Rhonda: Heart Of Gold

Illustration By: Marielle Cabillo (Instagram: @work_in_progress.ai)

If you were to ask me how Rhonda and I got close, I really couldn’t tell you. She was my dad’s first cousin, meaning she was my 2nd cousin, or aunt, or whatever the correct term is. With a 25+ year age gap, Rhonda still insisted that we were “cousins.” So to mess with her, we gave her the nickname “Tita-Lola” (Auntie Grandma).

In the past, the only times I’d ever really see Rhonda in person were at family reunions that are held once a year. Well, reunions and funerals. Our family is so big that we’ll probably never get every single family member at an event…. ever. Despite not growing up together, not seeing each other often, and probably not acknowledging each other at events for the first decade plus of my life, Rhonda and I managed to have a very close bond.

I feel like social media is what helped break the ice in our relationship. When Rhonda added me on social media, I feel like I was given a key into her heart and soul. You know the saying that social media is just the window into someone’s house? That you can only see what they want you to see? That wasn’t the case for Rhonda. Her social media platforms unlocked the door and let you freely roam the “House of Tita-Lola.” If being an open book had a picture in the dictionary, it would have a big ass picture of Rhonda’s selfie.

Rhonda had no problem sending a friend request to anyone and everyone involved with our family. If you were at a family reunion once, have a last name she recognized, or had mutual friends, you probably got a request on Facebook or Instagram. Family meant everything to Rhonda. She knew all the chisme, all the extended family, and wanted to share everything she knew about my great-grandparents and our family history. And whether you wanted to know all that information or not, if you followed her on any socials, you had no choice but to see it.

Tita-Lola did not give a shit about over posting. That term did not exist to her. She used her social media pages more like a Twitter account with how often she posted. But that’s how I, and probably many others, felt like we were close to her without really speaking much in person. Rhonda shared her personal life, opinions, likes, dislikes, family history, rants, and how she was managing her illness. Nothing was off limits to post about. Anything less than 10 posts a day would have me thinking, “Is Rhonda okay?”

Though she loved to share everything online, in person, she took a while to warm up. Rhonda was cool with everyone in the family, but with people she didn’t know very well, she would be a little shy to start up a conversation. But don’t let the shyness fool you – she probably knew everything about you from what you posted on social media. Rhonda would just be waiting for the perfect time to break the ice and attempt to start a conversation.

My sisters and I and our other 2nd cousins initially bonded with Rhonda by (dare I say it…) low-key bullying her. It was all fun and games, and Rhonda was the perfect person to joke around with because she’d sit there, laugh her ass off, but continue to take the mild abuse. Whenever she’d try to defend herself or shit talk us back, we would rebuttal with another joke. Those were good times. And now that I look back, I laugh in my head because we were really out here cappin’ on our fuckin elder and didn’t even know her like that yet hahahah.

I just know that when she realized how foolish and ridiculous my sisters and I can get, she felt more than comfortable to be around us. We got closer and closer as the years passed, and it was no longer awkward to just approach each other at family reunions or other gatherings. It was such a significant age gap, but our relationship just worked. Each family gathering, the Cabillo and Prado girls would gather around to mess with Rhonda, and she loved that shit. It was always a good time when we all got together. Every time we would go home after a gathering, my heart felt full.

I got really close to Rhonda in the last decade. It all started with jokes and acting a fool, but throughout the years, I got to know Rhonda on a deeper level. We had our fun and games moments in person, but we also vented about our lives on a serious note. I knew Rhonda behind the social media posts, the jokes, and the banter. I quickly learned about things that made her happy, things that made her sad, what she dwelled on, what was most important to her, what motivated her, and so on. She vented to me about her health, problems, and all the many situations she would get herself into. And bitch, there were many, hahaha. Rhonda, I know you’re looking down on me like “don’t you say nothing, beezy!”

Quickly, Rhonda became someone I could turn to if I needed someone to talk to, but most of the time, I listened. I listened to the many things that were on her mind. And I think that’s why we got so close. She had so much to say, and I listened and gave my 2 cents. Ironically, the girl that posted so much online to stay “connected,” felt overwhelmingly alone from time to time. I wanted to be there for her when she needed someone because I knew she would do the same for me. It was a great feeling knowing I had a family member who could offer me advice, judgement free.

Rhonda vented to me a lot about her health. I know she posted a lot about her situation on social media in detail, so it would kind of be a reiteration of what she already shared. Rhonda was very transparent with her health complications – she would post photos of her dialysis, her medicine shipments, her appointments, good and bad news, and everything in-between. Unknowingly, she gave us all a glimpse into her daily life, and we would see how much it took to upkeep her medications and treatments. Whether you wanted to see it or not, her followers got an overwhelming sense of her daily reality. Her posts would have you thinking, “Damn, how does she do it?” And yet, she did it. Tita-Lola was very hopeful, yet very realistic, about finding a kidney donor. Rhonda had my younger sister make business cards to help get the word around. She never gave up.

Rhonda’s health took up a lot of her time. Every appointment, every medication, every shot, every timed meal, was a constant reminder about her reality. There would be days where I talked to her, and she would unpack everything on her mind. I think what made our relationship special was the fact that we could be brutally honest with each other. I knew her daily routine took a huge toll on her, some days it would get to her more than others, and I had to remind her that it was okay. It was okay to feel what she was feeling, it was okay to feel sad, it was okay to vent out those emotions to me. What would make me especially sad was knowing that whatever I could say for comfort would not change her reality. That was the saddest part, to know that all I could do was be there for her and hope for a miracle.

Whether she realized it or not, Rhonda would find joy in the smallest things. I think that’s what made her so strong, the fact that she took on so much with her health on a day to day basis, but still managed to get excited off of the most random things. From PEZ, to music, to her celebrity girl crushes (the fact that I know her celebrity crushes though, bye lmfao), to anything San Francisco related (#BornAndBred) – these things alone could make her day. But nothing could make her day more than the interactions she had with Damian and Delilah. Her nephew and niece was her whole life. Rhonda would literally do anything to see a smile on their faces. She would document their small interactions on Facebook, and you could feel the overwhelming sense of love she had for them just by reading their commentary. They are what kept her going.

Everyone knows how big Rhonda was on family. And family just didn’t mean blood related, her friends became her family as well. Anyone who Rhonda considered “family,” she was loyal to for life. Once you made an imprint on Tita-Lola, she would never forget you. Even the friendships that drifted apart or ended on bad terms, she would still wish the best for that person. We would have many talks about people she remembered from the past, and how she still cherishes the friendships because it meant a lot to her at some point in her life. Rhonda always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt and see the good in them. If anything ever went sour, in her heart she wished them the best and clung to the good memories. She had such a big heart, and always chose to be the bigger person.

Family was everything to Rhonda. The love she had for her grandparents (my great-grandparents) was so strong that it could transcend lifetimes. Rhonda loved and missed them so much, I know that they had such a big impact on her life. I could tell that decades later, her grief from their passing was still fresh. However, she tried to use her sorrow in a positive way. She tried to educate the younger generations about our family history by telling us stories about the great-grandparents that I never got to meet. Every time Rhonda missed them, she would post a photo, a memory, or a story about them online. “This is where it all began, the reason why we’re all here,” my dad says every time we visit his grandparents’ grave. It was true, and Rhonda felt the exact same way. She took it upon herself to make sure that everybody in the family knew exactly where we came from, who started it all. She wanted to make sure that their names lived on in our family history.

A few weeks before her passing, it dawned on me that I haven’t checked up on Rhonda in a while. So, I texted her and we picked up from where we left off. She updated me about her life, what was going on, how her health was, etc. The last text message I sent her was after I read a status she posted on Facebook saying she was being taken off the donor list. It was a few weeks before she had her health complications, and I wanted her to know that a lot of people love and care about her. I didn’t know how to comfort her during this time, what do you say to someone that receives that kind of news? I just wanted her to know that I saw the update, and wanted to send my love.

When I heard the news that Rhonda passed away, of course I was devastated. It didn’t feel like reality. Rhonda? Tita-Lola Rhonda? Rhon?! It’s crazy because obviously I knew first hand how her health was declining, but you just never think that the day will come. And when that day does come, you’re stuck there, dumbfounded. I started to feel an immense amount of guilt, that the last couple of years we didn’t get to hangout as much due to COVID and personal schedules. I wanted to hangout with her and invite her over many times, but held off because of the pandemic. I felt that the last couple of years we weren’t as close as we used to be because we were off doing our own thing. Of course, when we would reconnect it was back to how it used to be, but I felt like I should’ve been there more towards the end.

When I start to get sad and feel guilty, I feel like I can hear Rhonda’s voice in my head, “Don’t worry about it, yo.” I know the last thing she would want me to do is feel guilty. It really didn’t matter how much time went by, whether we talked consistently or not, I knew that once we connected again, nothing would have changed, nothing would be awkward, we’d just pick up from where we left off and update each other on the important things. And I’m grateful that I got 1 last “what’s up” update before she transitioned out of this life.

Rhonda was always there for me for the important things. I knew that I could count on her to give me advice and listen to my troubles, judgment free. Tita-Lola was hands down one of my biggest cheerleaders. She supported my writing, was there to encourage me when I wasn’t confident in myself, and always let me know how proud she was of me with what I’m choosing to do with my writing. That’s why I felt comfortable to tell her the many ideas I have. “But I don’t know…” I would tell her at the end of a wishful thinking rant. I would explain 1 direction I wanted to take my writing, but then think of 5 other things I want to do. I knew I was all over the place, and would feel a little embarrassed as to what people’s opinions would be once I stopped talking. Rhonda would look at me and casually encourage me to do all of it. “Why not?”

She truly made me feel like I could do anything. Of course, the true push will have to come from me and me alone, but to know that I had Rhonda’s support and she was cheering me on from the sidelines in anything I chose, was a great feeling to know. Rhonda would never try to talk me out of the many ideas I had, and for that I’m grateful. She was so happy to see people be passionate about things, and she encouraged it in every way that she could. That’s just who Rhonda was – the most loving, supportive, and simpy mother fucker you will ever meet. I could laugh with her until I cried, but I could also get real with her and cry my heart out if I needed to. And I know she felt the same.

Rhonda was a giver. She would give you the clothes on her back if she thought you needed it. When she said she got you, she meant that shit. I know that because I have been on the receiving end of her generosity and love. Rhonda would listen, but her support wouldn’t just end there. She would literally try to see how she could help your situation, how she can personally make it better. If she loved you, Rhonda made your problem her problem, and if there was an immediate fix, she would do it. I don’t think I know too many people like that. If you knew Rhonda, consider yourself lucky. She was the most kind hearted person, giver by nature, and one of life’s true gems. Rhonda truly had a heart of gold, and I’ll miss her presence in my life.

I really can’t believe that Tita-Lola is gone. It’s a weird feeling to know that I can’t just text her, or DM her, or tag her in something. My Facebook and Instagram feed crickets as the main poster is no longer posting. It’s a trip to know that I’ll never see the green “online” symbol next to her handles. I have avoided reading through our text message and Instagram threads because I don’t want to get sad. Because it doesn’t feel like she’s totally gone. All her posts, pictures, stories, etc, they are living on. When I tagged her in a post a couple of days after she passed, I decided to read our Instagram chat. It was her encouraging me to take the next step, be independent, and accept an offer to move out. She told me, “How many more signs do you need :)? You’re a writer.” That was Tita-Lola, encouraging without being pushy. God, I miss her.

I find a huge comfort in knowing that Rhonda got the reunion she so desperately wanted with her grandparents. I know she has reunited with the many family members she has lost throughout the years. When I miss her or wish she was still here, I remind myself that she is finally at rest. Rhonda is no longer suffering, no longer in pain, no longer on her tedious schedule. She is at peace. And that alone brings me peace. Rhonda fought her fight, and now we have a real one looking over us from the other side.

Tita-Lola, I miss you. But I know you are at peace. I know that if anyone is pulling strings for me on the other side, it’s definitely you. The way you helped guide me and encourage me in this life, will be some of my most cherished memories of you. Before you went, you asked me to help you with our family’s family tree, and all these projects you had in mind. Like you did for my great-grandparents, I will make sure that you are remembered. I’ll have many photos of you flipping me off to share. Please continue to guide me like you always have.

Rest In Peace, Yo.

2021 – My Emerald Year

Illustration by: Marielle Cabillo

I have a ritual of reading my monthly horoscope when Susan Miller posts them on her website. You see, I’m not one to fully trust and make decisions based off of what my horoscope predicts, but I do like to see what is alleged to happen. You know, kind of like a little fun guide into the near future. The extent of my belief in my horoscope forecasts does have its limits though. I definitely don’t map out my month according to my forecast, but I do like to read back at the end of the month and see if anything predicted was true. I make a mental note of when planets retrograde, if there’s new moons, eclipses, etc., because to me, the stars and astrology don’t lie – the other planets have to affect us in some way.

I remember reading my forecast for 2021. I’m an Aquarius, and 2021 was said to be my “Emerald Year.” The Emerald Year for your sign is said to be when you’re at your luckiest. 2021 for me was “the once-in-12-year visit of good-fortune Jupiter to your Aquarius Sun,” (Miller, Susan). Meaning, 2021 was going to be my year of growth, good fortune, and claiming what is mine. Of course with that information, and being a believer in astrology, you start to get excited that astrologically, your sign is the luckiest sign of the year. I was excited to see what 2021 would bring me. I was very hopeful for the new year – my Emerald Year…

But 2021 was by far one of the hardest years for me. Of course there were great moments as well, but I personally felt like the theme of 2021 for me could be summed up by saying it was a struggle. A struggle to pick myself back up after losing 2 people who were really close to me, a struggle to find motivation to do the things I wanted to do, a struggle to make time for myself, a struggle to balance out my life, a struggle to establish myself professionally, a struggle to push forward, a struggle to correct habits of mine that I wanted to change, a struggle maneuvering through this pandemic, and so forth. But of course with struggle comes a lot of growth and realizations. I guess I had my Emerald Year, but I had to go through the mud for it.

