Jela: Motherhood Conundrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cambria: Expect The Unexpected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Somewhere Deep in Tatay’s Memory

This is story 6 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

This might be weird to some, but sometimes I think of what my life will be like when I’m an old grandma. What kind of life would I have lived? What things have changed? Who are the people closest to me? What accomplishments did I make in life? What lessons have I learned? Will I still be able to remember and recall my past? And as I witnessed Tatay’s mind start to drift further and further from the present day, I started to put myself in his shoes. I wondered what he was thinking, who he still remembered vividly, and what memories played in his mind. Visiting Tatay every Sunday was like a gamble. Was he going to be aware of who we were and what time frame it was, or was he going to ask for people who have already passed on a long time ago? It made me wonder…

Where do people’s minds go when they get older? What memories stick out to them the most and why?

I remember my Uncle Cris sharing that when Tatay first came to America, he hated it and wanted to go back to the Philippines. I wondered how hard it must’ve been to leave his home and family in the Philippines to reunite with his children and in-laws in America. Out of all his siblings, Tatay was the only one who resided in America. He must have felt so torn – feeling homesick being away from the place where he grew up, leaving behind his siblings and all of his extended family, but also feeling “at home” reuniting with all of his children after 7 long years apart. All I know is, I’m grateful that he decided to call the Bay Area his home and vacation to the Philippines every so often, instead of the other way around. Deep down he probably knew that this was a sacrifice he had to make for the future generations to come.

One of Tatay’s last wishes was to be back in the Philippines. But because of a volcano eruption and COVID following not too long after, we were unable to do that for him. Tatay was known for his flip floppiness when it came to where he wanted to permanently reside. There have been a couple of times where he swore up and down that he was going to stay in the Philippines, but with time he always came back. It seemed like wherever he was, Philippines or the US, he always wanted to go back to the other country eventually. His children would take his decisions with a grain of salt because they knew their father too well – he was always changing his mind. Give him a month or 2 in the Philippines and he’ll be ready to willingly come back to the US, complaining about the weather when it gets too hot. Give him a couple of months to settle back into the US and he’s already requesting his next trip back to the Philippines. That was Tatay, he called both places home.

Pre-pandemic and pre-volcano eruption, Tatay wouldn’t back down with voicing his desires to go back to the Philippines. I truly believe that he believed he would spend his remaining days on Earth in Batangas. He was so adamant. By this time, 2019-ish, it was well over a couple of years since Tatay’s last trip to the Philippines. With his old age, he just couldn’t handle the 15+ hours on a plane. But he was persistent. My aunts finally decided to give him what he wanted, a 1 way ticket to the Philippines – not because they believed he was going to stay there permanently, but because they knew that with time he would want to come back home to the US. They were just unsure of how much time it would actually take this time around for him to come back. So they bought him a 1 way ticket there and planned on a return flight with a date that was to be determined. I can only imagine what that might’ve felt like to finally get your wish to return back to Batangas, and then be told that you no longer could go. The volcano eruption delayed it, but they still planned on rescheduling. When the pandemic happened, there was just no way. At one point during the pandemic my cousin tried to get Tatay dual citizenship. It was the only way he could travel to the Philippines during these times – but he was denied.

Tatay couldn’t make sense of it all. Why couldn’t he go?! Tatay took every opportunity he could to bring up wanting to go back to the Philippines throughout the pandemic. And as his memory started to teeter-totter back and forth between present day and the past, the Philippines became a regular topic for him. Some days he would think that we were friends visiting from another part of the Philippines, other days he’d be asking my dad when he was going back to the Philippines, and other times he would ask on repeat why / when can he go back. My dad and Tita would avoid talking about the Philippines or anyone going to the Philippines in front of Tatay. The topic alone could set him off into a question frenzy. He wanted to go home so bad. His mind was constantly thinking about the Philippines, so it only made sense that he talked about it all the time and sometimes believed that he was there.

