I cringed a little just typing that out. This is why: I personally believe that the word “toxic” has lost its meaning in the last couple of years. It’s become an automatic trigger word, and anything or anyone deemed as “toxic” is immediately canceled without question. The word itself doesn’t quite hold the same magnitude and meaning as it once did since it’s being used to describe every scenario – from something or someone actually being toxic to just using the word to describe any minor inconvenience. But, for the sake of simplicity, I beg the question once more… Is cut-off culture toxic?
To answer the question, “Is cut-off culture toxic,” I would say yes and no. There are legit times and situations where cutting someone off is necessary. The act of cutting someone off is not in itself toxic or wrong. Depending on the situation, cutting someone off can be for the better. However, the act of glorifying cutting people off to uphold a certain persona and façade is toxic. The “trending” trait is to put up a front and be proud of being unempathetic, petty, and quick to drop someone if things get hard. Social media plays a big role in that, the idea that the cheese stands alone and doesn’t need anyone’s companionship. Though that is admirable to an extent, it’s also very unrealistic. The act of cutting people off turns problematic when it’s done in such a high volume for minor issues to avoid communicating and confrontation.
There seems to be a division between people’s view on cutting people off. Removing someone from your life in an abrupt and obvious way because of an argument, misunderstanding, or history of manipulation can be very liberating. Overall, the trending advice is in support of cutting people off. But where do you draw the line? When is cutting someone off too excessive and not justifiable? There are those that are proud of their ability to throw out a relationship, whether that be family relationships, romantic relationships, or friendships. Usually when someone says they cut someone off, we tend to congratulate them – assuming that if they’re the one that did the snipping, the other party was automatically in the wrong.
Depending what algorithm you get on your socials, other people’s opinions on cut-off culture can become an echo chamber. Ironically, my Instagram algorithm literally brings up both sides of the coin. I come across posts that praise others for cutting off toxic people that were once in their circle. A lot of these posts are intended to be empowering and motivation to others to “clean up” their social circle of all the untrustworthy, draining, and “toxic” people in their lives. These posts glorify how liberating it is to remove people from your life. Though that may be true, it doesn’t give the full scope of what someone goes through if they do decide to cut someone off. Yes, it can be liberating, but that’s usually later down the road when everything that transpired has been processed. The general message circulating is that cut-off culture is a good thing, it’s what people who want to heal do. Cutting someone off is sold as a way to protect yourself.
The problem with the media’s oversimplified justification and support of cutting someone off, is that viewers start to think that the only way to achieve happiness or find peace is to dispose of a relationship that isn’t perfect. As we all know, no relationship or friendship is perfect. There will always be disagreements, small tiffs, and room for improvements on both sides. Like the old saying goes, there is growth in staying and growth in leaving, you just need to know which one to pick. And with time, the answer may change. The nonchalant support of cutting someone off doesn’t clarify on what grounds you should consider severing ties with someone and when to keep trying. But of course, it is all personal preference.
Like with most things, cutting someone off is not as simple as black and white. It’s not fair to say cutting someone off is 100% right or 100% wrong. There is always a gray area with pros and cons. When you plan to remove someone from your life, it doesn’t mean that you’re just upset with them and plan to give them the cold shoulder for some time. A real cut-off is removing someone completely out of your life. This is usually a permanent action one takes when they feel like they need to protect themselves emotionally, mentally, or physically from another. It may or may not bring closure to both parties, and it is not uncommon for one party to be totally lost and confused as to what happened. Prior to the cut off, an explanation may be made, but it isn’t mandatory. Cutting someone off is like the death of a relationship and ghosting all at the same time.
Sometimes distancing yourself and ending relationships with people that you were once close to is necessary. Cutting someone off is not always a negative thing. In certain scenarios, it is necessary for someone to move on, get closure, or put themselves first. And putting yourself first and being selfish is not always a bad thing. When you put yourself first and start listening to your wants and needs, you will learn more about what you will and will not tolerate. When you find that some people or situations don’t meet that requirement anymore through their actions and words, it is up to you to set that boundary. When someone else can’t respect that boundary, they may feel the need to cut that person off. When it’s not meant to hurt someone and it’s more so coming from a place of self-care and self-respect for yourself, you know that ending ties with someone is for personal growth.