2021 was a really sad year for me. As the months passed into the new year, I slowly, yet quickly, saw my Tatay transition out of this world. I know I wrote a whole ass series on my Tatay and all my feelings that came with his passing, but I still can’t believe it. For the first half of 2021, Tatay’s health was one of my main concerns. I wanted to be there every Sunday to show him that we didn’t just forget about him during the pandemic. The remaining second half of the year I wanted to be at his grave every Sunday to show him that we won’t forget him now that he’s gone.

Tatay passed away in mid-July, but I feel like I’m just now coming to terms with my grief. After he passed, I felt like I was just existing throughout the rest of 2021. I was trying to stay motivated, I wanted to be on top of my writing. I was close to 100 consistent blog posts and I planned to buy my website, collaborate with more people, get stories lined up, and finally get ahead. Tatay passed away a couple week before my 100th post, and all my plans kind of went out the window. I wanted to do all the things that I planned, but couldn’t find the motivation to do anything. I bought my website, but my head was in the clouds.

Even though I had so many plans and ideas that I wanted to accomplish, I didn’t try to force anything on myself. I knew that this was a difficult time in my life, I had just lost my last living grandparent, the one I was closest to at that. Now wasn’t the time to put pressure on myself to produce content when I was simply struggling to just exist and move forward with my life. Of course, on the outside, I was handling shit that I had to handle. But on the inside, I felt a part of me died, that I didn’t care about much, but at the same time I cared about everything. I didn’t feel like myself. It went on for so long that I wondered if this was just the “new me.”

It took months for me to really process what I was exactly feeling in regards to Tatay’s passing. What really helped me sort everything out and get my emotions down was publishing his Series. And I really hesitated on that. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t want anyone to think that I was using my grief for some views. I decided to follow through with Tatay’s Series because I knew I had a lot of unpacked baggage that I needed to let out. Also, he was such a major role in my life, it felt disrespectful not to. Writing was one of the few ways I felt I could adequately pay homage to his life and what he meant to me. But most importantly, it didn’t feel right to not write about something that had cut me so deep. Yes, I could write about other things, but I knew my mind would be elsewhere. I pride myself in authentic writing, so producing other content just didn’t seem genuine – my heart and mind was totally engulfed in grief and anger at the time.

In the midst of my grief, I lost another family member who I was very close to. 4 months after Tatay passed, my aunt / cousin, Rhonda, passed away due to her ongoing health complications. I couldn’t believe it. When Tatay died, I already dubbed 2021 one of the worst years of my life. But when Rhonda also passed away, I thought, “Okay, Universe, are you fucking serious right now?!” I felt like I was being kicked in the face while I was already down. Rhonda, Tita-Lola (Auntie – Grandma), as we liked to call her just to piss her off, was someone I hold very dear to my heart. This was another type of pain. I felt like the Universe was taking punches at me from all kind of different angles.

Tatay was someone that was in my life since day 1. He lived with my family for some time, was someone I saw on a consistent basis, and has been the closest grandparent to me since I was a kid. But with Rhonda, even though we were related, I never really saw her consistently, didn’t grow up around her, and didn’t even have a conversation with her until I was a teenager. Rhonda was someone I chose to get close to. She was someone that chose to put in mutual effort to get to know each other, chose to encourage me, and chose to be there for me to give me advice during the early years of my young adult life. I tried to be there for her as she maneuvered through life’s many challenges as well – her personal shit going on, her health complications, her dating life, and every random thing in-between. We got really tight over the last decade or so, so this was the cherry on top of 2021 being the shittiest year to date.

However, I processed Rhonda’s death a lot differently than I did Tatay’s. Rhonda was an open book, she let everyone and anyone who had access to her social media pages know everything about her life. Social media was like her diary. She showed her dialysis treatments, the medications she had to take on a daily basis, and gave us visuals and documentation of her daily routine. Rhonda would post her true feelings on social media, she didn’t sugar coat anything. At times you’d be reading and think, “Rhonda why the fuck are you posting this online?” But that’s what made her experience all the more real and relatable. I feel like just from her posts, I could see what kind of life she lived on a day to day basis. On top of what she would vent to me about, I knew that this sickness was a lot to handle. Her declining health really took a toll on her life.

Rhonda was such a family oriented person. The way I yearn to see Tatay again is the same way she yearned for my great-grandparents (her grandparents). Her grief for those in our family that have passed away was so immense, she was truly an individual that loved with every fiber of her being. But she focused that grief on trying to educate the younger generations of our family history. She was passionate about our family and keeping the memories of my great-grandparents alive. So when she passed away, I definitely was sad. But I was at peace knowing that she finally got the reunion with all of her loved ones that she so desperately wanted. I was relieved to know that she was no longer in pain, no longer suffering, no longer grieving people she loved. That was my peace.

2021’s biggest lesson for me was realizing in depth the phrase, “life is short.” Of course, this is something I already knew, but it takes on a whole other meaning when you lose people close to you. Death will really have you see things for what it is and see people for who they are. Death made me realize money truly ain’t shit. All that matters in this life is time and showing up for people that matter to you. All you can really give people is your time. At the end of the day, time is the only thing that matters, and how you choose to spend your time is completely up to you.

When you’re at the end of your life, you’re not going to give a shit about how much money you have. Instead, you’ll think of the people that were there, made the effort, and showed up for you. So I’ve been trying to “show up” more for those around me. Like making it to the spontaneous hangouts, the hikes with family, take a drive with my dad to keep him company when he runs errands, and attempting to do things that my partner and I say we want to do but never really get around to doing. I’ve been so used to isolating and sheltering in place that my attempt to put in effort to show up was significantly effected. In order to be a good partner, friend, and family member, I needed to show up and make the effort for those around me. That need to show up definitely came to light because of Tatay.

I had to make the effort to show up for others, but I also needed to realize when I needed space. With all of 2021’s craziness, it was the year I had to learn the hard way that in order to be there for others, I first had to be there for myself. And that means taking those mental breaks if needed. I personally take a long time to recharge after interaction. And with my emotions already drained from personal tragedies, I was made very aware of other things that can leave me feeling drained when my cup was already half full. I love my alone time. I am a homebody by definition. So during my time to recharge, I would find the little things that bring me joy – like eating my favorite food, binge watching a show / many murder documentaries, sleeping, or simply doing nothing. The power of doing nothing when you feel drained is so powerful. Sometimes you need those lazy days to detox.

2021 gave me a lot of set backs. With the pandemic persistent and showing no signs of letting up any time soon, I really had to come to terms with this current way of life. I had to realize that this pandemic isn’t going anywhere, I needed to learn how to adapt and make changes so I wouldn’t get burnt out / bored with the same routine. There’s no use in wishing things can go back to how it was pre-pandemic, because that’s not our current reality. But I did not want to live in fear. I wanted to continue to live my life, but safely. At this point, all we can really do is take the proper precautions and go about our lives. COVID isn’t going anywhere, so we need to learn how to survive and exist in this current age without it being detrimental to our own mental health in the process.

Living through the pandemic another full year has actually helped get my priorities in order. It’s ironic because the whole world is kind of in limbo with the pandemic, and that has added to me feeling stagnant with my dreams and aspirations. But it has really given me a lot of time to figure out what I want to do, what I want to accomplish, and make baby steps to get to those points. With cases rising and uncertainty continuing to circulate, it’s comforting to know that I can at least attempt to build out my future plans. The feeling of life “slowing down” due to the pandemic has helped me tune into what it is I truly want out of life.

A lot of those plans are obviously in regards to my writing career and what steps I want to take next. Like I said, 2021 brought a lot of set backs for me. I’m already naturally a procrastinator, so when life threw in a tragedy or 2, I just didn’t know how to deal. There are still times where I think, “is this just the new me?” But as time passes, I’m starting to slowly get back to feeling like “me” again. I needed that break. I needed that time to allow myself to fall apart. I wanted to keep writing and continue with my content, and luckily it all worked out. But if I’m being completely honest, there were a lot of lazy days. Days where I didn’t want to get ahead, where I didn’t care to work on anything, where I worked on things last minute.

At the start of 2021, I had so many deadlines for myself to meet. But it didn’t go as I planned at all. And usually, I would beat myself up about it. But surprisingly, it was the opposite. I knew that the last thing I needed to do was be angry with myself for not meeting deadlines as I dealt with the death of 2 close family members. I decided to show myself kindness. I needed to feel those emotions, go through the crazy rollercoaster of grief, and sort out all my emotions, because if I didn’t, I know I would just self-destruct.

But through the set backs, I have accomplished a couple of things last year that I’m very proud of. Even though I was in a rut, I never once put my writing on hold. I still connected with so many new people and pushed out a couple of Series. And I’m so glad that I’ve connected with so many people who gave me the privilege to share their stories on my platform. I know that this is just the beginning.

My horoscope said that 2021 was going to be my Emerald Year – where I work hard for what I want, grow as a person, and have the universe in my favor. 2021 was supposed to be when I was supposedly astrologically at my luckiest. When Tatay and Rhonda passed away, I thought, “How the hell is this my emerald year? This is the by far the worst year of my life.” But then I took a step back and saw all that was accomplished, all the lessons I learned, all the realizations I had to come to terms with, and all the growth that took place because of what I went through this year and I think, “I got my Emerald Year… just in the most fucked up way possible.” 2021 definitely challenged me in every way possible. I had to re-establish what matters the most to me in this life and that brought a lot of growth and self-reflecting. And I know that all the seeds I planted in 2021, whether I knew it or not, will start to bear fruit in 2022 and the years to come.

2021 was the year I had to struggle. It was a struggle to even get those seeds planted. But I know they’re there, and I’m waiting for my blessings to come. 2021 was the year I lost people very close to me, 2022 and onward is trying to make them proud.

Estephanie: Motherhood Without My Life Partner

“This is story 10 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Estephanie’s story, written in her own words:

“My name is Estephanie, but friends call me Juelz. I’m the proud mother of Elían, fiancé to Tone, Founder of Divine Eye, LLC, Licensed Esthetician, and Body Sculptress at Adriana’s Beauty Salon. 

When I first found out I was pregnant my exact words were ‘holy shit,’ as I smiled. This is not something our family knows, but our son was planned per say. We knew our future wouldn’t be easy and that it would be scary, but we loved each other and knew that we would figure it out. My son turns 4 in January, and man he has been our biggest blessing. Being a mother to me means endless amounts of  strength, courage, and resilience. It’s a feeling that no other can ever fulfill. 

You can have the crappiest day, but even when your child is figuring out their emotions, they manage to still make you smile. You sit and observe them, you then realize, ‘My God, you were in my stomach. I created those beautiful hands, that smile.’ And then I think, ‘Damn you sound just like me.’ Like Faith Evans said, ‘I never knew a love like this before,’ because my family is different in many ways like many others. We’re all unique. I’m a single mother to Elían while my life partner, Tone, is incarcerated.

Honestly, my mom was aware of our situation from the beginning. However, Tone isn’t just someone I met 5-6 years ago. I’ve known him my entire life. We’ve been a part of each other’s lives since we were 12. We have history, we dated in high school. Puppy love, right? But I always knew he’d be an amazing partner. My fiancé was fighting a case previous to our relationship’s beginning. My mom knew about his past, and they have an amazing relationship. My family didn’t know about his case, and I was very private about people I dated. So when I finally brought someone to the family they were excited. His situation wasn’t my story to tell. It was Tone’s private matters. We didn’t want the negativity to surround us. People are ruthless sometimes with questions and overstepping boundaries.

 But of course, secrets always find a way to come out. My family became aware of his case while I was 7 months pregnant. By then, they had gotten to know him for who he was and witnessed how amazing, hardworking, and loving he truly is. They witnessed how attentive he was while I was pregnant and after I gave birth. He made sure to stay home and give his son time. By then, it was too late for the judgement. My family loves Tone. I feel like we just didn’t give room for judgement. We focused on ourselves.

We had a lot of court dates, even before I was pregnant. We never knew which court date they would remand him. My anxiety was pretty high. His case is a federal case, and the judge truly had the say if he’s remanded before his sentencing or not. During my pregnancy, all we did was plan and discuss how we would raise our son. We discussed scenarios because we truly never knew which court would be the last one until it was.

May 15, 2018 my fiancé, my son, and I were joined by other family members as we walked into the federal courthouse located in Oakland, CA. The day had come for sentencing and we believed a miracle would happen due to his many accomplishments and life changing choices.

 My life changed in a blink of an eye when the judge sentenced my fiancé to ten years and eleven months. My son was two days away from turning four months old. It was devastating to hear. I dropped to my knees. I couldn’t believe it. It was his first time being sentenced – never missed a drug test, attended all court ordered classes, and worked a full-time graveyard shift (he does drywall). Minimum for each count was 5 years. Tone was just as surprised. 

Life was great up until that point. I was doing amazing in my career. My son was healthy after a difficult delivery. We had just mailed out invitations for our wedding. I was very hesitant to plan our wedding, but I said ‘Why live in fear?’ Tone was waiting for me to give him the okay to plan the wedding. I was afraid this would happen and it became my reality. I don’t regret it one bit. Life had different plans for us. We knew the possibility was high, but like everyone, you pray and hope for the best. 

The people closest to me understand my position of wanting to wait for Tone. There was concern, but in regards to my mental state. They reminded me of all my options. Reminding me that I too matter and that any decision I took, they would stand by it. Meaning if I waited they would support it, and if I decided to walk away they would support me too.

