I just recently turned the awkward age of 27 in February. And it really took over a whole month for me to process that I’m actually 27. I say “awkward 27” because it’s an age where you’re not as confused as you were in your early 20’s, but you’re not quite knowing what the fuck you’re doing yet. That’s the case for me at least. It’s one of those transitional years that will have you playing around with your career, who you surround yourself with, and in general trying figuring out what direction to take your life. That’s currently the stage I’m in.
It’s also a funny age because if you take a hundred 27 year olds from all over the country, you’d quickly see how different everyone’s lives are. You have 27 year olds that are married with kids, starting a business, traveling the world, going to school, working minimum wage jobs, unemployed, sick, are sugar babies, are successful, act like they’re 55, or the ones that act like they’re still 17. It is such a wide spectrum. What nobody tells you is that your late 20’s will somewhat feel like a preview of what you assume a mid-life crisis would feel like.
I’ve always been the type that tried to plan out my life and next moves to a T. The kind of plans that are well thought out with back up plans on back up plans on deck. That has always been my nature – plan ahead and hope for the best, but simultaneously having the “I’ll just wing it” complex. The “I’ll deal with it when I deal with it,” mindset is both comforting yet dreadful. Especially since 27 feels like I should have it “dealt with” already.
When you’re in your early 20’s, you feel like you have all the time in the world to figure life out. But in a blink of an eye I went from being 21 to being a confused ass 27 year old. Where the fuck did the time go, ma’am-sir, because I didn’t prepare for this shit. As I approached my mid-20’s, the dread started to set in. The fear of “fuck, am I going to be able to pull this shit off?” was always at the back of my mind. That’s me, always waiting until the very last minute to fight or flight life.
In my early 20’s, I wasn’t trippin’ much about the future and my career. Yes, I cared about getting my degree and started attempting to save money, but I wasn’t taking it too seriously. The future was definitely a thought, but it seemed too far away to stress out about. When I hit my mid 20’s, it started to hit me that my clock was ticking. And when I say my clock, I mean every fuckin clock out there. My career clock, my financial stability clock, my life timeline clock, but most importantly my biological clock. But at that point, I’m 24 – 25, I have a couple more years to figure it out. “That’s future Marinelle’s problem,” I would tell myself.
But literally overnight, I went from 26 to 27. And it really felt like it was the transition of the century. Oh shit. I’m fuckin 27. To put it into perspective, my mom was 26 when she got married to my dad, and when I juxtapose my life now to hers 30 years ago, my jaw could literally drop at the difference. I’m a firm believer in knowing that things will happen on its own time for me. I know life is a lot different now than it was when my mom was my age. At age 27 she was married and had her first child. But at the same time, I can’t help but think that these next 3-5 years are grind time.
In 3-5 years, I’ll be 30 – 32. I say grind time because whether I want to admit it or not, my time frame to start and have a family is very limited. I’ll never forget when my best friends and I sang happy birthday to my friend on her 18th birthday. 18th birthdays to Filipinos are a really big deal. It’s a woman’s entrance into “womanhood.” We watched her as she hovered over her 18th birthday cake, the candles lit and ready to be blown out. We expected her to make a wish and blow out her candles, happy, and ready to hangout the rest of the day. Instead, she blew out her candles and began to cry. I wish I could take a picture of everyone’s face expression in that moment. “What’s wrong?!”
“My biological clock is ticking!” She said laughing behind the tears she was shedding.
We held that moment against her since. We laughed out of complete shock and confusion. Is this bitch really crying and worrying about having kids at her EIGHTEENTH birthday?! It was just so funny to us because we were seniors in high school, all we’re supposed to care about at that time was getting into college, worrying about what major to declare, and trippin’ off boys who weren’t going to mean shit to us a couple years down the road. It just seemed so damn premature to be worrying about reproducing at that exact moment. To this day we still joke about the “biological clock” crying incident.
But here I am now, 27 years old, worrying about my damn biological clock. Life always seems to come back around full circle, doesn’t it? In a way, I feel like the pandemic aged me. It’s been 2 years since the start of the pandemic. I went into the pandemic freshly turning 25, and now we’re still in the thick of the madness 2 years later. There’s a huge part of me that feels like a good chunk of my youth has been taken from me. 2 years doesn’t seem like much, but those 2 years in the grander scheme of things were really pivotal ages.
25 and 26 years old – the ages where you really begin to know yourself as a person. And I definitely was forced to know myself even more in the midst of the lockdown. 25 and 26 is so smack dabbed in the middle of crucial points in one’s life, and I feel like for those 2 years we all had no choice but to chill out and wait as the world around us turned into a frenzy over the pandemic. Life stood still during these 2 years while simultaneously speeding shit up.
I found that to be especially true when Tatay passed away last year. When he passed, I really re-evaluated what I want out of this life – what’s important to me, what my dreams are, what I would do to make sure everyone around me is good. I lost someone so important to me, and in a way, it felt like I was saying goodbye to a certain part of my life. Whether I liked it or not, life was turning the page, entering me into a new chapter of life. I spent the rest of 2021 wallowing in my sadness, as I had every right to do. Then 2022 came and it’s like 27 said, “Ready or not, here I come.”
The new year somewhat reset me. When I hear people’s success stories, it motivates and inspires me to keep trying to get to where I want to be in life. You don’t know how you’re going to get there, but you hope you will. When will the opportunity show itself? I can’t help but think that things will show up as a sign or opportunity when the time is right. And if I’m being completely honest, I thought those signs and opportunities would reveal themselves already. But I try to remember that each month that passes by, I’m slowly taking baby steps to where I want to be. It doesn’t seem like any progress on a day to day basis, but when you look back, you’ll see how those small steps got you far.
And like I said, I feel like the next 3-5 years are grind time. Deep in my heart I hope I can pull it all off. It’s like a little ticking clock constantly keeping track in my head. When I daydream, I picture myself having it all. Will I be financially stable enough to have kids in the next couple of years? Will I be ready to not be selfish and take on the responsibility of caring for another life / lives for the rest of my life? Will I Hail Mary the next couple of years and just miraculously successfully get my shit together? I think of all of this stuff often.
These things are in the back of my head, but surprisingly, I’m suspiciously content. Content with where I’m at in life, content with the biological time frame I have as a woman, and content in knowing that whatever is meant to be will be, and whatever is meant for me will happen with time. But it’s true, I’m getting older, these are things I need to think about and plan for. At 27, I still have the “I’ll deal with it when I deal with it mentality,” however, one thing is different this time.
This time around, I find myself being more productive with my time. I find myself watering parts of my life I want to see grow, especially in my career sector, dreams sector, and relationships. For me, there’s no point in trippin’ out, things will happen when it’s supposed to. And like always, I’ll wing it when it’s time. But one thing I know for sure is that I can’t be sitting here waiting for things to progress if I’m not making the conscious effort to make things happen. I find myself being more purposeful with my time, knowing every move is a calculated step to what I want in the future.
I went into 2022 with a whole new mindset. I don’t know what it was or what triggered it. I like to think after a depressing year losing Tatay and Rhonda, they are pulling string for me on the other side, giving me the motivation to do the things I want to achieve. I’ve been a procrastinator all my life, but I went into 2022 wanting to get shit done. I’m taking literal baby steps in becoming productive, even if it that means creating small habits that will benefit me in the long run.
I was never one to fear getting older. In fact, I always wanted to be older because I wanted that freedom, stability, and independence. I’m realizing now, with my 27 year old ass, that it takes a lot of hard work and preparation to get to that level of comfort. But I’m confident that I’ll wing it, like I have been for the last 27 years. This time though, I’m doing it with more purpose and intent. Whatever is meant to be mine will be mine, with hard work of course. I’m fully embracing my awkward 27th year of life. I’m embracing the unknown, the confusion, and winging it as I go.
You know that saying that says the only competition you have is versus yourself? That you shouldn’t compare yourself to others? That’s advice we all got since we were young. Even though, ironically, from the day we are born we’re being compared to others. But when does the comparisons and competition stop? How do we expect to not juxtapose ourselves to those around us when it’s all we know how to do?
Even as a baby, we were all constantly being checked up on to see if we reach the benchmarks to tell our parents what’s “normal” and what’s not – how much we weighed, how tall we were, what age we started to talk, walk, and so forth. Our growth and development was being compared to babies similar in age. That’s how they determined what was common and uncommon for that age group. It’s what’s expected the first couple of years of our lives. Of course, these benchmarks are put in place to help the child. It also helps doctors and parents detect if their little one need extra care / attention for any reason. It’s necessary to ensure the child’s development is on track.
The comparing continues into our early childhood, middle childhood, and adolescent years. Are we performing well academically, are we meeting the standards for our age, are we on track to success? A lot of these benchmarks are set up for the youth, who will later be young adults, to succeed. So don’t get me wrong, I totally understand why comparisons are necessary for important things like education, health, and a person’s well being. As a parent, teacher, and caregiver, you want to make sure that you are doing your part so your child doesn’t fall behind.
But we all know that competition and comparisons don’t just end at the necessary benchmarks to ensure a person’s welfare. Growing up, you could’ve gotten compared to your siblings, family friend’s kids, cousins, other classmates, and other peers. The competition and comparisons are not just limited to education and health. Appearance based comparisons, athletic comparisons, grade comparisons, having your weaknesses pointed out in parallel to someone else’s accomplishments, financial competition, and sometimes even just personal biases, could’ve been put on your shoulders at a young age. It instills the belief that we need to do better, be better, and always be the one in favor.
On the bright side, comparing ourselves or being compared to others can act as motivation to better ourselves and our current situation. As the cringe saying goes, “Let the haters be your motivators.” We try to push ourselves to reach our maximum potential, and sometimes, it takes seeing your peers putting in work and being successful to give you that push. Having someone compare you to someone else can fuel you to prove them wrong. For some, hearing someone tell them they can’t do something is all the motivation they need to give their all and make it happen.
Yes, comparisons and competition can have its pros, but it can also have its cons. When you grow up to believe that everyone is competition, you will constantly think that what you’re doing or where you’re at in life is never good enough. It’s the toxic motivation that will fuel you, but also destroy you. If you’re constantly using others to power your drive, you’re no longer doing it for yourself. You’ll look back and realize that your motives were charged by negative feelings that someone else instilled in you. And when you let negativity steer you in life, you’ll always be left unsatisfied.
