Maria: Children’s Book Author

This is story 4 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Maria with her first published book, “Blaine Loves Boxes.”

Maria always considered herself a bookworm growing up, so it’s no surprise that she wrote, “Blaine Loves Boxes” and became a children’s author. She loved to read and has very fond memories of being at the library as a little kid. Her dad would drop her off at the library while he got a haircut at the barbershop next door and Maria would go straight to the children’s section and get lost in all the different books. She has always been an admirer of picture books, not only as a child, but as a teacher, and now as a mother. A picture book never fails to enthrall Maria, and she thinks a part of it is because she’s a visual learner.

It has been Maria’s goal to write children’s books for as long as she can remember. Being a professional author was never really her end goal because her dream job was to be a teacher. But the desire to write her own book one day was always in the back of her mind because children’s books have a special place in her heart. So much so that her mom saved a story Maria wrote when she was 6 years old. They still have her hand written story of a pig and dog becoming friends.

Maria went on to pursue teaching, and being a preschool teacher and an early interventionist inspired her to eventually write “Blaine Loves Boxes.” She absolutely adored working at an inclusive preschool where she had the opportunity to teach children of all abilities – what some may call “typical developing” and “special needs.” The inclusive preschool made it so all kids of all abilities were learning and playing together. For about 8 years, Maria taught, did some administration work, worked with children in home therapy, and provided sessions.

She attributes her inspiration for the book to her hands-on teaching experience in the classroom. Maria explains the teaching reality – no classroom is perfect, it can be absolutely hectic at times, and no day goes perfectly smooth, but to see how the little ones are growing and learning from each other every day is the fulfillment of the job. And being in an inclusive classroom meant being able to adapt and change throughout the years to accommodate each new student group that came in. Everything about the classroom was inclusive – the kids with different abilities, the lesson plan and curriculum, and celebrating the different family cultures that they had in their program.

Maria was amazed by how much her students impacted her. Yes, her inspiration for the book was having that hands-on teaching experience, but it was the kids that brought it to life. She was completely intrigued by what little ones do naturally to help each other out. Since it was an inclusive classroom, with time, the students picked up on which friends needed more assistance or help. That would look like helping a friend get up from their spot after Circle Time, or holding a friend’s hand because they know they have a harder time with transitions. All of her students, like most young children, naturally helped each other out and tried to best support their friends that needed it or were upset. Maria quickly saw the benefits of an inclusive classroom and it got her mind thinking.

“I loved seeing what innocent minds did for one another, and I often thought, ‘If we could immerse kids in an inclusive setting as early as preschool age, what amazing effects could that do as they got older? As they became adults?’” Maria shared. “It made me realize how simple inclusion can be with the right support and mindsets.”

Her experience as a preschool teacher allowed her to still keep in touch with her first love – picture books! Every early childhood educator knows how important it is to read to their students and what an incredible tool a book could be to get a point or lesson across. One day it dawned on Maria that there weren’t as many inclusive picture books out there as there should be for young kids. She loves how the inclusive books that are out there right now represents children with special needs, like being in a wheelchair. But based on her experiences, she knew first hand that special needs doesn’t have to be labeled, defined, or be limited to medical equipment or a diagnosis.

Maria was inspired to make a book that anyone could relate to. She believes all children are unique and special just as they are, and shouldn’t be defined by labels. Right off the bat, Maria knew she didn’t want to label her main character to put them in a box, so instead, she created a character that liked to play outside the box, literally. In her book, “Blaine Loves Boxes,” Blaine is just a kid who loves boxes, anyone can relate to his character, but the reader can also see what makes him his own person. Blaine is unique in his own way and connects to the world around him through playing with boxes.

When Maria decided she was going to embark on this journey and write her own inclusive children’s book, she was definitely overwhelmed at first. Like anything new, you just don’t know where to start and you’re filled with so many questions. Maria wanted to know what she was getting herself into and what to expect in the process, so she took matters into her own hands and took to the internet to start her research. She was proactive in trying to gain knowledge from other people’s experiences, so she read articles, followed author groups on Facebook, watched tons of YouTube videos, and asked all the questions that came to mind, even if they were simple. Maria kept researching until she had all the answers to her questions.

Maria wrote “Blaine Loves Boxes,” in December of 2020 when she unfortunately lost her job to the pandemic. She connected with her illustrator in April of 2021, and from April onwards it was working on every single detail of the book until it was released in November 2021. Maria broke down the basic process: have your story, get the editing done, illustrations process, formatting process, and uploading are the big parts. But there are a ton of little steps that accompany those bigger steps. And in that process, there were many times when Maria just wanted to throw in the towel and quit. But she thanks her amazing support system that always encouraged and helped her along the way. Because of them, she stuck to her goal and made it happen.

One of the most important relationships she made was with her illustrator, Tasya. They connected over the site, Fiverr, a site a lot of self-publishers use to find freelancers. When Maria was on the hunt, it was important to her to find an illustrator whose art she could connect to, but also connect to as a person. She believes that with any successful relationship, there needs to be chemistry, especially since this would be someone she’d be working closely with to create what she envisioned. When Maria and Tasya connected, she knew that they would make a great team. She’s so glad that they worked so well together because Maria admits that the closest drawings she had for her book were stick figure story boards!

Maria could’ve went down many paths, but chose to go down the self-publishing route. She made this decision during her researching phase. She knew that her end goal was to just get the book done. Maria wanted to make sure that she was writing a book that she was passionate about and wanted her story printed and in her hands. It was operation “Just. Get. It. Done.” Maria always knew that the monetary benefits weren’t at the top of her list, and that really factored into her choosing to self-publish. She wanted full creative authority over her book and saw it as her “baby.” Maria liked how she got to make every final decision because it was really important to her to learn all the ins and outs of self-publishing.

“When self-publishing you are doing a lot of the decision making on everything,” Maria shared. “What size book are you looking for? What style of illustrations are you looking for? Do you want set pages to be illustrated as single or double spread? When self-publishing you are making all the final decisions. When looking into it, I wanted to be part of the whole process. If I was going to write a children’s book for its story to be heard and for my grandkids to have one day – I wanted a say in it all.”

Maria knew early on that making monetary gains weren’t at the top of her “why” list, which led her down the self-publishing route. But she knows that not all creatives take the same publishing path. For her, the mindset she had going into the process was really important. She wanted full authority of her book, and understood the reality that there are tons and tons of authors out there in the world. That means that there are lots of children’s books circulating out there and lots of stories to be shared. Maria did enough research to know that if you are not working with a big name publisher, the likelihood of your work getting into anything like the New York Bestsellers list is really difficult. But her mindset was focused on getting the book done and making it completely hers in every aspect. At the end of the day she is very content with her decision and has no regrets.

Maria believes what sets “Blaine Loves Boxes” aside from other children’s books is the fact that it focuses on some similarities that all children have with one another but simultaneously seeing what makes the main character so unique. Readers find themselves connecting to Blaine and his quirks, but then you’re able to realize that Blaine is not so different. It was really important for Maria to embed her own life experiences on how she sees the world. She loves to people watch, sitting in nature, and just listening and observing the interactions around her. So a lot of those simple details can be found in the book because Maria has a huge attention to detail.

Maria with her 2 daughters

Now “Blaine Loves Boxes” can be found in certain big name stores like Target and Barnes & Nobles, as well as other local stores. Years before her writing process, Maria always envisioned herself walking into a local bookstore and seeing her book on the shelf. This is a dream that intensified as she began her official writing process for the book. Even if she saw just 1 copy of her book at 1 local store, she would be ecstatic. Maria describes seeing her book in stores as one of the best feelings ever, especially since she gets to share this moment with her daughters.

“Living out something you’ve always dreamed of doing, whether big or small, is one of the best feelings,” Maria said still on a high. “And then to be able to share it with my daughters who I want to teach can do whatever they set their mind to?! It leaves my heart so humbled.”

Her daughters have seen the whole process. They saw mommy writing, they saw mommy editing, they saw mommy communicating with people over the computer, and now they get to see mommy’s book in stores. Seeing her children’s reactions when they see mom’s picture on the back of the book is one of the best feelings. Maria loves that she is leading by example, showing her daughters that they can achieve anything with hard work and dedication.

Maria is doing the website, marketing, and social media all on her own. She knows that there are different ways to gain more followers and get more eyes on her content, but realistically, she knows she can’t do it all on her own. So instead, Maria chooses to use the social media to promote “Blaine Loves Boxes” to the best of her ability and just have fun! Maria likes that she can post what she wants, how she wants, when she wants. She focuses on content that she would like to see on other people’s pages and topics that she would personally enjoy. Maria goes with the flow because she knows the most important thing to her was getting the book done, getting the story out, and sharing the message of inclusion.

The support Maria has received, big or small, means the world to her. When she gets tagged in a post of her targeted age, 3 years old, enjoying her book, she is so grateful because she knows that her book is teaching kids that they are special in their own way, their voice matters, and caring for others that may be different than you is a skill you should hold on to. Maria hopes to one day publish another children’s book. For now, they are tucked away in her Notes section of her phone and laptop, as she is very busy with being a full-time stay at home mom. But getting another book out there is likely, given that Maria would love to say that she has published more than one book.

Maria’s advice for anyone writing a story for young children – especially very young children – is to know your audience. Researching your target age is very important to make sure that the story you are writing is developmentally appropriate. You can have an amazing story with big ideas, but if you don’t make it a key point to make sure it makes sense for your targeted age, they won’t fully grasp the story and understand it. But most importantly, her advice to other authors is to just have fun with it and not be afraid. Maria believes that there is always space for more books that teach kids about different cultures, diversity, and all abilities. Even if your book can reach just one person to imprint on their lives, it is worth doing because “inclusive books help raise inclusive minds.”