I haven’t wanted to throw in the towel because of the love and respect I have for Tone. I know I don’t owe him anything. I know this case has absolutely nothing to do with me and I know it’s me putting a lot of hope into the relationship. I cannot get up and leave, I say that because I’d be leaving for the wrong reasons. I’d be leaving because I’m ‘lonely,’ not because I don’t love him or because he doesn’t treat me right. Of course I want my family to be complete, of course I want to have date night to get dolled up while holding hands with my partner, but if I walk away, that’s walking away from my family.

The journey hasn’t been easy. Single moms and mothers like me, who aren’t single but due to circumstances have to do it alone, we forget to praise ourselves for all that we do. There are lonely nights where we stay up to cry, wake up with puffy eyes, and handle business. When there’s so much to be done you don’t know where to start but you do. The amazing memories we create with our children, good and bad that you can look back and laugh. 

Motherhood was never supposed to be easy. It is the next step of growth. Motherhood teaches you to unlock those traumas you’ve been avoiding because you don’t want to project it onto your child. Motherhood gets you in a loophole of emotions, but doing motherhood alone without your life partner is hard. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a partner pass away. I’m blessed to be able to receive a phone call, an email, or these days – even a visit. 

The first years I struggled with my depression and anxiety but I managed it. I lost myself in that process. I lost my glow. I lost my happiness because I was stripped away from what I thought was my perfect life. In reality, what is perfection? I don’t think anyone knows what that is. I just knew I needed to fight, and that the fight wasn’t going to be easy. Everyone’s first thoughts are, ‘Oh she’s going to leave him, watch,’ or ‘Oh, she’s going to cheat on him if she waits, watch,’ or even worse, ‘Watch her wait and the relationship fails.’ Like sheesh, can we be a bit more optimistic here please?

It truly takes a village, my support system has helped me so much with my child. When I needed to go back to work, all hands were on deck. My mom, mother-in-law, and sister-in-laws helped me take care of my son. Mondays and Wednesdays my mom would watch him, the other days my sister-in-law would watch him, and when she couldn’t anymore my mother-in-law took over. My cousins would come over to help me so I could catch up with laundry or cleaning while they helped me with my son. They watched me break down crying an endless amount of times. My cousins and close friends gave me a safe space to vent and plot my next moves. My mom motivated me even on the days I just wanted to be alone, she made sure to get me out of my comfort zone.

I found love in food. It was my coping mechanism even when I was a teen. However, I knew I needed to do something different but didn’t know what. I created myself a routine. Every week looked the same. But I grew tired of it. I would begin books and I couldn’t finish them. My attention span was so small and I couldn’t understand why if I truly loved reading books. Then it was time to dive deeper. I knew I needed to go back to therapy. I tried it but I was afraid to open the doors of Pandora’s Box. So I stopped, but I started to journal. Not every day, but I tried as much as I could. I prayed a lot and I cried a lot. 

 As a mother, naturally you  are a nurturer. I love nurturing my family, that means my fiancé as well. Not only do I have to learn to cope with my roller coaster of emotions, but I too have to attend to my man’s needs and his vulnerabilities so he doesn’t lose his mind for not being here with his family and witnessing our son grow everyday. That’s his biggest fear because he grew up without a father too. 

It’s far from easy for Tone. This was his biggest fear: not being able to watch his child grow up every day. He wishes he could be here, but he has his moments of depression and anger. He writes Elían letters and draws beautiful artwork so he could see them. It’s been harder for Tone when we did have visits – to sit in front of your child and not be able to hug them or even hold their hand due to COVID. If you break the rule, Tone can be sent to solitary confinement. Tone has been in solitary confinement many times during this pandemic, caught COVID twice, and was freezing because it was so cold in those cells.

What hurts the most is not knowing how he will come home from the traumas he’s endured during his life in prison. How he will handle the changes I’ve made during the time he was gone. I worry if we will be able to adapt to the new life after the honeymoon stage fades of having him home. How my son will handle his father being home, if he will react negatively when his dad wants to correct him or if it’s going to be awkward for him. 

I can relate with my son because I also had to visit my father in prison until I was 25 years old. I know the feeling when I see my son watch his father enter the visiting room, how his eyes glow, and he cheeses under his facemask. The pandemic has been far from easy – it has been our biggest challenge. As of right now, we have no visits due to COVID-19. The facility is unaware when the visits will begin again due to cases rising. In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic I organized a protest (#YOSOYTUVOZ Lompoc, CA) with the help of my family and other families to bring awareness to the inhumane acts that were taking place in the prison. 

Not seeing each other for almost one year, and now being able to see each other and not hug each other is difficult. Helping my son understand that his daddy does love him but can’t hug him is devastating. Especially when he compares himself to other children and their fathers. I know that feeling because I also would do it as a little girl – but now as a mother it’s by far the worst feeling.

Growing up without a father was difficult. I didn’t understand why my father committed the same mistake knowing the high risk of being away from us. My father has always battled with addiction and being in and out of prison. The time my dad was home we have great memories of him, but I also have nightmares of him. I would take care of my dad when he was coked out. I would intervene in the physical beatings my mother received while he was under the influence. I worried if he would come home or not, and if he came home, I feared what state he would be in.

 I’m a daddy’s girl 100% however, it does get overwhelming. It made me a giver and a nurturer yet gave me a cold heart. Although my father is no longer incarcerated, he struggles with his addiction. I can’t believe that although I’ll be 28 next month, I no longer have a healthy relationship with my father. When I’m dealing with heavy stuff I switch to survival mode. It’s been a journey to calm down the survival mode because I have a son now and can’t just get up and leave.

I feel that maybe my family is sympathetic towards my current situation because my mom went through the same thing with my dad. But my father was nothing like Tone. My family didn’t meet my father until after I turned 2 years old because he went to prison while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad wasn’t the best partner for my mother, a lot of healing needed to take place. And with Tone, it was peaceful, no drama, loving, respectful, and family oriented. It was a different experience my family witnessed with Tone. He had similarities like my dad given the choice of lifestyle they chose for various reasons, but he has my Papa’s (grandfather) hard working attitude and detail oriented when it comes to family.

The only thing my son and I can relate to is that Tone is incarcerated for mistakes that were previous to our relationship. The way I’m helping my son with not having his dad around is by teaching him coping mechanisms to help with his emotions while being frustrated. We do a lot of breathing techniques, drawing/painting when he’s sad or having an off day. When he’s mad I tell him to go to his room to take a breather, use the punching bag, or to use his drums. I like teaching him things Tone would teach him, and showing him movies Tone loves. I bring him to work with me, I’ve taught him how to fold towels, and help me with laundry. I do things with him that his dad and I emphasized we wanted to do. I speak highly of his dad and I remind him no matter where his daddy is, that he’s always thinking of him and loves him dearly.

Elían wants to know everything about his dad, from what he eats to what kind of cologne he wears. Sometimes at night is when it becomes harder for me. The hardest question by far has been, ‘Why daddy don’t love me or hug me? I miss him.’ Those were the words I heard the first time we visited him after COVID-19. It was a new facility we were going to and the first time seeing him since the last time we visited pre-pandemic. It was very rough for my son. Again, hearing that from a 3 year old was devastating. It was so hard to put the words together as I cried with him because as a child, I remembered that feeling.

My son is very attached to Tone given the circumstances. Their bond was strong even when I was pregnant. When he would hear his dad’s voice, he’d have a whole party in my belly. One thing about my son is he’s very curious and asks a lot of questions. This year we officially told him his dad was at a camp. He knows that his dad is at a camp correcting his actions by having an adult timeout. And sometimes, as adults we make mistakes and everything has a consequence whether it is good or bad, but when it is bad the timeouts are a little different. They have to go away for a little bit to learn new habits.

 However, we emphasize that if it were up to his dad, he’d be at home with us every single day. I emphasize to him how much his daddy loves him. I have pictures of his dad everywhere. My son’s godparents have bought him a Build-a-Bear with his voice recording telling him how much he loves him so he can hear it everyday. Books about his daddy (wonderbly.com), also blankets with pictures of him when he was a baby with his dad. 

Obstacles in life will always happen, no matter how great your plan is, no matter how good of a person you are, life will challenge you. I am learning to believe in myself because of motherhood. Everything life has taught me has led up to this moment. So when I find myself asking, ‘Why me?’ I now say, ‘Okay, so what’s the lesson here and where can I grow?’ Being a mother doesn’t mean having all the answers, it means figuring it out with the answers you do have and working from there. 

It sounds so simple, but trust and communication is how Tone and I maintain our relationship. We are very raw with our conversations. We have conversations that couples find difficult to have – our fears, our regrets, our happiness, our past, our traumas, things we like about each other, and things we find difficult about each other. I am very open with my emotions and I’m like a firework. And Tone is more reserved and quiet about his emotions. But I can sense it just by the first moment I hear his voice. I cry a lot to him if I’m being honest. I get a sudden rush of guilt for complaining to him and he reminds me that I’m his partner and he needs to talk about these things with me. We pray a lot. We read the same books so we can discuss them to create conversation. I bought a deck of cards for couples to ask questions to get to know each other even more. We try to know everything about each other because all we can do is use our words to explain what and how we feel on a daily basis since we don’t have each other physically here.

I am hopeful Tone will be able to come home sooner than we ever expected. I am hopeful that this nightmare will just be a chapter in our story where we can look back on 20 years from now and say, ‘Damn, baby, we did that.’ Where we can tell our future grandchildren and great grandchildren our love story. Like not only did we overcome this sentence, but a whole pandemic too.  

The best advice I can give someone that is dealing with this same scenario is to learn from each other. LEARN EACH OTHER’S TRIGGERS AND LOVE LANGUAGE. Learn to compromise, learn to understand one another. This journey is far from easy, there will be nights that you feel your heart is truly hurting and the tears won’t stop running down your face but it’s during those moments you grow. It’s during those moments you learn that although you feel like the world is against you, it’s not. Never say, ‘Why me?’ Say, ‘What do I need to learn during this time?’ Take this time to truly get out of your comfort zone. Learn to trust yourself because the doubt will eat you alive. Don’t listen to the bystanders, pay attention to the support and love you receive. No one will understand your relationship better than you and your partner.” -Estephanie

Chrystina: Co-Parenting With Love

“This is story 9 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Chrystina’s story, written in her own words:

“There were so many emotions when I found out Justin was in a new relationship. Sierra is from the south and when speaking with her, her southern accent was soothing. However, I of course went through the typical jealousy (why can you get it right with her and not me), fear my daughter would replace me, and awe that someone could grow to love my sassy princess as her own. At first, I was hesitant, but I’m now very comfortable co-parenting our daughter, Marlowe. 

I found out about Sierra right when Justin met her. Justin was always upfront about any women he was dating. He told me about their first date. I was always informed about how their relationship was progressing. He has always been an amazing father, very protective and loving. We were both on the same page about how anyone we were in a relationship with had to accept Marlowe as well. It would be a package deal. 

It was hard for me to accept that my ex had a new partner. At first, I buried my jealousy deep inside me. I wasn’t in love with him any more and hadn’t been in a very long time. My jealousy was mainly centered around the fact that he got to find his life partner before me. I have not been in a serious relationship since we separated and eventually divorced. I dated some but it always ended. That was hard for me. Seeing Justin get married and move into a family was hard for me, but I focused on how it benefited Marlowe and I tucked my pain aside. 

Being a single mom was so hard on me emotionally, and I had no one to share it with. I was also limited in my ability to date because I was a single parent. My life revolved around a child. I gave up myself to parent her the best way I knew how. I couldn’t go out and make new friends, so dating was not even really possible. They say as a single mom, you have no life until your child is grown, and I was finding that to be very true. My mom was a single mom, and I swore to myself I would never have kids so that I wouldn’t  be in that situation. Life had other plans for me. 

I was pressured to remain single. People close to me warned of the dangers of bringing men around my daughter, so it was advised I don’t enter a relationship until she is all grown up. That wasn’t what I wanted for myself but in the end, it didn’t matter because nothing serious developed with anyone. 

Moving past being hurt took some time. While I had nothing but platonic feelings for Justin, I felt like it was unfair that I had practically nothing and he had moved on to build a family that had everything. The moment I remember most vividly that I had stopped being hurt was when Sierra’s parents sent Marlowe a gift in the mail that had clothes in her size and shoes that she wore until they had holes in them. They were all items that Marlowe loved. To know that there were people out there who knew and loved my daughter made me feel not so alone. 

Justin and I both didn’t grow up with our biological fathers. Justin and I always said that even if we didn’t work out, Marlowe would always know her dad. While he has always been a great father, his relationship with Sierra has made him better. She completes him in such a way that he shines better as a person, and that in turn, makes him a better man to be a father. I’m so happy Marlowe gets to experience what we never had. After long, it just stopped bothering me. Marlowe has me and she has the ideal family she has always wanted. And since I just want to see her happy, I let it go and praised his relationship instead of bashing it. 

In the beginning, Marlowe tested Sierra I’m sure. She was used to having her daddy’s complete and total attention. Marlowe has a strong personality and doesn’t hold out about being herself. Soon after spending time with them, she would come home with stories of all the things they did together, such as getting nails done and going shopping. Soon, Marlowe warmed up to her. 

They had been together almost a year before I met her. To me, they seemed really interested in each other from the start. I wasn’t so much hesitant as I was curious to finally meet Sierra. We had conversed through text and messaging on Facebook only. We weren’t very close but we were friendly. I really wanted to know the woman who had charmed my daughter into loving her so much. In the beginning, I wanted to meet her so I could make sure she was someone I wanted around my daughter. Marlowe was a handful so I was looking for any help I could get!

I don’t know exactly when we first met, but my very first memory of really talking with her was when I was meeting them to pick up Marlowe. Sierra was pregnant with their son, Sean. I remember asking Justin if it would be ok if Sierra got out of the car so I can see the belly. My favorite part of being pregnant was my belly, and pregnant bellies have always been special to me. Sierra was carrying someone who our daughter would be connected to, and I wanted to be a part of it too. And she looked absolutely adorable. 

