going to continue to work as a mother and grow as a mother. I’m going to kill it as a mother, and I’m going to be a sexy-ass mami too. I’m going to be true to me.”
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