I feel the focus of our competition changes as we maneuver through life’s many stages. For example, if you’re a child, it could be who’s the best runner, the best in a subject, who gets the best grades. When we’re teens, the competition seems to focus around outer appearance – competition between who is more attractive, who wears the nicest clothes, who’s the best in a sport, who is academically rising above the standard. Though what we’re comparing to others changes, the fact of the matter is: we go through our whole lives comparing and competing to be better than our peers and those around us.
But since we are taught to compare ourselves to others at such a young age, it only makes sense that everyone eventually compares themselves in other aspects of life as well. And I know that there will be some people that will try to flex and say that they have never compared themselves or felt like certain aspects of their lives were a competition. However, we all can agree that who ever claims that is 100% full of shit. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, as it’s something we all do. What’s important is how we outgrow the notion that everyone and life is a competition.
As I reached my young adulthood into the present, I started to see a shift in what things I thought was a competition. I knew my ass was full on adulting when who was prettier than me, skinnier than me, or had a nicer ass than me didn’t really get my insecurities jumping anymore. It was when I started keeping mental notes about who was successful in their career already, who was making moves and going for their dreams, who was on the road to becoming financially stable and well that had me realize I’m entering new competition territory.
Especially since we live in the age of social media, where everything is posted about, celebrated, and in our face, it’s hard to ignore. How do we expect ourselves to mind our own business, only worry about ourselves, and stay in our own lane when we’re literally addicted to platforms that are meant to share and show off? It’s crazy how different accounts and people we know can trigger different insecurities: our appearance, our health, our weight, where we live, what level of education you have, your stability, your job, your relationship, your relationship with your family, how happy you are, how confident you seem, the list goes on and fuckin on.
I fell victim to the endless comparisons that led me to constantly feel shitty about myself. I would genuinely feel happy for my peers when they posted accomplishments, great news, posted a new job, etc., so it’s not like I would be hating. However, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t reflect on my own accomplishments and where I was at in my life. You can’t help but look at yourself and make it about you – we’re human, we be selfish like that.
I feel like my view on comparing myself and my life to others I know in real life and on social media changed after I graduated college. I was on cloud 9 after I graduated, but if you read and keep up with my blog, you’ll know that that feeling was very short lived. My greatest accomplishment was graduating college. But after I graduated I got the post-grad blues hard. I was very quiet about my real feelings post-grad. If someone was wondering how I was doing just by looking through my social media, they’d probably think that I was living my best life because I earned my degree.
Clearly that was not the case. I was struggling to figure out what direction to take my life post-graduation. Prior to graduation, it already dawned on me that social media is fake as fuck, people only post what they want you to see, you’ll never see the bigger picture, and everyone – regardless of how hard you try not to – try to uphold a certain image of ourselves from what we post. That was old news to me, and I had even spent my whole writing career on the magazine focusing on those topics. That was my niche. And my post-grad confusion helped confirm those theories that I already knew to be true.
Post-graduation made me realize that everyone is just trying to find their own way – regardless of how happy you seem to be on social media. And maybe that happiness projected onto social media platforms are genuine happiness, but there will always be something someone is working through, working on, or thinking about. I saw people I graduated with go down a completely different route than me. Some went the traditional route, some went into something completely different entirely, some worked on independent projects, some are still figuring it out – and that’s okay. We are all simply trying to see what works for us. There is not just 1 path to success.
I guess what also helped me not compare myself to others is simply being confident in my choices. It sounds easy to do, but for me, being confident in what decisions I chose to take post-graduation was a challenge. I was so hesitant and afraid that I would be making the wrong move for my future, and truly couldn’t decide what I wanted to do with myself. In those moments, I did nothing and stayed stagnant. But there is definitely beauty in the struggle. In fact, that’s part of the reason why this blog was revived. I didn’t know what the fuck to do with my life, and it was getting overwhelming. I was over thinking it so hard that I started to get frustrated that my lack of confidence in my decisions had my life at a complete standstill.
I figured that reviving my blog and posting consistently is a small big step that I could do for nobody else but myself. And I’m grateful I did. A lot of decisions had to be made post-graduation, and I was tired of living in fear. I figured a wrong decision is better than no decision. I couldn’t just wait for shit to fall in my lap, because it wouldn’t, shit doesn’t work like that. I had to get the ball rolling to see results, and if it’s the wrong decision, then so be it. My road to success is my journey alone, no one else’s.
We’re all on our own journey. No two experiences are the same. What works for someone else may not work for another. Or it may work, but it’s not what you want. Everyone has their own preferences and own personal road blocks. It’s hard to retrain your brain to not see others as competition since it’s what’s innate for us to do. You can try to compare your reality to someone else’s, but you’ll never really know first hand all the work, dedication, and complications it took to get to that point.
In reality, your biggest competition is yourself. Whether that be silencing the self-doubt, trying to find inner-motivation to get what you want, or forcing yourself to do the small steps. Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy and #1 hater. Especially when you’re wasting your time comparing yourself to others. Yes, wasting time. It’s pointless to dwell on others and their accomplishments because they’re not you. No matter what, at the end of the day only you can change and direct your future. Nobody is going to come around and change your mindset, hand you opportunities, or do the work for you. So the sooner you realize that comparisons are the thief of joy is best. It’ll always be you vs. you.
When you realize that you are in competition with no one, that’s when you’ll start to flourish mentally. There’s no room for jealousy when you’re doing your own thing. And jealousy is such a consuming ugly feeling. It only breeds more negativity and self-hate. When you come to terms with the fact that everyone is just trying to figure it all out regardless of how successful they come off to be, you’ll see that everyone is working through their own forks in the road. And with that being said, instead of being your worst enemy, attempt to be your biggest cheerleader. It can be hard when all you know is negative self-talk, but negative self-talk will literally get you nowhere.
Understanding that no one’s life is picture perfect is such a humbling realization. It gives you the opportunity to allow yourself to just focus on you without pressure to out do anyone else. Because I’m focusing on myself, I am genuinely happy for those around me that are making it happen for themselves. I love seeing my friends, family, acquaintances, and even people I follow on social media that I don’t even know in real life, be successful. It’s an amazing feeling seeing other people go and get theirs, especially when it’s people close to me. Because I know first hand the personal struggle that goes into making your dream a reality.
I once knew a person that was so insecure that they thought everyone else’s accomplishment magnified their own lack of achievement. When it was time to clap for their friends’ success, they did so with bitterness in their heart. That’s something I never got – people being genuinely salty and offended when someone accomplishes something that they worked hard for. People that hype you can also be disguised as jealous haters. Haters not only hate you for getting / achieving what they want, but they also hate themselves for not making it happen.
We are all at different stages of life. Life isn’t a competition, even though it may feel like that sometimes. Your only competition is yourself. Only you will get in the way of your own success. Be happy for those that are finding genuine happiness in their own path. Clap for others when it is their turn, because your turn is coming up.
Yes, you read that right. Talking about building LEGOs is what led me to this blog post…
Christian has always been a LEGO lover. I joke around that he looks exactly like his mom, and I guess that his love of LEGOs is also something that he inherited from her. He comes from a LEGO loving family. He always got the sick ass sets growing up for birthdays and special occasions, and now that we are living together, he has taken it upon himself to finally cop some new LEGO sets.
I, on the other hand, did not grow up building LEGOs. In fact, I mentioned that my first LEGO set that was actually for me and not hand-me-downs, was a little 10-15 piece set that his mom got me in my Easter basket the first year we started dating. It was a Frozen Olaf set that was simple, but still cool to put together. It was something new to me, since I was more of a Bratz doll lover growing up. Of course, I had the big duplos to build, but I never knew what it was like to have a LEGO set that was supposed to be a specific thing.
LEGO building is a new-ish hobby we have picked up together, especially during the pandemic. I say “new-ish” because he’s been about that LEGO building life. He just revived his love for it by getting new sets, while I am fairly new to the game. Christian bought this medieval set that was over $150. I really couldn’t believe how pricey these sets could be! This specific set, to me atleast, had a lot of pages and pieces. The booklet is the size of a novel, and there’s about 15 pouches. Given that my ass only owned a 10-15 piece Olaf set, I was baffled. And honestly, overwhelmed as fuck.
We decided to divide the pouches up and take turns building. Everytime it was my turn, I felt under pressure to work fast and get all the pieces to fit right. It was like I was having a competition with myself in my head. When he was building his turn of the set, I asked if he felt anxiety or overwhelmed to just finish. I didn’t think that opening this can of worms would lead me down a train of thought that made me question and realize:
Why can’t I enjoy the process?
I asked him if he felt anxious to just get it all over with so he could just be done with the set, given that the book was huge and there were bags filled with little pieces. I explained that when I build my portion of a LEGO set, I feel like I’m constantly trying to turn the page and move onto the next step so I can complete my turn as soon as possible. I described the accomplished feeling of quickly looking at the graphic, getting the right piece, and completing a step. All the pieces fit together, everything in it’s designated spot, I’m getting it right, I’m moving along, I want to see the end result. So much so, that I’m not really taking the time to see my progress.
Go, go, go, next piece, *click*, *turn the page,* next piece, *click*….
It’s oddly satisfying to work fast and get it right. It’s something that you don’t have to think too much about. You just look at the picture, find the right piece, and put that shit on. I told him that I noticed I don’t really admire or even care to notice the progress of the LEGOs right before my eyes. And that’s because I’m so focused on seeing the finished product. It’s like I’m so focused on finishing and seeing the end result that I don’t care about the individual steps I have to take to complete it. All that mattered to me was what I saw at the end.
On top of that, I felt the need to work fast. I get overwhelmed with how many pieces are before me, that my mindset is to power through and get it done. The less pieces I saw before me, the more motivated I felt to keep going. It’s like that feeling when you’re waiting online for something to drop. The time clock is winding down and you’re excited, nervous, and anxious, knowing you have to work fast to get what you want. In the case of LEGO building, I try to work fast, not taking my time to appreciate how each individual piece and direction is all equally important to the final piece.
To my surprise, Christian told me that he didn’t feel that way when it came to LEGO building. He’s perfectly fine with working slow, appreciating how each piece fits with the other, analyzing how he started off with 1-5 LEGOs, and now it’s a whole ass stone building, etc. He saw the art in it, thinking how the designer of the set put it all together. He thought about what he would do differently, what he would add, what features his set would have if he were to design one. He simply didn’t relate with me feeling the need to be fast and work anxiously.
I was shocked because I didn’t even think what I asked was a loaded question until I realized he didn’t feel the same way as me. It made me reflect on why I felt the need to just see the end goal so fast. I realized that my mentality is not just limited to LEGO building, but to how I view life in general. I stayed quiet as Christian meticulously added to his foundation, analyzing the pages of instructions before him.