Maria considers herself an everyday person. She is a bi-racial American-born woman, mom, and now self-published author. She wants people to know that she had a goal and saw it through. Maria encourages anyone that has a specific goal to go for it! She tries to take her own advice that she always tells her kids – never say you can’t. If you want something hard enough and work for it, you will eventually get there. Maria is grateful that she followed through with her dream of becoming a children’s author because she knows that “Blaine Loves Boxes” is helping to shape the young minds that read it to be more empathetic and understanding of those around them.

“Inclusion is important to learn at a young age because kids learn people are all different,” Maria said. “It fosters things like understanding, acceptance and kindness – something the world needs more of.”

Lex: The Multidisciplinary Artist

This is story 2 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Creatives Series. I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of getting to know 11 individuals who are passionate about creating. It was interesting to learn where each individual drew their inspiration from. I wanted to shift the attention on other Creatives and tell their stories on what motivates and excites them in their respective field. Thank you to everyone who participated in this series! – Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

Picture of Artist, Lex, with one of her paintings

Lex is a Los Angeles / Bay Area-based Afro-Latina artist. Her talents range from digital art, drawing, designing posters, and so much more, but her preferred medium is painting. Her art is heavily inspired by her culture. Being a Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman, Lex’s goal is to uplift and inspire women of color with her artwork.

“I have been exploring art mediums since I was a little girl, I was always known as the ‘artsy kid’ at school,” Lex shares. “Art has always been a way for me to express my inner voice and it’s a calming meditative activity. I am passionate about bringing art into my community to uplift voices…”

Lex’s mother always encouraged her to take art more seriously if it was the profession she was trying to get into. So she started to get serious about her craft. When she was a sophomore in high school, she tried to take AP Art, even though she knew it was only offered to seniors. But Lex tried to shoot her shot anyways and spoke with the AP Art teacher. She explained that she didn’t want to wait that long to hone in on her craft, so the teacher suggested that Lex apply for a scholarship program that would allow her to utilize her time where she could still learn art at a higher level until she was a senior. She is so grateful that she made the decision to talk to the AP teacher because she ended up applying to the scholarship program and getting in.

This wasn’t a typical high school course. In fact, it was actually a college course at Otis College of Art and Design. Different art professors from around Southern California and other universities would teach high school students art. These classes taught high school students the basics and fundamentals of different art techniques. Lex remembers working with acrylics in the class, and has used those skills to this day. The course touched on different styles like figure drawing, portraits, drawing, body proportions, architecture, shadows, and perspective. Lex was completely open to whatever the teachers had to teach, even if she was more interested in some lessons more than others, she knew that everything taught was for her benefit.

This is a scholarship program meant for those that take art seriously and are dedicated to learning more. This is because it’s a course that takes place during the weekends. For 3 semesters, Lex spent her Sundays at Otis for 4 hours. She remembers trucking her art supplies and portfolio back and forth to class every Sunday without fail. Lex never missed a class because her parents wouldn’t allow it, but also because she never wanted to. She was totally immersed in all the new techniques that she was adding to her art toolbox. The course never gave a grade for any project. Instead, they would get critiqued on how to improve or do better. It was an experience she was so grateful to be a part of, because it expanded her artistic knowledge.

After being in the scholarship program for 3 semesters, Lex was finally able to be in the AP Art class at her high school. Even though she transferred high schools, she is still grateful for the art teacher at her old school for introducing her to the scholarship program. It really made Lex more focused her senior year, and her last year of high school was dedicated to building her portfolio and strengthening her techniques. To this day, many years later, Lex still looks back to her earlier projects from high school for inspiration. She likes that she can improve an old idea, make it come to life in another way, or digitalize it with the new skills she knows now. For her, her old work is inspiration to keep creating because she can always go another direction with it.

“I’m going back to them and trying to think how I can make them better in the way that I do digital art,” Lex explained. “Or even my paintings now, I’m like, ‘Okay, that was a nice idea, but how can I reform that into something better?‘”

Her freshman year of college, Lex mentally laid out her options on the table. She wanted to pick a major that was more technical but still allowed her to be artsy. Lex entertained the idea of graphic design because she knew she wanted to do something creative in the long run. She was inspired by the idea of all the different work possibilities that graphic design could offer. So she searched up if San Francisco State had a graphic design program, and to her luck, they did. She applied for the program on the very last day and got in.

It was stressful at first when Lex took her very first graphic design class. At this point, she was so used to physically creating art. She felt as though she had mastered acrylics and was always trying to find new materials to practice on. Anything she got her hands on, she would experiment with it. Now, it was a different ball game. Lex wanted to be on the same level as her peers who already had knowledge on graphic design. But her peers were very supportive – reminding her that she’s there to learn, and never to fear because YouTube will always help you out! With that, Lex was excited to learn more about digital art and totally immerse herself into her major. Throughout her college years, Lex would do her best to juggle being a student, having jobs, and working on her own art side projects outside of school assignments.

Lex is the first in her family to pursue an artistic profession. Before she went to college, her parents’ vibe was very supportive. They knew how passionate Lex was about creating art, so they encouraged her to learn and practice as much as she could. When she got to college, her parents were a little worried about her decision to pursue art, but only because they had the typical parent reaction to their child pursuing something outside of the medical or law field. But they have always came back to the same conclusion – as long as Lex was passionate about what she was pursuing, confident about her work and in herself, and knew what she was doing, she had their full support. They didn’t know too much about design, but they genuinely felt like it was a good choice that if she were to study art, San Francisco is where Lex should be.

And the Bay Area is where Lex remained even after graduating college. She jokes that she still feels some type of way about referring to herself as a “Bay Area-based artist,” because she wasn’t born and raised in the area. She grew up in Southern California and considers herself an LA-based artist because of it. Even with 6 years living in San Francisco under her belt, Lex laughs that she doesn’t want Bay Area natives coming for her because she respects and loves the Bay. She does find herself traveling to SoCal often to see family, friends, and attend art events, so she is very much so equally a LA/SF-based artist.

For Lex, representation is everything. Her art gravitates towards her feminine energy. She absolutely loves painting women of color. Lex appreciates all the love and support that she receives from women who resonate with her work. This is really important to her because the margin of women in art galleries are about 3% of the total, leaving the other 97% to men. So she makes it a point to represent the women of color who are not represented in the art scene. Lex loves to paint women with really curly hair. Her Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan roots shine through her pieces. She knows that women of color will only make it in mainstream media if women of color continue to push out content of women of color.

Lex likes to sell her stickers and her prints at any art event she can attend. She appreciates that she can showcase her art in that way. She always tries to attend art events mostly in the Bay Area or SoCal because she wants to be a part of the artist community. Her friend, who is also an artist, will send Lex information on any art events that she knows of, and together the 2 friends will apply. They’re always finding new events through word of mouth. Her goal is to meet new creatives and surround herself with like-minded individuals. Being around creatives and other artistic people inspires her to keep creating as well.

Lex goes against the grain in many ways as an artist. She doesn’t sell her art with the hope and intention that she blows up and can turn it into a big business one day. Instead, she creates when she wants to create and makes sure that she enjoys the process. To her, quality over quantity is the key. Lex knows that there are people out there that will take her work seriously, she doesn’t have to try too hard to get people to recognize her work. If people resonate with it, awesome, if not, then it doesn’t. For those that do appreciate her craft and ask for custom pieces, Lex is always happy to take personal commissions.

Lex is aware that commissions are not necessarily what she would want on canvas, but more so what the other person wants. She has her own style of painting that attracted the customer, so it is “hers” in that sense, but at the end of the day it’s the customer’s vision and opinion that matters. This is why Lex makes sure that on top of commissions, she is also working on art for herself. She did a commission for a family friend where she did a family portrait with simple shapes. This inspired her to start a new series trying to capture the essence of family and what that looks like to different people.

Her series focusing on families is inspired by Africana art, using simple geometric shapes, a lot of color, and minimal details. Lex’s vision was to grasp the meaning of family and togetherness, emphasizing that family looks different to every person. To Lex, your family and those you choose to surround yourself with makes you who you are. Your identity stems from your family roots. Family looks different to everyone, whether that be your blood family, friend group, or even a pet. Who you consider family is a reflection of yourself. She has posted some of these paintings on her Instagram pages, @graphixbylex & @mythirdeyee.

“I find creating art as my meditation,” Lex said. “I find so much joy and confidence in it that sometimes I stray away from posting every art piece on the internet because of harsh criticism, people /companies stealing your ideas, or setting an expectation that if I post online – it will gain ‘this amount’ of interaction.”

In the past, Lex tried to keep up with social media algorithms to promote her work. As an artist, of course you want your work to be seen, so it can be easy to get lost in the rules and restrictions to make sure your account is successful. Instagram is Lex’s social media platform of choice, but after a while, it stressed her out keeping up with the different tips to essentially stay relevant. All the algorithms made Lex feel as though social media forces creatives into posting a certain way and fit into the same box to gain followers, and that was something she was not okay with.

Lex decided a while ago that she wasn’t going to stress herself out with all the tips and tricks to be more “visible” on social media. If she were to abide by those standards, she feels as though her creative process would be rushed. She doesn’t like the pressure of feeling the need to post every 3 or so days to stay relevant. Instead of promoting creativity, it restricts creatives and becomes chaotic. It starts to feel like a mandatory action, which takes the enjoyment out of the process. For Lex, it’s quality over quantity. She enjoys taking her time creating and doesn’t let the idea of views get to her. Instead, she uses social media as a tool to showcase her work that she’s most proud of, nothing is ever forced.