I’m not gonna lie, sometimes it felt like a blow to the heart when he could no longer recognize who we were. But Tita would share what Tatay would ask and say on a day to day basis. A lot of the time, he still believed that he was living with us. The time frame he was thinking of would have me and my sisters as little kids. He would ask Tita where my dad was, where my mom was, where my sisters and I were sleeping, and when he’s going back to his house, our house. Tita would have to remind him that he has his own house and we live separately. I wondered what about this time frame stuck out to him. Tatay lived with us for about 6 years, and that is a very short amount of time in his very long life. Regardless, it made me feel a little better to know that we were still somewhere in his memory, even if it was more than 20 years dated.

Tita would also tell us stories about Tatay asking for my dad’s mom. She died during childbirth over 50 years ago. He would call for my dad’s mom in the middle of the night. “Conching,” was the nickname he called my grandma. At times he would ask Tita where his wife was and why does she keep leaving. Tita would simply tell him that she was his wife. “You look different,” he would tell her. Tita would have to remind Tatay that my dad’s mother died over 50 years ago and she’s his wife. Tatay and Tita were married for over 20 years. But that didn’t stop him from talking about my Nanay Conching. So many decades have passed, but his memory of my grandma was still there. He never forgot her.

One Sunday Tita shared with us that Tatay woke up in the middle of the night and called her by my grandma’s name, Conching. He asked if she was awake and she told him she was, but she wasn’t who he thought she was – she wasn’t Conching. Tatay proceeded to tell Tita that he had a dream that there was a lot of people telling him to go with them and sit in a chair with them. Tita tried to make light of it and advised him not to go with the people in his dream because it’s a pandemic. Of course we all thought about the Filipino superstition – when you have dreams of people who have passed on and they’re telling you to come with them, you will pass away in your sleep if you choose to follow them. There would be other times where Tatay would ask for random people that he wouldn’t bring up regularly in the past. But it so happened to be that everyone he was randomly asking for had passed away for some time.

There was another dream he shared with Tita, who later told all of us. In his dream, he saw my Nanay Conching. They were at their old house in the Philippines and she had prepared a lot of food. A lot of people were at their house for some type of party. My aunt, who was 2 years old when my grandma died, desperately tried to get answers from Tatay. “How do you know it was my mom? Did she say it was her?” She asked in Tagalog. He said no, she didn’t introduce herself, but he knew it was her. My aunt continued, “If you see her again, ask her how is Merlinda. Ask if she’s big now.” Merlinda passed away with my grandma. She was a stillborn birth. Tatay seemed to be a little uncomfortable with what my aunt was saying and his expression looked a little sad.

As Tatay’s memory began to fade in and out, it brought me a great sense of comfort knowing that he still remembered my Nanay Conching. She has been gone for 55+ years, and he was still calling out for her in the middle of the night. I’d like to believe that those were not just dreams he was having of her, but signs from the other side to let him know that once he passed on, he would be welcomed in by familiar faces. Even though Tatay’s memory went back and forth between the present day and the past, he always spoke of people and places that meant the most to him. I wondered if his life was playing like a reel in his head – reflecting, remembering, reliving – like a movie.

I guess I’ll never really know how Tatay’s memory was working as he neared the end of his life. I just know that at times it made me sad to know that his memory was all over the place. But he brought up so many different people, places, and reminisced on different parts of his life. It just reminded me that he lived such a long life filled with so many memories that of course his inner RAM was getting all jumbled up. It had 98 years to account for!

The day after his birthday, we all visited him again. He was weak, but still managed to give me a smile when I walked into his room. “Hiiiiii Tataaayyyyy!!” I said in my usual tone. “That’s the first time I saw him smile like that!” My Auntie Salvie said. I secretly hoped that he smiled because somewhere in his memory, he remembered me.

San Francisco to Sweden

This love story started with a swipe in San Francisco. It was October 2016, and little did Alisanne and Karl know that this first date would change the rest of their lives.

Karl and a friend were visiting San Francisco for a week. They came to the Bay to attend a gaming convention, and would move on to visit Mexico City after. It started with a Tinder swipe. Alisanne honestly doesn’t remember coming across Karl’s Tinder profile, and believes that a friend may have been the one swiping on her account. Either way, she’s happy that their paths crossed.