That was the same mentality I had with school – I just wanted to be done and have my degree already. I dreaded waking up early to go to class, I dreamt of the day where I wouldn’t have to turn in homework. But when I finally completed that goal, I was lost and had no idea what do with myself. When I was little and reading a ton of books from the school library (thank you Mrs. Volpe, those love stories were fire.), I’d get so impatient that I would always skip to the last page of the book. I’d read the last page and ruin it for myself because I just wanted to hurry up and know the ending already. I even find myself having that impatient mentality when it comes to things that I should enjoy / do for leisure. I have found myself in this scenario fairly often.
The “let’s just get this over with,” mentality is motivating yet harmful. It motives me to keep going, knowing that there is a goal to reach and steps to follow. However, I’m completely blindsided to the journey. I’m so focused on the end goal that I don’t appreciate the moments in between. I’m so guilty of having tunnel vision for the end result that I push myself and push myself until I’m at the finish line. And then what? Then I repeat the process with something else, stressing myself out the entire journey. I strive to complete a goal and make it an accomplishment, but never really enjoying how I got from point A to point Z. I have a habit of not appreciating or living fully in the moment. This is something I was fully aware of, but building a LEGO set reminded me of this personality trait of mine.
I guess LEGOs will do that to you sometimes. I went into it trying to build a cool set, and ended up giving myself a mini therapy session. But if I do say so myself, the end product was cool to see. I just wish I didn’t take all the fun out of it by anxiously trying to get it done. This new hobby made me realize that I will miss a lot of art and beauty along the way if I’m too busy trying to rush and get instant gratification.
I’m constantly stuck between “get shit done,” and “it’ll happen when it happens.” I’m the most motivated lazy person that you will ever meet. I struggle with fully being in the moment. My mind is always elsewhere, thinking of what else I need to complete, what is happening the next day, or what is a priority in the next coming months. I put a lot on my plate sometimes, and it can feel like I’m being pulled in a thousand different directions and not 1 thing gets my full undivided attention.
But the truth is, there will always be a new goal, a new idea, something that needs my attention, something that I have to work on – I just need to figure out my balance. I don’t want my goals and plans to consume me. As the cliché goes, I need to stop and smell the roses from time to time. This is another eye opener for me, that I need to be present and not thinking about everything that is to come. I need to celebrate the small victories and be more in the “now.” Forever working on enjoying the ride of life and not letting tunnel vision control me.
“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
“This is story 3 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Cambria’s story, written in her own words:
“When I found out I was pregnant I had so many mixed emotions. I was 25 years old and still figuring out what I wanted to do with my life. I had a decent job and a stable income, but kids were definitely not in my plans at that time. I was about 4-5 weeks along when I first found out I was pregnant. I remember I had gotten this really bad cramping which usually never happens to me. I hadn’t gone to the doctor yet to confirm my pregnancy so I wasn’t really sure what was happening. I ended up fainting from the pain and ended up pressed against the tile on my bathroom floor. Somehow, I managed to get myself undressed and threw myself into the shower while hyperventilating. It took me what felt like 30 minutes or so to get back to normal and gather myself together. After fainting, I already felt like this was a bad omen and I was not ready to have this child.
I didn’t tell my parents about the pregnancy yet, but after that incident I felt the need to come clean to my mom. Me and my mom are very close, but for some reason I just felt so nervous telling her about what happened. After telling her about the whole situation, it comforted me a little bit just knowing that my boyfriend, Mark, and I weren’t the only ones keeping this secret. But I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to keep the pregnancy. I just wanted some reassurance to know that she wouldn’t be disappointed in me or I didn’t feel like I was going to be a burden to my family if I were to go through with it. My mom has always been supportive of anything I chose in life, but I knew this was going to be pushing it a bit. I initially told her I was going to make an appointment to get an abortion and I would schedule it sometime later that week.
I vividly remember calling the Kaiser advice line to schedule my appointment and asked them if I could decide whether or not to go through with the abortion the day of the appointment. They straight up told me that I needed to know before scheduling the appointment so I ended up freaking out and told them I would call them back. I called Mark after and cried, telling him I didn’t know what to do. I gave him the run around about making the appointment because I felt in my heart that I didn’t want to give this pregnancy up. It wasn’t like I was a teenager anymore, I had just graduated college and I felt like I was ready for my next steps in life. After talking to Mark about our options, he saw that I really wanted to keep the pregnancy and after days of going back and forth I finally made my first prenatal appointment. This would be the start of realizing that no matter how much you plan for things, life will always find a way to challenge you.
Having a pandemic pregnancy was one of the loneliest experiences I ever been through. I was estimated to be due on January 12, 2021 so I was pregnant right when the pandemic started. I didn’t get to see my family and friends that often while I was pregnant so I felt like I couldn’t celebrate the happiness with my loved ones. Fortunately, I was still able to work but I would just work and go home and do it all over again. At times it did get a little lonely so I enjoyed going to work for socialization.
Although, I didn’t mind staying home and enjoying my own space especially since COVID was at its peak. I wasn’t allowed to bring my boyfriend during my appointments or to ultrasounds, so it felt like I was doing everything by myself. On top of that, I wasn’t able to go to any lamaze classes, so I was super unprepared for birth. I had to resort to asking my sister in-law, Jayna, for advice and look at pregnancy posts from Instagram and TikTok. But even with all those resources nothing would mentally and physically prepare me for having a baby.
During my research, I knew having a premature baby was a possibility, but I never thought it would happen to me. I would workout and stay active, drink water, and take my prenatal vitamins religiously. I felt like I was doing everything right and I thought I was having a somewhat healthy pregnancy so far. It wasn’t until I was at work and I started getting cramps throughout my 10 hour shift. I had a lot of back pain throughout my pregnancy so I didn’t think much of it. I thought about just going home early from work but me being the stubborn person I am, I ended up staying the whole time.
On my drive home after getting off, I remember wincing in pain and taking deep breaths while trying to stay composed because the pain was getting unbearable. I called the advice nurse and they told me if it gets worse I should call back and they might have to admit me into the emergency to see what was going on. I had the hardest time falling asleep that night. I was constantly tossing and turning until around 2 in the morning. I couldn’t take the pain anymore and Mark made me call the labor and delivery nurse to see what I should do next. They told me it sounds like I could be having contractions and to go there right away.
Me and Mark went to the ER unprepared, coming only with our keys, wallet, and water bottles in hand. The nurse who checked us in laughed as we came empty handed while the family ahead of us brought overnight bags and a car seat. She said, “Wow you guys packed light.” We laughed nervously realizing that it did not occur to us at all that I could have a baby within the next couple of days since I wasn’t due for another 2 months. As the doctor came in to check me she said I was 1 cm dilated and that I was lucky I came in when I did or I would have been further dilated. I found out I was in preterm labor. They gave me medication to slow down the contractions and a steroid injection so my baby’s lungs could mature faster in the womb before being born and if they were effective I could potentially go home.
A Doctor came in and talked to me about the possibility of having a premature baby and how a baby born at 32 weeks would definitely need to stay in the NICU at least until they reach full gestation which is around 40 weeks. I just remember bawling my eyes out because I was so sad to have to leave my baby in the hospital and I wouldn’t be able to take him home. Mark reassured me he would be in good hands but I was so crushed at the thought of not being with my baby for such a long time.
After my first dose of medications the contractions decreased and I could finally sleep comfortably for at least a couple of hours. The next morning I felt a lot better, my contractions slowed down and the doctor said I could be monitored and transferred to the neonatal floor and eventually be discharged to go home. I was so happy because it meant that my baby’s birth would be delayed by at least a couple days if not hours. A couple days didn’t seem like much but when your baby is born premature every second spent in the womb is crucial, as told to me by the Doctor. Hours passed and I was exhausted by being checked on by the nurses and doctors every 2 hours, but everytime they came in I was feeling much better in hopes that I could finally go home.
It wasn’t until I started getting contractions again and I was further dilated at 3-4cm. That’s when everything started to speed back up again. After they saw how dilated I was, the nurse told me I needed to be transferred back to the labor and delivery floor. I remember feeling contractions more often than before. I remember her talking to me and saying, “It looks like you’re going to have this baby today,” and I was so scared for what was to happen next. I was in so much pain that I was like “Okay, whatever, how can I make him come out faster?” But the thing that stuck with me was when the Doctor came in to talk to me prior to giving birth and told me,”It’s not your fault.” I didn’t get that until later. There’s a lot of guilt that comes when having a premature baby. I felt like my body failed me. I felt like I wish I could have done something different, I wasn’t sure what that was but it broke me knowing that I couldn’t keep my baby inside me long enough for him to be healthy.
I was so mentally and physically exhausted that all I really wanted was to fall asleep but the contractions were getting closer and closer to each other that I knew for a fact this baby was coming soon. I kept asking for pain medications but they had given them to me so often that they were starting to wear off quicker and quicker to the point where the nurses told me there was nothing else they could give besides doing an epidural. I was too scared to do an epidural because of all the horror stories I’ve heard before of people getting paralyzed after giving birth because of it, so I refused it. The nurses respected my wishes and tried to make me as comfortable as possible. At some point I was having such bad contractions that I couldn’t even call the nurse for help because the pain was that bad.
Things started to speed up a bit and the Doctor informed me that they were going to prep the delivery room for me. I constantly nodded my head in response to everything because I couldn’t really think straight but I wanted them to know I was aware of what was going on. I remember being wheeled in the delivery room and there were so many nurses surrounding me and it looked like there was a lot going on. Once I reached about 6-7cm the doctor decided that I could either wait for my water to break or they could break it themselves to speed up the process. I told them to pop it so I could get it over with because I couldn’t take the pain anymore. Once my water was broken, I pushed for a couple of minutes but nothing was happening.
The doctor said that he didn’t like what the baby’s heartbeat was looking like and if I didn’t push him out soon they would have to intervene. To be completely honest, I was so out of it that I don’t even remember what was happening. All I knew was that if I didn’t push this baby out they would have to intervene and in the moment I absolutely did not want to get a C-section, so I started to push as hard as I could. The other doctor then coached me while in labor to push my baby out by holding my breath for 10 seconds while I was having a contraction. I did just that and then about 15 mins or so later my baby was finally born.
Later I learned that that was the most incorrect way to push a baby out. You’re not supposed to hold your breath, you’re supposed to breathe through it and let it come out naturally but they were so pressed on getting him out that I didn’t really have a choice. I pushed so hard that my eyes were bloodshot and I got freckles on my face from breaking so many blood vessels. The bloodshot in my eyes didn’t go away for weeks. I looked so scary.