She knows first hand the struggle of wanting to be totally immersed in her craft, but knows at the end of the day she has bills to pay. She took on a job during the pandemic and felt as though it took all of her time and energy. Lex didn’t really have much of a summer, didn’t have time to travel, and then also got COVID which resulted in a time period of huge creative block. She wanted to have time to create for herself like she used to, but had to find a balance in her life to make that possible.

On top of that, 2022 brought on a lot of changes. After she lost someone close to her, her motivation to create was non-existent. Lex knew she had to focus on her family at the time, so gave herself grace and patience. Lex thinks the most important thing as an artist is to remain grounded. She didn’t force herself to create during the difficult times in her life, but instead chose to do things that made her happy. Lex finds solace being in nature, sometimes literally grounding herself like taking naps in the botanical gardens when she had a chance. She takes time to recharge by allowing herself to take breaks, go to art museums, and talking with family and friends to spark that interest again.

A big goal that Lex hopes to achieve on day is being recognized in Art Basel. Lex describes it as an event where they highlight artists in the community and sell their paintings. She would love to be recognized in that platform, not for the clout or attention, but because it would mean that people resonate with her art at a higher level. Lex wants people to know how much representing her culture means to her. She wants to represent women of color in her work until she doesn’t have to say she’s the first / only Black, Honduran, and Guatemalan woman to do XYZ. She thinks it’s so important to make roots in the communities that she’s a part of, so you’ll always find her supporting women of color, going to art events up and down California, and being invested in the community. She is also part of the reason why SF State has the Afro-Latiné Club.

Another personal goal that Lex has is to open a program for children in the next 10 years or so that is art and science based. This is something that her and the person she lost earlier this year would talk extensively about. Lex is very passionate and motivated to get that program running and focus on the 5th grade level. Growing up, Lex wasn’t a science person, but believes that had she had access to it at a young age, it could’ve been a possibility. There are not many programs that focus on science and art, so she feels that this is something her community could benefit from. It’s important to her to funnel back that love, support, and inspiration back into the community.

Lex’s creative journey has not been an easy road. She has dealt with her fair share of ups and downs: dealing with art block, having to go to school while balancing 2 jobs, feeling the pressure of posting consistent content online, and losing family members along the way. Life has thrown her many curveballs, but nonetheless, she still chooses to use creating art as her favorite form of meditation.

Hopes & Daydreams

When you feel bored, where does your brain wander to?

Y’all already know this, but I’m a dreamer by nature. When I’m bored, my mind drifts in so many directions. Who needs entertainment when I got my own damn self? And truly nothing is off limits for me. I think of everything and anything, which is probably why I’m notorious for getting easily distracted.

Lately, when I close my eyes, I picture myself “having it all.” Shit, who doesn’t? And most of the time, my daydreams are forever changing…

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I’m in my big ass cozy home, I’m holding my baby in one arm as I use my other hand to type up my latest project. I’m working from home, the vibe is stress free, and I’m financially comfortable. There isn’t a care in the world. My house is clean, my kids are taken care of, and my husband and I are financially well. We’re not tired, we’re not burnt out, and we genuinely love what we do. I’m working on my latest passion project, but I’m ahead of schedule. There’s no pressure to deliver because I’m working on my own time. Anything I put out is just adding to the already massive amount of well-known published work I have circulating around.

The doorbell rings and my parents enter. They take off their shoes at the door and make themselves comfortable. The kids greet their grandparents and try to show them the latest things they learned in school, show them a new wrestling move their dad taught them, or give them a drawing they made sometime during the week. There’s already food in the kitchen, and you can still see the steam, you know that shit’s still hot. It’s from our favorite take out restaurant, and we have everyone’s favorite dish.

It’s Sunday dinner, and we’re waiting for the rest of the family to show up. My nieces and nephews start to arrive, and they immediately link up with my kids and start playing. The once mellow home is starting to be filled with relatives, getting more and more chaotic as more people start arriving. But I fuckin’ love it. The kitchen is filled with delicious food, so I start to light the candle so the house doesn’t smell like straight food the whole night. Everyone’s together, everyone’s happy, and life is good. Everyone grabs a plate and starts to eat.

“Did you know we used to do this at Tatay’s house?” I tell my kids for the billionth time.

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I’m on and off planes consistently. This time I’m in a distant land that resembles paradise. Hawaii? The Philippines? I’m not too sure, but I’m on some island. The weather is perfect. It’s sunny, but it’s not too hot. And when I say perfect, I mean a very particular kind of weather – I get hot hella quick. The skies are blue, I’m by the beach, and I ain’t got shit to do. I have nowhere to go and I have all the time in the world. My biggest concern is where I’m going to eat that night. There’s no masks, no pandemic, no restrictions. In fact, COVID ain’t even a thing anymore. So much time has passed since the pandemic that it’s a distant memory.

I’m not worried about work, or finances, or stressing. I’m present and in the moment. I feel damn good in the clothes I’m wearing, and I’m radiating confidence… still humble though. I turn on my laptop and start typing away. What am I writing? I don’t fuckin know, all I know is in my fantasies, I’m always working on something. I’m writing for pure fun and enjoyment, not because the bills depend on it. However, it is my money maker, but it’s so effortless that the writing experience is peaceful as hell. I often look back to my beginning stages of my writing career and how I kept up with my blog. My mind drifts off for a bit, remembering how confused and lost I was… I’m thankful I stuck with it because it got me to where I am. “I did that shit,” I think to myself.

The sunset is the perfect ending to a perfect relaxing day. We finally decide to ditch the beach and go back to the place to get ready for dinner. We get all dressed up and head out. It’s a restaurant that wants me to write about my experience dining in. In fact, that’s why I’m on this paradise island. We got the trip complimentary in every aspect. My loved ones are along for the ride. I’m finally getting to travel the world because of my writing.

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I’m getting interviewed about my latest passion project. And like every other interview I have done up until that point, I make it a point to share that I was born and raised in the Bay Area. I call Daly City by name and make it known that that’s where I was raised the first 25 years of my life. I rep San Francisco and the Bay Area as a whole, but I don’t hesitate to shout out Daly City.

The interviewer doesn’t ask, “Where’s that?” like past reporters have. No, they know where Daly City is. I’ve repeated it in many interviews, wrote about it tirelessly in my writing, and have been very vocal about where I’m from.

Bay Area born and raised. To me, this will forever be home. But they want to talk about the glam side of the Bay Area, San Francisco more specifically. The tech side of San Francisco, the hipsters, how boujee it is. But that’s not the San Francisco I grew up in, that’s not what was happening in Daly City.

I’m finally at a place in my life where I can give back. Give back to not only my family and those around me, but my community as well. The Bay Area, Daly City, San Francisco, the place I called home for so long. The way J.Cole reps Fayetteville, North Carolina is the same way I’ll rep my home town. But I just don’t rep it for the sake of Bay Area street cred. I acknowledge the good, bad, and the ugly of the city.

My parents weren’t in the tech industry, people like me could never buy a home in San Francisco in the year 2022, and families that were born and raised in the area were getting pushed further and further out. I know first hand what it’s like to be in the most expensive area in the country, and not have it like that. And because I know what it’s like, I’m giving back to the community that made me.

The schools are getting better funding, sports teams aren’t getting cut, and little Manila, Daly City, is making a name for itself. Daly City is no longer being overlooked or downplayed.

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I’m enjoying the early morning hours at my kitchen table. It’s still pretty dark outside, the house is still quiet, and I’m reminiscing on the stories I just told my grandchildren the day before. I’m always talking, always involved, always passing down our family stories. That’s important to me – that those stories and the people in those stories are still talked about. Even though my grandchildren never met them, it’s important that they know where they came from. I need them to know where our family came from, what struggles they endured for us to have a better life, and learn all the family trauma so that it does not repeat itself.

I have finally hit my Uncle Iroh stage in life where I’m just wise, chillin’, and offering unsolicited advice. I look back on my life and accept all the choices I have made, I love reminiscing on all the memories I’ve made with those who have come and went, and there is not one ounce of regret in my soul. I love the life I chose. Even though at times it wasn’t clear to me and I’ve had my fair share of hardships, this life is mine and mine alone. I never think what if, and there’s no doubt in my mind this is where I’m supposed to be right now.

My house is surrounded by so many photos. So many happy memories captured in a single shot. My house is decorated with family, friends, postcards, vacations, art, collectibles, everything that brings me joy. It’s a house filled with love. Just by looking at the photos on the wall is a family history lesson all on its own. My old wise ass is known for sharing all the stories, making sure people from our past don’t get forgotten.

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When I first got this writing prompt, I originally wanted to write about 1 daydream only. But my daydreams are forever changing, which is why I decided to share the most common daydreams I have. Even though the daydream changes, 1 theme remains true in all the scenarios – I’m happy, successful, giving back, and have my loved ones along for the ride. And I guess that captures the essence of what success means to me.

I’ve seen a shift in what I daydream about recently. In the past, a lot of my free time went to thinking up imaginary scenarios that stressed me out. What am I going to do with my life? What if I don’t get X done in X amount of time? What if I fail? What if I make the wrong move in life? Am I going to be successful? It seemed like even my daydreams stressed me out. But recently, I’ve been daydreaming positively. I’ve been more comfortable in knowing that things will come with time, and of course hard work. When I allow my mind to freely wander stress-free, I find myself subconsciously telling me what’s important to me and what I truly want out of life.