I think I surprised them that I was interested to see her pregnant belly. Sierra got out of the car shyly and I squealed so enthusiastically. Her face broke into a gorgeous smile and I remember Marlowe just dancing around happily. This meeting set the tone for mine and Sierra’s friendship. I wasn’t a jealous ex-wife, even though we were still legally married at the time. I was someone willing to make this work because I truly cared about everyone involved. I tried to make it very clear I had no romantic feelings for Justin at all whatsoever. 

It did take me a long time to trust another person to be in Marlowe’s life. Marlowe is my life. Sunup to sundown – and I was so used to doing it alone. I knew Marlowe and understood her best. I didn’t want anyone to come along and hurt her. I was trying to protect her from my hurt. But I’m very glad I let my guard down. I finally did when I saw pictures of them together. My daughter was very slow to warm up to people when she was younger. Seeing her smile bright and wide let me know that she felt ok with Sierra, and I began to trust her. 

Sierra began to address Marlowe as “our daughter.” She was consistently there for Marlowe, ready with love and advice. Marlowe is very feminine and I am not, so having a feline bonus mom was such a plus for Marlowe. We do not talk often, but when we do it’s always centered on Marlowe and it’s very respectful and loving. I would like to think we are friends. She contacts me when Marlowe reaches a milestone in her life and we share input on how to deal with it. We recently had a FaceTime time chat to talk to Marlowe about starting her period. She makes sure I get Mother’s Day gifts and I sent her a Christmas present. I’m sure we would be closer if I didn’t live so far away. 

Justin lived in Las Vegas. The Bay Area priced us out, so we decided to move where she could still see him easily. We checked out Reno and loved it so we moved here. It was originally just summers and school breaks when Marlowe got to see Justin. Marlowe would typically fly unaccompanied minors to Vegas. It was a 40 minute flight and she had a cellphone. It made it easier because someone had to be at the gate to pick her up so I knew she was safe. 

Almost two years ago, Marlowe went to live with her dad full-time. When Marlowe first moved in with her dad, it was supposed to be just for a year, and at that time they lived in Vegas. I lived in Reno so it worked out. Like I said, we used to just have her fly on school breaks to see her dad and Sierra. But Marlowe then formed a strong bond with Sierra and her baby brother, Sean, that she didn’t want to keep leaving them. She always seemed to start back up at school before his birthday and she hated missing his birthday parties. 

When COVID happened and jobs dried up, they received an offer to move back to Sierra’s home in North Carolina. At the time, Marlowe was living with them in Vegas. Marlowe called me and begged me to let her go. Her eyes were full of tears, afraid I would say no. She begged me to ‘not bring up the custody thing.’  She spoke of the experiences she would have and how she didn’t want to leave her baby brother. I died inside. Vegas was far enough away. The other side of the country was too much. I felt if I let her go, I would lose her, she would never come home.

 However the Lord had other plans. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to it. My heart shattered but I let her go. I knew she was being given an opportunity to have the family she dreamed of. One that I couldn’t provide. Saying yes was the hardest, most hurtful thing I’ve done to myself. Yet it was the most beneficial thing I could have ever done for her. She now attends the same school her grandmother and bonus mom attended and made friends with so many people. 

Justin explained to me their situation (having a house in North Carolina). Having already spoken to Marlowe and knowing how much this meant to her, I agreed. The ultimate deciding factor was the tears in her eyes. I could never say no to that face. I had days to decide if she could move with them to North Carolina. It was not long at all. It was probably a good thing because if I had a lot more time, I probably would have changed my mind. 

Marlowe living in North Carolina is very long term. They own their own home and Sierra has her own business. Also all of Sierra’s family lives there so they have a huge support system. There is no reason for them to move back out here. She has adjusted very well. She loves living there with all of them. She misses my cooking but that’s about it. 

I want to move out to North Carolina, but I am afraid. I love Marlowe more than life, but I fear that we have been apart for too long and it won’t be the same as when she was my mini-me and we did everything together. She is older and angry that I haven’t been able to move out there yet. I was supposed to move out there by her birthday in October. Financially it hasn’t been possible. If I just moved out there I would be on the street, literally. My bills here prevented me from saving like I want to to be able to move to North Carolina. 

 I couldn’t be there by the time I said I would be there, and that has caused the rift between us. She has mentioned that she feels I have lied to her about moving out there and that now it’s ok if I don’t. She doesn’t expect it anymore. She blames me for the fact we aren’t as close anymore. That hurts a lot because all I did was what she asked for. I still want to move out there but moving across the country is not as easy as it seems.

I feel like I am missing out on so much of her life. I’m heartbroken. We were very close. She is an amazing gymnast and I have been to one of her competitions. I have missed others. I miss her incredibly. She is still too young to understand that she asked for this, not knowing the ramifications it would have. It leaves me feeling very hurt and confused. I try to talk to her as much as I can as both our schedules allow, but I know that isn’t the same as me being there. 

Marlowe has her own iPhone and I got her an Apple Watch. We text and FaceTime. She is a very active gymnast, so we don’t talk as much as we did when she first moved. Since she has moved to North Carolina, I have seen her twice. I stayed a few days each time. I sobbed until I was on the plane. She cried as well. When we are together it’s so loving and fun. She’s my mini best friend again. We talk, laugh, and hang out. It’s so hard going back to FaceTime after I’ve had her arms and basked in that sweet Marlowe glow. But the only peace I have is that she is very well taken care of. She is surrounded by a family that loves her and she’s growing up to be a fantastic and wonderful young lady. 

Being on good terms with my daughter’s bonus mom is important for many reasons. The first one that comes to my mind is that it helps forge the bond between them. Sierra is a wonderful woman who loves Marlowe very much, and my acceptance of her means that my daughter doesn’t have to feel guilty about allowing another woman to be in her life in such a major role. It also allows me to breathe. I don’t have to worry when Marlowe is with her. I know she is safe, loved, and well cared for.

 I’m thankful that Justin, Sierra, and I are able to communicate and do what’s best for Marlowe. At her ninth birthday dinner, she was afraid that Sierra had taken her dad from me, that I didn’t like her, and we couldn’t be friends. We cleared that misconception up right away and Marlowe was immediately happier and pleased that she didn’t have to choose between us. To clarify, I was visiting Vegas for her birthday. She was living with them full time. I’m also very thankful that their relationship is solid enough to be a good example for Marlowe. 

I’m very blessed we have similar views. Communication is so important because there isn’t just one person involved. There are actually 5 because their son, Sean, is included. We need to be able to talk about what is best for Marlowe. Boundaries are needed too. There is a three hour time difference between here and there. I work the night shift. Marlowe has to be off her phone by 8:30 PM. That’s what time I typically wake up because it’s 5:30 PM here. I have to respect that because those are their rules for her and it is their home. Boundaries like those show Marlowe that there is mutual respect among all of us. 

Some advice I can offer for others out there who are co-parenting – Don’t make this about you. Of course there are hurt feelings that will try to rear its ugly head, but is the child happy? Do they glow in the presence of their bonus parent? Is your child’s life better overall because they have a huge support system full of love and acceptance? If so, let that be what guides you. Let your love for your child be the focal point of your co-parenting. Parents always claim to want to do what’s best for their children. Maybe this is what’s best for them. It’s not easy, but bringing a person into the world was never supposed to be.

And lastly, IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!! I cannot stress that enough. Please put aside pride and hurt feelings and allow a relationship to blossom between the child and the bonus parent. It is scary, but the benefits are so worth it. Marlowe would not be the amazing girl she is without Sierra and her family. Communicate with each other and know that the common goal is raising a person to survive in this world. Marlowe now has many adults around that love her and care for her. She has gained another set of grandparents, aunts, and family friends that care for her. Her foundation is very strong and supported. She confidently navigates her way through life because she knows she is so loved.” -Chrystina

Jayna: Moms Are Still A Work In Progress

“This is story 8 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Jayna’s story, written in her own words:

“If you were to ask me how motherhood looked like for me 2 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘well, breast-pumping sucks, I’m tired af, and the constant questioning of, ‘when does this get easier?’ crosses my mind as many times as I breathe in a day.’ Today, Motherhood for me still looks like all of the above minus the breast pumping. Truthfully, parenting is hard and if you are a parent, I know I don’t need to tell you that. But for me, navigating through my current life as a ‘stay-at-home mom’ these past 2 years has met me with so many internal challenges of self-doubt and anxiety/depression that I never expected to go through as a mom. 

Ultimately, being faced with the adversities of motherhood has guided me to the start of my own self-discovery and healing journey to continuously work on becoming the best person and mom I can be for my son, Cade. While I speak from my own personal experience, I do believe it is 100% a full-time job to learn how to raise a child that requires your undivided love and attention, all while pretty much still raising yourself and learning who you are as an individual.

 Being a mom has brought me the awareness I never knew I needed to learn. And it helped uncover my personal triggers and consciously build my awareness to not ‘take it out’ on my child when he decided that his lunch looks better thrown all over the floor or when he decided to happily jump on my bed while unknowingly smearing a poop-filled diaper onto my bed sheets (true story). But you’re telling me, moms don’t get paid for this? Just kidding…

At my most vulnerable state, there are lots of days when I don’t feel like being a mom, doing mom duties, or just having my mind consumed with anything and every little thing involving my son, only then to ask myself at the end of the day, ‘Am I doing enough? Am I a good mom?’ These thoughts still make me feel incredibly guilty at times but I’ve learned to accept that they’re completely normal to have and not every day or even half the days as a parent will go as we expect it to. 

I think the feeling of me ‘not wanting to be a mom’ at times comes from a combination of the mental exhaustion I feel from being a stay-at-home mom, as well as my personal issues with anxiety and depression. When I think back to my life before becoming a mom, I always dealt with bouts of anxiety and depression from the time I was 12 years old to my earliest knowledge. It can feel ten times more overwhelming for present-day-me to internally work through my mental health struggles while caring for a toddler and being a safe space for his own emotions as well. 

Cade is extremely clingy to me (I’m his one and only caretaker for the majority of the day until David gets home from work) and I find myself getting overwhelmingly frustrated, stressed out, and helpless trying to figure out his growing needs and tantrums. However, what this shows me is that for me to readily meet my child with love, patience, and understanding, it requires me to always hold love, patience, and understanding with myself first and foremost.

My personal struggle of trying to have everything figured out as a new mom and actively raising my son added to the pressure of having yet to establish my career. It is definitely the hardest battle I go through daily. Society has its way of making you feel like what you’re doing isn’t enough whether you’re a parent or not. And everyone seems to have an opinion/judgment on your life like they know what’s best for you. I personally struggle at times with feeling like I need to prove myself to others in my life to deserve acceptance as if what I do as a stay-at-home mom isn’t enough.

I hold strongly to the belief that a person can’t meet you somewhere where they’ve never been. In other words, a person can’t begin to understand you without judgment if they haven’t been close to being in your shoes. It’s no one’s place to judge anyone but people will be people and that’s something I have no control over.

Nonetheless, I fully recognize that it’s a blessing to be able to be a stay-at-home mom over the past two years, and I never take that for granted. But just like any job, it comes with stress, hardship, and a whole lot of mental and emotional battles that an outsider wouldn’t see, let alone someone that hasn’t spent a day in their life raising a child. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that sure as hell doesn’t mean they know a fraction of what’s best for you or even understand what you go through. I remind myself daily that the only opinion that truly matters at the end of the day is the one that I hold of myself. 

Before becoming a mom, I never self-reflected or took the time to learn about my anxiety and depression. From having an unexpected C-section, to adjusting to life as a new mom with new responsibilities, to having little emotional and physical support during this challenging time, made it clear as ever to me that I needed to start taking care of myself. And for the first time in my life, stop internalizing all of my emotions and pain. My anxiety and depression will always be a part of my life but I’m on a life-long journey to consistently cope in healthy and healing ways. 

I truly never prioritized my mental health or even understood what ‘mental health’ means. Because of this, I always felt anxious and worried that I’m not a ‘good mom.’ Cade just turned 2 years old and I still struggle with that feeling. But I understand now that I’m in control of my thoughts and feelings. I still get anxious, but I’ve learned to let my worries go instead of clinging onto them and letting them multiply. 

 I’ll always experience hard days where my anxiety will tell me that I must be doing something wrong, but what’s important is how I don’t allow myself to get stuck in that narrative because it’s simply not true. One way I do this is to ‘fill my cup first’ by doing things that support my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. This is so I feel more able to approach whatever kind of day my son is having with that patience, love, and understanding – because I’ve taken care of myself first. 

An easy thing I like to do, that takes less than 5 minutes each morning, is to set my day with an intention before I even get out of bed – especially on those hard days when I ‘don’t feel like being a mom.’ I’ll take a minute to stretch, take a few deep belly breaths(life-changing and I highly recommend it if you struggle with anxiety), and I’ll repeatedly tell myself something as simple as, ‘I am patient. I am strong. I am the best mom to my son.’ Some days I’ll get lazy or forget to do this and I’ve just started to appreciate the impactful difference it makes in my mood and how I handle Cade’s hundred waves of moods. 

I never truly felt like I ‘found myself’ before becoming a mom, so now I feel like I’m still finding and trying to be who I want to become while still becoming the mom I want to be. The most challenging part of this is simply taking the time and effort to do the things that I want to do and prioritizing my self-care. For me, that’s giving myself permission to let go of any ‘mom guilt’ or worry I may have and literally just do whatever it is I want to do in that moment without Cade and enjoy every minute of a much deserved ‘break.’ Some days this looks like taking a walk by myself and catching up on Jay Shetty’s latest podcast episode, or learning to sit with and address toxic thoughts, and other days it’s just eating Samyang spicy ramen noodles in peace without having to try to explain to a screaming toddler why he can’t have any or else his mouth is going to have a ‘booboo.’