All I could really remember was saying “HI BABY” a hundred times and trying to rub all of the white stuff over his body because I heard that it was good for their skin. Then he was whisked away and went off to get weighed and measured then went straight to the NICU. After giving birth and getting a second for me and my baby to get settled the nurses mentioned to me that we could go visit him but this would be the only time we could see him together because of COVID. After that only one parent was able to visit per day.
At the moment I actually liked the fact that there were COVID restrictions and not that many people could come in because I felt like this was such an intimate moment. I wouldn’t want so many people in my delivery room while I was giving birth so I wasn’t really upset. It was after my birth experience that I wished my mom was there with me. She would know how to calm me down and check on me while I was having contractions and overall she would just know what to do. Mark barely knew what to do when it came down to it because we just were not mentally prepared for this early birth and on top of that he was sick so he wasn’t even in the right headspace himself.
We walked down to the NICU and saw him in his incubator with all the wires and mini cpap over him and his little IV line attached to his arm. We weren’t able to carry him because his oxygen levels were low at the time so we stuck our hands inside to hold him. When I saw Jojo in the incubator for the first time it truly felt unreal. I was fine seeing him attached to all the machines because I knew that those were helping him thrive outside the womb but I was so sad that I couldn’t hold him that first time and actually get to see what he looked like. Mark took pictures shortly after he was born during his weight check so I would just stare at those for hours so I could just imagine what he looked like. I just couldn’t believe how small he really was. He was so tiny at 3 lbs.
It was so unbelievable what just happened. I went back down a couple hours later while Mark rested during his touch times where the nurses check his vitals and I finally got to hold him in my arms since giving birth. I would soon find out that that would be one of the last times I would get to see him in person. They laid him on my chest and I couldn’t believe he was mine.
After coming back in the room, I later found out that Mark was coming down with a headache and wasn’t feeling well. He let the nurses know and they suggested that he leave and get tested for COVID just in case. After he left I was alone in my room until the next morning. I couldn’t have visitors due to COVID, so once again I was alone. I couldn’t even go to see my baby because I was at risk of having COVID, so I just stayed in my room until I was able to be discharged the next day. About a day after arriving home, I noticed I was starting to have a cough. At this point Mark had come back positive for COVID so I knew for sure I had it too.
I let the doctors know at the NICU our situation and they said it’s best for us not to come in until we’ve had our 2 weeks of quarantine. I was crushed. I was so angry at Mark for giving me COVID, but I knew there was nothing I could do at that point. The NICU nurses allowed me to FaceTime Jojo everyday for two weeks until I could actually see him in person. It felt surreal to me that I just had a baby because I was finally home, but it was just me there. On top of that, Mark couldn’t be with me either because we were both in quarantine. It seemed like the loneliness never stopped. I was also worried that my baby wouldn’t know who I was because the first days after birth were so crucial for bonding that I was feeling so shitty at the fact that I couldn’t be there. Nonetheless, I continued to keep myself fed and hydrated so that when the time came, I would be healthy enough to see my son.
Pumping in general was never a challenge for me. I always heard of people having a hard time pumping and producing milk but that was never the case for me. My only concern was that because I had COVID, I didn’t know if it was still safe for me to give my milk to my baby. The Doctor’s told me it was actually beneficial and I should be giving it to him not only for the health benefits it has but so it could potentially provide antibodies from the COVID virus. I didn’t think much of that until I noticed that my milk was turning green. At first I thought that my milk was getting spoiled but I wasn’t sure why it would be spoiled if I was handling it properly. Then I saw a post on Instagram talking about how breast milk turns colors when moms get sick and provides antibodies for your baby. I was in such awe about how amazing mothers’ bodies are and how our bodies were made to sustain a baby’s life.
At last my two week quarantine was up and I would finally be able to hold my baby again for the first time in 2 weeks. I was so happy to see him after only seeing him through a screen. He was so plump and had so much more hair than I remembered. He was growing so fast and I remember him always smiling when we FaceTimed, but I cried the first time I got to see it in person. I knew there were so many angels surrounding him in the NICU that would keep him safe and looked after him while I couldn’t be there with him. I hated leaving him so I would stay there without eating just so I could be with him all day. Leaving Jojo was the hardest, but I knew the day would come when I could finally bring him home.
Throughout those two weeks I got to see him, he was doing so well. The nurses said Jojo was their favorite because he was such a good and well mannered baby. I’m sure they said that to all the moms, but it made me so happy to know that he was doing so well without me there. One of the qualifications for them to be a NICU graduate was that they had to maintain their weight and hit at least 5 lbs. Everyday he grew so strong, he ate so well, and eventually he didn’t have to eat through his NG tube. Everyday was a celebration and every milestone hit from then on out was exciting. When Jojo was hitting all his milestones I felt like we were always just one step closer to him coming home. I wanted him to come home before Christmas so he wouldn’t have to celebrate another holiday in the NICU. I was so excited when I saw that he was gaining weight everyday and he finally got his NG tube out. All these little things could be checked off the box and he would eventually be a NICU graduate.
The day Mark and I finally got to bring him home, we were so nervous but ready to start this new chapter of our lives. Once our baby was in the stroller and we were on our way to our car we looked at each other and said, “Now what?”
It wasn’t until we walked out the hospital with him that day that he got discharged that it finally hit me. I felt like I was on my own now and there were no nurses to help me. I was really on my own and all the knowledge I got from the NICU nurses I would actually have to apply and eventually teach Mark how to do the same. I developed PTSD from hearing the machines go off and I was more paranoid than ever knowing that now as he was coming home, there was no way I could tell that he was breathing on his own other than physically looking at him and seeing his chest move up and down. Now that we’re past that and he’s sturdy and is doing things an almost 1 year old should do, it hits me every once in a while that he’s a whole human being and I have to take care of him everyday for the rest of my life.” -Cambria
“This is story 1 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 Savannah’s story, written in her own words:
“Finding out I was pregnant with my first child was a complete shock initially. I had just become my mom’s caretaker full-time after she was involved in a horrific car crash. She was hit head on at the top of Mansell & Visitation. She had just made the left turn going towards Persia Ave. when within seconds, an SUV comes barreling towards her. With nowhere to go, she braced for impact. The driver of the vehicle that hit her passed away instantly. She was able to get herself out of the car and to call 911.
I arrived on the scene and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I thought she was gone. Luckily, she was alive but with internal injuries. I went with her in the ambulance and she spent a couple days in the ICU after having emergency surgery. Then she stayed 2 weeks in the hospital. When she came home I became her caretaker/nurse, and that is when I found out I was pregnant with my first son, Santiago.
My cousin, who was already pregnant, came to visit one day, and as we were talking I looked in the mirror and made a comment about feeling bloated. She came out of left field by saying “It’s cause you’re pregnant.” I laughed and said, “What! No way!” I went home that night, stopped by Safeway, and grabbed the digital test. When I got home I took the test and within seconds YES+ popped up on the screen. I was nervous, anxious & confused… wasn’t I on the pill? More on that another time ha. I immediately thought, “I am having this baby. I am not getting an abortion.” I unfortunately had been through that once before at 19 and it was an awful feeling and horrible situation I found myself in.
After my one and only abortion, I told myself I would never have another. And here I was staring at a positive pregnancy test. I suppressed any negative feelings and started accepting that this was my new reality. On top of taking care of my mother I was now going to become a mother for the first time! My boyfriend of 9 years(now), 6 years at the time, was just as shocked but extremely happy. I knew this was meant to be.
Telling my family was easy just due to the fact of what my cousin said right in front of my mom. It made it less stressful. The person who affected me the most was my stepdad, I thought he would be a bit judgmental. He was anything but, I told him in front of my best friend and mom and he gave me a big hug as I cried and he said, “This is great! A baby is a beautiful thing.” And he’s been the best grandfather to Santiago since.
During my pregnancy with Santiago I was under an immense amount of stress and pressure. I had to take my sister, who was 12 at the time, to and from school, volleyball practice, and anything in between. I drove my mom to appointments, helped with in-home physical therapy, and changed and dressed her open wound. It was a lot, and I believe that stress is partly a reason as to why I had Santiago 6 weeks early.
It was August 24th and my cousin’s bachelor party. My boyfriend was out with them and I was with my cousin, the one who was also pregnant with me but just had her baby a month prior. I was at her house with my sister and mom just hanging out. It had started to get late so we headed home. When I got home I got ready for bed, laid down and turned on my side when I heard a POP! And a gush of water came out. I thought I peed on myself. I called my mom who I was just with and told her. She immediately told me that my water had broken and to go to the hospital. I then called my boyfriend to come home. Now he was drinking so he had to Uber and I had to wait. When he got home he couldn’t believe it and thought I was making it up so he could come home faster. Lol men!
I end up having to drive to my own labor. We got there, and pre-Covid times everyone met me there. My cousin, mom, sister, stepdad – everyone who was at the party almost! They first assessed me and sure enough my water had ruptured almost completely. I was just dumbfounded and so so scared. I laid in the triage room staring at the ceiling, so nervous for how the next hours would go. I didn’t know what contractions felt like, or pushing a baby out. I hadn’t even watched any birth videos, it was all just BAM! Here we are.
By this time, luckily my mom’s health had gotten almost 100% better. Her stomach wound had healed. She was still in a walking boot but she was able to drive and take care of herself more and more. That had made me a bit concerned because now I would need to have all my attention on a NICU baby. But he luckily came at the “right/wrong” time.
I was 34 weeks and 1 day and this was my first step into motherhood – delivering a premature baby. I was a wreck! I was so confused, how could this happen? What did I do wrong? They wheeled me into the delivery room and prepped me for labor. Here it was my journey into motherhood and I was truthfully… scared. I had gotten there at 3am and around 6am they came in and “induced” my labor by giving me Pitocin in my IV. As the contractions started getting more and more intense, they reduced the Pitocin as my body was doing most of the work now.
Around 1:30pm I believed it was time, but my nurse came in and asked if I wanted an epidural. My immediate answer was NO but she pushed and pushed. Me being immature and not educated, I said ok. As soon as they started it, something was wrong, I passed out and the pain was excruciating – worse than contractions! I had to yell to stop and cuss them out a bit because they just weren’t listening. I finally got them to stop and as soon as I laid down out came Santiago with 2 pushes!
Looking back on that, it was extremely scary, The fact that Santiago was in the birth canal descending down as I was getting a needle pushed in my back. I should’ve been pushing already not getting an epidural. I am so glad it did not work because I can do it without the drugs. I have now done it twice and with each new baby I will always do it epidural free.
