In the summer of 2007, my mom’s mom, Mama, was nearing the end of her life. By that point, she was in and out of the ICU, along with her husband, my Tatay Celso, who also had his fair share of health complications. Our family spent a great deal of time visiting Mama and Tatay every weekend for hours on end. Each family would bring food – little snacks like bread and other baked goods. We would be all gathered around their bedside picking at the food that each family brought. Multiple families crammed into those hospital rooms to visit at the same time. Before this, we met every Sunday at Mama’s house for lunch. Things were different with her and Tatay Celso in and out of the hospital. “Mama’s house” didn’t feel like Mama’s house without them there. So, we’d bring “Mama’s house” to them.
My family and my cousins would visit often, every Sunday to be exact. My little sister would bring her Nintendo DS to pass time. We would use the DS’s messaging feature to pretend that our Bratz dolls were “AIM-ing” each other (lmfaooo, what a sign of the times). We really had a whole scandalous story line and everything. My sister and I would spend so much time typing out each word with that damn stylist, send the message, pass the DS back to the other, and wait for the other’s reply. We had full on Bratz dolls conversations through one DS. That’s dedication… and boredom.
My aunts, uncles, and cousins would come regularly with us to visit, and we would basically occupy the waiting rooms if they were in the ICU, or their bedside when they were stable enough, or in the Convalescent homes they were in when they were recovering. Everyone would try to come around the same time, but each family left on their own time. No matter where Mama and Tatay Celso were transferred to, whether that be the hospital, ICU, in and out of Convalescent homes, our family was there.
When Mama and Tatay Celso weren’t in the same facility, we would divide our Sunday afternoon to make sure both were being visited. When someone is sick, we really do show up and show out for the ones we love. We roll deep in numbers and make it a family gathering, just like Sunday lunches at Mama’s house. They were never completely alone for long. Especially during the weekends, when everyone was off school and work. That’s when they had the majority of their visits.
However, Mama’s health was declining way before she was in and out of the hospital. It was emotionally exhausting to witness her health decline, slightly improve, then decline, slowly improve, and then decline again. It was like false hope each time. And at 12 years old, it was a lot to take in. I knew Mama had diabetes and that she was sick. But looking back, I didn’t realize how tedious her routine was due to her sickness.
I’d get off school and walk to Mama’s house Tuesday through Friday, waiting for my mom to get off work and pick us up. Everyday I’d see Mama on the couch watching TFC. I’d greet her with a “mano po” by picking up her hand and having her “bless” me by putting her hand to my forehead. This was my usual routine from preschool until 6th grade. When she was in and out of the hospital, it was weird to get off school and open the door to Mama’s house and not see her on the couch. With her health declining, I would open Mama’s front door and be greeted by an empty living room.
We were visiting so often that it felt like the hospital was our new stomping grounds. We were always there. There was always food. And we were always there for helllllllla long. It was routine for us at that point. We would go to 1 o’clock mass, and instead of heading straight to Mama’s house for lunch, like we did every Sunday since I was born up until that point, we would go pick up food to bring to the hospital. I remember this time specifically because it would soon become a day I regretted.
It was your typical Sunday, and this hangout at the hospital was no different than the others. My mom and my aunts were chatting it up with Mama as she laid on the hospital bed. By that point, we have been there for what seemed like a couple of hours. Don’t get me wrong, I liked visiting Mama because I knew throughout the week when all her kids were at work and us grandkids were at school, it can get pretty lonely. The weekends were the only time the whole family was available and could gather together since the weekdays were so hectic and busy. I knew that us visiting would make her day. So I knew the importance of visiting and that the quality time meant a lot to my mom. But we would stay for a looooooooong time.
At the time, my 12 year old self dreaded the extended hours, only because there was nothing for us to do. I didn’t have a phone, the TV didn’t have good channels, the chairs were uncomfortable, and don’t even get my started on the hospital smell. 1 hour was cool, 2 hours was chillin’, but longer than that, boredom started to kick in. And this particular visit, I hit my limit again. I was getting bored. My little sister, my dad, and I sat outside the hospital room where it was more open. I hinted to my dad, more so irritatingly suggested, that we should get going since we been there for a long time. I was over the DS and writing back and forth with my little sister. But, as all Filipino parents do, they tell their kids 5 more minutes, even though they know it won’t be 5 minutes.
I whined to my dad tirelessly for us to leave. I already knew that we would be there doing the same thing next week. Then, I would go to my mom and try to discreetly tell her we should get going. I was met with “yeah, yeah, yeah’s,” and being shooed away. Being a preteen, moody, with no phone, nothing to do, and just sitting there to pass time seemed like the hardest thing to do at the time. Looking back, I was definitely just a bored brat.
Like any typical Sunday visit, we left after a couple of hours, and we said bye to Mama, planning to see her again the week after. However, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, her health declined and she ended up back in the ICU, where she remained until the day she passed. We never got to visit again. And that last visit haunted me for a long time. I felt so guilty, so selfish, so foolish for pushing to leave early that day, not knowing that it would be the last time I saw Mama fairly well and alive. That last visit I urged my parents to leave early because of my boredom, and even though they ignored my advances, I still felt guilty for wanting to leave. I was completely unaware that that would be my last visit to Mama.