They met up for dinner in Hayes Valley, and Alisanne made sure to bring a friend with her to the date. They really enjoyed each other’s company, and Karl asked if Alisanne would like to meet up during his last few days in San Francisco, since his week here was almost over. They hungout more and ended up really liking each other.

However, Karl was visiting San Francisco from Sweden.

After his week in San Francisco came to an end, Karl and his friend headed over to Mexico City. But Karl and Alisanne still kept in contact, even when he went back home to Sweden. In fact, they communicated almost everyday. The time difference from San Francisco and Sweden is 9 hours, so communication was not always easy.

It was also not easy for Alisanne to tell her parents about her new flame. She considers herself close to her parents, but there’s just some topics that she knew would be difficult to open up about. Her love life was one of them. When she finally opened up to her parents about her long distance relationship, her fears of their disapproval turned out to be true.

“For my parents, they really thought it wouldn’t last,” Alisanne explained when I asked how her parents reacted to her long distance relationship. “They always did the whole ‘oh, why can’t you stay here,’ and, ‘you might find someone else.’ They were upset that my long distance relationship took up most of my time (talking to Karl) and sometimes they would try to get me to stop ‘wasting my time,’ but I told them it was my decision to be in this relationship and they couldn’t really force anything on me.”

Alisanne admits that defending herself against her parents’ opinions sometimes scared her. It took a lot for her to voice her opinions to her parents that at the end of the day, she’s an adult and will be doing what she wants. And that is somewhat against the Filipino culture. Most of the time, Filipino parents don’t view you as an “adult” until you’re moved out, married, and providing for yourself.

After Karl left San Francisco, he and Alisanne continued to get to know each other over the phone. After 2 months of talking, Karl invited Alisanne to visit him in Sweden. At this point, the two had no official title labeled on them. Still, Alisanne accepted the invitation.

This was Alisanne’s first trip out of the country solo. She was nervous and scared, and now that she thinks back to it, she realizes how dangerous it all could have been. But at the moment she was excited to see Karl and his family. When she told her parents that she was going to visit Karl in Sweden, her parents were freaking out. Her dad demanded Karl’s number, Karl’s mother’s number, and Karl’s address. Her dad even talked on the phone with him before she left. She knew that her parents were just worried and was just looking out for her, but she does see how crazy it must’ve been to an outsider – given that she was 21 years old already – an adult. This was just the beginning of the culture shock of being a Filipina from the Bay Area and dating a chill Swedish guy from Katrineholm.

She spent New Year’s with Karl and his family, and Alisanne got to meet his family and friends. While Alisanne’s family was trippin’ out, back in Sweden, Karl’s family welcomed her with open arms!

“Alisanne came to visit me in Sweden the first time only 2 months after I left,” Karl said. “I didn’t have a driver’s license back then so I asked my family to drive me to the airport in Stockholm to pick her up. That’s not a small favor to ask when the airport is a 4 hour drive total from where I live! They said, ‘ok let’s go!’ 4 hours later we had lasagna together with my family before we got back to my place.”

After Alisanne’s first trip to Sweden, the couple made things official and started doing long distance. She visited Karl about 3-4 times throughout their long distance relationship.

It was August 2017 when Alisanne decided that she wanted to apply for a visa to move to Sweden. She was just about to start her last semester at San Francisco State, and knew that it took about 8 months to almost 2 years to get approved for a visa. However, the universe was on her side and she somehow miraculously got her visa in four months!

“Karl and I did talk about who would move and I eventually decided for myself that it might be pretty cool to move to Sweden,” Alisanne said. “I just finished my bachelor’s in business admin & management, had some money saved up from my last job, and had no plans after school. I also thought it might be harder for Karl to move to the U.S. with all the hectic immigration rules and papers.”

When Alisanne first told her family that she was applying for a visa to move to Sweden, they kind of brushed it off. She believes that her parents thought that it would take over a year to get, because she thought the same thing. When they realized how fast the process was going, that’s when it got real. They were all shocked, Alisanne included, when she got approved in 4 months! Her parents started to get sad and worried because they didn’t think it would be so soon. She completed her last semester at SFSU, and moved to Sweden December 2017, a year to the date of her first visit to Sweden.