With Santiago on my chest and the doctors down there working on me, I truly felt like it was a high I had never felt before. I did it! I just had my first baby. I felt that bliss for maybe 30 mins when they had to whisk him away to the NICU. My boyfriend and Mom went and stayed by him while I finished up. By the time I was able to finally hold him again it was midnight and Santiago was born at 1:55pm. To say that was a bit traumatizing is to say the least. A first time mother away from her baby skin to skin for almost 10 hours. As for why he was away from me for so long, is just the fact that he needed a little bit of help with his breathing. We had about 30 mins skin to skin after birth and they noticed he was breathing rapidly, so they had to assess him and put him on CPAP.
CPAP is high flow air to help the surfactant that was immature. Surfactant is what we naturally make to inflate our lungs. As I was getting cleaned up and moved to my postpartum room, I got to go back and see him multiple times but I did not get to hold him until around midnight. He was so tiny and I had never been in a NICU setting before and didn’t know the protocol. I was scared to ask because it is extremely intimidating but when I finally did speak up they said, “Of course you can hold your baby.” And with that they opened the incubator and grabbed all the wires and gently placed him on my chest. It was a surreal feeling I can feel to this day.
Our NICU stay was not bad at all. I sort of miss that time with him. It was just us: me, Fernando, and Santiago. We had a routine. I slept bedside while Fernando slept in the dad’s room along side other NICU dads. We had entered a world I knew nothing about. It was beautiful yet so so sad at the same time. It had me feeling incredible mom guilt because I kept thinking what did I do wrong – why did my water break completely? I over analyzed the situation and still do. But I came to the conclusion that it was not my fault and something was definitely wrong. I either had live cholestasis – which is when your liver releases a bile and your body goes into saving the baby and will break my water, or I was 2 weeks later than I thought and had a slight early birth. As for the liver cholestasis, my hands, feet, face, and my whole body was swollen. I had carpal tunnel in both arms from my wrist to elbow. It was so painful, and all the symptoms I had pointed to that. But I will never know.
While in the NICU, I was so determined to breastfeed. The night he was born the nurse set me up with the pump and just expected nothing to come out. The goal was to at least start to stimulate my breasts. As soon as I started I saw gold, the liquid gold! The nurse was shocked due to the fact he came early. She thought I wouldn’t get anything yet, but I found out soon enough that I have major over production. Santiago was being fed my breast milk through an NG tube, and the first time we got him to latch the next day was amazing. I cried and cried from happiness and relief.
The first few days, Santi would fall asleep fast and I would be discouraged because in order to go home, he had to feed properly. But I had a wonderful lactation nurse and she helped tremendously and here we are still semi-breastfeeding! He’s “tandem” feeding along with his brother now, 3 years later! The NICU stay was not too bad, there were babies there with worse conditions than mine but the fear is just the same.
Santiago was on CPAP for 72 hours and after that, we just needed him to gain some weight. Santi had a bit of jaundice, and for a second I was worried because if they get higher than a 14 on the jaundice level it can be very scary. Mental issues can happen as for a few other scary things. But for a few days he was in the blue light. Every day a wire would come off and then he was in a big boy crib! We passed the car seat test and CPR test. And on September 6, 2018 at 11:30am we got to go home!
Life with just Santiago was so great. I mean truly having a baby is such a trying but wonderful journey. It has tested me in ways I never thought possible – from friendships to familial relationships – it has had the highest highs and lowest lows. Becoming a stay at home mom at 23 was challenging at times. I felt “FOMO” and was sad that I couldn’t jump when I wanted to. But then I would feel mom guilt when I could. I’m still trying to figure out how to manage life outside of my kids and sometimes I do good and other times I let people down.
Before I had kids and I was just a preschool teacher watching other people’s kids for a few hours a day. I thought “I can’t wait until I have my own. It’s going to be so much fun!” But— I didn’t have to go home with those toddlers and peek behind the curtain lol. Motherhood is a beautiful and ugly mess that some women have the natural instinct for. I knew I wanted a second baby close in age with my first and I think I have the perfect gap. 35 months almost exactly.
I wanted to start trying for my 2nd right before Santiago’s 2nd birthday. As I got off BC I thought it would be a breeze- turns out it was anything but. I thought I would get pregnant within that first month of trying but it took me about 3. I got all the ovulation kits and tested my ovulation and just felt stress from that because it wasn’t happening. As soon as I stopped and allowed myself to relax, I got pregnant. Somewhere in the first week of October – Sebastian was due July 10th a day after my birthday. The irony is, I conceived my son the same time my mother conceived me haha.
I was extremely happy to be pregnant and I hoped for a girl, but I did the blood test at 8 weeks and around 12/13 got the email, and my heart sank. I just knew it would read MALE. Sure enough, there it was. I had a bit of gender disappointment in the beginning as many women have talked about. It’s only because I wanted to be done for a bit. All in all, I do want 4 kids, but I wanted to experience it differently, not all at once. So having a girl right now would’ve allowed me to enjoy both genders, and then later on try for our next two. I wanted Santi to have a sibling close in age and now that I am 3 months in, I’m glad he has a brother. Their little sister will be here one day, and they both can dote on her.
My pregnancy with Sebastian was pretty smooth sailing. Aside from taking progesterone shots each week to ensure I wouldn’t go into preterm labor, since they had no real reason as to why I did with my first, everything was a breeze. The progesterone shots were tough in the beginning. I was injecting them into my upper arm. I don’t have much fat there, so it was mostly muscle I was injecting into. With muscle shots they get really swollen and itchy and it’s so uncomfortable. But as my body got used to them, by the time it was my last one, the itchiness and swelling calmed down. I felt so much more secure with my body. I gained less weight, tried to enjoy every kick, every roll, and every appointment. With Covid, it was hard since Fernando couldn’t come in with me. It felt strange going to the appointments alone, I wanted him to enjoy this just as much as I did, especially because I was there so much as a precaution of my first pregnancy resulting in a pre-term birth.
Although this pregnancy went by swiftly it was not without scares. At my 32 week ultrasound, I found out I had what is called Single Umbilical Artery – meaning the artery from placenta to baby was only one when it’s supposed to be two. That is a rare but also “common” occurrence and normally totally ok. They threw words around like smaller weight, amniocentesis, and more. I said no to the amniocentesis because that can do more harm than good, and from ultrasounds, the baby looked fine. Sure enough, Sebastian was born healthy and chunky!
Preparing Santiago for his baby brother was fun, he really understood that there was a baby growing in mommy’s belly. He realized my stomach was stretching and stretching – he kept commenting on how big it was! It was such a special moment when he would feel his baby brother kick and Santi would just giggle with glee! That part of motherhood is priceless!
The day that Sebastian decided to make his arrival was the day after 4th of July. We had a crazy night of fireworks and BBQ! I woke up with some small cramping but nothing that made me worry. But by midday I had seen some pink blood in my underwear, and I knew it was time. I cried because it was never going to be just us 3 anymore, there was another one coming. How could I love him as much as I love Santiago? I mean I even thought that with my dog Honey haha when it was just us 2 I thought how could I love another thing as much as I do this dog lol. But you can, our hearts are huge and there is so much room to love especially our children!
My water broke around 3:30pm as I was packing my hospital bag and it didn’t burst – the whole sac came out into my pants lol! As soon as that happened though, the contractions were ROUGH, so intense to where I thought “Oh no! I’m not going to make it!” We dropped Santiago off at my mom’s house and rushed to UCSF Mission Bay. I could barely even walk when I got there. When they checked me, I was 6 CM dilated!! That’s wild! I barely felt anything until my water had broken.
As they wheeled me in, the nurses asked me repeatedly if I wanted an epidural. I insisted I did not want one and told them the reason as to why. With every new attendee coming in they would tell each other, “No epidural,” and the new nurse would ask, “Why?” It was so strange to me that they couldn’t take no for an answer, and while contracting I had to answer it over and over until I got upset and sternly told them NO. It makes me feel for women that are either too scared or just don’t know how to advocate for themselves when doctors/nurses push things onto us.
Within 20 minutes, I had progressed to a 10! I had to start pushing, and as they were still setting up, I started! I pushed, and within 15 mins Sebastian Antonio was born! Before the last push they told me, “Open your eyes! Grab your baby!” I opened my eyes, put my hands down and pulled out my baby boy and laid him on my chest. Here I was – from a semi traumatic first birth to my second being a beautiful unassisted birth. I thought I had felt that wonderful high the first time, man… I was speechless. Just being able to have barely any medical interventions was truly a blessing. They didn’t even take him from me until I asked them to weigh him. I didn’t have that with Santiago so it was new to me.
After Sebastian was born it was my birthday, and I thought I was fine but I experienced a little bit of postpartum depression. I cried and cried for the first week and a half of his life just because my body felt anxious. I didn’t feel like myself, I was sad even though I just had this amazing birth. I felt unworthy and I had no reason other than immense pressure I put on myself, and crazy hormones running through my body. Through that week and a half, or truthfully whenever I have my moments, Santiago goes with my mom or Nana, his great grandmother. He has a great time with them away from my high energy and sadness. I am so grateful for that but I also feel guilty because I don’t want to be broken for them. I want to be a strong happy mother and be able to push those emotions away and be 100% for them. Mom guilt is such a weird feeling and it’s truly not explainable in a few words.
With my journey now finally at present time, I have enjoyed every second. I am now immersed in newborn coos, tandem breastfeeding, toddler screams lol, and potty training. Being a mom of two isn’t so bad as I may have thought. Santi is at an age where he can help me and wants to help me. He is able to hang out and play by himself while I change the baby’s diaper. It’s a great age gap. Watching Santiago become a big brother has been wonderful. They will be the best of friends and me and their dad are truly blessed with our family right now. I know it’s not yet complete, but it is the best of the best right now.
I do enjoy being a mother, but it’s the hardest role I’ve ever had to take on. I’ve had many roles in my life from eldest sister, student, therapist, to friend, or family, and much much more. But being a mother has tested me in ways I never knew I could. My patience is thin and my self care has taken a back seat. I used to get my nails and eyebrows done almost every few weeks. Now, especially because of Covid, I haven’t gotten to do any of that on a regular basis. I try to keep my skincare routine every night and most nights I’m successful at it. I try to have a bath to myself once in a while, but self care is different now. Now, self care to me is cleaning up and lighting my favorite candle and sitting down on the couch admiring my home. Self care to me is journaling and writing how I feel from day to day. It’s being able to walk onto my deck and smell the fresh crisp early morning air and smile before I start my day. I’m truly lucky if I get all of those in one day, but I know it won’t be that all the time.