I felt guilty for a long time. I was hard on myself years after the fact, and the regret was heavy on my conscious. I’ve come to terms with it now, 14 years later, knowing that I was literally just a kid who couldn’t have known what was to come. And now, I find myself trying to make up for it in different ways in the present day. I prioritize family events, especially when it was events for Tatay Jack or at his house when he was still alive. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to be so present and available when Tatay was living out the remainder of his final days. He was my last living grandparent, I didn’t want the same situation to repeat. I wanted to make up for my past by being present, showing up, and not being impatient.
Now as an adult, I see the importance of spending time and giving quality time. Your time is really all you can give. Now I understand that. That last visit with Mama has been a day in my life that I have tried to forget because I was so ashamed of my attitude and restlessness. I battled with myself and replayed that day in my head for a long time, wishing I could go back and change how I acted. That day really slapped me into reality and taught me the bittersweet lesson that you never know what the future holds.
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.
“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
What’s one family tradition you’d like to carry on in the future
When I was younger, my family and I had plenty of traditions, and I’ve always wanted to uphold all of them for my future family and kids. From meeting for Sunday lunch at Mama’s house after 1 o’clock mass on my mom’s side, to opening presents right at midnight on my dad’s side, these are all little traditions that I remember as a kid. As us cousins and kids got older though, the traditions started to change as well. Meeting weekly became hard given people’s changing schedules, availability, etc. Waiting until midnight to open presents got harder to do since the adults were getting older and struggling to stay awake, as well as the kids being so young that staying up until midnight was more of a hassle than a treasured tradition. Like everything in life, things change.
Especially with big families, it can be difficult to get everyone on the same page. Everyone’s schedule is all fucked up, other priorities, some just don’t end up coming, people move or live far away, and with time, everyone just kind of branches out and does their own thing as their own little families expand. Major holidays and gatherings like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Tatay Jacinto’s birthday, Mama and Tatay Celso’s death anniversaries, are all days out of the year that are basically mandatory for my family. Those are the holidays that I take seriously and know that I can’t miss. As I get older, in the back of my mind I’m thinking of how I’m going to celebrate holidays with my kids. I quickly realize that my family events and holidays will be something that I have to thoroughly plan out as well, because I’ll have a whole other side and family that also celebrate those holidays.
I think back to pre-COVID, when my older cousins with kids have to leave some holiday parties early to make it to their in-law’s side. Some alternate year to year what holiday they will spend with which side. The compromise of divvying out holidays is something I know is in my near future, especially since I do have plans on having a family of my own one day. To be honest, it’s kind of foolish of me to previously think that every single tradition I had growing up would be continued when the time comes for me to have a family. But, a girl could dream. I came to the unpleasant realization that I can’t uphold all of those traditions – but that’s okay.
But one tradition that I would like to carry on in the future is celebrating “death anniversaries” for family members who have passed on. This is a tradition that my mom’s side upholds. For outsiders, it may be a little weird to celebrate the day when somebody died, but for us, it’s a reminder of the departed’s life. It’s a time to pray for your loved one’s soul that they continue to rest in peace on the anniversary of their passing. Growing up Catholic, anything surrounding death usually involves prayer. Given people’s differences in religion, and my own beliefs on religion, I would take this tradition and tweak a few things – turning it into a celebration of life, either on the death anniversary, or the birthday of the departed, maybe even both days.
This is something that my mom’s side practiced since I was a little kid. My mom’s eldest brother passed away before I was even born, but I have fond memories of us praying for him and having a bigger than normal Sunday lunch to celebrate. The painted portrait of Uncle Rolly was displayed every death anniversary. They would light candles and gather in the Livingroom of Mama’s house to begin the rosary. Even though I never knew who he was or got the privilege to meet him, I knew of him because we celebrated him and remembered him on his death anniversary.
Mama would orchestrate Uncle Rolly’s death anniversary rosary. And when she and Tatay Celso passed away, we continued the tradition for them. When July 12th and November 10th roll around, I know we are due for a family party. I black out that weekend because I know we will be celebrating with a family gathering and prayer service, no question about it. Because everyone is off doing their own thing, this is the 1-3 times out of the year we are all guaranteed to be together as a family to remember a family member who is no longer with us. It gives the family time to catch up, bond, and see each other. If nobody told you it was a death anniversary party, you would think it’s somebody’s party. And that’s basically what it is – a huge party with a lot of food and people.
Celebrating death anniversaries is definitely a tradition I want to continue for future generations to come. I think it’s a beautiful thing to honor someone in the family who is no longer there physically. It gives a chance for the younger children who never knew them, to still get the gist of what the person was like through stories and memories. It takes a sad memory – for those who remember – and turns it into a celebration of life and good times for the people who are still around. Even if this tradition evolves over time and eventually turns into a dinner at a restaurant instead of one of the siblings hosting it at their house, it is still the same concept of celebrating and remembering someone who has passed on.