While I currently don’t have my career established like others might, I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be in this present time and that’s with my son. Anyone can be a parent, but to be a parent that also recognizes there is so much more to it than just providing the basic necessities to survive is hard work. Becoming a mom sort of forced me into a deep self-reflection of how I was raised and conditioned to be as an adult. It’s a daily choice and effort I have to make to consciously learn how to reparent myself and break generational trauma to parent Cade in a way where he grows up knowing that his feelings are valid, important, and respected. 

There’s always going to be that feeling of ‘pressure’ to have my ‘life together’ according to societal norms. But right now, I’m at peace with all that I’m doing- working on my self-development and prioritizing my mental health while being a stay-at-home mom raising a toddler. As long as I know I’m flourishing in that part of my life, I’m confident that I will ‘figure everything else out’ in due time and on my own time. It gets hard to not feel anxious about what the future holds for me, but that’s when I try to push myself to see the good in my life – practicing gratitude for everything in my life presently and focusing less on what it’s not or what it could be.

I really don’t have this all figured out, and maybe I never will. But motherhood to me will remain a journey presented with unraveling lessons, and Cade being a reminder of my self-growth, healing, and development. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, working mom, or both, what you’re doing is enough and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There is no such thing as a perfect parent but I truly feel the best thing we can provide to our kids is the life-long journey of healing ourselves and allowing ourselves to become better individuals as our kids will become exactly who and what we model to them. 

The most important thing for me to teach Cade is to be kind and loving to himself and others. I want him to live each day intentionally grounded by respect, compassion, honesty, and nothing short of his true authentic self. Additionally, I want him to grow up knowing that every single feeling/emotion he experiences at any time in his life is 100% valid. Seeing Cade grow more and more every day and become a tiny little person will always be a blessing. But the best part of motherhood for me currently would be the new perspective it’s given me on myself, my life, and who I want to be for my child. As well as the life and lessons I want to be able to give him outside of material things. 

If I could give pre-Cade Jayna any advice, I’d tell her this:

Please don’t ever give up on healing yourself to become the person you’ve always needed. And love yourself before loving anyone else.” -Jayna

Reign: The Last Gift

“This is story 7 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Reign’s story, written in her own words:

“The day I found out I was pregnant, it was shortly after my grandma passed away in January of 2018. I found out on February 4th. I wasn’t feeling like my normal self, my stomach was hurting and I was just feeling really weird. When the test results came back, I cried. I was mostly nervous to tell my mom. I was nervous to hear what everyone was going to say. 

My son’s dad was very supportive when we found out. He asked me what I wanted to do and how I felt. His exact words to me were, “I’m with whatever you want to do.” I was too scared to terminate my pregnancy, so I decided very quickly that I was going to go through with it. He was happy to find out he was going to be a dad. 

The beginning of my pregnancy was very rocky, everyone in my family was so focused on the loss of my grandma and the heartache that it left them with. I had very little support in the beginning. I was told things like I was being “selfish” and that they were “disappointed” in me. I also was told that I couldn’t be “focused on” because of the big loss we just took as a family. What they didn’t know was that this pregnancy was gonna save me. Mostly from self-destruction. 

Not until the middle of the pregnancy were things able to run smoothly with everyone excited and becoming more open minded to the thought of a new innocent life. The feeling of not having them be supportive was sickening to me. I didn’t know what I was going to do without my family being happy for me. I was very sad, and on top of the loss of my grandma, I was kicked out of my mom’s house.

 I was staying with my grandpa and aunt, and a couple days before my grandma’s funeral, my mom came by and had a conversation with me about what I was going to do moving forward and how I felt, etc. She didn’t apologize, but she expressed that when she got pregnant as a teen mom, her mom didn’t turn her back on her, so she didn’t plan on doing it to me. Over all, aside from family support, I had the most loving, patient, and caring partner by my side during all the tribulations. I was happily pregnant, I didn’t care what everyone was thinking of me. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to change my mind about having my baby. 

My original due date was October 3rd. I went into early labor due to the car accident that happened on September 19th 2018. My mom, grandma, and I were just running a few errands – a normal day. All of a sudden, what I can remember was an older man merging all the way into the side of my mom’s car. He was coming from the left side of me. I was in the back seat on the passenger side and my mom veered all the way to the right to avoid impact as much as possible. 

To be honest, during pregnancy I hated the seat belt, so I didn’t have one on at the time (worst decision ever), and I had to brace myself with my feet. My first reaction was getting out of the car and making sure my grandma was ok, then to curse the guy out who hit us. An elderly woman and a pregnant woman all in the same car. I was furious, so furious I forgot about my health, in that moment adrenaline took over.

 I didn’t feel the urgent need to go to the hospital that same day. I became suddenly tired after the accident, so I went home and got in bed for the rest of the day. My mom also never wrote a police report about it because the other driver didn’t have any information on him. I didn’t have any injuries from the car accident, I just had a back spasm from bracing myself from going forward from impact. My grandma and my mom were totally fine, and my mom had to go to work after dropping us off at home. 

 After the car accident, I didn’t go to the ER immediately, like I mentioned earlier, everyone was fine and I waited a day and checked into the hospital at 10am September 20th, 2018. During that time they ran tests and monitored me and baby till around 5pm and then finally told me that I couldn’t continue with the pregnancy and the baby has to come now. I was so confused and scared. Everything being told to me, I had them repeat to me twice because I wasn’t quite comprehending nor was I even remotely ready for this just to happen. The decision making and procedure was just so quick.

I’ve always expected birth to be like… I don’t know, honestly I thought something more movie-like. It’s nothing like the movies, babies come at their own pace and they are in their own race. You don’t know what is going to happen next during pregnancy or labor no matter how ready or prepared you think you are. I gave birth 2 weeks early. I was induced twice due to the accident and no, I didn’t know anything about “inducements” prior to this. Nor was I expecting to be induced. This was an emergency induction due to the fact that I didn’t have enough amniotic fluid to continue a full term pregnancy. I was at the doctors 2 days before and everything was fine prior to.

First and foremost, I have never experienced this much pain in my whole entire life, this was the most painful thing I have ever had to endure. I honestly wish they had given me the option to undergo surgery right away instead of having to go through the inducement process. The purpose of the process was to dilate my cervix to prepare for a vaginal birth (or so they thought). The first one was too painful to endure, so they gave me a second option. That one took 3 times to attempt, the final time I was able to endure it and finally got through the hardest part.

 Overnight, we waited. On the morning of September 21st, 2018, we were just waking up and all of a sudden the heart rate dropped on the monitor. In less than 2 seconds everyone (nurses, medical assistants, doctors, specialists) come rushing through the room doors and immediately become hands on trying to figure out what is happening. All I heard was, “get on all fours!” “get on your knees and hands right now!” So, I did. As I’m in this position I start screaming to ask for information on what the hell was going on here. 

My birth wasn’t an emergency birth because of the accident,  it was because of my baby’s heart rate dropping while being induced. I was totally unprepared for this experience. They never gave me a cesarean option or made it seem like an option from the very beginning of the inducement. I never was told I was going to have a C-section until the last couple of seconds before being rolled out of my room. When everyone came to my room to figure out why his heart rate dropped, I overheard a nurse say “roll her out to the OR,” and that was as formal a warning as it was going to get in this story. 

Now that I work in healthcare, communicating everything with the patient helps them trust you. It also allows the procedure to take course in a natural flow because narration is leading. Of course, during this time it was an emergency, but I feel like I only felt doubtful or scared because I didn’t know what was going on. Nobody was communicating with me and the environment was chaotic. This part of labor was the most traumatic, the couple seconds that I didn’t know what was going to happen or what could happen.

In those fast 60 seconds, I was being rolled out to the “OR” (operating room). I asked for my child’s father to be present and they told me they would allow him to come in. They never allowed him in, assuming because of the emergency and not knowing the outcome of the emergency. I was upset (at the time) that my son’s dad couldn’t be in the delivery room with me because I needed that extra support. The nurses didn’t want to hold my hand, I was grabbing their scrubs for dear life. I was scared. It would have been nice to have him there with me but now looking back, I know that it was best he wasn’t present because anything could have happened. And instead of having them deal with possibly detaining him from acting on emotions, they were able to just focus on delivering Oriyon safely.

 I just remember being SO scared and unprepared for what was happening. None of the videos I watched on “giving birth” went like this! LOL, no more than 15 minutes passed and my baby was safely delivered and healthy. I couldn’t believe it though. I didn’t know what he was going to look like, I didn’t know that I was going to have him so quickly. I was in awe to think that this precious little baby came from inside of me. His dad was able to be the first one to hold him while I was unconscious and recovering from the procedure. I woke up in pain but was able to see and hold my baby boy, Oriyon Hasani, 4lbs 10oz for the first time. 

The most traumatizing part of my whole labor experience was being rolled into the operating room without knowledge of what could happen next. And the inducement takes second place to that. To the vaginal birth-giving mothers that may look down on C-section mothers or jokingly say that they didn’t give birth to their baby, I don’t agree. I personally don’t feel like it makes me less of a mother, But I finally understood why moms are the way they are. 

In some way, I finally understood  what my mom was talking about when she would tell me, “You’re not ready for a baby.” But honestly nobody ever is. I think she meant it in a warning way, like I wasn’t ready for the pain of giving birth but also the pain I would be willing to endure for someone else. Having money, being out of your parents’ house, being over 30, being married, that doesn’t make you any more or any less ready to have a baby. 

Being a new mom was hard for me because it was a realization of how I would be fully responsible for this little human, forever. The new thought of having created a whole entire human is still very shocking to me. Everything happened so quickly. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the fact that I had my baby, right here, and NOW. I began to second guess and question my ability to be the mother I wanted to be. With the reassurance of my family, friends and his dad, I was able to take it one day at a time learn to be patient and get a hang of motherhood. 

When I was still in the hospital, I was on an intense amount of drugs. I had access at the tip of my finger, with the press of a button. It was pre-covid so I was able to have visitors come to my room, and of course, people were coming in to see him. I was just so drugged out in pain. I remember what was happening but it’s so blurry as a memory. It’s as if I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. The healing process was horrid for me. At home, I was spending a lot of time alone with my newborn. At the time, I lived with my son’s dad and his family, and everyone would go to work so I was doing things for myself most of the day.

 I went through an intense chapter of PPD (Postpartum Depression), and things started to change around me very quickly. I didn’t get enough time to process, just adapt. I suppressed a lot of those emotions. Being a new mom, I was sort of just existing for the first couple of months. There was a lot going on with my new extended family, shortly after I gave birth. My son’s dad went away for a short time and I had to move back in with my mom. I didn’t have much time or space to feel every emotion that I was feeling or wanted to feel. I had to think about my son and what was best for him. My emotions were on the back burner and I wasn’t able to express or identify a lot of these emotions until a year ago. 

A lot of my healing is so recent. Oriyon is now 3 years old and I am now 25, I feel like I have just now fully healed from postpartum depression. Now, I’m working through some generational trauma at this point of parenting. I have done a lot of self-reflecting and spiritual work. And I changed my career pursuit. I don’t believe that it takes everyone this long, but I do believe that it takes real work, time, self-reflecting, and acceptance of self.

Coming out of this journey I had to learn and discover who I was all over again. Not like “What’s my favorite color?” or “What’s my regular Starbucks order?” but like allowing myself to have some ME time without feeling guilty, like buying myself some essentials without buying my son anything.

I often share how I feel like my son saved me because of the decisions I could have made. I know myself, and I know I can be impulsive, but because I had my son, I could easily establish what I should be doing. I’m constantly putting my son first. I grew out of a lot of people and bad habits once I became Oriyon’s mom. The first time I experienced death really close in my family, I had bad coping mechanisms. I was unproductive, angry, and I relied a lot on numbing myself – I didn’t really care about much.

Having a baby changed me. It was hard to transition to the mom phase, but it was happening for the better. Getting in tune with my inner being allowed me to be a stronger woman and better parent. Overtime, I learned to separate myself from a lot of things that I felt were hindering me and blinding me. I did what I needed to do to reach what I wanted to obtain. I have wanted to create sustainability for us, to love myself physically and mentally, and to become more patient as a parent. 

Over all, I came to a realization that only I was in the way of my own self and I was allowing myself to come up with excuses to be toxic, sporadic, and impulsive. It was important to be gentle with myself and having those breakdowns. The set backs were essential to my personal growth. In the end, the most rewarding feeling is the amount of  growth within relationships, bonds, and experiences. Being able to use that in all areas of life to be so full and grateful to the point of self joy feels so amazing. I am truly blessed.

The best part about being a mom is having someone who truly loves you for who you are. As a parent, we don’t realize that our kids look up to us. They look at us as if we are heroes that can make anything happen, they love us unconditionally, and they spend majority of their time with us (as moms). They don’t get to see the struggles or the tears and even if they do, they wipe our tears for us. They could be so young, and still, they know just what to do. Being a mom is so dope to me because it gives me purpose on my darkest days.

I like to think of my pregnancy as a gift from my grandma to have purpose and motivation to keep going. This second family death brought new life. There’s really no telling where I would be without my son.” -Reign

Jela: Motherhood Conundrum

“This is story 6 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Jela’s story, written in her own words:

“Have I lost my identity when I became a mother? We all change. As time goes by our plans, decisions, and life change, and that’s totally okay. Sometimes the best transitions we experience or make in our lives are the ones that we feel like we are at peace with in the moment. Before I became a mother, I was a nanny, and at one point I became a traveling nanny for a very short period of time before my husband’s first duty station. When people meet me for the first time, I mostly get comments that I’m very patient and nurturing, and if I became a mother, it would already be “natural” for me. In my mind, I’ve always asked myself, “do you really need to be ‘natural’ becoming a mother or parent?” 