I became a mother on August of 2018 and I’ll never stop being one. This is my passion and I truly enjoy it, I don’t see my life any other way and I do not want it any other way.As I navigate through this time, I will always remember that I am never alone, there are women around me walking the same walk. It keeps me grounded and less stressed knowing I’m not the only one! As young mothers, we have the microscope on us, and people are waiting to zoom into our flaws – even our most close loved ones. Give yourself a big hug mama! We got this, our babies will ALWAYS be our babies at the end of day <3!” -Savannah
“This is story 1 of 9 of my Tatay’s Series. This is my way of honoring Tatay’s life and legacy. It wouldn’t be right if I DIDN’T give him his own series and avoided writing about his passing all together. But I’m also aware that this is something I need to do for myself – to put my grief, anger, and emotions all out on the table, instead of distracting myself with work and other things to avoid the reality that he’s gone.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
*I had the honor of writing my Tatay’s eulogy. This is an edited version of the original*
“Our Tatay, Jacinto P. Cabillo, was born on July 3, 1923 in Agoncillo, Batangas, Philippines. He was the third child out of six siblings. As a young man, Tatay helped his family raise chickens, pigs, and cows.
In 1950, he married Concepcion “Conching” Tagle, and together they had 8 children: Lilia, Peping, Luz, Delfin, Cris, Roland, Salvie, and Merlinda. After 15 years of marriage, Nanay Conching, who was 36, passed away during childbirth along with their 8th child, Merlinda. Tatay was widowed at the young age of 41, and was left with 7 children to raise on his own. From eldest to youngest, his children’s ages ranged from 14 to 2 years old. His in-laws, Tarcela and Ricardo Tagle Sr., stepped in and proposed the idea to adopt all 7 children to bring them to America for a better life.
At first, Tatay was hesitant. But he knew that he couldn’t provide for all 7 children all on his own, so he agreed with one condition. Tatay believed that Roland and Salvie were too young to join their siblings in the States. He feared that they wouldn’t remember him because they were 5 and 2 years old. He wanted the two youngest children to keep him company because he was worried about his mental health – dealing with the loss of a wife and now his children. So the 2 youngest children stayed back with Tatay in Batangas, where they lived until 1974.
In 1967, his 5 eldest children left to immigrate to America with the help of their Tatay Ricardo and Nanay Tarcela. It was a bittersweet decision for Tatay, but he knew sending his 5 eldest children to plant roots in the States would be the best decision for the generations to come. The saying is true, it really took a village to help raise the Cabillo children. Tatay and the 7 siblings are forever grateful for the sacrifices and help they received from their grandparents, aunts, and uncles after the passing of Nanay Conching.
After 7 long years, Tatay finally reunited with all of his children in 1974 when he arrived in San Francisco. Everyone in the family had to make a lot of sacrifices and do their fair share to make a living in America. To provide for his family, Tatay worked custodian jobs at Riordan High School and Treasure Island. He was also a flower picker in the city of Colma, which was very on brand with his love of nature.
In his long life, Tatay enjoyed exploring the Bay Area, spending time with family, and of course, going back and forth to the Philippines. Even though he was in the States, his heart always remained in Batangas. And on July 18, 2000, Tatay married Adeleida “Tita” Cortiguerra in Pasig, Philippines. From that day forward, Tita never left Tatay’s side. She cared for him and was at his bedside as he took his last breath.
Tatay lived 98 long and beautiful years. He had the support and love of his children, wife, and family every step of the way. The Cabillo’s are truly blessed to have had Tatay for as long as we did. He had 16 grandchildren, and was fortunate enough to be around while his grandchildren had children of their own. Tatay’s legacy will forever be passed down to the 8 great grandchildren that had the privilege to meet him, and the future generations to come.
Tatay will always be remembered for his signature Rayban aviators, hats, and impeccable swagger. You’d most likely find him sitting on the sidelines of family events observing and finding little things to do to play with his great grandchildren. Tatay always found a way to connect with each great grandchild, despite the language barrier. He was a man of few words, but when he did speak, he did so with intent. He knew exactly what he wanted.
Before the pandemic, Tatay longed to go back to the Philippines and live his remaining days in the country he grew up in and forever loved. Unfortunately, due to a volcano eruption, Tatay’s flight to the Philippines was canceled, and shortly after, the pandemic hit and borders to fly overseas were shut down. Tatay never got to return back to the Philippines, but our family is grateful that we were able to spend the remainder of his life with him here in the Bay Area, despite the pandemic.
Tatay passed away on Thursday, July 15, 2021 at 6:10 PM peacefully in his bed, accompanied by Tita and family. When our family was sending news to Tatay’s extended family in the Philippines about his passing, they had a surprising revelation to share that brought peace to our hearts. As his soul left his body in South San Francisco around 6:10 PM, a blue colored bird entered his house in the Philippines around the same time. Family members who are residing in the house couldn’t get the little blue bird to leave, and luckily, they recorded it. We were all at a loss for words. He finally made it back home.
Tatay, our hearts are heavy to know that you are no longer here with us physically, but we are overjoyed to know that your soul is back in the Philippines. We will miss you, our bi-monthly Sunday dinners, watching animals on TV, and seeing your face light up when you received gifts. Tatay’s wish for his children, grandchildren, and future generations to come was this: To have unity in the family and stick together. We love you, Tatay. We promise to live out your wish.”
Wow. I literally can’t believe that I am writing this. This is blog post #101! And to be completely honest, I’m writing this blog post as I take a break writing blog post #100. I’m having hardcore writer’s block, especially with so much pressure of being the 100th post and all… I feel like Spongebob when all he has is the word “the” on the page. I need to just step back and work on something else for a minute before I drive myself mad. Like I said, I can’t believe I’m writing this -blog post number 101 – partly because I can’t believe I have made it past 100 posts, but also because #101 was never meant to exist.
First and foremost, THANK YOU to all of my readers who have been following my writing up until this point. From everyone that’s been tuning in every Monday since day one, and all the readers I have picked up along the way, THANK YOU. It means so much to me that people really take the time out of their day to read a story of mine. That might sound dramatic as hell, but it’s true, I’m super grateful for all of the support I have gotten since deciding to write consistently. Whether that be liking my posts, sharing my content, commenting, even sliding in my DM’s to tell me something privately – I appreciate it all. I am truly humbled; to have started at a consistent “0 views” stat, to be where I am today.
101 blog posts also marks the 2nd anniversary-ish (a little over) of me re-starting this blog. In 2019, I found myself in the thick of my post-grad blues. For the longest, my goal was to revive my LoveYourzStory blog ever since I made it in 2016. I dreamt of the day that I would have the time and energy to maintain a blog and post consistently. However, I always found an excuse to delay it – it was either school, not enough time, or simply because I was lazy as shit and didn’t want to put in the time. All reasonings were valid. I had strong motivation to re-start my blog in January 2019 as a New Year’s resolution, but when the time came, I didn’t have the confidence to do it. I pussied out real quick. But it was always in the back of my mind.
From January 2019 to when I dropped my first post in July 2019, I worked myself up about getting the ball rolling. I was too hesitant, and honestly, a little embarrassed. I knew for the first couple of posts, months, maybe even years? – nobody would really care about what I was doing. I cringed at the idea of pouring my heart out and sharing my personal stories on the internet just to get no views and no feedback. But I knew I had to start somewhere. What really made me take the leap of faith was honestly being so deep in my post-grad depression and feeling so completely lost. I felt like a straight loser honestly. Here I was, proclaiming myself as a writer, shit, I even got the degree to prove it. But on paper I had no experience outside of my college courses.
L O S E R.
P A T H E T I C.
W O R T H L E S S.
D E P R E S S E D.
C O N F U S E D.
D E S P E R A T E.
That’s how I constantly felt from January 2019 until I dropped that first blog post in July 2019. I figured I had nothing to lose, I was already at my lowest. I couldn’t have been more right. I was tired of saying and wishing that I could do all these things, but lacking motivation and confidence to actually fuckin do it. I started giving myself tough love. How did I expect to get anywhere with writing if I literally did nothing? How did I expect to reach my dream of being a published writer if I was too afraid to put myself out there? I was tired of making excuses for myself. I was tired of feeling unaccomplished. I was tired of waiting for something to happen.
I decided “fuck it,” and just rolled with it. I knew I had to start somewhere. And I knew it would take a long while until people would take notice of my work and actually tune in. But the longer I waited, the longer it would take for me to see results. This is something I really had to do for me, I had to face my reality – how bad did I want this? I no longer had school as an excuse for not having time. Yes, I had a full-time job, but for me, I knew my writing career wouldn’t stop at SFSU. I had to just start.
My predictions were right – in the beginning I was met with little views and almost no feedback. But I continued to push out blog post after blog post every Monday anyways. I knew it would be a slow start, but mama didn’t raise no bitch. I didn’t know where I wanted to take this blog, but I knew that I couldn’t get discouraged too early on. But I definitively had my moments. There were times where I felt like I was putting in a lot of effort, time, and energy that I’m not getting paid for, for nothing. Not entirely for “nothing,” but that I was writing and nobody was even reading. I used to doubt if what I was writing was even worth reading. I still have those moments sometimes, where I feel like what I’m doing is pointless because nobody will read or even care. I start to doubt myself and what I’m doing when I let my insecurities get the best of me. But I never thought about stopping the blog cold turkey.
I’ve had so many hiccups and road blocks throughout this process, and most of these inconveniences are because of my damn self. I’ve had my moments where I posted blog posts past midnight, not even technically “Monday” anymore. I fell into the bad habit of starting blog posts the night before – sometimes even the day of. I put myself under so much pressure and stress to get the blog post out, promising myself that the next week’s blog post would be done in advanced to prevent a situation like that. But, being the annoying ass that I am, I procrastinate and put myself in the same exact position I was in a week prior. It’s a bad habit that I’ve been trying to nip in the bud for the last TWO YEARS!
It wasn’t until recently – literally the last 6 months – that I started to really try to throw myself a bone and have the post done at least by the end of Sunday so I don’t stress out about it the day of anymore. It wasn’t until the LoveYourzStory X My Small Business series that I started to think ahead. Of course, I dreamed of the day where I would have completed post after completed post just cued up ready to be released every Monday. I always wanted to have my posts mapped out months in advanced as I learned in my social media class, but that’s just not that easy when I’m trying to balance everything under the sun. Ever since the small business project, I’ve gotten a lot better about finishing posts before Monday comes around.