2021 – My Emerald Year

Illustration by: Marielle Cabillo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Estephanie: Motherhood Without My Life Partner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April: The Scar That Brought Life

Story 9 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

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

“Before I found out I was pregnant, everyone said I had lost so much weight. The thing is, I didn’t even realize it. I didn’t notice until I physically went to go weigh myself and saw that I was at 115 lbs. when usually, I’m 130-135 lbs. I didn’t notice it until I looked back at pictures and saw how my face lost weight and my clothes looked more loose fitting.

At the time, I’d just moved from San Francisco to Merced in Central Valley. I was born and raised a city girl, so moving to the Valley was a big change for me. I didn’t know a lot of people where I was. I only moved because my boyfriend relocated for work, so I moved out with him to the Valley. It was a whole new world to me, I couldn’t just step out and walk across the street to Mission to check out grocery stores. The place wasn’t my vibe, so I was very depressed. I was home sick. I didn’t have much to do or look forward to.

I was still feeling insecure about my body, still feeling ashamed of my arms, or not having more boobs. Growing up, my idea of a “good body” was to be slim and toned. I was always skinny growing up, I had some fat, but I was more…boney? Haha. It was more because I had a fast metabolism because I would eat a lot if I liked the food. I was – and still am – very picky with food, but when I like it I’ll definitely eat a lot. There weren’t places I was familiar with since we had just recently moved there. I had to eat at different restaurants to finally find the places I liked. It wasn’t so much that I wasn’t that hungry to eat but I didn’t really find places that I liked that much. I’m so picky with food and the variety of choices we have in the Bay Area are endless.

I found out that I lost 15 pounds before I got pregnant. How could I lose that much weight and not even know it? But I still felt uncomfortable with my body thinking I looked fat. I noticed my clothes were getting too big and a little more loose. Especially my bottoms! My jeans or shorts would be loose on my ass and waist area, and I’d be frustrated because I liked to focus on my figure, so accentuating it with clothes meant a lot to me.

When I found out I was pregnant, it was because I was a week late on my period. I was on birth control pills, so I wasn’t sure why I was late. Then I went to take a pregnancy test at Planned Parenthood and they told me I was 5 weeks and a day pregnant. It was bittersweet. I was scared. It wasn’t the right time for a baby. I was more worried about telling my parents and not the actual fact that I was pregnant. I wasn’t working, I moved 3 hours away from home, and now I’m pregnant? Being pregnant just felt like something that would make me a bigger disappointment to them. Not to say a child is a disappointment, but for so many things to not be right, it just wasn’t the right time for a baby. Not at all. I wasn’t working. I wasn’t happy where I was. Let alone my relationship was rocky at the time. It was just NOT the time for a baby.

My belly didn’t start showing until about 4 to 5 months in, which in the beginning kind of sucked because I just looked bloated. I didn’t want to wear fitted clothes in the beginning because I looked like I just got fat. I couldn’t wait to finally show my belly and wear clothes to show it off. To just walk around and be able to show people you really pregnant instead of just a verbal confirmation. When my bump finally started to show, it felt nice to be able to match the whole “I’m having a baby” with a big belly. Just walking around rubbing my belly when it was out there starting to show made me feel closer to my baby.

My wardrobe already had loose clothing. I didn’t really buy any specifically for maternity clothes, I just used whatever I had. My clothes were starting to fit tighter just around my belly. It was nice, but also frustrating at the same time because the time it took for me to find clothes that I felt good in was difficult. I wanted to show my belly but a lot of my clothes weren’t appealing to me on my body. I expected the physical aspects of pregnancy, but not the mental or emotional aspects.

I knew I would be insecure about my stretch marks so I got cream early on. To me, they just looked like scratches. I didn’t want them on me. I’m already a little dark, so the stretch marks would be darker and show more. I looked so hard for cream. But to be honest, I only used it a few times and didn’t even remember about putting it on. In the end, it wasn’t that important to me anymore to fit into my routine.

My whole “pregnancy plan” didn’t go as planned at all. I always thought when I became pregnant one day that I’ll be close to my family, but I was a 3 hour drive away. I thought I’d go out more, but I wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere, especially in the heat. A lot of my experiences during pregnancy were the complete opposite of what I had envisioned, which just goes to show you that you can’t always plan for this shit. I always had an ideal pregnancy, even before I got pregnant. I wanted to experience a natural vaginal birth. A C-section is a major surgery, and I never wanted the scar from it. From what I’ve heard and read, a vaginal birth is easier recovery, gave the mother more control over the birth, and I felt like it would give me and my child a deeper connection if I physically pushed him out of me.

We had gone to an ultrasound where we found out my son was frank breeched, meaning the baby’s bottom is down and his feet are by his face. The doctor told me that if he doesn’t flip head first by 38 weeks, we would need to speak about the next steps. I was around 32-34 weeks when they told me, and they say that babies usually turn on their own around 36-37 weeks. Mind you, I always said how stubborn my son was during my entire pregnancy. We had paid for 2 ultrasounds, 1 to see gender and the other to get a 4D image of him a few weeks before his arrival. He would always cover his face! When they tried to find out the gender, he wouldn’t move or turn. So of course, when we get to my 38th week ultrasound, he’s still in a frank breech position.

I was told I would need a C-section, but I also had an option to try an ECV procedure. An ECV procedure is when the doctors push on your abdomen to try to turn the baby from a breech position to a head down position, so that’s a whole 180 degrees. I went in for the procedure, and at first there was one OB doctor trying to push and turn him. Then she called for another doctor to help. I can’t lie, it was painful, but I was willing to go through it to hopefully get him to turn, but he didn’t. That’s when I decided a C-section was going to be the way to go. Choosing to have the C-section was a selfless act because it wasn’t what I wanted or planned for me, but it was the only safe decision with birthing my son.

I don’t think I failed as a mom because I didn’t have a vaginal birth. I still birthed a healthy human being. I just didn’t get to experience the birth plan I had in mind. We focus so much more on how we want to give birth, instead of just appreciating that our bodies are growing a child inside of us. We aim towards having the birth plan we wanted, and if it doesn’t happen, it just brings us down, which isn’t good for the mothers or the baby. I was more afraid of the surgery itself. A lot can go wrong during any surgery, so I was very anxious about it. What if the epidural doesn’t work and I feel everything? What if something goes wrong during the procedure itself? What if something happens to my baby? There were just a lot of unknown questions that were scary about the surgery.

I got a call from my OB about my C-section schedule. I was getting my nails done when he called to schedule it for Thursday, September 19th, 2019. That was only a week away. That’s when it hit me: shit was getting real and we were really about to have a baby. I called everyone to let them know that it was scheduled. Everyone was sending their prayers and well wishes that everything would go smoothly.

It’s delivery day! My C-section was scheduled for 10am, so we had to be there a few hours earlier. But when we got there they were behind on surgeries so it got pushed to 12. The anesthesiologist comes in and has me sit still in order to administer the epidural. They had asked me what music I wanted during the procedure, and I said 90’s R&B. I thought that was pretty cool to be able to choose the music playing, it just set the vibe for it all.

My doctor makes the incision and I just feel pressure and pulling. It doesn’t hurt, it just feels weird because they’re tugging at your insides. The doctor pulls and pulls, and out he came! Jalen had his umbilical cord wrapped twice around his neck which the doctor said may have been the reason he didn’t flip inside my womb. But then we hear his cry, and we have a healthy 21 inch, 7lbs 8oz baby boy at 12:55pm. We were in the procedure room since 12pm.

When Jav handed him to me, I didn’t cry. I shed a tear, but I didn’t really cry like how some moms usually say they do, or even what I actually expected of myself. I thought I’d be bawling. All I did was shed a tear. I always felt guilty for that. It made me think ‘does this mean I don’t love my son enough because I didn’t get that emotion?’ It wasn’t until recently where I realized I was just in complete shock. My mind and body had just gone through a whole different experience that I wasn’t really prepared for, like yeah you can study up on what to do but you won’t know what outcomes it’ll bring.

Recovery after my C-section was difficult. I couldn’t even wash or bathe myself, my boyfriend had to do it. Imagine being so strong, enough to birth your child but not be able to clean yourself? It was uncomfortable, but it was so hard for me to bend or move at all because of my cut. I felt so unlike myself and hated that I needed my boyfriend’s help to clean, bathe, and wash myself. He was basically my hands and feet for me. I was grateful for it, but I just wish I could’ve done it for myself. I didn’t like not being able to care for myself. I couldn’t walk for long periods of time and was in so much pain, but walking was part of being able to recover.

Don’t believe people when they say that C-sections aren’t considered real births. Your body physically brought a child into this world, it’s real. It’s not easy. The process, the recovery, the postpartum, it won’t be easy but it’ll be worth the pain, vulnerability, and sleepless nights. Accept the help that people are willing to give you. You just went through a major surgery, it doesn’t make you a bad mom to say you need a break to rest your body while someone cares for your baby. I’ve personally turned some help down, but I get it. You can’t really just mentally and physically walk away for a little bit and focus on yourself because you have someone who depends on you now. But you also won’t get through your recovery if you don’t rest and take care of yourself as well.

In the beginning, the cut was still tender to the touch. I still felt the pain of it so I noticed it way more. I guess you can say I’m kind of a perfectionist, so if shit doesn’t go my way or look right, it gives me anxiety. I didn’t feel like my body looked the way I wanted it to. I knew I’d always have the scar, but I just wanted to see if I could lighten the scar a little bit. But now that I think about it, I obviously didn’t care that much because I didn’t end up buying any cream. I don’t regret having negative feelings about my scar because it made me realize that the appearance of it didn’t matter. No one cares that it’s there because it’s part of my birth story – every mother has one and everyone’s story is different. It’s the story behind the scar, the first selfless act I had to make for my son. A permanent scar to show that I was cut open layers deep with my insides being moved around for the doctor to remove my son. Now I have the greatest joy of my life.

