The Smiling Photograph

My dad’s mom, Conching, passed away during childbirth over 55 years ago. At the time, my dad was about 5 years old. Tatay was left to care for 7 children, ages ranging from about 14 to 2. Like their ages, what each sibling remembers of Nanay Conching ranges as well. Some remember the day she passed away vividly, some remember bits and pieces of isolated moments, and some remember nothing at all. Because my dad and aunt were the 2 youngest siblings, they heavily relied on the memories of their older siblings to get an idea of what kind of person their mom was.

From what I have gathered throughout the years, my grandma was a very kind and religious woman. She was the eldest of her siblings, and had a very nurturing personality. Every new piece of information lit up my family’s faces. Each story, memory, and photograph was like striking gold. My cousins and I wanted to know more about the woman that left such an impact on everyone that knew her. We have all wondered what our family would be like had Nanay Conching and my Auntie Merlinda survived. We’d probably have more aunts and uncles, more cousins, and a way bigger family – which is hard to believe, given that our family is already pretty large.

Since Nanay Conching passed away so long ago, and at such a young age, there are only a handful of photos of her that we’ve seen. I personally have only seen a total of 4 photos of Nanay Conching: a solo photo of her in a traditional Filipino dress, the picture of her and Tatay on their wedding day, a photo of my great grandparents (her parents) and all of her siblings holding a painting of her after she passed, and her and my aunt’s tomb stones in the Philippines. These are the only photos that the family has to remember her by. I’m sure that there might be more photos in the Philippines in the albums of very distant family members, but these are the few gems the family’s aware of.

My family is known to have a big family “story time.” We all gather in the living room – you know it’s about to be story time just from the vibe. They turn off the TV, everyone grabs a seat nearby, and it becomes a family group discussion. This usually happens when family from out of state visits the Bay Area – it would routinely happen during Tatay’s birthdays. I don’t know when these family story times started becoming a thing, but they seem to be happening more often as us “kids” start to get older. We feel more comfortable to ask the adults more thought-provoking questions on how they were raised, what they remember, and what life was like immigrating to a new country right after their mother passed away.

Each story told, each point of view shared, each memory ingrained in my aunts, uncles, and dad’s pasts, helps us understand their upbringing and how it has personally effected them as parents, partners, and individuals. Because we know our loved ones’ pasts, it brings to light all the unspoken emotions that their generation couldn’t find the words to express properly. Understanding our family’s generational trauma has planted the seed of change in my cousins and I’s heads. For me, love is many things, one thing that love is is wanting to try to understand. Trying to understand means that you not only want to listen, but that you want them to feel heard. Attempting to understand other people’s pasts and lives brings healing for them, and can connect the pieces in your own mind about why they are the way they are.

I’ve heard many sides and point of views of the day my grandma passed away. Some details vary from sibling to sibling, as time sometimes clouds the memory. One thing that everyone could agree on – regardless of what they remembered and how old they were – was the fact that my grandma’s death put Tatay in a frenzy. He was left widowed with 7 children to care for. Tragedy brought my family closer together and made the stitching of their bond to each other that much tighter. Because they lost a parent so early on in their lives, they cherished Tatay that much more, regardless of how flawed and irritable he was.

Now that Tatay has passed on, a lot of change has happened in our family in the last year. A lot of family are moving out of the Bay Area – something that I never thought would happen in my lifetime. For some reason, I’ve always believed that my extended family on both sides would stay in the Bay Area for life. Looking back now, I know that’s pretty unreasonable, but when I think of “home” I think of the Bay Area. As family starts to branch out outside of California, I think it’s important to try to maintain the closeness and bond that we are all so used to.

A few months ago, we took a trip to visit family that recently moved out of state. It was an amazing experience to explore a state we’d probably never think to visit otherwise. It was hands down one of the best family trips I have ever been on. When entering a home I’ve never been to before, I love to look at all the pictures that are up in the house. I feel like the pictures that are up in someone’s house says a lot about them and what’s important to them. I made my way around my uncle’s living room, dining room, bedroom, and anywhere with pictures up.

I analyzed all of the photos in my uncle’s home, each tucked away in a frame, some big, some small. As I admired the collage frame hanging next to the front door, I noticed some faces that looked very familiar at the top right. It was a photo of Tatay and Nanay Conching on their wedding day. But this wasn’t the wedding photo we were all familiar with, this was one I’ve never seen before. There in front of me was a picture of both my grandparents smiling ear to ear. It dawned on me that this was the first time I’ve ever seen a photo of my grandma smiling.

I immediately took pictures of the photo and sent it my dad and aunt who couldn’t make the trip. They also shared that they have never seen the photo before either. My aunt texted me, thanking me for sending it her way. Being the youngest sibling, my aunt was only 2 years old when her mom passed away. Her and my dad have no memories of their own of their mother. All that they have gathered about their mom has been stories passed down from their older siblings. She shared that this was the first picture she ever saw of her mom smiling, and it brought tears to her eyes. There is nothing that can fill the void of losing a parent so young, but a picture of both of her parents smiling was the next best thing for my aunt. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but this picture left us speechless.

It was a nice surprise to discover that photo that day. Especially with so much change happening, it’s nice to get those signs from the other side that they’re still around. Or at the very least, a reminder of the people that started it all. Sometimes discovering a photo that you never knew existed could really move you in ways that are unexplainable. For me, the smiling photograph filled my heart in many ways.

A Day I Tried To Forget

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.

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

The Photograph

**Nancy, I know you said to focus on people that I don’t know, but I promise I will do that AFTER this post… this is a story I HAVE to tell.**

My dad’s mom died over 50 years ago in the Philippines while giving birth to her 8th child. Unfortunately my grandma and aunt both passed away. My grandpa was left with 7 kids, 2 of which were under the age of 7.

Decades passed and my grandpa was alone. He is now 92 years old, going on 93 this July. A little over 10 years ago he remarried. For so long he was alone and single, longing for companionship.

My family, aunts & uncles, & their kids that are free, go to my grandpa and step-grandma’s house every other Sunday. It’s a great way for the family to remain close and for my grandpa to see his kids, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

One Sunday my aunt brought old pictures. She showed me and my cousins our grandmother, who none of us ever got to meet. My aunt was saying how she thinks she looks so much like her mother and how her other 2 sisters also share some features. There are only a couple of photos I’ve seen of my grandma, so my first thought was to take a picture of the photo.

My grandpa wasn’t really paying attention, he’s 92, so he’s always just chillin’ minding his business. My sisters and I like to show our grandpa pictures on our phone of him from previous events or ones we take right in front of him. He thinks it’s so cool how technology has advanced and still can’t believe that we can take pictures of him on our phones. Every time we show him his picture he starts laughing surprised like “that’s me!”

Anyways, I took out my phone and pulled up the picture of my grandma. I showed it to him and his reaction made me happy and sad all at the same time. Seeing her picture made him eagerly grab my phone out of my hand.

Staring at her picture he said to me in Tagalog, “Where’d you get this? Do you know who this is? It’s grandma.”

Other than when he complains about his back hurting, my grandpa is usually just chill and observant at get togethers. So when he reacted so surprised to see the picture, it touched my heart, because I could only imagine all the memories that photo brought back.

I think that’s a whole other level of love. To lose someone so tragically, and to be alone for so long, to get remarried, but to be so excited to see an old photo made me really happy. I can only imagine what he felt when he saw that picture, but I know that’s exactly how I would want someone to look at an old photograph of me. 20141109_190624

The photo above is the exact photo I showed my grandpa.