Not only did the LoveYourzStory X Small Business series push me in the right direction to be finished with my posts in a timely manner and map out what posts would come next in terms of groups of 10, it also built my confidence to reach out to others and connect with my followers and viewers. I always wanted to interact with my followers and do those type of posts where you ask your followers to tag people who would be interested, but I always feared that nobody would participate. On a whim, I decided just to roll with it. If nobody participated, then so be it. But if people were interested, it could be a dope series to release. To my surprise, I got a lot of feedback, tags, and leads. I couldn’t believe it. It gave me confidence to think of other series that I could do that would feature different people and different topics. I love how I can tell my story, but also be that platform for other people to share their stories as well.
But to be completely honest, around the end of 2020, I really had plans to shutdown this blog after blog post #100. For the record, it wasn’t because I was over it, or because I didn’t want to continue, but because I have more passion projects that I want to do in terms of writing. Taking on another passion project task to my already heavy work load just made me feel like I would definitely be spreading myself thin. I was hard set on stopping this blog cold turkey at 100 posts. I thought it would be a great dramatic ending to say goodbye after 100 consistent posts. I have other writing projects that I intended to start in 2021, but given my procrastinating history, of course that has been delayed. I put so much time, energy, and thought into all my blog posts, that sometimes I feel like it takes away from my other goals that I have in writing. That was my reasoning. It was time to say goodbye, not because I wanted to, but because I just didn’t have the time to juggle everything.
When I consulted those around me, some agreed that 100 would be a great last hoorah, while others suggested I dial back on how consistent I post, just so I still post consistently but on a less regular basis. At the time, I still decided to stop at 100. Nobody could say anything to change my mind. It was what I was going to do. Yeah, it would be a bittersweet moment since I would go on to pursue another goal, but it’s what needed to be done to free up my time to focus on what I need to focus on next. My decision was made around the time I was releasing the Small Business Series (Blog posts in the 70’s).
However, when the Small Business Series ended, and it was nearing closer and closer to 100, I started getting cold feet. The countdown was starting. It made me a little sad. But again, I truly believed it was something I had to do to continue one with my plans. I started to think of what my #100 post could be and focus on that. I thought long and hard about what would serve as the last banger. Since the reviving of this blog, I have been so open and vocal about my body positive journey and views. The small business series was so successful that I really wanted to test my luck and see if I could push out another series before I shut it down. Again, the feelings of doubt, insecurity, and fear of putting myself out there and looking dumb crept up again. It’s like the cliché angel and devil on my shoulders. One telling me to go for it and take that chance, the other telling me that nobody would want to participate, it’s not a great idea, and I’m going to make myself look stupid on the internet – since I have tried to do polls and interactions in the past that kind of flopped.
As you can tell with my previous posts, I decided to go for it, collabing with my high school friends, Missdirected.art, who are great photographers with amazing creative visions. And I am so glad that we decided to take that leap of faith with each other. My heart was bursting with so much joy when I found 9 other individuals who wanted to share their story and be a part of this project. It’s always that initial stress of “will this pull through, or will this fail,” that gets me. When I finally saw it start to take a turn in the right direction, my heart fluttered with love and excitement. I wanted to do something like the Body Positive Series for some time, but never thought that it could be reality. You never really see that you’re checking off the boxes of all the goals you previously set for yourself until you take a step back and realize – oh shit, I’m here, I’m where I wanted to be X amount of time ago.
My partner never thought it was a good idea to stop the blog after 100 posts in the first place. Even when I suggested maybe dialing back, posting bi-weekly. Maybe the occasional post every month, or when something that inspired me really came up. His stance was always the same: why slow down the blog when I’m finally at a place where I’m getting some traffic. My argument was the same: because I have a full time job, I have other projects I need to do, and I just can’t do that while maintaining quality content every week. But when I started to see the Body Positivity Series coming together – in the process of interviewing people and seeing who would be a part of it, I started to have a change of heart.
For all my “How I Met Your Mother” fans, I literally felt like that one episode where Ted wanted to break up with the girl he dumped (on her birthday) a few years prior. Ted had all the reasonings to break up with her again, but when it came down to it, he could only think of all the good things about her and good memories. That’s how I felt about my decision. I had my mind made, but as blog post #100 came closer and closer, I felt myself retracting my decision. I started thinking of all the good that could come from continuing the way I have been.
I asked myself: “Do you feel like you did everything you wanted to do with your blog?” And the answer was no. The series that I’ve done and collabed with others really made me realize my potential and all the other possibilities I could do with my platform. I wasn’t ready to shut LoveYourzStory down. There are still a lot more stories to tell and share. I don’t know where this blog will take me, or what it will be like even 1 year down the road, but I do know that for the time being, this is one of my projects that I need to continue to water and nurture so it will continue to grow. I originally wanted to shut down the blog after 100 posts to start and focus on other passion projects and goals. Now, I have to find a way to balance both. I feel like in a way, I’m testing myself yet again: Marinelle, how bad do you want this?
With that question lingering in my mind, I bought my website. So, with that being said, cheers to 100+ posts, and thanks for reading blog post #101 – the post that was never meant to be.
“Story 10 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,Iwanted to hearyour 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 afterall, who can tell their story better than them?”-Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory
This is MY story, written in my own words:
This collaboration / series is one that I hold dear to my heart because I have been a body positive advocate for a couple of years, and have made it one of my missions as a writer. This is a topic I am very passionate about – having individuals feel comfortable in their body regardless of societal body standards. I would like to add that being body positive does not mean that you are confident and reassured in your body at all times. That belief is discouraging and just all around false. Being body positive is definitely a lifelong journey. And I ask that in your responses / blog post, that you be as transparent as possible. I pride myself in sharing real, authentic, and unfabricated stories – being truthful is key.
“Quoted above is a paragraph taken from the original email I sent to all of the candidates who were interested in being a part of this Body Positive Series. I was ecstatic when I finally had all 9 slots taken for this project. It has always been a goal of mine as a writer to focus more on the body positive community and document people’s self-love journeys. Collabing on this series with like-minded, brutally honest individuals re-sparked my interest and passion on this community and reminded me why I write – to reach others and share the stories of your every day person. Reading and hearing other people’s struggles and downfalls made me realize that a lot of us share the same feelings and experiences in different ways. One thing that we all can agree on – our self-love journey is never linear.
The belief that people who identify as body positive are self-assured and satisfied with what they see in the mirror all the time is inaccurate. I try to emphasize that a lot in my writing since I am known for being a body positive advocate. Nobody’s journey is linear. You just don’t wake up one day and realize you want to change your mindset, your beliefs, and everything you believed to be acceptable and unacceptable, and just start off with a clean slate. It takes a lot of highs and lows, learning and unlearning, 2 steps forward and 3 steps back, and so forth. You will eventually get to a better place, but the journey is never lateral. You will have your off days, and that’s okay.
I tried to write this post in advance because it’s the big blog post #100. I was about 10 paragraphs deep, and the writer’s block was ridiculous. I wasn’t in love with what I was writing, and I didn’t like the direction I was going in. I originally was going to start off with how I was in 2016, and what steps I took to accept and love my body. But the more I added to it, the more I hated it. Though it wasn’t my intent, I felt like it was giving off the “I didn’t like this, so I changed this, and now I’m enlightened!” vibe. And that wasn’t true. Yes, I changed my mindset and had to put in a lot of work to get to this point, but I didn’t want it to seem like I had a problem, I overcame it, and now I’m coastin. Nope. That wasn’t the message I wanted to emphasize, because the journey continues… for life. So I scrapped it all and started over.
When I say that it took a lot of learning and unlearning to get to where I am today, I mean it. Deciding to love and accept my body for what it was and simultaneously declaring Women Gender Studies as my minor in 2016, really got the ball rolling on changing my mindset and views. I really had to reevaluate what I grew up to believe was acceptable and unacceptable, and how those views and feelings contributed to my inner turmoil. I had to reflect on parts of myself that I did not want to question or explore, but in order to heal and plant new seeds of thinking, I had to pull at the ugly roots that had planted in me so long ago. The Women Gender Studies classes I was taking at the time really opened my eyes to see that these ways of thinking in terms of beauty and beauty standards, are engrained specifically into the female mind at a very young age. And because of the unrealistic standards media and society places on women, companies profit off of all our insecurities.
I refused to be the foolish consumer that only cared about my outward appearance. I had to remind myself that I was so much more. So much more than my outer beauty, than my body, than whatever version of myself I want the public and social media to see. I refused to have companies make a profit off of my insecurities, and stay in this cycle of self-hate and fake confidence disguised by likes on social media. I refused to fall into this habit of following famous people online who alter their images, and give a false sense of reality. I no longer wanted to support companies and brands that publicly excludes, alienates, and makes people feel bad about themselves for being plus-sized.
I had to be true to myself and admit that at times I could be a hater towards others based on my own insecurities. It’s not something I’m proud of, but I’ve accepted that that’s the reality. I had to stop comparing myself to others. And that was something really hard to do. In the past, I would be jealous of people who had outward appearances and features that I believed to be desirable. It was really difficult for me to accept that someone else’s beauty does not overshadow my own. I had to be confident in myself and my own attributes, and separate that from my feelings of feeling worthy based on what I looked like physically. I had to engrain in my own head that I was enough, that I am worthy of self-love at any weight, and each time I fall victim to the negative self-talk, or compare myself to others, or care too much about outward appearances, I repeat the same cycles that I no longer want to continue. This world profits off of our self-hate, and I wanted no part of it.
And as time went on, I learned to literally not give a shit. I wanted to workout, not to lose weight, but because I wanted to be healthier. I no longer cared about the numbers I saw on the scale because as long as I felt good within my own skin, my actual weight didn’t matter. In fact, I wanted to gain muscle, which would realistically have me gain weight. I felt so liberated to do as I pleased without feeling guilty. Restricting myself from foods, places, and clothing was a thing of the past. I wanted to feel comfortable, happy, and at ease with myself. Doing a social media cleanse really helped me push for this change. Once I eliminated accounts and people that made me question my own self-worth, it was the first step of Game Over. What I do not see can not affect me. What I do not see can not influence me. What I choose to see and internalize is completely up to me. With time, college courses, and increasing confidence in myself by positive affirmations, I learned to dissect social media posts. I can appreciate other people’s beauty, even if it is altered, but still know that it is not reality. When I feel myself getting insecure when I hit that explore page, I’ll try to shut it down real quick. It has brought me peace to know that social media in the literal sense, does not matter. It is not something I need, and therefore, I shouldn’t try so hard to uphold a certain appearance. Basically, I shouldn’t care.