Sometimes I would find myself comparing my body to other moms and their recovery, not even knowing their birth story. But it made me feel down that I didn’t have the energy to exercise or work on my body. I appreciate and have a new found respect for what our bodies can go through as women. To be able to recover and push through, to birth, and raising our little one. I used to just dress with baggy clothing in the beginning of my pregnancy and didn’t like to show too much skin. Some days I’ll look at myself in the mirror, analyze how my body looks lately, and when I’m feeling down about my body, I’ll wear baggy clothes so I don’t show my arms, or wear a t-shirt instead of a crop top because I don’t wanna show my stomach. On days I feel insecure, I mostly try to hide my body. But then there are also days where I’m so proud to have the figure I have even as a mom.

I guess I just moved on from the idea that I have to look a certain way because I’m still young. I didn’t just wake up one morning and was super confident in how I look. I still have my vulnerable days but I’ve started buying more fitted clothes, more crop tops, and clothes that I actually used to wear before I was a mom. I tried to box myself in with what styles to wear to be conservative because I’m a mom, and now I just want to look good for myself and feel comfortable and confident in what I’m wearing.

You can imagine an “ideal pregnancy and birth story” but there’s so much that you don’t know that can happen until that moment, until it happens to you. We are all mothers. No matter what our birth story was, is, or will be. If you focus so hard on what you want and imagine to happen, you won’t appreciate what’s actually happening, you’ll probably even resent the experience because it wasn’t what you expected. But the whole experience is a beautiful gift, you’re bringing a new life into the world. Once you have your baby in your arms you won’t even be so focused on how it came about, you’ll just be grateful, full of joy, and filled with unconditional love.

Don’t compare yourself to other moms. You don’t know what they experienced mentally and physically with their own birth and recovery. Our bodies are all different. Be patient with your mind and body, only you will know what you can take. Be patient with yourself. Recovery isn’t easy and dealing with a newborn is even harder. It takes time to get into your own rhythm and balance that works for you. It’s not about you losing weight, it’s about accepting the body that brought your child into this world.” -April

Sabrina: My Journey To Self-Love

Story 6 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

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

“Today, I’m taking y’all on a journey. The journey of how little Sabrina went from an innocent girl who didn’t have a care in the world, to feeling the pressures of society and succumbing to her inner negative thoughts, and all the struggles and learnings she has gone through in the last 24 years of being in this body. So buckle up and hopefully, this story helps someone out there going through it feel less alone. 

Growing up, I always had a turbulent relationship with my body and eating habits. As a baby, I was pretty chubby, but was also a colic baby, meaning I was just a complete nightmare to be around. I would cry all the time and fuss about eating so much to the point that my mom would spend hours trying to get me to eat and had to feed me water with a spoon. I was really out here trying to dehydrate myself. Over the years, I continued to have problems with eating and would need to be force-fed by my parents. At that time, I had really poor eating habits and would waste all the lunches my parents would pack for me. 

This all changed though around the age of 8 when my body finally recognized how amazing food tasted and I started to inhale everything in my line of sight. My diet was super unhealthy at this point. I would prefer fast food instead of the home-cooked meals my parents made for me. After school, I would beg my parents to take me to McDonald’s, KFC, or Taco Bell. At McDonald’s, I would order 2 fish filet sandwiches, chicken nuggets, and maybe a diet soda to wash it down, which would all be demolished by me before we even got home. 

Around the age of 10, my family had moved to India where we ended up staying for two years during my middle school years. My school at the time offered meals on campus and it was buffet style. We would have so many options for breakfast, lunch, and snacks and no one to supervise us or tell us how much we can or can’t eat. This was literally my dream come true and I happily ate as much as I wanted and didn’t give a care in the world. 

However, soon enough, this safe bubble I was in popped. I distinctly remember a specific time when my family and I were in Goa, a beautiful beach city in India, for vacation. I was about 11 years old at the time and was starting to develop into my womanhood – aka grow boobs – and I had no idea what was going on with my body. I was playing in the ocean with my sister with our clothes on and my mom called me to come out of the water. She told me to cover myself or wear another shirt on top since my boobs were very visible under the wet shirt. I remember feeling so ashamed about this and immediately ran back to our hotel room and started crying. At this point, I didn’t even feel comfortable wearing a swimsuit because I knew my body was going through changes, and I felt so so self-conscious. I didn’t know this at the time but this was a significant turning point in how I viewed my body. I would continue to feel bad about my body for many years to come. 

As puberty hit me like a freight train, I continued to gain a lot more weight. By this time, we had moved back to California and I was starting high school. I was close to ~150 pounds being a 5’ 6” girl and my relationship with my body grew more turbulent. My doctor told me I was overweight and suggested that I exercise even though I was playing competitive sports at the time. I started comparing my body to other girls in my class and would feel so bad about myself. During track and tennis practice, I would always feel like I didn’t look as “athletic” or as “slim” as other girls in our sports uniforms. I remember hating my tennis uniform because it was a sleeveless top that made me conscious of my arm fat. I would feel bad about eating the bagels that my teammate’s parents would bring for tennis meets. I was envious of the other girls who ate whatever they wanted and their bodies still looked “skinny.” It seemed like they didn’t even have to try to look that way and here I was beating myself up about eating a bagel. 

I started to dread going to the pool or the beach because it meant that I had to wear a swimsuit. While other girls were wearing bikinis and feeling super comfortable in their bodies, I still couldn’t even bring myself to wear a one-piece without feeling fat & undesirable. Mainstream media made me feel like the ideal body type was to be skinny and have a flat stomach. I was not skinny nor did I have a flat stomach which made me feel like something was wrong with me, my body, and that I should be doing something to change my body. 

This feeling worsened every time I went to a family party and some uncle or aunty would comment on my body. “Oh Sabrina, you look like you gained weight,” or “Sabrina, you are looking better than last time. Looks like you have lost some weight.” These comments made me feel even more insecure, self-conscious, and made me feel like I had to look a certain way to be considered pretty and worthy. Word of advice to anyone who gets unwarranted comments like this from family or friends: fat shaming and skinny shaming is never okay, don’t let them get to your head. It says more about their own insecurities and way of thinking than anything else if the first thing they feel the need to comment on is someone’s physical appearance. It’s such a shallow way of looking at the world. 

Of course, I let their comments get to my head. Self-confidence was at an all-time low and my body dysmorphia led me down a very restrictive path. When I was a senior in high school, I decided enough was enough and I was done feeling bad about myself and my body. I decided to go on a very strict low-carb, high protein diet and exercised intensely every day for 45 minutes. I would have some cereal for breakfast, a salad for lunch (probably ~300 calories), maybe an orange (like a small ass cutie) as a snack, and would head to my part-time job after school.

During this time, I was strictly logging everything I ate on My Fitness Pal and was so anal about hitting my daily calorie, and macro count. My body was not getting the nutrition it needed and I started to slowly develop a binge eating disorder. I would have a very light calorie day at school, would go to work in the evening at the accounting firm I was interning at, and try to avoid looking at the table full of food that my coworkers brought. 

Eventually, I would succumb to my cravings – cause ya girl was basically starving herself during the day and was so hungry. I would take any food I could get my hands on, go down to the basement at work where I would usually file documents, and gorge myself. I would feel so ashamed for doing this that I would literally make sure no one was near me while I stuffed my face – like I haven’t had food in days. After I finished binge eating, I would usually feel so bad about myself and so physically uncomfortable. I remember one day when it was a particularly bad binge eating episode, I literally sat on the floor with food all around me and sobbed uncontrollably at work. There were days where I would go back home after these episodes and exercise to burn off some calories to make myself feel better. But this never made me feel better since I was 1) so bloated and uncomfortable 2) felt like I ruined all my progress for the day. This would usually end in me breaking down sobbing, feeling more guilt, and ashamed. I would look at my body in the mirror, hate what I saw, and to make myself feel better, I would binge eat again. 

This was a very silent struggle that I went through. My parents didn’t know that I was going through this because honestly, I was doing a pretty good job of hiding it. I would always binge either at work or late at night at home once my parents went to sleep. I would be so ashamed of how much I was eating that I would make sure to do it in secret. 

It took me a while to realize what was happening and what I was doing to myself. I knew that I was binge eating because of my restrictive diet, but I never made myself throw up after these episodes, so I never labeled it as an “eating disorder.” Boy was I wrong. One day, after a particularly bad binge eating episode, I googled “How do you know you have an eating disorder?” and “How do you recover from binge eating?” This sent me down a rabbit hole until I finally opened my eyes to my reality. If I continued down this path I knew this wouldn’t end well. I dealt with my eating disorder for almost 8 months and that was probably the lowest point in my body journey thus far. 

After months of this, I knew I couldn’t live like this any longer. I didn’t feel healthy or comfortable within my own body and I hated feeling so superficial about myself. I started to be honest with myself about what I was doing to my body and how destructive my mindset was. The summer before my freshman year of college was when I found the plant-based community and started watching documentaries like “Coswspiracy” and “Forks over knives” and read books like “The China Study” and “The Starch Solution” (highly recommend). I instantly gave up meat after bawling throughout those documentaries. I learned about the environmental impacts of the animal and dairy industry and realized I had to make a change. I also loved how in the plant-based community, there was a focus on eating nutritious whole foods and not restricting the number of calories you ate. I was vegan for the first 2 years of college, transitioned into vegetarianism after, and am currently trying to go vegan again. 