Her parents were sad, but in the end supported her decision. They reassured her that she could always come back home if things didn’t work out. She left with one suitcase with all her belongings. This thrilled her little sister, since she could take up Alisanne’s closet space. Alisanne was nervous to move to Sweden, but was ready for the change. At that point, some of her extended family members moved away from the Bay Area. She was done with her degree and was dying to move out of the house.

She did have some fears though. All her and Karl ever knew was long distance over the phone. As you can imagine, getting to know your partner and learning each other over the phone is not easy. There were plenty of fights long distance, and Alisanne feared that they would continue those trends in person. Fortunately, that was not the case, and the couple rarely fights now a days. Karl was worried about Alisanne transitioning to the Swedish lifestyle. He feared that she would be homesick and not like her new home.

Alisanne was homesick for a period of time, but with time she adapted to her new surroundings. The cultural differences and way of life amazes her. Sweden is so different from the Bay Area. She was so used to San Francisco’s diversity – the melting pot of different cultures. Now a days, she finds that she is sometimes the only Asian in the coffee shops and stores. However, thankfully nobody has given her a hard time because of her ethnicity. In fact, almost 2 years of living in Sweden, Alisanne has discovered the Filipino community out there! She describes the Swedish culture to be laid back, chill, and very accepting. So different from what she grew up with- in a very traditional Filipino household.

July 2018 Alisanne and Karl learned that they were expecting! Alisanne was very hesitant to tell her parents that she was pregnant. They reacted kind of sadly, and almost a little disappointed. But her dad let her know that they just want what’s best for her, and being a parent is a big deal. This bummed Alisanne out for a short time, but her parents came around and supported her throughout her pregnancy – checking up on her and asking how she is.

Over a year later, and baby Svea has caught the hearts of everyone around her! Her family from San Francisco and Sweden adore her. This past summer, Svea officially became a U.S. citizen. She is officially Swedish American. She has yet to visit San Francisco, but Alisanne and Karl plan to visit once Alisanne renews her visa.

“Svea has brought out loving parts of us that Karl and I have never seen in each other before,” Alisanne shares. It makes me really happy!”

For right now, Alisanne and Karl are holding off on more kids. She would love to give Svea siblings closer in age, but the cost of another child for the couple right now isn’t ideal. Karl is a teacher’s aid for grades K-6, and helps kids who need extra attention. He also helps out at the after school program. It’s convenient because the school is one block away from their apartment! He comes home during his lunch breaks to spend time with Alisanne and the baby, since she’s currently a stay at home mom.

Alisanne has been a stay at home mom since Svea was born. For the past 1.5 years she’s been unemployed in Sweden, but Sweden’s maternity leave is pretty sweet. The parents get maternity leave of more than 400 days split between the two. She plans to start looking for jobs around March.

Alisanne wants to put her degree in business administration to use in Sweden. However, she fears that most jobs in her field will be in Stockholm, which is 4 hours away from where they live. But she knows she needs to get her foot in the door eventually, and is looking at a neighboring city, Norrköping, which is a 20 minute train ride away.

Since Svea has been born, Alisanne’s family is persistent and hoping that they will come back to live in the Bay Area. For the time being, Alisanne is focusing on renewing her visa, since her 2 years is almost up. Once that gets sorted, Alisanne wants to book a trip to San Francisco as soon as possible! As for living back in the Bay, Alisanne and Karl are uncertain about the cost of living back in California. They definitely want to stay in Sweden for about 5 more years, but don’t have any solid living plans after that, they may stay, or they may consider moving back. For now, they are content with their little family in Katrineholm, Sweden.

“Alisanne and I met the first time when my friend and I were on vacation in SF,” Karl explained. “We matched on Tinder and I asked if she would like to show me around the city. I had my first date when we went out to dinner together, I was confident but not expecting much. The whole evening passed and closer to midnight we said goodbye, looking forward to seeing eachother again. I tried to not get my hopes up too much, I’d rather have a happy surprise than get disappointed. One could always dare to dream. We’re all looking for ‘the one’ to share our lives with. Here I am with a family of my own. They are fantastic and I could not wish for anything else in the world. Who would have thought that a match online could lead up to something like that!?”