That’s something that is very important to me – letting my future children know of their relatives that have passed on that played a big part in their parents’ lives. I’m really big on family history, and making sure that nobody is forgotten. Celebrating someone’s birthday or death anniversary is also a great way to cope the loss of someone important in your life, even if it is years after the fact. For my Mama and Tatay Celso, we celebrated every year until COVID hit. Even the random 2-9 year death anniversaries, because we want to remember and we want to keep their memory alive, letting them know that even though they’re not here physically anymore, we still celebrate and remember them. It’s super important to me for my future children to know their lineage and know where they came from, who were the people that helped raised me, and how we remember and honor those that came before us.
Krizhna and Zarnee’s love story began in 2009 at Westmoor High. They started off as friends their first 2 years of high school, but that changed their junior year. They had multiple classes together and always seemed to be partnered up in English class. Krizhna explains how she always saw Zarnee as just a friend, until she realized that he was always there for her in her time of need, even if that meant venting about another guy. The best friends slowly but surely turned into lovers. This was the start of their journey. Zarnee made their relationship official on December 22, 2011 at the local Macy’s. His support and presence – what initally drew Krizhna to Zarnee – would be tested as they experienced parenthood together.
The couple was 4 years into their relationship when they decided to start their family in 2015. They were both barely 20 years old, and knew people would think they were insane to try to have a baby at that age, so they kept it hush hush. They didn’t have an exact reason as to why they wanted to start a family so bad, but knew it was something they both wanted. At the time, Zarnee and his family were not on talking terms, and at that point, he was out of their house for 2 years already. In a way, starting their own family would compensate for his broken family relationship.
During her break one day, Krizhna went to Target to purchase a pregnancy test. Her best friend and co-worker at the time, Kadigah, was actually the first person to know Krizhna was pregnant. She texted a photo of the positive pregnancy test to an ecstatic Zarnee who was doing laundry. Their joy was through the roof, and they were excited to finally have a family of their own.
“I think that was the first time in a while he was genuinely happy,” Krizhna reminisced.
When it came time to telling Krizhna’s family, she felt as though her mother’s intuition kicked in. Krizhna, her siblings, and her mom sat at the kitchen table in their grandma’s 1.5 bedroom inlaw. She explained that she had something to tell them, but her mom already knew before the words came out of her mouth. Her mom was disappointed but was still supportive. She had the “well, it already happened,” attitude and knew that being upset would not change the fact that she was pregnant. Her siblings were shocked, but followed their mom’s lead. They supported Krizhna’s decision to keep the baby and start a family.
At the time, her dad was still in the Philippines. Krizhna jokes that, “thank god,” her mom was the one that broke the news to him. He was astonished. His attitude was similar to her mom’s. He had told Krizhna, “Well, it’s there already. We just have to accept it.” However, her dad took matters into his own hands and messaged Zarnee on Facebook – asking if he had plans to marry his daughter. In the Filipino culture, being married before having a child is seen as an “essential” step. They felt the pressure of feeling like they “had to” get married, but decided that if they were going to get married, it would be on their terms, not because they feel forced into it. Having a baby on the way didn’t mean they had to rush into marriage to do it the “right way.”
The support from her parents and siblings made Krizhna feel more at ease. But she knew she had one more important person to tell on her side – her grandma. Krizhna, her mom, and siblings lived in her grandma’s home. She has always had high expectations for Krizhna, so when she told her she was pregnant, her grandma had no words. She said very little, sighed, and walked away. Her grandma expressed that she should’ve been focusing on going to college instead of starting a family. Her mom tried to talk to her grandma, telling her that there wasn’t much they could do, they have to just deal with it. Still, her grandma’s mind was made. She wanted Krizhna out of the house – she was so disappointed, she didn’t want to see her. So, she left, at about 2 months pregnant.
She moved in with Zarnee, who was living at a friend’s house. He got kicked out of his family home 2 years prior, and now, his pregnant girlfriend was in the same position. Surprisingly enough, Krizhna expected this reaction from her grandma. She knew that once she told her the news, she was most likely going to get kicked out. Zarnee and Krizhna stayed at their friend’s house a little over 2 months, but they quickly had to find their own place. They looked for different places that they could call home, but ended up getting scammed out of an apartment. Their only option was to live out of their car. They were homeless and living in their car for the remainder of her pregnancy. She was about 4-5 months pregnant.
She was never upset with her mom or siblings for not vouching for her to stay to her grandma. Krizhna’s mom was aware of their living situation, and tried her best to sneak them in when she could. Her grandma would work on the weekends and sleep over her patient’s house. On those days, Krizhna’s mom would sneak her and Zarnee into the house and let them sleep over. When it wasn’t the weekends and her grandma didn’t sleep over at her patient’s house, her mom would still find gaps for them to come to the house to shower or eat. From the beginning of their relationship, Krizhna’s family always liked Zarnee. Prior to the pregnancy, he would offer to drive her family places, and in return her mom would cook more food when she knew he would be coming over, knowing his rocky relationship with his own parents. So even though she got kicked out of the house when she told her grandma she was pregnant, her mom and siblings’ support was still apparent, and she was grateful.