I think the pandemic was the cherry on top of the “I literally don’t give a fuck about my outward appearance” sundae. For a lot of people, the pandemic forced us to be alone with our thoughts – probably more than we wanted. Getting used to the shutdown and restrictions really had me focus on the health of me, my family, and friends, above all. I got used to not getting ready for work, not going out, not putting on makeup, not putting on clothes other than my pajamas and the occasional “walk around the neighborhood outfits.” Everything was more relaxed, even though anxieties of the outside world heightened. The uncertainty and the safety of society really had all of us on edge – from COVID, to social unrest, to targeted violence. On top of that, there were no outlets to relieve that stress, everything was shutdown. It felt like I was watching a train wreck and couldn’t turn away. I was constantly reminded of the realities of 2020.
So for me, food became my solace during the pandemic. Looking forward to a good meal that was usually through UberEats or other delivery apps was the highlight of my day / week. It made me feel good to know that I was helping keep some businesses alive during the unpredicted shutdowns. It brought me comfort to eat foods that I used to eat pre-COVID because it brought back a sense of normalcy. My relationship with food has always been a strong one. I love food. I was never a picky eater, and my parents didn’t have to worry about me not eating enough or not finishing my plate. Their concern was to get me to stop eating. And now as an adult, I’m the type of person that would rather meet up at a restaurant or grab something to eat than hangout at the club. I’d say 100% of my social life revolves around eating good food with good company. When I’m traveling and going to new places, my main focus is what I’m going to be eating. I want to try all the foods that each place is known for, and I will literally plan around what food I want to get. And with the pandemic, eating bomb food went from being a social, bonding, unwinding and having a good time, to suddenly being my comfort and sense of normalcy.
We all know that the pandemic is still going strong today – almost a year and a half later. Relying on food to give me comfort and make me feel “safe” while the world fell apart, mixed with everything being shutdown, meant that there wasn’t a lot of exercising happening on my end. Everyone joked about people coming out of quarantine putting on a lot of weight, and for me personally… where’s the lie? I’m for sure – hands down – the biggest I’ve ever been in my life. I’m not ashamed to admit that either. When the jokes of weight gain started circling early in the pandemic, I knew that I was informed enough to see the humor in some of the memes, but I also knew that there were some people out there that would really be struggling with this topic. When people around me would comment on not wanting to gain weight during the pandemic, I would get defensive and quickly add in that it’s OKAY and normal to gain weight during something as serious as a global pandemic, and it should be the last of our concerns.
It made me sad to know that during a time of crisis, people were already dreading the aftermath of the pandemic’s tole – gaining weight. When I hear people putting themselves down for not working out as much, gaining weight, or not having any motivation, I try to chime in and let them know that it’s okay to be feeling those emotions. Especially with my sisters, I find myself being overly aggressive with my messages of being content with gaining weight, but I realize that not everybody has the same outlook. For me, gaining weight during the pandemic was expected. However, I really didn’t expect COVID to be a problem to this day, I didn’t expect it to last this long. I tried my best to remind myself that my body will be changing along with the state of the world, and it’s okay. I was so used to not wearing makeup, not putting on my regular clothes, and not being in the public eye. Dare I say the homebody in me got comfortable to this new normal? Because I definitely got comfortable being comfortable and not thinking twice about how I looked!
I started working in person again in June 2020, to date, that’s over a year working in person. But during this time, up until recently, my mind is still in lockdown mode – not caring to be seen by anyone, social distancing, not having a social life outside of work, and basically living in workout leggings all the time to feel comfortable throughout the work week. My eating patterns remained the same even though I was back at work because the dreadful news of the world would still stress me out. For me, things were “back to normal” for the last year, given that I’ve been going to work Monday through Friday in person, but I would constantly be reminded of the state of the world every time I looked at my phone, turned on the news, or went out in public. For me, the masks are a constant reminder of the world we are living in. Living day to day for the last year and a half not knowing if you could be the carrier, have the sickness yourself, or infect someone you love is such a stressful way of living. I constantly had to weigh out the pros and the cons of hanging out with people outside of my family. It was a gamble every time, and I hate that to this day, every choice I make to expose myself to public places can result in a horrible ending. On top of that, restaurants remained closed, there were still many restrictions, and it felt like we were far from seeing a glimpse of light at the end of the tunnel.
When vaccines started rolling out, and things started to slowly open back up, I definitely felt the results of my anxiety filled binge eating patterns that were heightened throughout the pandemic. My friends and I were vaccinated, and started to see each other more regularly again. With time and more people getting vaccinated, restrictions started to ease up little by little. I was very slowly getting my social life back, and that meant wearing clothes other than my comfy workout leggings that I live in every day at work. I mean shit, pandemic or not, ya girl always lived in leggings Monday through Friday, because working with kids, you need to be as comfortable as possible. But it was a huge eye opener when I started to wear clothes outside of my work outfits. I felt like the Pikachu meme where he’s all surprised with his mouth open, even though I knew this was going to happen. My clothes didn’t fit the way they used to.
At first, I didn’t even really care that I was gaining weight. I was like… whatever it is what it is, we’ve been in this pandemic for a long time. It’s what I expected, and I had mentally prepared myself to slowly transition out of the lockdown. I anticipated that my body was probably not going to look or feel the same prior to the pandemic. I had to remember to be kind to myself. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t alone, a lot of people are going through the same transitions as I am. We are all just trying to adjust back to normal given everything 2020 has put us through. I have come to a point in my life where I know that my outward appearance is the least of my problems, that I am worthy and enough at any size, and that negative self-talk will get me nowhere. I know all of this. I’m completely aware. I try to practice this and feel confident and reassured with whatever reflection I see in the mirror. However, I am human, and I still have my feelings of insecurity. I’m not confident and self-assured all the time, and that’s okay.
In the past, I would’ve been deep in my self loathing ways by now – hating my body, restricting myself and then binging at the end of it all, and talking negatively to myself. But I know where that path would lead me – down a deeper hole. I’ve learned time and time again that making myself feel like shit will accomplish nothing. It will just have me feeling bad about myself and I won’t have the motivation to do better because I’m too busy sulking in my misery. There is literally nothing to gain from negative self-talk, but it’s such a common habit. Especially when you are feeling down, insecure, and frustrated with yourself, it’s hard to stop that voice in your head that is tearing you to shreds and dragging you through the mud. But I knew from experience that if I went down the self-loathing route, it would result in me being really hard on myself, which would push me back into the same cycle I tried so hard to unlearn.
Now, my off days / episodes look a little different. I’m not ashamed that I gained weight, I don’t totally hate what I see in the mirror, and I don’t let people’s commentary or opinions affect me. However, my views on gaining weight has changed over time now that I’m getting older. It’s no longer about how I look, I’m more so concerned about my overall health, given that my late 20’s are just over the horizon, and it’s something I should be keeping an eye on. I was aware of how I was using food to cope, but feeling not the best in my old clothes, and not feeling confident with what I saw in the mirror, brought to light my relationship with food. I was starting to see that during the pandemic, I would eat until I was stuffed to “treat myself,” but really, I’m just binge eating for pleasure and because I’m stressed.
I acknowledge my binging habits that have heightened during COVID, but I refuse to call them “bad habits.” Speaking only for myself, labeling them as “bad” just makes me feel guilty and ashamed about how I’ve handled a really tough year, and that’s not my intent. I want to remain kind to myself, but not be totally oblivious to what I want to change. In the past, to try to stay healthy and balance out my love of food, I would try to go to the gym and squat heavy. But gyms are closed, and with COVID going around with different variants surfacing, I found myself not going out as much. Basically my only form of exercise was walking to the grocery store and hiking once a week. I had to come to the realization that I would get winded doing simple tasks, and I have gotten too comfortable being lazy and not wanting to do anything. It wasn’t about how I looked on the outside, now it’s about how my current habits are making me feel on the inside. I feel sluggish, unmotivated, and unhealthy. Acknowledging what I want to improve, without bashing myself and putting myself down, has allowed me to make small but conscious changes to try to get in more exercise to make me feel better.
I know that for me right now, being healthier means being more active, getting more exercise in, and trying not to binge eat when I’m stressed out or trying to treat myself. A common misconception is that the body positive community promotes unhealthy habits, promotes obesity, and glorifies health complication that come with being overweight. This is not true. Just because you identify as “body positive” doesn’t mean you are glorifying obesity. Being body positive doesn’t mean that you are against working out, it doesn’t mean that you hate skinny people, or that you ignore your health. Being body positive sure as hell doesn’t mean that you are always feeling good about your body. For me, being body positive is being inclusive to all shapes and sizes, it’s being kind to yourself regardless of what your weight is, it’s knowing that you are worthy of love and respect at any size, it’s knowing that you are so much more than your outward appearance, it’s trying to love yourself and your body at all stages of life. Being body positive is not letting societal body standards dictate how you live your life, it’s choosing to live freely instead of constantly stressing over how you look, it’s not restricting yourself because you are hyper-aware of your body, it’s being self-assured and confident in being an individual in a world that wants you to conform and feel shitty about yourself so they can profit off of those insecurities. For me right now, being body positive is all that, and at the same time it’s being aware that I have to make healthier choices. And these choices should not be to punish or restrict myself. The goal is to always be loving and accepting of the body that I have right now. This is the body that has gotten me through the pandemic, and is continuing to get me through it.
And doing this Body Positive series has helped me appreciate and see what “body positivity” means to others. What my meaning of Body Positivity is is not exactly alike to anyone else’s definition. As highlighted in this series, being body positive is: not caring about what you see in the mirror, not letting what people say get to you, being your own number one fan, feeling confident without makeup, choosing a Vegan lifestyle, getting back into a hobby, making peace with your past, accepting your body changing to bring in another life, and so on. I appreciate how transparent every single person was during this Body Positive series, and for allowing me to share their very intimate self-reflections.
It’s okay to not feel body positive all the time. I hope this series has helped people see that people go through their self-love journey differently. No two stories are alike, but even then, we still manage to connect and resonate with other people’s experiences. We are all human, and nobody is perfect. We will have periods of progress, but also periods of regression. Don’t feel discouraged if you are not where you want to be yet when it comes to how you view yourself and your body. This is a lifelong process, so continue to learn and unlearn, and get used to the fact that sometimes you will teeter totter back and forth from what you’re trying to outgrow.
I hope that sharing my personal struggles with my forever changing body reaches someone who needs to hear that being body positive does not mean you are confident all the time. That myth discourages people because that is something that’s very unrealistic. Our bodies and our views are forever changing. If you attach happiness to correlate with your outward appearance, you will never be content with yourself. Your self-love and self-respect should never be conditional. ” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory