Ashanti Gives Behind-the-Scenes Look at Her Maternity Shoot, Shares Nelly's Reaction to Pregnancy (Exclusive)

The mom-to-be opens up about her first pregnancy with ET after announcing her engagement to Nelly in April.

Becoming a mother has always been in Ashanti's future, but even she didn't expect it would come along with an engagement to Nelly!

"Never in a million years did I think we would be here," the 43-year-old singer tells ET's Deidre Behar in an exclusive interview. "Ten years ago -- maybe yes -- but after our breakup, you know, I didn't even think we'd ever have a conversation again."

Ashanti, and Nelly, 49, who rekindled their longtime, on-again, off-again romance last year after calling it quits in 2013, have become inseparable since they sent the R&B world into a frenzy after being spotted together for the first time last year. 

The pair began their roller-coaster romance back in 2003, which at one point the rapper claimed was "based in the media," before officially calling it quits in 2013. Although they played coy about their status for years, Ashanti confirmed in March 2015 that they were a couple until two years prior.

Nearly a decade later, the two unexpectedly reconnected at Fat Joe and Ja Rule's Verzuz battle in 2021. Nelly got Ashanti's number from DJ City and, well, here she is three years later, engaged and taking ET behind the scenes of her maternity shoot with photographer Derek Blanks, where she shared how Nelly reacted to her pregnancy. 

Am exclusive photo from Ashanti's maternity shoot. - Derek Blanks

"I was so shocked and happy and emotional," Ashanti says of confirming her pregnancy. "I always dreamed about it. I wanted it so, so bad and I just feel like the timing was perfect." 

The maternity shoot is on the beach, which Ashanti tells ET is "authentically" her. 

"To be on the beach, out in nature and the sunshine, that's what makes me smile and makes me happy genuinely from within," the singer explains. "Then, obviously, the princess girly, glam Ashanti vibe is there as well."

The "Foolish" singer shares that she suspected she was expecting when she missed her period -- which was after the viral December 2023 incident where Nelly rubbed her belly while the pair was performing onstage at the rapper's annual Black and White Ball in St. Louis. 

Ashanti and Nelly - Alexander Tamargo/Getty Images for E11EVEN

Nelly got tongues wagging when a video of the pair went viral; in the video, Ashanti seemingly places her hands on her belly, prompting Nelly to rub the singer's stomach and grin at the crowd. Ashanti playfully slaps his hands away as the two burst into laughter and the audience cheers while producer Polow da Don encourages Nelly and Ashanti to "seal the deal."

Although many began speculating that the pair was expecting a child then, Ashanti tells ET that neither of them knew of her pregnancy at the time and the incident was a coincidence. 

"When he blurted that out on the stage, we actually did not know. I hadn't even taken a test at that time," she reveals. She goes on to explain that there was no showing belly that she placed her hands on, she was just trying to adjust the pendant on her black dress. 

She adds: "I was pushing it down and he's like, making it look like something. And I'm like, 'No!'"

It wasn't until the missed period that Ashanti suspected she was pregnant, and immediately notified her fianceé via FaceTime after she confirmed her suspicions. "I couldn't wait, [I] had to get it out," she says. "And he was just like, 'Oh I knew.'"

"He was so happy and we were both smiling and it was so funny," Ashanti says of Nelly's reaction to their big news. "I was actually at his mom's house... He was in the studio. It was a really cool moment. It was a little bit of everything."

The baby will be Ashanti's first and Nelly's third child. The "Hot in Herre" rapper is the father of adult children, Chanelle, 29, and Cornell Haynes III, 24, from a previous relationship. Nelly also adopted his sister, Jackie Donahue's, kids -- Shawn and Sydney Thomas -- after she died from leukemia in 2005.

Ashanti announced her pregnancy in an Instagram video which shows the singer getting ready for a performance. After one of her handlers checks in on her, Ashanti's mom, Tina Douglas, checks in a second time, asking the singer how much time she needs until she's ready. Ashanti emerges -- dressed to the nines -- and responds, "I'm gonna need about nine months," prompting Tina to express shock at the pregnancy news.

"I have been so blessed. This has been an amazing pregnancy, I have zero symptoms," Ashanti tells ET of her pregnancy. "I'm still performing. So I'm so happy and so blessed."

Although the singer has been able to keep up with the demands of her work, she admits that it's been hard to change how her body has been changing. "The growing bump, [there's] nothing I can do about it!" she says. But she also admits that having the news out there has been a "breath of fresh air," even for two "really private people."

"I always knew I wanted it to happen, you know, I always had dreams, I had visions it was going to happen," she shares. "Never in a million years did I think [Nelly and I] would be here. Like 10 years ago maybe, but after our breakup, I didn't even think we'd have a conversation again."

Now that it is happening, Ashanti says that she's using her mother for parenting inspiration.

Ashanti and her mom, Tina Douglas - Prince Williams/WireImage

"Honestly if I could be like a small portion of what my mom is, I would be amazingly spectacular, out of this world. Honestly," she vows. "I think my mom was just the epitome of unconditional love, it's just unparalleled. You think of a selfless person, especially with my sister and I, and everyone says the same thing -- Nelly, all the people in my life, all my peers, friends, the team. They're like, 'Nah. Momager, that's a different bond.' She's built very different."

Quipping that they call Tina the "General," Ashanti says she looks forward to being the "Mini General." And, although she's keeping mum on the baby's sex and their list of potential names, the singer has no qualms about sharing her hopes about how she and Nelly will tackle parenting.

Ashanti says she's grateful that her fiancé already has experience in the area. "I think he's going to be amazing, he's so good with his kids. When they have a chance to spend time together, he makes it count," she gushes of her future husband. "They have all had to make sacrifices because of [his] career and the traveling and them growing up, you know. But when they are together it's the best thing in the world to watch."

"I'm excited about seeing this little human version of myself and the person that I love so much be here," the singer gushes. "I'm really looking forward to having an extension of both of us, be with us, and watching that spirit grow. It's an amazing thing."