During this time, I also came across the concept of intuitive eating which is essentially eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. Sounds easy enough right? But if you have ever struggled with an eating disorder or even followed any diet rules you know this isn’t so easy in practice. Since I had restricted certain foods and had binge-eating tendencies, my body was so out of touch with its natural hunger cues. Psychologically, I needed time to get over the diet culture mindset. It took me about 4 months to get to a point where I could stop counting calories and feel comfortable with eating whatever I wanted and however much I wanted. 

During this period, my focus changed from losing weight to listening to my body. I worked on shedding all of this conditioning I had about food, diet, and my ideal body. I was finally eating intuitively. What helped me during this time was to ditch the calorie-tracking apps and unfollowing any accounts that were promoting a certain body type.

In college, my body continued to go through many changes. I gained the infamous Freshman 15 (more like Freshman 25 in my case), and didn’t exercise consistently the first two years. That was the first time since my childhood where I felt liberated and unrestricted. I didn’t care as much about being a certain weight or looking a certain way, and I let myself eat freely without limits (with the only limit being that I was vegan but that didn’t stop me from finding the wonderful world of vegan junk food). 

Of course, this liberating feeling didn’t last long. I started to feel bad about all my weight gain and started beating myself up for letting it get this far. I would try to go to the gym to do cardio or a group class but never stayed consistent and felt demotivated by all the strength and stamina I had lost. The summer before my junior year, I discovered the weightlifting community and loved the focus on gaining strength & building muscle vs. losing weight and having a skinny figure. This was a huge mindset shift for me in how I viewed exercise. Prior to this, I always saw exercise as something I had to do to burn calories and lose weight. Weightlifting completely reframed that for me, and now I wanted to lift so that I could gain strength and see my progress. 

As I continued to weightlift throughout my junior year, I started eating more since I was hungry and wanted to gain muscle. I started to see how food is actually fuel that would help me get stronger and build muscles vs. something that I had to limit and keep track of. The last two years of college were probably the most comfortable and proud I felt of my body. I worked really hard to gain strength and shed past conditionings of restrictive eating. I felt like I finally arrived at a place where I could feel confident in my body and love what I saw when I looked in the mirror. 

Now, don’t get it twisted. I’m not saying I’m suddenly happy in my skin or that I never have destructive thoughts about my body. I still look at the mirror and focus on the “flabby” or “unflattering” parts. I still pinch the fat on my stomach, arms and back and wish it wasn’t there. I still have moments of low self-esteem. I still look at the mirror sometimes and am not happy with what I see. 

The media makes us believe that diet culture is so mainstream and that everyone needs to adhere to these strict ways of eating to look a certain way. It’s truly scary how ingrained this is in our culture, how often it is practiced and seen as normal. The staggering truth is that the diet industry is a $60 billion/ year industry. We are constantly being pitched something that makes us believe we need to lose weight – a fitness program, celebrities promoting weight loss pills, brands selling clothes that only fit a certain body type, etc. It’s hard to not fall into the trap of thinking that we need to change our bodies when all we see online is eurocentric beauty standards and a lack of representation. 

Since the pandemic started, my whole workout routine has completely gone out the window. Without a gym, I’ve been struggling to stay motivated to do at-home workouts. I have lost all the muscle mass I worked so hard to build in the last few years and have beaten myself up for not working out consistently. I have slipped back into feelings of low self-worth and have had moments where I’ve been critical of my body in the past year. Whenever I have these moments, I remind myself that this is MY body and the only body I will ever have. It’s a privilege to have this body and I have to honor and love it at all stages. I spend extra time on self-care and self-love practices that help me get out of that negative headspace and allow me to focus inward instead of outward. Taking time for gratitude has been essential and I thank my body for being my vessel on this earth and allowing me to have all these dope experiences. This has allowed me to be comfortable with accepting myself the way I am in this present moment. 

If I could go back and talk to my younger self, I would hug her and tell her that she is beautiful and loved just the way she is. I would tell her that your weight doesn’t define your worth. Diet culture is a load of bullshit and you should never try to conform to something you see on the internet. Food is meant to be enjoyed and life is meant to be unrestrictive. I would tell her that criticizing your body for years hasn’t helped you at all so why don’t you try accepting yourself and see what happens. 

As a society, we are conditioned to think that we need to look a certain way to feel happy and confident in ourselves. The media feeds into this thinking and makes us feel like we’re less than and/or not beautiful just the way we are. If you’re reading this and have been through or currently going through something similar, just know you are amazing just the way you are, and fuck society’s nonsense. Don’t value your body over your being. No one can take that away from you and you have so much more power and agency than you realize. Everyone has body issues, even those you idolize. When you come to realize that everybody deals with body image issues in their own way – even the people you might consider as flawless – then you can start to accept yourself just the way you are. We are all different shapes, and sizes, and that’s what makes each one of us unique and this should be celebrated. There is no one else like you. We only have one life to live and one body so we must take care of our home & nourish it with love, kindness, and empathy. I want to share my story with others because I know I am not alone in how I feel about my body. We need to speak to one another and shed ourselves of the programming society has instilled in us. The more we do this the more we can feel liberated and closer to our truth.” -Sabrina

Rohit: Lessons From My Weight Gain & Loss Journey

Story 5 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Rohit’s story, written in his own words:

My Weight Gain & Loss Story 

I always loved Shōnen stories when I was a kid. For the uninitiated, Shōnen is one of the most popular genres of anime, typically featuring a male protagonist who embarks on an adventure filled with challenges. My first exposure to the genre came through Pokémon, which I’d obsessively wake up to watch on Saturday mornings throughout my childhood. Looking back, my fascination with Pokémon and similar shows stemmed from the main character’s relentless pursuit of a goal or self-perfection, the clear distinction between good and evil, and the excitement that follows exploring the world around us. Unfortunately, Pokémon is where my issues with body positivity likely started. And it’s exactly what you’re  thinking – the exposure to extremely skinny, fit male figures in Pokémon and other shows unconsciously shaped my mental model of what constitutes beautiful and attractive, and has been something I’ve worked my entire life to overcome. 

I hope that in sharing my story, others struggling with similar issues can understand that they’re not alone and appreciate that self-love is one of the most beautiful aspects of the human condition. While progress in most things in life is usually not linear, the setbacks, insecurities, and painful feelings I experienced  through my weight gain, weight loss, muscle gain, and muscle loss make me who I am today and I’m thankful for them.  

Having a body-positive self-image has never been a strength of mine. At 26 years old I am still struggling with low self-esteem due to ingrained beliefs around what my body should look like. I became painfully  aware of my body and how others perceive it in middle school when my peers began making jokes about how fat I was, saying things like “When you walk around, it can cause earthquakes!” At that point in time I likely weighed 140 pounds and was 5’7”. Despite being relatively tall for my age, there was no hiding it. You might be wondering, “How did he get to that point?” My relationship with food was extremely unhealthy. Even as early as elementary school, I remember chowing down on McDonald’s and Burger King chicken sandwiches that my loving mother would drop off for me on weekdays. It didn’t matter if I got a  bad grade on my math test, was bullied in school, or felt alone, because I knew I always had food to comfort  me. And like most kids at that age with immigrant parents, I needed a lot of comforting. Over time I developed an addiction to fried, fast food and probably played a big role in keeping my local Olive Garden and Burger King alive. 

Whenever I’d see family or family friends they’d be quick to point out how chubby I was. “You’ve got such big cheeks!” and “Did you gain weight?” were usually the first thing they’d say to me whenever they visited. Over time the embarrassment grew to such an extreme level that I’d instinctively run upstairs to my room whenever someone rang the doorbell. My parents chalked that up to my shyness and introverted-ness, but looking back it was largely because I hated how people would comment on my weight, and I’d rather just avoid social interaction altogether. Video games and TV shows didn’t make me feel bad about myself. My mother would typically reassure me saying that having big bones runs in the  family, it’s just temporary, and not to worry about it. I definitely worried about it.  

When middle school came around and the harmful jokes and comments abounded, I realized that I could  use humor as a deflection – by being silly and ridiculous in and outside of class, I hoped that the attention would be taken off my weight, even just for a moment. Sadly, even my most fire jokes couldn’t spare me from the almost daily humiliation that was PE class. I distinctly remember being the slowest person in the entire class to run a mile – I never made it under 10 minutes! And scoring low on other fitness-related exams, reinforcing my belief that I’m worse than others and something is wrong with my body. 

After years of enduring hurtful jokes and comments in addition to seeing idealized images of men’s bodies in movies and TV, I became disgusted with my body. I would actively avoid going swimming – which was  hard when the pool party was at your house – because it would expose my rotundness. I would look at myself whenever I would change in the mirror with shame, and dress in baggy clothing to distract people from the shape of my body. Compounding this internalized shame and resentment is my lifelong struggle with  perfectionism, thinking that the way I looked should be a certain way and, in my mind, I always fell short. 

When I made it to high school, already disgusted with my body, I became committed to changing the body that brought me so much pain. Thankfully, I channeled my frustration and angst into my weight loss regiment. It took many months and a lot of discipline, healthy eating, and exercise, but I was able to lose twenty pounds during my Sophomore year and started to take pride in how I looked for the first time. This is where my story maybe takes a turn from others in the body positive community – part of me is glad that growing up I had a negative body image. If I didn’t, and simply accepted myself for how I looked, I  probably would never have adopted healthier eating and lifestyle habits and would’ve continued spiraling down a path of fried chicken nuggets and scrumptious curly fries. For me personally, being overweight wasn’t difficult just because in society’s eyes something was wrong with me, but more so because I felt  unhealthy – moderate exercise really exhausted me and I’d often have jolts of pain that felt like the  beginning of clogged arteries even though I didn’t know it at the time.  