Zarnee, on the other hand, was very conflicted about telling his family about the news. He was kicked out of his family home back in 2013. Their relationship was rocky and he didn’t even know if he should tell them that he was going to be a father. His parents also had high expectations for him, and when they realized that he didn’t want to take the college route, they were very upset. They didn’t agree with his life choices and resented him for not wanting to further his education. The route he decided to take was to work and eventually become a mechanic. Zarnee was confused as to why his family didn’t support his choices. He knew that telling his family that Krizhna was pregnant would be another can of worms, and honestly, he didn’t know if he wanted to open it up.
When Zarnee finally reached out to his parents with the news, they didn’t take it well. They voiced how disappointed they were that the two were going to be parents so young. After he broke the news to them and recieved that reaction, Zarnee and his parents both cut off communication. He didn’t reach out to them and they didn’t reach out to him. He tried his best to remain positive and not let his parents’ words get to him. When he and Krizhna got evicted from his friend’s house, they had nowhere to go. Living in the car with his pregnant girlfriend during cold Bay Area winter was getting the best of him. He knew he had to reach out to his family to ask for help.
He called and let them know that he and Krizhna got evicted from their previous living situation. Zarnee expected some sympathy, but instead, he was greeted on the phone with “I told you so’s.” His parents told him that he put himself in this situation by not listening them. It was “his fault” and he had to deal with it. Alone. Zarnee begged his family to take them in, especially since it was around the holidays during winter time. But his parent’s did not budge on their decision. They couldn’t stay at Krizhna’s grandma’s, they couldn’t stay at Zarnee’s friend’s, and now his parents refused to let them stay at their house as well. Zarnee couldn’t believe it. He felt so betrayed and hurt by his parents’ decision. With still nowhere to stay, they tried their best to remain positive.
“I couldn’t believe that my own parents were not concerned that me and my pregnant girlfriend were sleeping in the car,” Zarnee shared. “I felt like I couldn’t do anything right at that moment.”
On the days where Krizhna’s grandma was home and her mom couldn’t sneak her and Zarnee over, the couple would sleep in their car. When they would saved enough money, they would rent hotel rooms so they could sleep comfortably on a bed. Being homeless and expecting their first child put a lot of a stress on them. They really struggled to weather the storm – not only figuratively, but literally as well. The Bay Area winter was taking its toll on the already struggling couple with more rain and freezing nights.
Krizhna remembers January 18, 2016 to be a very rainy – at times even hailing – day. She and Zarnee were really happy to have a hotel room that night because it meant that she could rest and relax on an actual bed. That night, Krizhna started having intense stomach pains, which prompted Zarnee to call the nurse. This angered Krizhna since she was only 31 weeks pregnant. She knew that she had a handful of weeks left until she would deliver, and didn’t see the need to go to the hospital. But since he already called, they took the advice of the nurse and went to the hospital, straight to the Delivery Department.
When they got there, two nurses quickly admitted Krizhna in and wasted no time hooking her up to machines. She remembers being so confused because no one was really telling her what was wrong or what they were hooking her up to. To add to the confusion, she wasn’t asking many questions either. It was all happening so quickly. They waited at the hospital for a couple of hours because they were told that the high risk doctor wouldn’t be coming in until later. Krizhna dosed off, and a few hours later she was woken up by the doctor who informed her that she would have to be transferred to another hospital. Why? Because they didn’t have the proper equipment to deliver her 31 week old baby. They were in shock, a full term pregnancy is usually 37-40 weeks.
Krizhna was transferred to CPMC. And in her room was the isolette, the little plastic crib where they place new born babies. She asked her nurse if she was going to be giving birth anytime soon since the isolette was in the room. Her nurse confirmed that she indeed was going to be giving birth in a matter of days. Krizhna and Zarnee couldn’t believe it. And on January 22, 2016 – 3 days after being transferred to CPMC – they welcomed their first born, Reginald James.
Krizhna remembers how heartbroken she was. After giving birth to Reginald, she didn’t get to carry him. He went straight into the isolette and then to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Seeing Reginald in the NICU was tough. They remember he was so small and thin that they could see his bone structure. When he was born, he weighed 5 pounds, but he started to lose weight and got down to 2 pounds. The first two weeks of his life were the toughest. They didn’t know if Reginald would make it because he was losing so much weight.
“It was really tough,” Krizhna said. “We witnessed him become a needle bag, lose so much weight to where you could literally see his little tiny bones, to having a feeding tube because he didn’t know how to feed with a bottle.”
