"The world doesn’t end when you do what the hell you want," Gabrielle Union tells PEOPLE

By Brianne Tracy
January 31, 2019 09:15 AM

Gabrielle Union is learning how to live her best life without apology.

The actress — who welcomed her now 3-month-old daughter Kaavia James with husband Dwyane Wade, 37, via surrogate on Nov. 7 — is often candid (and hilarious) when it comes to parenthood, but being so open has a downside.

Ever since her daughter’s birth, Union has taken flak on social media for everything from not wearing what some consider “age-appropriate” clothing to kissing her baby on the mouth.

“I had to hit the mommy shamers day one,” Union, 46, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday. “I’m going to do it my way. I’m sure I’m going to make all kinds of mistakes and when I ask for help, which I will, I would love to hear all y’all’s advice. Everybody has been on my journey of pain and anguish and trauma, and I owe it to myself to enjoy every second of my joy.”

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Gabrielle Union

Union has long been open about her difficult road to motherhood, including her adenomyosis (a type of endometriosis) diagnosis and multiple miscarriages. Now that she has her long-awaited baby girl, she wants fans to be a part of her miracle, too.

“If you’ve been rocking with me, in my misery and my pain and my failures, I want you to enjoy my joys,” she says. “If you can’t just sit back and enjoy the miracles without offering every piece of advice Nana ever gave you, it’s okay to unfollow. It’s okay to just enjoy the ride.”

By standing up for herself online, Union wants to show people that they can live their best lives on their own terms and have agency over their body and choices.

“I want to be able to make whatever choice I want to make and not have to answer to anybody but me,” she says. “As long as I feel good, as long as I feel confident, screw you. Look in the mirror and fix your own life. [I want to] give people that example of somebody who refuses to let anyone dictate what the hell I do or don’t do or say or don’t say.”

She adds, “It’s okay to rock with yourself. I’m my favorite person on the planet. I enjoy my own company. I find that people who don’t enjoy their own company tend to comment the most on other people’s lives — take your life back. The world doesn’t end when you do what the hell you want.”

RELATED: Gabrielle Union Claps Back with Epic Response After a Fan Says ‘Dress Your Age’

Gabrielle Union/Instagram

While bringing up the commenter who criticized her on Instagram for not “dressing her age,” she cracks, “What kind of gunny sack did you think I was going to be in?”

“I ain’t going to the gym for my health!” she says with a laugh, before adding, “No, I am going to the gym for my health, but I’m also going to the gym so I can rock this real cut bikini.”

Union has been enjoying every moment of motherhood, and Kaavia was never far from her side when she was shooting her new spring 2019 New York & Company campaign, which launched on Wednesday, in L.A.

“If I don’t bring her, I will miss everything,” she says. “She changes every day.”

She made sure to keep working moms in mind when designing the collection, which is her first since welcoming her daughter, and she hopes the pieces empower women to feel confident and comfortable.

“I want to be fly, I want to be able to put on clothes by myself,” she says. “I know a lot of times we’re getting dressed by ourselves, we don’t have a team of people. I need to be able to get dressed, look fly and be comfortable and not feel like my clothes are attacking me as I’m with her, as I’m at work. I need to be able to have transitional clothing that can go from day-to-night. It needs to be able to be wiped off, like spit up that comes right off, and clothes that I can throw in the washing machine.”

Gabrielle Union
Nino Muñoz/New York and Company

Though Union has helped to raise Wade’s sons from a previous marriage, Zaire, 17, and Zion, 11, and his nephew Dahveon Morris, 17, new motherhood is an adjustment, especially when it comes to getting Kaavia into the car.

“She used to love her car seat and then just one day was like, ‘I hate it. Good luck getting somewhere,'” Union says. “Now I understand why sometimes you’ll see moms at the airport or in Target just in tears.”

While Union is still figuring out how to juggle everything, she says she lets herself “off the hook” because her life is constantly changing.

“You try to do what you can in the hours that you can,” she says. “I may not be hitting it out of the park at work, at home, with her or with my husband, but that’s okay.”

“I’m trying to think limitlessly and not put a cap on my dreams,” she continues. “When you’re open like that, the world will take you all sorts of places you could have never imagined.”

Gabrielle Union’s spring 2019 New York & Company collection is available now at nyandcompany.com and stores nationwide.

For more on Union’s life with her 3-month-old and her fashion passion project, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

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