It might seem fun to eat unhealthy food frequently, and maybe it is in the short-term, but there’s a lot of pain and difficulties that can easily outweigh (yes, pun intended) the ephemeral joy. Over time, as I slowly adjusted my diet to stop feeling so unhealthy my relationship with food improved and I no longer relied  on it for comfort. That process was really difficult and I had to unlearn the bad habits and dependencies I developed over the span of many years. For those of you contemplating a similar transition my advice is to start small, slowly replacing processed fats and sugar with natural fats and sugar from food that you  enjoy eating such that over time your body finds unhealthy food undesirable, which is exactly what happened with me. I eventually reached a point where eating fried and processed food felt nasty and I avoided it at all costs. To this day I actively resist eating fried or fast food and stick to a diet high in vegetables & fruit, high protein, and low carb. After improving my diet and losing even more weight, I vowed to never be fat again and to treat my body like a temple. Unfortunately, even as the weight  gradually began to disappear the insecurity I developed around my body image did not. No matter how  much weight I lost or how my body began to look, I kept feeling that I didn’t look good enough and didn’t live up to the expectations society had of me. 

These insecurities later manifested in college. I can barely recall my junior year and it wasn’t because I was sleep deprived. Enabled by the fraternity I joined and the almost manipulative drinking culture, I  would binge drink and blackout several times a week. Sure, it was lots of fun in the moment and to this day I don’t really regret those decisions, but the proverbial beer belly reared its ugly head. My breaking  point occurred when a close female friend casually remarked one day that I was looking chubby and need to lose weight. I felt that all the progress I had made with accepting my reformed body image and vowing to never be fat again vanished all within a single instant. Just like in high school, I decided to channel my anger and frustration at myself into self-improvement and started working out religiously. In parallel, I also gave up eating meat cold turkey as I strongly believed that all of life is interconnected and must be respected. By the time senior year ended, I had lost the beer belly I was so ashamed of and started to build lean muscle thanks to transitioning to a low carb / high protein vegetarian diet and hitting the gym at least 4 times a week. My relationship with food had completely transformed and I actively sought out healthier options that made me feel better and supported my more active lifestyle. Things were finally  looking up and I never wanted to look back.  

Fast forward a few years and I was back home in San Jose working at a startup with ample free time. Of course I’d continued working out frequently, finding deep satisfaction in pushing myself physically and lifting even heavier weights. I’d often get sore or experience weird muscle pains that led to short breaks and ice baths, but I’d just get back up and keep pushing harder – partly motivated by my body-related insecurities, never feeling satisfied with how I looked despite putting on more muscle, and realizing that  women found me attractive. That all came to a halt on a beautiful summer day in Yosemite. A few weeks  prior my college roommates and I planned a trip to Yosemite to take on the notorious Half Dome hike which claimed several lives and caused hundreds of accidents in the past fifteen years. The hike itself  wasn’t too crazy – 17 miles roundtrip with 4,800 feet of elevation gain, fairly do-able for folks like me who  hike regularly and like to push themselves. Our initial plan was to wake up in the wee hours of the morning  to start the trek to beat the rising heat and crowds of people that flock to the trail each year, but we encountered a ton of traffic on the route there and ended up reaching camp near midnight. Faced with a  difficult decision of sleeping for three hours before embarking or hitting the trail immediately with no rest, we chose to test our luck and hike in pitch darkness with no rest. Hindsight is always 20/20 and this case is no different. Two of my friends injured their feet landing on rocks at weird angles due to the low  visibility, but despite the injuries and exhaustion we all pushed forward.  

I’m thankful that we successfully traversed the treacherous cables and reached the summit, taking in the magnificent views. But the trouble started after we went back to camp, ate our weight in pizza, and passed out for the night. I woke up to a strange sensation and hoped it was a dream. I couldn’t move my neck. In that moment I was filled with sheer terror; would I ever be able to move my neck again? Did I have a permanent disability? What did I do to myself? Why did I push myself to the extreme? After pounding Motrin and surviving the car ride back home, I shared my experience with my physician who immediately  recommended I get scanned by an MRI machine to figure out what the heck was going on. While that experience itself was torture having suffered from claustrophobia my entire life – imagine being stuck in  a metal coffin with no space around you bombarded with shitty EDM sounds – receiving the results was more painful. I had somehow managed to herniate a disc in my cervical spine (my neck), and the damage would never be undone. There was no treatment beyond medicating the pain away and some physical therapy.  

To this day it remains a mystery why I herniated the disc. I knew a bunch of other people my age who were on a fitness and weightlifting grind who didn’t experience any of these issues. It likely was the result of pushing myself to my limits with improper weightlifting techniques combined with shitty luck. Looking back, I’d like to say I wish I didn’t pursue physical fitness with such an extreme devotion, but I really do enjoy pushing myself and tackling greater challenges. Even if I hadn’t herniated a disc at that point in time, it likely would have happened to me doing some other intense activity eventually. Initially, living with a herniated disc wasn’t so bad. While working out, hiking, and sitting down for extended periods of time caused some discomfort, it never prevented me from living the life I wanted and pursuing my physical  fitness goals. Fueled by my body-related insecurities and desire to push myself, I kept exercising intensely and took on even more extreme hikes like Mt. Whitney (23 mile roundtrip with 6,000 feet in elevation gain over a single day). Sadly, things got worse from there. After completing another arduous hike with friends in Hawaii, I felt another weird sensation – a shooting, numbing pain going down my left arm which  I never experienced before. The strange pain also didn’t go away when I took painkillers, which alarmed me even further. I decided to cut my trip short and head back home to figure out what happened and  took yet another MRI.  

What had happened? I herniated yet another disc, right below the previous one and the weird sensation I was feeling was actually nerve pain caused by the discs impinging nerves near my neck that travel down the shoulder and all the way to the hand. Unlike last time, the pain I felt in general was very high and even sitting down for just 15 minutes was excruciatingly painful. I could no longer run, lift weights, or live the active lifestyle I had become accustomed to. In lieu of those activities, I’ve started swimming more regularly – although it’s difficult to find open and heated pools these days – walking daily, and hiking less intense trails to stay fit. Meditating daily, getting lost in fascinating books, and playing the trumpet are my new ways to destress. Despite all that, it’s still painful watching the muscle mass I had worked so hard to build and maintain over the years slowly fade away as my muscles stopped being nurtured and used. Even when I thought I had reached a place of body positivity, in those ensuing weeks and months, I realized that I never really did. My extreme workouts were partly motivated by never feeling satisfied with how I looked and still feeling like I didn’t live up to the idealized image of the male figure. Losing my muscle mass reignited insecurities and shame that I worked so hard to forget.  

While my disability isn’t noticeable to others externally and I’m spared from others’ judgment, I couldn’t help but feel like I was broken inside permanently and my body failed me. I yet again hated myself and my body for failing to meet society’s expectations. Truthfully, it wasn’t until a few months ago that I was exposed to a different way of thinking about myself and body positivity more broadly. I became exposed to the idea on a Facebook social media post about body positivity, that one’s weight is not a reflection of one’s health and being overweight in particular isn’t such a bad thing from an attractiveness, societal, or  health perspective. This broke every belief I had – strongly feeling that being fat is unhealthy, unappealing, and should not be celebrated. After reflecting and discussing with others, I realized that health is a scientific concept and one’s weight does not accurately reflect health – people who may look  overweight might be in good overall health, as paradoxical as it seems. A great example of this is NFL linebackers who typically weigh over 200 pounds and seem very unhealthy in terms of their body shape and size but are way more physically fit than the average person. I also realized that being overweight itself is not an issue to be worried about in isolation; it is the issues associated with being overweight that are the real causes of worry like having clogged arteries, difficulty sleeping, diabetes, etc. In that same vein of thought, I realized that having a body shape, or in my case a body structure, that does not conform with societal norms does not make one any less beautiful, whole, or healthy either. My eyes had been opened to the importance of self-love and body positivity, and how the way we view ourselves has a direct correlation with how we think and behave.  

Last year I decided to make a big change. I adopted an entirely plant-based diet and no longer eat anything related to animals such as honey, ice cream, and pizza. The beautiful thing about being plant-based is it’s actually difficult to eat unhealthy – unless your diet mostly consists of carbs like bread or pasta or vegan junk food like plant-based ice cream and burgers. I’ve been feeling higher energy, don’t have food coma, or crash when I eat, and noticed I was losing weight as well. But being plant-based doesn’t guarantee one won’t gain weight, as I painfully found out after a few months of quarantine when I went home and the first thing my mom said to me was “Beta you’re looking heavier, you put on some weight”.  

Since experiencing that initial epiphany, I have tried to continue practices in self-love and body positivity. I will admit that it is not always easy, and progress is not always linear. I still struggle with moments, days, and weeks of low self-esteem and body negativity. I still check myself out in the mirror every chance I get  and obsessively focus on how my hair looks. I still pinch my belly and love handles, wishing they would  shrink and disappear. I still find moments where I feel physically damaged and hate my body for not being able to do simple things that most of us take for granted like sitting in a car for an hour, bending down to pick things up off the floor, or playing with young children and dogs. While changing my behavior and  mindset is certainly a work in progress, what has been encouraging is that in those situations I remind myself that I am beautiful, do not need to look or participate in certain activities to feel so, and that beauty comes in all shapes, colors, and sizes.  

Whenever I find myself feeling insecure and down on myself because of my body, which inevitably happens and I’ve accepted won’t ever stop, I first accept how I’m feeling and don’t try to fight it. I try to introspect and figure out where these feelings are coming from, and remind myself that the only person’s  opinion that really matters here is my own. What also helps is having a generally positive attitude, which I was able to forge through the difficult times I’ve endured and the realization that dwelling on the negative is a fruitless endeavor. Something else that helps when I feel down is the genuine acceptance that some things in life including negative feelings are out of my control and I should instead focus on controlling the controllables – my actions, behavior and mindset. The power of a positive mindset lies not in being happy all the time, but in preventing one from falling into spirals of negativity.  

If I could travel back in time and talk to my younger self, I’d try to convey that it’s great to want to adopt  a healthier lifestyle but to be cognizant of what is motivating me to do so. I’d also share that while pushing  oneself is a great trait, it’s also wonderful to accept how you look at any point in time and find yourself  beautiful even if how you appear doesn’t match society’s notions of beauty. I’d tell myself that while Ash Ketchum and other Shōnen protagonists are amazing, I should simply aspire to be the best version of  myself, flaws and all.” -Rohit

Trixi: My Post-Bodybuilding Journey to Intuitive Eating

Story 4 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

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

“Growing up in a stereotypical Asian household, I was expected to be above average. I had to be better than the best. I always felt like I had to give 110% percent to prove that I am worthy. Anything less than perfect made me feel like a failure. I meticulously planned and created lists to make sure I got into a good college, and secure a job after. I took the advanced classes, became board members for clubs, and made myself look like the best candidate in writing. The last thing I wanted was for my parents to think I was slacking. 

So ever since I can remember, self-doubt loomed over me like a dark cloud. I always had negative thoughts in my head telling me I couldn’t achieve anything even if I tried my best. After graduating college, I expected the negative thoughts would die down, but they continued to weigh down on me. Regardless of what I achieved, I still felt like I didn’t accomplish enough. 

Then, I decided I was over it!!! To overcome my insecurities and prove to myself I was capable, I decided that I would complete a challenge soo hard that if I achieved it, it would immediately squash all the negative notions I had about myself. This was the very first challenge I took on for me, and not anyone else. I was so used to performing to meet the expectations of others, but this is something that I wanted to do for myself. 

Disclaimer: We are not defined by our achievements! We are all inherently worthy. But, I didn’t know that then. lol So in June 2019, I signed up to compete in my very first bikini bodybuilding competition…and this is where the plot thickens: what I initially thought was simply a test to boost my self-esteem turned out to be the beginning of my body positivity journey and healing my relationship with food.

For 6 months, I followed a strict meal plan and training regimen. I completely cut out sugar and dairy (two of my fave things), I drank 1.5 gallons of water a day (which was already a challenge in and of itself) and gosh, I said no to pad thai more times than I can count, and I fucking love pad thai. Training included fasted cardio in the morning, about 2 hours of training in the evening, followed by 30 mins of post-training cardio. In addition to changing my physical activity and nutrition habits, I had to learn to better manage my money (cause bodybuilding ain’t cheap) and my time to juggle a full time job and somewhat have a social life.

I took it day by day. I showed up and eventually these tasks became habits. I began to see myself as an athlete and I started to believe that I could really win this competition. There were a lot of temptations (food, drinking, sleeping in). Executing the plan wasn’t easy, but making the right decision was simple. I know that most may have difficulty with following very strict rules but having a plan and checking off boxes was what I was used to. I had the mentality of “If I want this, then I have to do that”. And if I don’t, I won’t get it. This time, the goal was to win, and all I had to do was to execute the clear-cut plan that was given to me.

November rolled around and it was finally competition day. I placed 1st in True Novice, 2nd in Novice, and 4th in Open. But regardless of my placing, I already felt like a winner. I proved to myself that I was strong, I can show up no matter what, no excuses. Even before I hit the stage, I was so proud of what I accomplished. I didn’t even care if I didn’t win or not. No judge could have told me that I didn’t bust my ass to get here! While bodybuilding helped me gain confidence, it also brought to light my complicated relationship with food.

After my competition, my training and meal plan became more flexible. But this flexibility really threw me off. When I stuck with my meal plan, I wondered if I was being too strict, and not giving myself time to enjoy food. When I did enjoy food, I wondered if I was letting myself go. I fell in a loop. My mind would switch between “Follow your meal plan or else you’ll gain weight too quickly” then restrict myself from eating anything “bad”. But then I would think, “Enjoy some treats! Live your life!” and I would binge. I would eat and eat, waiting for my stomach to tell me that I was full, but it felt like my stomach was a bottomless pit that was impossible to satiate. I was waiting for my brain to tell me, “ok that’s enough,” but it never came.

This battle led me to explore my eating habits growing up. When my family went to restaurants, we would always order like an insane amount of food and get absolutely stuffed! Even when we were so full that we could barely breathe, we always made room for dessert. “Food is nourishment!” they justified. But rather than focusing on nutrition, food was mainly for comfort and celebration. Even when my body told me to stop eating, I ignored all satiety signals to continue celebrating. So even before bodybuilding, my satiety cues were practically nonexistent.

The cycle went on for two months. Restrict and binge. Restrict and binge. Restrict harder, binger harder. I looked in the mirror and saw I was no longer lean. Looking back, I didn’t gain much weight but at the time I hated what I saw. I felt big, I felt out of control. Mentally, I was slipping.

I knew this eating pattern was unhealthy but I felt like I couldn’t get out of it. It got to a point where I no longer trusted myself; the body that once triumphed on stage was now failing me. It felt like my body was hijacked by something else, and I was stuck in this vessel, just watching myself derail. Naturally, the scale started to go up and I felt like I was gaining weight all wrong. I spent so much time looking at myself in the mirror and criticizing myself. Front angle, side angle. I would hold and pinch my fat, wishing I was lean again because lean meant I embodied discipline and hard work. It meant that my behavior aligned with my goals. Back then, the goal was to get lean to win a competition. Now, the goal was to live a balanced and healthy lifestyle, but I had no clue what that meant! It isn’t so straightforward. There is no clear-cut plan for that.

People began to notice that I refused to eat and drink anything that wasn’t outside my meal plan. Comments like “Just one bite won’t hurt!” and “It’s only one shot” really bothered me, because at the time, I felt like one bite or one shot can really ruin my body. Following my meal plan gave me a false sense of security, and I didn’t know how to transition out of it post-competition. 

Christmas was my all-time favorite holiday, but that year, I dreaded it. Thinking about all the food that will be at parties gave me so much anxiety. And just my luck, that year, our annual Christmas potluck was held at my apartment. Even at my own party, I was so scared to eat the “wrong” thing. I felt overwhelmed and paralyzed, but on the outside, I pretended I was okay with not eating or drinking anything. I tied so much of my identity to being disciplined and put together that I was terrified my friends would find out the confident athlete they saw on stage just a few months ago wasn’t there anymore.

That night, I eventually caved. I started to eat, and again, I couldn’t stop. By the end of the night, I felt so uncomfortable that I went to my room to change to less fitting clothes. When I took off my shirt and saw how bloated I was, the self-loathe set in and I started to cry. Never in a million years did I think I would develop body dysmorphia. I was 10lb up my stage weight which actually put me in a healthier weight, but in my eyes, I gained too much. I hated myself for being out of control and I hated myself for having such a fucked-up relationship with food. I felt disconnected with myself and with others. I felt alone and overall a fucking mess.

My friends saw me breakdown. “I didn’t want you guys to judge me.” I admitted shamefully. But as one of my friends put it, “The people who love you will always be there for you unconditionally, and the people who do judge don’t matter.” Seeing my friends concerned was my wake up call.

After that night, I decided it was time to heal my relationship with food. The first step I took was to destigmatize foods as being either “good” or “bad.” I learned that restricting myself was just as harmful as indulging which often led me to binge. Opening myself to all foods lifted constraining thoughts. After this shift in mindset, I felt liberated and empowered to trust myself again.

Next, I adjusted my eating habits to not only be healthy but also sustainable. Fitness is a huge part of my life and to improve my performance, I need to fuel my body properly. At the same time, I love to hang out with friends over drinks, and eat with my family at the dinner table. Finding balance was a whole lot of trial and error. Eventually I learned I feel my best when I eat nutritious foods about 80% of the time. I meal prep most of my food and occasionally I use Door Dash (aka my best friend during quarantine). This may not work for everyone. It is completely subjective and depends on your own goals and lifestyle. 

Lastly, I evaluated and reset my intentions. I learned that my beliefs around food were rooted in self-loathe and punishment. I felt like I had to be perfect all the time or else my efforts didn’t count. It was an all-or-nothing mentality. Now, I see it as a journey of self-discovery. I know that I am going to slip up occasionally, and that’s okay! I have learned to respect my body and to love myself no matter what stage I’m in. If I am making an effort to honor my body, I know I am on the right path.

Despite the mental roller coaster that bodybuilding put me through, I would still compete again. I came in with the intention to build trust in myself, and looking back, it taught me to do just that and more. Next time around, I won’t be competing to prove I am enough, but simply for the fun of improving in this sport. I’ll be coming back with a better mindset, and a healthier relationship with food. It’s been a year and a half since my competition, and I am just now feeling comfortable with my eating habits and my ever changing appearance. While my relationship with food is a work in progress, I am really proud of how far I’ve come.” -Trixi