I’ve always wanted to plan to be a mother in my mid 20s. At 23, I became pregnant with my first born son in October 2016, but only found out a month later. At that time my husband and I moved to his first duty station 3,000 miles away from our hometown. I will always remember the morning we found out I was pregnant. The night before, we went to my husband’s first command holiday party. We were about to order drinks. I had a drink in mind, but I immediately asked if they had pineapple juice or any juice only. They actually did have pineapple juice! I ordered juice because I was feeling nauseous at the time.

 We planned to stay long, but we only stayed for an hour. Honestly, we left right away after that because we were going to GameStop to pick up the Pokémon Sun and Moon that we had ordered for the night release. After that, I really wanted to go to Target right across GameStop to buy a few pregnancy tests to take in the morning. The next day, I took a few pregnancy tests and it was confirmed that I was pregnant. I couldn’t really keep my pregnancy a secret from my family who lived nearby because every time we would see each other, or if we went out to eat, I would run to the bathroom to throw up what I just ate a few minutes before. 

I spent most of my days and appointments alone because my husband was out to sea a lot during that time. He missed pretty much the first appointment and all the ultrasounds, but I am thankful that on some days my sister would drive an hour away to stay with me during the week. I would drive down to visit my siblings every other day, even if that underwater tunnel bridge traffic was always rough! I’d drive a few minutes to visit my husband’s relatives that lived so close to us, or drive up 3 hours to visit my husband’s relatives in another state. 

Fast forward to when it was delivery day, we moved from Hampton to Virginia Beach, VA to be closer to family and my husband’s work, but the hospital I was being seen at was still in Hampton. I had an appointment that day, and I was called back in because my blood pressure was high (not sure why they sent me home the first time they saw my BP high in person). I developed Gestational Hypertension the day I delivered and needed to be monitored for contractions. I was having contractions, but to me they weren’t super painful in the beginning and I was 1 cm dilated as soon as we drove back to the hospital. They suggested that I walk for 2-3 hours, come back to get induced with a Foley bulb, but as soon as I came back from my walk at Costco (we even drove back home to pick up our hospital bag), I was already 4 cm dilated.

 I had a few complications during my pregnancy prior to having Gestational Hypertension, one of them being that I had to gain a lot of weight during my pregnancy (I did have a hard time gaining weight growing up). The second was that I was GBS positive. I was on antibiotics during delivery for that, so that meant I was only allowed to push every 3 hours when the antibiotics were administered to prevent passing it on to my baby, but everything was so quick after that last push. I tried pushing on my back and right side and I needed to push one last time so they turned me to my left side because his heart rate was dropping before my last push. I remember my midwife asking if I wanted to use the mirror up in the ceiling that they had (because his head was already out and I needed to push a little bit more). I remember looking at the mirror up the ceiling and I was just so amazed.

After giving birth, everything felt so surreal. Nobody told me that giving birth was going to sound quiet (at least with my first it was quiet!), lots of shaking, vomiting, and feeling the need to go to the bathroom A LOT. I started to push at 9pm, waited 3 hours to push again, then around 2 am, Isaac was out. 

When Isaac (my firstborn) was born, everything was already prepared for him. I nested a lot even with my husband out to sea and we even got to move and settle into another town a week before I gave birth. We also moved to a smaller apartment, it was a 750 sq ft apartment but it felt so homey and loved our space. I felt so much excitement and happiness before and after giving birth. My husband and I even took classes and made sure we were informed about all the safety procedures we could possibly learn about. 

But even with that, after giving birth came days where I felt off, not myself, a lot of pain experienced from healing postpartum, and breastfeeding in the early weeks. I was even told that if I ever felt sad or baby blues, to not talk to anyone about it. EVER. It felt invalidating, but I just brushed it off. I’m not sure what the person’s reasoning was for telling me that. I’m sure a lot of mothers have experienced the same thing where someone would give them unsolicited advice. I understand, maybe that person didn’t mean harm when they said it to me. Maybe it’s just an automatic response to what people learned to say before we were more exposed to raising awareness of mental health.

 I didn’t think much of it until later on when I became more aware of things that were very stigmatized towards pregnant women, mothers, and parents. As a mother, we are constantly told to not feel certain things, judged by the way we look while pregnant, and especially after giving birth. That we’ll be fine, as long as the baby is okay, that’s all that matters. It didn’t matter if the mother wasn’t okay, especially with their mental health. When I had Isaac, I thought that self-care meant taking a shower, going to the grocery store alone (to get things we needed for the house), and all the basic needs that everyone should have, was what I thought was self-care, to be able to do those things again. 

When I was going through postpartum, I turned to my husband and friends. They were the ones who were mostly there to listen or just be there as a friend. I am so grateful for them. I realized that the person in my ear was wrong because I didn’t feel at peace with it. I felt like I had to be ashamed of having feelings, it felt very invalidating. I felt like I had to shrink myself so everything could be “fine.” I felt like I couldn’t ask for help, making me feel smaller and smaller. As I talk to more mothers, once we open up a topic that is usually considered “not normal” to the world, we find ourselves relating to each other, and remember that we are not alone in this. It’s okay to feel positive and negative feelings at the same time. It’s okay if what works for you doesn’t work for another parent. It’s a really big deal for me when I finally get the courage to speak up or talk to someone. 

A year and a few months after Isaac was born, we needed to move to California because my husband’s job was moving homeports. We moved to San Diego in March 2019. It was a really big move this time. Everything we had, had to be shipped, including our car. We were actually going to move back to our home state, but this time with no family nearby to just walk or drive to. My husband couldn’t fly to see the place we were going to live in because he was going to deploy in a few days before our move in date, so it was only me and Isaac that flew.

 I thought “Hey, if I did this once, I can get through it again!” Since it also happened with our first move to VA while my husband was in Mississippi for his school before moving to his first duty station. Every time there was a huge change in our life, it felt surreal. It felt surreal that I picked up the house keys myself, lived in an empty house with no furniture, and our car was still in the shipping company waiting to be picked up. I was so grateful that time, my friend picked me up from the airport, offered her home to have us stay before our move in date, lent me her air mattress, and drove me and Isaac to pick up our car.

 Even though I am used to being alone and doing things alone, I was grateful that during these critical times, it’s always the people that you go through these things with that show up. Honestly, I had times where I dealt with my husband being out to sea just fine and sometimes I didn’t deal with it really well. I found what helped me the most is when I am preoccupied throughout the day like being outdoors, staying active, learning the area by commuting instead of taking the car, traveling (LOTS of Disneyland trips!!)  and going to spouse connection events. 

I felt really blessed that even if my husband was deployed for a few months, my friends, military spouses, and neighbors showed up not just once but numerous times. My husband was deployed, and Fall of 2019 is where I think I started to feel like I lost track of who I was. It got really depressing when the homecoming days changed 3 times. That meant my husband’s deployment got extended for months that exceeded the maximum time that they should be away at sea. It got so rough that I stopped organizing (organizing calms me) and doing things I usually do to get through the day. 

At that time, I was going through so much and focused on making everyone happy and setting my own needs aside. I felt like everytime I tried to take care of myself full on, someone would always tell me I was being selfish for doing it, or question my husband behind my back, and ask unnecessary questions when I was trying to give myself time and space. I started to not be as active online anymore and took a lot of huge breaks from social media. I felt like I needed to just stay silent and isolate myself because everytime I tried to communicate, it was often misunderstood and thought of as me reacting differently or being negative about it when I was not. 

My husband and I were planning for a second baby. Planning on having a second baby was a huge discussion to talk about because we were both going to school full-time during the pandemic. I became pregnant with my second baby at the end of September 2020. I had already felt a bit nauseous, and I was even giving away some of my firstborn’s baby clothes, I honestly thought it was just the stress from school and the pandemic. But then I missed my period so I just had to check, just in case. With this pregnancy, I thought that it was going to be easy because I found out early. I didn’t feel the need to throw up, I was still doing some small hikes that were open during the pandemic with my family, and I only felt a little nauseous.

 I was wrong, 2 weeks after finding out, we dropped off Isaac on his first day at daycare, my husband and I went out to eat breakfast, our very first date together since he got home from deployment. As soon as the food got to our table, I rushed to the bathroom and vomited. I was just about 5 weeks pregnant. After that I started to feel so stressed, I know it sounds ridiculous, but morning sickness really took a toll on me. Everything I wanted to eat, I wanted to throw up, even if it was just a banana, a bowl of oatmeal, a bag of chips, or a rice bowl with my favorite side dish. Even driving made me dizzy that I had to drive all the time so I felt less nauseous, and I would still throw up before and after driving.

 I tried all the remedies that were supposedly supposed to work to even get prescribed medicine to help me with the nausea. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I would literally cry almost everyday because I didn’t know what to eat or how to manage being pregnant anymore. I didn’t have much energy to go out, but I also felt so isolated if I didn’t go out for a walk or do something outside of the house. 

What was different from my 1st and 2nd pregnancy was the amount of stress I experienced. I was going to school full-time while having my toddler learn how to use the toilet after showing lots of signs that he was ready, having him transition to his first daycare for a few months, and finding out where we were going be stationed next (the military doesn’t really give you so much time when it comes to moving to the next duty station, even if you are a planner and have set plans just in case), and with the pandemic, it caused so much stress and anxiety. I went to the hospital & ER a couple of times during my pregnancy early on for palpitations, monitoring my heart with a Holter heart monitor, and getting a 2D Echo (heart ultrasound). It was a relief that all the tests came back normal. But my depression and anxiety were peaking, and at the time I finally started to see a therapist. 

The start of the pandemic, as we know, was scary and tremendously stressful for everyone. Some days, I was able to use some of that time of uncertainty to try to heal all the things I repeatedly brushed off and set aside, even if it meant feeling all my feelings at once to heal. By healing, I don’t mean “positive vibes only,” or being so certain about everything so quickly. I mean days where sometimes it’s a sad day, crying day, or even just a day where I sat by myself thinking “Hey, this was not okay before, but now that I’m able to recognize that, I can reflect on it and move on.” I felt like a lot of these things that were considered “normal” had to do with the toxic culture that most of us grew up in. We were conditioned to think and act a certain way because it’s become normalized in our culture and society.

At this moment, I feel like I “lost” myself. I find myself thinking about things I used to do, that I can’t anymore. Like who am I besides being a mother? But I realized that that’s just temporary and that I’m not “lost.” Having to handle two kids, I felt like I wasn’t enough to attend to them both. But school and exploring the city I’m in is helping me right now because I am learning more of what interests me and my family. Some days, I can balance being a mom and an individual, and some days I can’t. It really just depends on my 4 year old and newborn’s moods and needs that day! When I can’t, I really try my best to have an easy day for both me and my children. But I do know that being an individual is taking time for me to try to get used to, especially when I am around other adults. This pandemic got me going back to being more introverted than I already was before!

Self-care to me looks like having the time to yourself to enjoy things that you want or need. Even if others think it’s taking a few minutes showering or walking alone at the store or somewhere, it’s nice to have that time for yourself. As long as you’re happy with it. I notice myself feeling burnt out a lot lately, and I really need to find the time to take care of myself. To me, taking care of myself means finding the time to run (I love running, even if I’m a slow runner!), watching tv, eating my favorite food, or going on a date with my fave person aka my husband. One day I do want to try to go on a mini vacation by myself without the kids, BUT I don’t know when that will be since I don’t have it in me yet to try to do that. 

My husband has been there for me, even if there were days where we weren’t on the same page. He’s such a great partner and father. Every couple has their struggles, and we’re all not perfect. When I’m not myself, he is there to pick up where I left off, whether it’s cleaning the house, filling up my gas tank so I don’t have to drive 15 minutes to the cheapest gas station, or doing so many loads of laundry. A lot of those things get undone or unfinished especially with 2 children now. We don’t believe in “gender roles,” so he is just doing his part as a partner and father. He just helps take off so much of that mother’s guilt.

 He makes me feel like I can be myself and that I am more than just the negative things I think about myself. I think and care about so much and he is more of a laid back person, so it balances out sometimes. There were many days when I couldn’t get out of bed, even trying to get myself to eat or shower was just so difficult for me. When it’s the other way around where he looks so tired from work or school, I try to pick up where he left off. We’re also still learning many things during this process and I’m glad that he tries his very best to help in any way he can as a partner.

My advice is to surround yourself with your village and take it easy some days. It’s okay if your child/children had cereal for dinner just to survive the day, because we can’t be and do everything all at once. I tried that – trying to be a mom, help with what was going on with the world (especially during the pandemic), absorbing every feeling and problems that needed to be attended to – and trust me, it’s not possible to be everything for everyone. So I went offline for a few months and helped with what I was able to do at the time, and control what I can control at the moment. 

We’re all human, I know it’s hard sometimes to not feel guilty for parenting what works for us, or for doing one small or big thing for ourselves, and you’ll lose people who are close to you. Sometimes families can’t be there for each other because of being far away and having different schedules and plans in life, but I think that it’s nice to surround yourself with people who can relate to you or understand your situation. Even if it’s just 1or 2 people. We all can’t do it alone and everything all at once.” -Jela

Lexus: Birth After a Cesarean

“This is story 5 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Lexus’ story, written in her own words:

“I guess to fully explain how I had a successful VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean), I would need to explain what caused me to have a C-section to begin with.

 My first pregnancy was a healthy pregnancy with no complications with me or the baby. He was healthy and growing at a normal rate. When I finally went into labor, I fully dilated to 10 cm and we started pushing. The entire time I was guided by the nurses in the hospital. The doctor came in a total of two times that I remember. I was kind of annoyed. But then again, it was my first time so I wasn’t sure how the process was supposed to go.