“The most challenging was seeing him in the incubator getting smaller and smaller,” Zarnee said recalling how he felt during Reginald’s stay in the NICU. “He had a feeding tube, IV, and a lot of monitors attached to him. There was one instance where he kept moving around too much that the IV wasn’t staying still. So the doctor told us that they had to give him a PICC line. They described it to us as a long thin needle that went from the tip of his finger through the arm to his heart. I remember being so worried…”
Reginald was in the NICU from January 22, 2016 to March 1, 2016. In that time, they got in contact with a social worker who was completely unaware that the couple was homeless and living out of their car. The social worker informed Zarnee and Krizhna that they could stay in one of the rooms in the hospital since that floor was vacant. This way, they could be closer to Reginald since his stay at the NICU would be prolonged, and Krizhna had to pump every 3 hours and supply him with food anyways. This way, they didn’t have to worry about the commute or not being by Reginald’s side. Without hesitation, they accepted the offer. Though the circumstances were unfortunate, they were just relieved that they had a bed to sleep on for the time being.
They stayed in the hospital room the whole time Reginald was in the NICU, about a month and a half. In that time, they really wondered what their next steps would be. Where were they going to live? They had a new born baby now, living in a car would not be ideal. Zarnee had just left his previous job, and Krizhna was on unpaid maternity leave. They felt like they were running out of options. It was when Krizhna’s mom asked her what their living situation was going to be once Reginald was discharged from NICU that made Krizhna realize she had no choice but to reach out to her grandma.
Krizhna knew that she had to put her pride and guilt to the side if she wanted a home for Reginald. She knew that enough time had passed, and that her grandma wasn’t that upset with her anymore. There were times before Reginald was born where her grandma visited her at the hospital, giving her food and checking in on her often. When Krizhna told Zarnee that she planned on asking her grandma if they could stay with her, he agreed. He knew that this was the best decision. And after a lengthy conversation with her grandma, she let Krizhna – and now Krizhna’s little family – know that they were welcome to stay at her house once Reginald was discharged. Krizhna’s grandma was not the only one with a change of heart. Zarnee’s parents brought Krizhna comfort food after she had delivered Reginald, and they were slowly on track to building a relationship again. Things were looking up.
With a roof over their heads, their son out of the NICU, and family bonds being rebuilt, Krizhna and Zarnee felt a weight lifted off their shoulders. They were so eager to start and have a family, and now here they were. Unfortunately, instead of feeling complete and happy, Krizhna felt the exact opposite. The day after Reginald was discharged from the NICU, she drowned herself in work. She remembers working 50+ hour weeks to avoid going home and spending time with her son. She didn’t know why she felt so distant and cold towards the baby she and Zarnee both planned for. So, she used work as a distraction.
Postpartum depression hit Krizhna hard. She felt immense guilt and directly responsible for Reginald being born premature. She blames herself for being under a lot of stress, especially because of being homeless, and taking on a new job at 6 months pregnant to make ends meet. Krizhna believes that it was her fault for why Reginald was not carried to term. He was born at 31 weeks and 5 days, Krizhna beats herself up over the fact that she had 9 more weeks to go. She remembers her last month of being pregnant, she was working double shifts almost everyday and doing a lot of physical work like carrying 30-50 pound boxes.
Krizhna remembers one night where she was so upset. She didn’t know exactly why she was irritated and upset, but all she knew was she wanted Zarnee out. Not fully understanding her emotions, she got so frustrated and took her emotions out on her little family. She told Zarnee to take Reginald and leave, stating that she wanted nothing to do with them. Instead of arguing back and being upset, Zarnee held her and let her cry it out. He was still the guy to be there for her and listen after all these years.
“That moment was when I knew I started a family with the right man,” Krizhna said.
It was confusing for Krizhna because she knew she loved Reginald, but a huge part of her felt like she didn’t want to be a part of his life because she caused him so much physical pain by not carrying him to term. She remembers that first month of his life over and over again in her head – how much he suffered, how scared they were, how helpless he was. And she really believed she was the main source and the one to blame for it all. She used work as a coping mechanism because if she worked more, she wouldn’t have to focus on the fact that she wasn’t bonding with her son, she wouldn’t have to see him, she wouldn’t be reminded of the guilt she felt. So Zarnee cared for Reginald for the first 5 months while she worked.
For the first 5 months of Reginald’s life, Krizhna felt no bond with him. It was really hard because she was still living under her grandma’s roof and being surrounded with family. She felt as though she had to put on a front for her family’s sake because depression is not something that is normalized in her family and her culture as well. There would be times where she would be crying about something that upset her or show that she was upset and her family would brush it off like it wasn’t a big deal. Having people treat her postpartum depression like it didn’t exist or was something not to be upset about really bothered her. She knew her family was supportive of her, but she didn’t feel comfortable to open up about her inner turmoil. Krizhna knew they just wouldn’t get it.
There were many times where Krizhna really felt like seeking professional help for her postpartum depression. But she was terrified. Her worst fear was that they would end up taking Reginald away from them because they’d probably deem her “unfit” to care for a child, and then send her off to a mental hospital. She didn’t feel a connection with him and wanted nothing to do with him, but at the same time she knew that if they were to take him away, she would lose it. Looking back, Krizhna knows that her feelings were in conflict with one another. But she wasn’t going to take that chance of Reginald possibly being taken away.
It wasn’t until Reginald was 5 months old that Krizhna started to bond with him. She remembers the event that changed it all. Reginald was about 5 months old and was really sick. He had a high fever and a boil on his bottom. Zarnee and Krizhna had to take him to the emergency room where they cut his skin open to remove the abscesses from the boil. Reginald was crying like she had never seen him cry before. She could tell that he was in pain by how hysterically he was crying and clenching onto her and Zarnee. Seeing him like that made Krizhna’s heart break.
“Seeing him in that position made me realize how much I love him and how I would do anything to take away his pain,” Krizhna said remembering that emergency room visit. “Ever since that day, I grew closer to Reginald and started appreciating the fact that even though he was born early, he is alive and healthy.”
A little after Reginald’s first birthday, the couple had startling news. She was pregnant again. Krizhna was on the pill briefly, but stopped because she was getting bad side effects. She was not ready for another baby. She called her best friend, Karina, and told her about the news. She cried and vented out her frustrations and worries. After the call, she showed Zarnee the positive pregnancy test. He was so shocked that he didn’t know what to say. Krizhna explained to him that she was not ready to have a second child so soon, and she didn’t know if she wanted to keep it. Zarnee supported her in whatever decision she chose, but they both slept on it. The next morning, she still didn’t make a decision.
It actually took a couple of days of going back and forth on the idea of keeping the baby or not. A few days after finding out she was pregnant, they finally came to a conclusion. They were going to follow through with the second pregnancy. What made them sway in that favor? The two of them thought about their first born and how much he means to them. They couldn’t picture what life would be like without him and they loved him so much. Reginald was the best thing that has ever happened to them, so they knew that even though they weren’t ready, they’ll get through it as long as they have each other.
They were both hesitant to tell their families about the news. Not because they thought they wouldn’t be supportive, but because of how her first pregnancy went and how recent it was. When Krizhna finally told her family about the second pregnancy they didn’t react the same way as her first. Her intuition was right. Instead, they voiced how concerned and worried they were about how the pregnancy would go, given that Reginald was born premature. Little did they know that this time around, it would be worse.
Krizhna and Zarnee describe the following events that took place:
“I had my first prenatal appointment on February 10, 2017 where we had an abdominal ultrasound and saw a healthy heartbeat. Zarnee and I were so happy and relieved. Our doctor told us that my due date was October 5, 2017 and I was even more happy because our baby’s birthday would be close to mine and Reginald’s birthday is close to Zarnee’s and so we felt like it was all meant to be. We started talking to our doctor about what I would do differently this time around to prevent another preterm delivery and we even started guessing what the gender of our baby may be. We were hoping for a girl.
After our ultrasound, we came to accept and embrace our pregnancy, we were filled with joy. I couldn’t wait for my bump to grow and take lots of pictures, have a baby shower – since we didn’t get the chance to have it when we were pregnant with Reginald, for Reginald to be a big brother, to give birth – I was ecstatic.
On February 22 or 23 I believe, I was working one of my double shifts and I had cramps that felt very familiar and I knew something was wrong but I disregarded the pain hoping that if doing so, it would go away? I don’t know, I really don’t know why I had that mentality. I remember it was so painful that I was in the middle of what I was doing and I had to hold my stomach in a fetal position. The pain lasted about 5 minutes. I had a follow up appointment on the 27th and yet had another abdominal and transvaginal ultrasound, but this ultrasound was different from the first one… we no longer saw the healthy heartbeat of our baby… Our doctor didn’t know what or how to say that the baby may not have been alive anymore so he gave us the option of going for a second opinion to see what is going on. I knew right then and there we had lost our baby but Zarnee had hopes so we went ahead and got another ultrasound on March 1 and received the same devastating news. I was numb when she told me that there was no more heartbeat. I felt like I lost a part of me that day.
We went back to our doctor in which he told us that we would need to do a procedure called Dilation & curettage (D&C) to remove whatever part of my baby is in me. He told me that the procedure would take no longer than 30-40 minutes including the rest time. Crazy how fast it is to remove something so precious from me like that. He also gave us the option of bleeding out until clots come out but it would have to come out within a week otherwise I’ll get an infection. He let us know to think over it and call the office back to let them know what our decision was. I didn’t think about it. I told him that I made up my mind and proceeded with the D&C. I didn’t want to bleed out by myself and go through more trauma than what I was already going through. I don’t think I could’ve handled that. He scheduled the appointment for March 3 and he prescribed me 2-3 medications in which I believe one of them was to soften the cervix to make it easier to vacuum whatever is left. I was numb, I was broken.
March 3rd we went in to do a D&C. I was drugged from whatever pill I took but I still felt what was going on and I still knew what was going on but I put up a front in front of Zarnee to distract him from what I was going through because I knew that it broke him seeing me like that. My doctor had come in and I remember seeing this vacuum like machine that he brought in and my stomach dropped. I knew it was time. I knew it was time for me to let go of something that has not been there for a while. I knew it was time. He asked me if I was ready and I said yes but deep inside I wasn’t. I wanted so bad for a miracle to happen but I knew that I was hoping for something that is not going to happen. He did his thing with the vacuum and I remember holding onto Zarnee’s hand so tight because it was painful. I felt the suction of the vacuum and I don’t think the physical pain I felt compared to the emotional trauma I suffered.
Right after the procedure, my doctor said that I was no longer pregnant and everything was out. I died inside hearing that. I did not know what heartbreak felt like until I heard that I was no longer pregnant. I laid in the patient bed for 5 minutes and left. I cried hysterically in the car and we went home and I cried some more. I think I cried for about a week straight. Something in me that day died along with my baby.”
“After hearing our doctor say that there wasn’t a heartbeat anymore, I was very hopeful that there would still be one and that he was wrong. I kept telling myself and Krizhna that there was (a heartbeat). I tried to assure her and myself that from the time we left to the next appointment.
When we got the second opinion, my heart dropped. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to believe it. I felt like I got played. I felt crushed. It’s like, there was just a heartbeat and now you’re telling me there isn’t a heartbeat anymore? How could that be? I don’t understand. I didn’t want to understand. When Krizhna got the D&C, it made it so much more surreal that our baby is gone. Dead.
Seeing the doctor use the vacuum to suck out whatever was left of our baby was heartbreaking but what was even more heartbreaking was seeing Krizhna laying down there, sad because there was nothing she could do. Her body is practically being invaded by this tool and I was scared of what could happen to her. When the procedure was done, I didn’t want to leave her side or get her out of my sight because I felt that the least I could do was be there for her after what she had just gone through. That was probably one of the worst days I’ve ever had to this day.”
Krizhna was 4 weeks along when her pregnancy test read positive. When she miscarried, she was about 6-8 weeks pregnant. When Krizhna and Zarnee got out of the procedure, the first person she called was her mom. She cried hysterically on the phone saying, “I lost my baby, I lost my baby.” Her mom advised her to come home. Zarnee also called his parents in the car and when his parents answered, Zarnee lost it. He broke down crying, and they comforted their son saying that everything will be okay.
Krizhna knew that her mom didn’t know what to say or how to comfort her. It was the same with Zarnee’s parents. Nobody knew what to say to make them feel better, and honestly, nothing they could say would make them feel better anyways. By the time they came home, the household was aware of what just happened and they were welcomed with homemade soup from her grandma. Her mom and grandma cared for Reginald all day while she locked herself in her room. She knew that taking care of Reginald while she detached from the world in her room was her family’s way of comforting her. She couldn’t talk about her postpartum depression, and now she found herself in a position where she couldn’t talk about her miscarriage either.
After the miscarriage, Zarnee and Krizhna’s relationship was on the rocks. They were both hurting, but didn’t know how to communicate it or comfort one another. She felt like Zarnee wasn’t hurting from the loss of their child because he wasn’t reacting the same way as her. She acknowledges that Zarnee was trying so hard to understand what she was feeling, but she kept pushing him away. Every conversation seemed to have the same outcome. Whenever they talked, it would turn into an argument, and all of a sudden the miscarriage would be brought up, it would always be followed by silence and tears.
“I don’t know how we got through it,” Krizhna said. “I think it took us a while to be a team again.”
Zarnee handled the miscarriage by going back to work and taking care of Reginald. Having a 1 year old kept him busy, and it also kept him sane. Krizhna recalls only seeing Zarnee cry about the miscarriage once, and that was after the procedure. To her, it seemed like Zarnee didn’t care because he would only talk about it when she would breakdown. She sees now that maybe it was for the best that he reacted that way, because if they were both a “mess,” they couldn’t care for Reginald. Zarnee saw Reginald as his strength during this difficult time.
“Having him kept me sane,” Zarnee admitted. “He made me want to fight and get through it… Even though he doesn’t know it, he really saved me when I was going through it.”
After their miscarriage in 2017, Zarnee and Krizhna started trying again in 2018. And to their surprise, they were pregnant again in April. However, in a span of 3 days, they found out that she was pregnant and then she wasn’t. She knew she was pregnant so she went to the doctor. They did a blood test on her twice to confirm she was pregnant. Her HCG levels were dropping, which meant she was miscarrying. She was exhausted. However, the 2nd miscarriage didn’t effect her as bad because she didn’t get to hear the heart beat, and she wasn’t as far along. But, it did still hurt them. They were discouraged and didn’t want to even talk about trying again.
But a year later in June 2019, she found out she was pregnant again for the 4th time. When she found out she was pregnant, she took a pregnancy test everyday until her 8 week appointment. That was her way to make sure she was still pregnant, and it brought her and Zarnee peace of mind. They were so excited to be pregnant again, but didn’t want to show it. They were very hesitant with being excited, in fear that they would miscarry again. They just didn’t want to have false hope after everything they’ve been through.
Because of their past experiences with miscarrying, they only told a handful of people they were expecting the first 3 months of being pregnant. Krizhna’s mindset was : if I miscarry again atleast I only have to explain it to only a couple of people. But when she reached 16 weeks, she knew she was in the clear to let the secret out of the bag! Now they were beginning to get excited again after 2 years of back to back heart break.
This pregnancy was so different than when she was pregnant with Reginald. Krizhna was nauseous all day everyday, hated the smell of fried food, and was exhausted all the time. She had to take progesterone, a pill that makes sure the baby attaches, and take it vaginally. They would go to bi-weekly appointments to make sure that the baby was okay, given her history of pregnancy. This time around, every little pain she had, she would go to the ER. She was taking no chances. Zarnee was very over protective and made sure that Krizhna was taking it easy and eating all the right foods.
On January 10, 2020, Krizhna was at work when she started to have really bad contractions. She managed to finish her shift and went home. That night, her contractions were so bad that Zarnee took her to the hospital. They informed her that she was only 1 cm dialted, and sent her back home to rest. The next day, her contractions intensified. She really couldn’t take it anymore and her parents couldn’t stand to see her in pain. By 8 PM she was at the hospital and Zarnee met her there coming from work. She was 6 cm dialted, and they informed her that she would be giving birth in the next 24 hours. She was only 34 weeks pregnant and had another month to go.
On January 12, 2020, Mia Alea-Luna was born. This time around she got to hold Mia before they put her in the isolette and to the NICU. Krizhna remembers how much more smaller Mia was compared to Reginald, and this made them worry. Having their 2nd born in the NICU made them nervous. And this time, they didn’t have the housing that came with Reginald’s NICU stay. It was harder because once she was discharged, she would have to pick up Zarnee from work at night and they would visit Mia. Reginald wasn’t allowed in the NICU, so they had to wait until he was asleep to visit as well. Fortunately, Mia only stayed in the NICU for 2 weeks.
Krizhna still experienced postpartum depression after her 2nd child was born. But this time was different. With Reginald, she didn’t want to be around him or connect with him. But with Mia, she was very overprotective. She believes this shift happened because she felt so guilty about how she felt after Reginald was born, that she didn’t want to act like that towards Mia. And it wasn’t because she loved Mia more, but because she knew that Reginald was old enough to witness everything. She didn’t want him to see a disconnect between her and his new sister, in fear that it would traumatize him. And most importantly, she sought help. She sees her therapist once a month and is taking medication for her depression and anxiety.
Their parenthood journey has not been easy. They have faced a lot of heartbreak together. Krizhna and Zarnee try to celebrate the first miscarriage by just being together as a family for what would’ve been the baby’s due date. They don’t celebrate the 2nd miscarriage because they never knew what the due date was since she miscarried very early on. 2 years after her 1st miscarriage, Reginald would always tell Krizhna that he would see his brother. There would be times that he would be alone in the room saying “I’m playing with my brother,” and instead of being scared, it comforts Krizhna, knowing that their baby is still around them. They never got to find out what the gender was either.
“Take all the time you need to mourn your loss,” Krizhna advises other parents who have miscarried. “It is more common than you think it is. You are not alone.. even though it feels like it right now you’re not alone. The loss of a child you never got to meet and hold is something you’ll carry with you for a very long time and although it’ll hurt being reminded of what happened, you are resilient. You will get back up again. As each day passes it’ll hurt less than the day before but the sadness when you’re reminded of it is going to be there so do whatever you need to do to heal – whether it be celebrating the anniversary of the miscarriage or the due date or talking to someone who shares the same experience. There’s always a rainbow at the end of the storm.”
And Zarnee and Krizhna definitely got their rainbow at the end of their storm. They are now raising their beautiful children together in Zarnee’s childhood home. Once Mia was born, they desperately looked for houses that they could call home. There just wasn’t enough room in Krizhna’s grandma’s 1.5 bedroom inlaw. Zarnee knew how important it was for Krizhna to have her family with her, so they searched for houses that fit everyone’s needs. They toured about 10 houses in a span of 1 month, but nothing felt like “the one.”
One day, after touring yet another home, Zarnee went to his parents’ house to pick something up. He updated them that they still didn’t find a house. It was then that his parents asked if they wanted to live in the old family house, and even extended the offer to Krizhna and her family to come along. Zarnee couldn’t believe what his parents were telling him. He gladly accepted the offer, and went home to tell Krizhna and her whole family. He was so happy that his kids would have enough room to run around and for each member of the family to have a room and bed to sleep on, rather than the floor. Zarnee loves the fact that his kids get to grow up in the same house he grew up in.
“To this day, I thank my parents every time I leave their house of the blessing they gave us,” Zarnee explained.
Zarnee and Krizhna have been through hell and back with each other. They never expected that their journey to parenthood would have so many twists and turns. They mended family relationship, they went through heartbreak, they witnessed their children in the NICU, they went from homeless to home owners, and never gave up on each other even in their darkest times. Their main focus now is to raise their children together and be there for them. They embrace every part of their journey to parenthood because it gave them their most precious gifts – Reginald and Mia.