I was pushing for 7 hours, which I know now is unheard of. It being my first pregnancy, I didn’t look too much into what happens during labor, so when the time came I just followed the instructions from the nurses. The entire time one of the nurses kept saying she felt the baby’s head so of course I continued to push. That was the main reason why I continued to push. I figured if she felt his head, he would be coming out soon. At the end of the 7 hours, I started to get a fever. Because I was getting a fever, they had to give me antibiotics which would cause my son to receive them when he finally made his appearance.

 At this point is when the doctor came in. It was the 2nd time I saw a doctor. They told me that if I continued pushing, I would cause stress to the baby. They gave me the choice of pushing another 30 mins or go into an emergency C-section. Of course, trying to do the “right” thing for my baby and wanting to have him already, I chose to do the C-section. After the procedure I was informed that my son had ended up breached and that I was pushing him into my pelvic bone. They kept an eye on the baby’s position on appointments leading up to giving birth. He was always head down, so we never worried about anything. It was a hard recovery but at least I had a healthy baby boy. 

I definitely wish I did more research on actually giving birth. You see everyone around you doing a vaginal birth, and you never think that  you might not have the same outcome. I also wish I would’ve done more research on the actual labor process itself. You hear women going through 20 hours of labor, not realizing that doesn’t mean pushing. That’s going through contractions, your body preparing to give birth.

Now, when I found out I was pregnant again, I was afraid I was going to have another C-section. I thought that after you had one you would have to have all future children the same way. This time around I did more research on the labor and delivery instead of pregnancy milestones. I had learned that you could have a baby vaginally after a C-section. And once I found that out, that’s what I wanted to do.

 For the first 3 appointments, I had mentioned that I wanted to have a VBAC, and each time they had asked why and gave me information on what can happen if I did. It was normal conversations you would have about precautions. I don’t know if this was supposed to be a scare tactic and they were trying to persuade me into just going with another C-section, but I wasn’t budging. I felt like they were pushing so hard because it was convenient. I’m not sure if they were used to doing VBACs and would rather just do another major surgery. But my family was super encouraging. I think they knew how much I wanted to do it vaginally.

The doctor did manage to scare my husband. Before our next appointment, we had another conversation about the situation. When we went in, the doctor brought up our birth plan again and asked if we had done much thinking about it and if we still wanted to go with the VBAC. I told them that I wanted to stay with our birth plan. That’s when the doctor told us that because of our labor story with my son, they felt it would be best to have another C-section. He said nothing about my son or my pregnancy seemed to cause a C-section. The doctor said it must have been something with me, that my uterus or my birth canal must’ve been angled wrong and that could’ve caused him to not be able to come out. He continued that my body wasn’t made to have children, and if I continued with the VBAC, I’d most likely do an emergency C-section again. He said it’s safer to schedule a C-section. 

Now this was new information we didn’t have before. So my certainty of wanting to do a VBAC went out the window. Now, in my head all I could think of was that I caused my son to have a stressful labor. I didn’t want to do the same to my daughter. I didn’t want to be selfish knowing it could cause harm to my daughter to try and have a vaginal birth. I was upset and scared. I really didn’t know what to think because you always hear that a woman’s body is meant to bear children, and for your doctor to tell you yours isn’t, sucks. My husband and I went over the pros and cons and decided the cons out weighed the pros because it was my body that wasn’t made to have a child. 

Our next appointment we told them we would go with a C-section. They never questioned our birth plan after that. I asked many questions about concerns I had, and they pretty much made it seem as though it would be the best and easiest recovery because I had already been through it before. So we scheduled our C-section and that was our new birth plan.

Our C-Section was scheduled for a Friday, a week before my actual due date. We had made arrangements for my sister to come out the day before so she would stay with my son. Having a C-section, you’re required to stay in the hospital for at least 48 hrs, so we did all our planning around that. Well my daughter decided we weren’t allowed to plan her birth. That Monday, I went into labor and delivery because I didn’t feel much movement going on with the baby which scared me of course. She checked out fine and they asked me if I wanted them to check how dilated I was. I declined because I was already scheduled for my C-section in a couple days. 

Well, the next day, I started having contractions. I thought maybe they were Braxton Hicks, so I took a shower, but they were still coming after. While I was cleaning and doing laundry, I decided to call my doctor’s office on what I should do. They don’t go into detail on if you go into labor before your scheduled appointment. On a normal delivery, you have to have a certain criteria on where your contractions had to be, but as far as this, I didn’t know when I should go in. They told me I shouldn’t be contracting at all and that I needed to go in ASAP. 

I called my husband and told him it was time. Because it was a couple of days early, we had to rush my son to his grandma’s and rush to the hospital. When we got there, I was already 6cm dilated. The nurse had to step out really quick while I was filling out paperwork. When  she came back, she asked if I wanted to have an epidural. I told her I wasn’t sure because I was supposed to be having a C-section and I wasn’t sure what the procedure was. Her eyes widened and said, “You’re supposed to be having a C-section?”

She rushed out to go talk to a doctor and came back asking if I was totally opposed to having a vaginal birth. I said that I was told I wouldn’t be able to because of the angle of my uterus. She looked at me and said, “Well, she looks like she’s coming fast. Would you be ok if she came?” I looked at my husband, he looked at me. I asked the nurse if she felt the baby would be safe coming vaginally. She said she did, and from that point, everything changed. I was still in the mindset that my body wasn’t capable of having a baby. I feel like she totally switched my mindset.

The nurse, Norma, went to find an open room. I’m going through contractions. I started telling my husband to find someone to see if I can get an epidural. She came back in and rushed me to a room and introduced me to the nurse that was going to be helping with my delivery. They gave me a high dose of epidural because they still weren’t sure if I was going to deliver vaginally or by C-section because they had to wait on the doctor. I finally got some relief when the epidural kicked in.

 It probably was a total of 20-30 minutes from when we walked in, to getting rushed into the labor room. I went from 6cm to 8cm. Norma, my nurse, then started asking me if I wanted to do it vaginally or have a C-section. I told her if she honestly felt I could do it vaginally, I would rather do it that way. She said she really felt I could. She had me sign both approval forms just to be safe. When the doctor finally came in, she wasn’t one I met before in all my visits. She asked me and of course I said I wanted to do a VBAC if she felt I could safely do so. She said absolutely. We labored for another 5 hrs and pushed for about an hour and a half. 

My daughter couldn’t make her way under my pelvic bone. Of course, I was getting nervous, so I asked Norma if there was anything I could do to help my baby make it under my pelvic bone. She said we could always try to vacuum to help guide her. I asked her if we could do that. She went to go speak to the new doctor, because at this point, it was a shift change for the doctors and he came in to check if we were a good candidate. He said we were perfect. He placed the vacuum on my daughter’s head, and in one push she came out. 

.I had a successful VBAC. I had my daughter the way I wanted to. All thanks to the nurses – Nurse Norma and Dr.Ivie especially – for convincing me that I was completely able to. They  proved to me that my body was fully capable of having a baby, that I wasn’t somehow defected. A few women have asked about my VBAC after and had questions on how it went. I tell them my story and how I became an advocate for going for the VBAC. I honestly feel like my previous doctors failed me and discouraged me from having it because it would’ve been more convenient for them. I want to convince other women that you are able to deliver vaginally and that you don’t only have one option after having a C-section.” -Lexus

Brittany: Careful Excitement

“This is story 4 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Brittany’s story, written in her own words:

“I remember the first time telling anyone we were pregnant. It was our monthiversary and we went out for dinner. The server asked if we had any dietary restrictions and we said, “Well, we’re expecting, so probably no raw fish?” We looked at each other with such excitement, “that’s the first person we told that we’re pregnant!” August 10, 2017. Over the next couple weeks we started telling family, friends, roommates, etc.

 August 25th, we go to the OBGYN excited to see our baby’s heartbeat for the first time. What does anyone expect at their first OB appointment? Ultrasound, some tears of joy, excitement, pictures to take home and admire, and info about what to expect in your next stages of pregnancy. Right? Wrong.

 It was so quiet. She pointed out the amniotic sac and said, “let me just take some measurements.” “Okay,” I thought, “after she takes measurements she’ll point the baby out and show us the heartbeat, right?” Wrong again. 

The most daunting sentence came out of her mouth that we can never forget. “I’m so sorry, but I don’t see a heartbeat.” Okay so what does that mean? “Naturally your body will expel the baby, if nothing happens in about 2 weeks then you’ll need to come back…”

 I was so confused, it hadn’t hit me. Things were so unclear that I had to ask to clarify. The baby’s not alive? The baby’s gonna come out on its own? Huh? The term “miscarriage” suddenly wasn’t a term to me anymore, it was a reality that I had to face and endure. The physical pain you go through WHILE you’re experiencing emotional pain, it’s hard to say which hurts more.

And you know what sucks just as much as losing a baby, if not more?

It’s having to tell people over and over that you had just lost a baby.

Fast forward to the next year…

 We found out we were pregnant again! But this time, we were careful. And I don’t mean careful with my diet or physically, I mean, careful about telling people. What a lot of women don’t talk about is how losing a baby from a previous pregnancy affects how you react to your next pregnancy, your ability to experience anything but joy and excitement. You worry CONSTANTLY. 

“Let’s not tell anyone, just in case.” You dread going to that first appointment because, “what if…” Your pregnancy becomes a secret you feel you need to keep, rather than exciting news to tell all your loved ones. You feel alone, trapped in those first (12 weeks) or however long until you finally feel like you are safe to announce. You feel that you need to do MORE than everything right. Be on top of prenatal, watch my diet, watch my physical activity, anything that’s “not recommended for women who are pregnant,” don’t you dare do it.

 Then, the day has come. Your first OB appointment – ultrasound day. Our ultrasound day. My heart’s beating so damn fast while I’m laying down in that chair. I stare at the screen so hard, waiting to see that little flicker. I hold my breath and think, maybe if I stop moving, I’ll see it.

Except, I don’t.

“I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat.”

I’m shaking my head, as that’s the only response I had at the moment. So many things running through my mind.

Again?

 How? 

Why? 

Are we being punished? 

How could this happen again, back to back? 

Did I do something wrong? 

Is there something wrong with me? 

Can I not bear children?

 Is God telling us that we’re not ready to have children?

 I have to go through all this pain all over again?

You endure the pain again and then you go back and forth between blaming the universe and blaming yourself. For weeks, if not months, questioning- “when will we be ready to start trying again?”

The first miscarriage the doctor just said it just happens randomly. The second time they said it could just be two cases of really bad luck. But they took samples of it the second time (I think) and did tests if I remember correctly. And they didn’t find anything wrong so they were like, “yeah it’s just really bad luck you’re having. But if it happens for the third time in a row we might want to look into fertility services.”

 And when she said that I was so shook. Like OMG, I’m so young, is there something wrong with me? My body? Can I not have children?

June 11, 2018 was the day we went to our OB appointment and saw Leo’s heartbeat for the very first time.

Coming from 2 consecutive “I’m sorry, there is no heartbeat” to “That flicker right there, that’s the heartbeat.”

I mean, we’re over the fucking moon to say the least. But still, those lingering feelings of, “You have to be SO careful, just in case” still loomed under our excitement for the next few months.

January 21, 2019 – Our rainbow baby was born! The labor was tough and the birth was even scarier, and that’s a story I’ve written about in a separate post. But he came, healthy and handsome as ever.

These past couple years have been such a beautiful journey. Navigating my new life as a mother is difficult, exciting, overwhelming, joyful, frustrating, fun, crazy, amazing and everything in between. And you would imagine that everyday, I would think “Wow, we’re so lucky to have this boy, after going through multiple losses.” But that wasn’t the case for me.

Truth is, for me, it’s never been “motherhood after miscarriage”, it’s just been “motherhood”. Maybe it’s different for others. Once Leo was born, he wasn’t “our first baby after having miscarriages”, he was just “our baby”. Our smart, strong, amazing baby. I don’t look back and think what our life would be like if those babies had lived, and I don’t want to. Because I know that Leo would not be here today if things had happened differently.

It’s not that I’ve forgotten about what we had been through, or that it doesn’t hurt anymore, because I do remember and it does still hurt when I think about it. But it just doesn’t affect my everyday life with Leo. It doesn’t affect how grateful I am to have Leo. I’m not anymore grateful to have such a wonderful son.

 I believe that everything happens for a reason, and had those two miscarriages not been miscarriages, Leo would not exist. And I can’t imagine what my life would be like without Leo. I’m grateful for what I have right now, I never really dwell on what I could’ve had because I know there are divine reasons why I didn’t have it.

A couple months ago, we found out that we’re pregnant again! The truth is, I was terrified all over again. And everyone was super excited to hear the news, but a part of me had that lingering thought “What if it happens again?” Everyone found out EARLY on. It somehow leaked and the whole family knew within a week, and I’m not going to lie, I was mad. It’s not that I wanted to keep this a deep dark secret, but it’s intimate news that I would’ve liked to share on our own time… preferably after the first appointment. 

Just like all the other times, I was dreading this wait for that first ultrasound appointment. Thankfully, I went in and everything was fine. In fact, I’m about 18 weeks pregnant now, and things are looking good! Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a little part of me that worries. There’s still a part of me that knows there’s a small chance that something could happen later. And I know for a fact I’m the only one who feels this way. And that’s what I mean when I say that you do feel a sense of “loneliness” when you’re pregnant after a miscarriage. There’s a part of you that is just a bit worried, when no one else is, so you feel like you shouldn’t say anything. 

So, one thing I want to end with is this:

Don’t let others discredit your feelings. It’s YOUR body- your fears or worries or excitement and everything else you’re feeling is valid and just because someone says “stop worrying, you’re fine, it’s not gonna happen, just think positive” doesn’t mean you should hide or bury your fears. You have every right to express your fears, worries, and doubts just as much as your excitement and joy.” -Brittany

Cambria: Expect The Unexpected

“This is story 3 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This is Cambria’s story, written in her own words:

“When I found out I was pregnant I had so many mixed emotions. I was 25 years old and still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I had a decent job and a stable income, but kids were definitely not in my plans at that time. I was about 4-5 weeks along when I first found out I was pregnant. I remember I had gotten this really bad cramping which usually never happens to me. I hadn’t gone to the doctor yet to confirm my pregnancy so I wasn’t really sure what was happening. I ended up fainting from the pain and ended up pressed against the tile on my bathroom floor. Somehow, I managed to get myself undressed and threw myself into the shower while hyperventilating. It took me what felt like 30 minutes or so to get back to normal and gather myself together. After fainting, I already felt like this was a bad omen and I was not ready to have this child. 

I didn’t tell my parents about the pregnancy yet, but after that incident I felt the need to come clean to my mom. Me and my mom are very close, but for some reason I just felt so nervous telling her about what happened. After telling her about the whole situation, it comforted me a little bit just knowing that my boyfriend, Mark, and I weren’t the only ones keeping this secret. But I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the pregnancy. I just wanted some reassurance to know that she wouldn’t be disappointed in me or I didn’t feel like I was going to be a burden to my family if I were to go through with it. My mom has always been supportive of anything I chose in life, but I knew this was going to be pushing it a bit. I initially told her I was going to make an appointment to get an abortion and I would schedule it sometime later that week. 

I vividly remember calling the Kaiser advice line to schedule my appointment and asked them if I could decide whether or not to go through with the abortion the day of the appointment. They straight up told me that I needed to know before scheduling the appointment so I ended up freaking out and told them I would call them back. I called Mark after and cried, telling him I didn’t know what to do. I gave him the run around about making the appointment because I felt in my heart that I didn’t want to give this pregnancy up. It wasn’t like I was a teenager anymore, I had just graduated college and I felt like I was ready for my next steps in life. After talking to Mark about our options, he saw that I really wanted to keep the pregnancy and after days of  going back and forth I finally made my first prenatal appointment. This would be the start of realizing that no matter how much you plan for things, life will always find a way to challenge you. 

Having a pandemic pregnancy was one of the loneliest experiences I ever been through. I was estimated to be due on January 12, 2021 so I was pregnant right when the pandemic started. I didn’t get to see my family and friends that often while I was pregnant so I felt like I couldn’t celebrate the happiness with my loved ones. Fortunately, I was still able to work but I would just work and go home and do it all over again. At times it did get a little lonely so I enjoyed going to work for socialization.

 Although, I didn’t mind staying home and enjoying my own space especially since COVID was at its peak. I wasn’t allowed to bring my boyfriend during my appointments or to ultrasounds, so it felt like I was doing everything by myself. On top of that, I wasn’t able to go to any lamaze classes, so I was super unprepared for birth. I had to resort to asking my sister in-law, Jayna, for advice and look at pregnancy posts from Instagram and TikTok. But even with all those resources nothing would mentally and physically prepare me for having a baby.

During my research, I knew having a premature baby was a possibility, but I never thought it would happen to me. I would workout and stay active, drink water, and take my prenatal vitamins religiously. I felt like I was doing everything right and I thought I was having a somewhat healthy pregnancy so far. It wasn’t until I was at work and I started getting cramps throughout my 10 hour shift. I had a lot of back pain throughout my pregnancy so I didn’t think much of it. I thought about just going home early from work but me being the stubborn person I am, I ended up staying the whole time.

On my drive home after getting off, I remember wincing in pain and taking deep breaths while trying to stay composed because the pain was getting unbearable. I called the advice nurse and they told me if it gets worse I should call back and they might have to admit me into the emergency to see what was going on. I had the hardest time falling asleep that night. I was constantly tossing and turning until around 2 in the morning. I couldn’t take the pain anymore and Mark made me call the labor and delivery nurse to see what I should do next. They told me it sounds like I could be having contractions and to go there right away.

Me and Mark went to the ER unprepared, coming only with our keys, wallet, and water bottles in hand. The nurse who checked us in laughed as we came empty handed while the family ahead of us brought overnight bags and a car seat. She said, “Wow you guys packed light.” We laughed nervously realizing that it did not occur to us at all that I could have a baby within the next couple of days since I wasn’t due for another 2 months. As the doctor came in to check me she said I was 1 cm dilated and that I was lucky I came in when I did or I would have been further dilated. I found out I was in preterm labor. They gave me medication to slow down the contractions and a steroid injection so my baby’s lungs could mature faster in the womb before being born and if they were effective I could potentially go home. 

A Doctor came in and talked to me about the possibility of having a premature baby and how a baby born at 32 weeks would definitely need to stay in the NICU at least until they reach full gestation which is around 40 weeks. I just remember bawling my eyes out because I was so sad to have to leave my baby in the hospital and I wouldn’t be able to take him home. Mark reassured me he would be in good hands but I was so crushed at the thought of not being with my baby for such a long time.

After my first dose of medications the contractions decreased and I could finally sleep comfortably for at least a couple of hours. The next morning I felt a lot better, my contractions slowed down and the doctor said I could be monitored and transferred to the neonatal floor and eventually be discharged to go home. I was so happy because it meant that my baby’s birth would be delayed by at least a couple days if not hours. A couple days didn’t seem like much but when your baby is born premature every second spent in the womb is crucial, as told to me by the Doctor. Hours passed and I was exhausted by being checked on by the nurses and doctors every 2 hours, but everytime they came in I was feeling much better in hopes that I could finally go home.

 It wasn’t until I started getting contractions again and I was further dilated at 3-4cm. That’s when everything started to speed back up again. After they saw how dilated I was, the nurse told me I needed to be transferred back to the labor and delivery floor. I remember feeling contractions more often than before. I remember her talking to me and saying, “It looks like you’re going to have this baby today,” and I was so scared for what was to happen next. I was in so much pain that I was like “Okay, whatever, how can I make him come out faster?” But the thing that stuck with me was when the Doctor came in to talk to me prior to giving birth and told me,”It’s not your fault.” I didn’t get that until later. There’s a lot of guilt that comes when having a premature baby. I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I wish I could have done something different, I wasn’t sure what that was but it broke me knowing that I couldn’t keep my baby inside me long enough for him to be healthy.

I was so mentally and physically exhausted that all I really wanted was to fall asleep but the contractions were getting closer and closer to each other that I knew for a fact this baby was coming soon. I kept asking for pain medications but they had given them to me so often that they were starting to wear off quicker and quicker to the point where the nurses told me there was nothing else they could give besides doing an epidural. I was too scared to do an epidural because of all the horror stories I’ve heard before of people getting paralyzed after giving birth because of it, so I refused it. The nurses respected my wishes and tried to make me as comfortable as possible. At some point I was having such bad contractions that I couldn’t even call the nurse for help because the pain was that bad. 

Things started to speed up a bit and the Doctor informed me that they were going to prep the delivery room for me. I constantly nodded my head in response to everything because I couldn’t really think straight but I wanted them to know I was aware of what was going on. I remember being wheeled in the delivery room and there were so many nurses surrounding me and it looked like there was a lot going on. Once I reached about 6-7cm the doctor decided that I could either wait for my water to break or they could break it themselves to speed up the process. I told them to pop it so I could get it over with because I couldn’t take the pain anymore. Once my water was broken, I pushed for a couple of minutes but nothing was happening. 

The doctor said that he didn’t like what the baby’s heartbeat was looking like and if I didn’t push him out soon they would have to intervene. To be completely honest, I was so out of it that I don’t even remember what was happening. All I knew was that if I didn’t push this baby out they would have to intervene and in the moment I absolutely did not want to get a C-section, so I started to push as hard as I could. The other doctor then coached me while in labor to push my baby out by holding my breath for 10 seconds while I was having a contraction. I did just that and then about 15 mins or so later my baby was finally born. 

Later I learned that that was the most incorrect way to push a baby out. You’re not supposed to hold your breath, you’re supposed to breathe through it and let it come out naturally but they were so pressed on getting him out that I didn’t really have a choice. I pushed so hard that my eyes were bloodshot and I got freckles on my face from breaking so many blood vessels. The bloodshot in my eyes didn’t go away for weeks. I looked so scary.

All I could really remember was saying “HI BABY” a hundred times and trying to rub all of the white stuff over his body because I heard that it was good for their skin. Then he was whisked away and went off to get weighed and measured then went straight to the NICU. After giving birth and getting a second for me and my baby to get settled the nurses mentioned to me that we could go visit him but this would be the only time we could see him together because of COVID. After that only one parent was able to visit per day. 

At the moment I actually liked the fact that there were COVID restrictions and not that many people could come in because I felt like this was such an intimate moment. I wouldn’t want so many people in my delivery room while I was giving birth so I wasn’t really upset. It was after my birth experience that I wished my mom was there with me. She would know how to calm me down and check on me while I was having contractions and overall she would just know what to do. Mark barely knew what to do when it came down to it because we just were not mentally prepared for this early birth and on top of that he was sick so he wasn’t even in the right headspace himself. 

We walked down to the NICU and saw him in his incubator with all the wires and mini cpap over him and his little IV line attached to his arm. We weren’t able to carry him because his oxygen levels were low at the time so we stuck our hands inside to hold him. When I saw Jojo in the incubator for the first time it truly felt unreal. I was fine seeing him attached to all the machines because I knew that those were helping him thrive outside the womb but I was so sad that I couldn’t hold him that first time and actually get to see what he looked like. Mark took pictures shortly after he was born during his weight check so I would just stare at those for hours so I could just imagine what he looked like. I just couldn’t believe how small he really was. He was so tiny at 3 lbs. 

It was so unbelievable what just happened. I went back down a couple hours later while Mark rested during his touch times where the nurses check his vitals and I finally got to hold him in my arms since giving birth. I would soon find out that that would be one of the last times I would get to see him in person. They laid him on my chest and I couldn’t believe he was mine.

After coming back in the room, I later found out that Mark was coming down with a headache and wasn’t feeling well. He let the nurses know and they suggested that he leave and get tested for COVID just in case. After he left I was alone in my room until the next morning. I couldn’t have visitors due to COVID, so once again I was alone. I couldn’t even go to see my baby because I was at risk of having COVID, so I just stayed in my room until I was able to be discharged the next day. About a day after arriving home, I noticed I was starting to have a cough. At this point Mark had come back positive for COVID so I knew for sure I had it too. 

I let the doctors know at the NICU our situation and they said it’s best for us not to come in until we’ve had our 2 weeks of quarantine. I was crushed. I was so angry at Mark for giving me COVID, but I knew there was nothing I could do at that point. The NICU nurses allowed me to FaceTime Jojo everyday for two weeks until I could actually see him in person. It felt surreal to me that I just had a baby because I was finally home, but it was just me there. On top of that, Mark couldn’t be with me either because we were both in quarantine. It seemed like the loneliness never stopped. I was also worried that my baby wouldn’t know who I was because the first days after birth were so crucial for bonding that I was feeling so shitty at the fact that I couldn’t be there. Nonetheless, I continued to keep myself fed and hydrated so that when the time came, I would be healthy enough to see my son. 

Pumping in general was never a challenge for me. I always heard of people having a hard time pumping and producing milk but that was never the case for me. My only concern was that because I had COVID, I didn’t know if it was still safe for me to give my milk to my baby. The Doctor’s told me it was actually beneficial and I should be giving it to him not only for the health benefits it has but so it could potentially provide antibodies from the COVID virus. I didn’t think much of that until I noticed that my milk was turning green. At first I thought that my milk was getting spoiled but I wasn’t sure why it would be spoiled if I was handling it properly. Then I saw a post on Instagram talking about how breast milk turns colors when moms get sick and provides antibodies for your baby. I was in such awe about how amazing mothers’ bodies are and how our bodies were made to sustain a baby’s life. 

At last my two week quarantine was up and I would finally be able to hold my baby again for the first time in 2 weeks. I was so happy to see him after only seeing him through a screen. He was so plump and had so much more hair than I remembered. He was growing so fast and I remember him always smiling when we FaceTimed, but I cried the first time I got to see it in person. I knew there were so many angels surrounding him in the NICU that would keep him safe and looked after him while I couldn’t be there with him. I hated leaving him so I would stay there without eating just so I could be with him all day. Leaving Jojo was the hardest, but I knew the day would come when I could finally bring him home. 

Throughout those two weeks I got to see him, he was doing so well. The nurses said Jojo was their favorite because he was such a good and well mannered baby. I’m sure they said that to all the moms, but it made me so happy to know that he was doing so well without me there. One of the qualifications for them to be a NICU graduate was that they had to maintain their weight and hit at least 5 lbs. Everyday he grew so strong, he ate so well, and eventually he didn’t have to eat through his NG tube. Everyday was a celebration and every milestone hit from then on out was exciting. When Jojo was hitting all his milestones I felt like we were always just one step closer to him coming home. I wanted him to come home before Christmas so he wouldn’t have to celebrate another holiday in the NICU. I was so excited when I saw that he was gaining weight everyday and he finally got his NG tube out. All these little things could be checked off the box and he would eventually be a NICU graduate.

The day Mark and I finally got to bring him home, we were so nervous but ready to start this new chapter of our lives. Once our baby was in the stroller and we were on our way to our car we looked at each other and said, “Now what?” 

It wasn’t until we walked out the hospital with him that day that he got discharged that it finally hit me. I felt like I was on my own now and there were no nurses to help me. I was really on my own and all the knowledge I got from the NICU nurses I would actually have to apply and eventually teach Mark how to do the same. I developed PTSD from hearing the machines go off and I was more paranoid than ever knowing that now as he was coming home, there was no way I could tell that he was breathing on his own other than physically looking at him and seeing his chest move up and down. Now that we’re past that and he’s sturdy and is doing things an almost 1 year old should do, it hits me every once in a while that he’s a whole human being and I have to take care of him everyday for the rest of my life.” -Cambria