A big part of what makes cutting someone off toxic or not is how it is dealt with after the fact. When it’s dealt with privately and the person doesn’t feel the need to justify their actions to others or on social media, it’s usually a good sign that it was for themselves. Of course, they may talk with their close circle of friends to vent, but there’s no need or want to have to explain themselves on public platforms. This is where the true healing takes place. Healing happens when you don’t feel like you have to prove anything to anybody else, when you’re content with letting people think whatever version they choose to believe.
But even if going separate ways for good is the “right” thing to do, it doesn’t always mean it’s an easy thing to do. I’m sure that plenty can relate to knowing someone or something isn’t right for them, but it pains them to let that relationship go. This is why it’s important to really weigh out your pros and cons to see if cutting someone off is necessary or not, because it’s such a drastic step. Whether it’s a family relationship, romantic relationship, or friendship, we usually think long term and never anticipate that these relationships will fall apart. So when they do, and even more so if it’s your choice to let go of the relationship, it can feel like the death of what once was. They aren’t “gone” permanently like in death, but figuratively, they no longer exist in your world, and that can be a lot to process. And even if you’re the one doing the cutting off, it sucks to admit that it still hurts to some degree to do so, regardless of how “done” or confident you are in wanting to sever ties.
A lot of people think that cut-off culture is problematic because it gives people an easy out to avoid conflict. It’s so much easier to sweep something under the rug and act like nothing happened – or even more extreme – that someone doesn’t exist after a bump in the road. Some claim that cutting people off is an action done by people with poor communication skills. Yet again, I agree an disagree with that explanation. Yes, I do believe that people use cutting others off as a way to avoid the real issues at hand. Sometimes it can be something so minute, but it can lead someone to end a relationship. There are some people that would rather ghost you and act like you never existed than see their part in an argument and admit that they’ve caused some hurt. But on the flipside, if someone feels like they have been taken advantage of to some degree, they may not feel the need to explain why. Or maybe they have tried time and time again to communicate the issue and voice their opinions, but were shut down or ignored. At that point, I wouldn’t feel the need to try to communicate. But how can you tell which scenario it is – plain immature, or someone at their wits end?
For me, one of the biggest red flags is knowing that someone has a history of cutting people off. If someone is known for claiming other people are toxic and boasts about how they cut them off, it almost always has me questioning who was really the problem. When a person uses cutting people off excessively, or as leverage to manipulate others, is when it becomes toxic. This is probably why some think that cut-off culture is toxic, because it’s being used as a tool by people that go back and flip flop on their word. You know, the kind of people that talk all that mad shit when they cut someone off, but you see them with the same individual some time later. This is not to say that you can’t change your mind on wanting someone back in your life. But it all comes down to how it’s done. If you’re always having a dramatic exit with multiple people and publicize it for everyone to see, don’t be surprised when you’re labeled as the person that cried “cut-off.” It’s just a clearer indication that people like that really don’t know what they want and have poor impulse control.
We have created a reality where it’s everyone’s word against everyone else’s. This is a dangerous game because this gives people the power to claim toxicity with any minor inconvenience. Some have fallen into a pattern where any disagreement or differing opinion from their own is considered valid grounds to cut someone off. It becomes toxic when someone is just cutting people off because they don’t want to hear the truth, a different point of view, or don’t like what they’re hearing. Most of the time, the cut off isn’t mutual, and because of this, there will always be 2 different stories, 2 different realities.
I especially find cut-off culture problematic when people feel the need to boast about how they cut someone off on social media. It’s one thing to end a relationship for your own well-being, but to bring it up time and time again in an distasteful manner is something I get second-hand embarrassment from. It’s the bragging for me, when it’s apparent to everyone else that there’s still some hurt behind the gloating. The goal in airing out the tea on social media is to get people to back you up and see your side, and to see the other person to be in the wrong or toxic. Usually when this is done, the goal is to have others cancel them or at the very least, see them in a different light. And then for the biggest cherry on top for the second-hand embarrassment sundae is when these actions are claimed to be being the bigger person, taking the higher road, and choosing not to associate with drama.
There is always a gray area in everything. It’s true that cutting someone off can be valid in some cases, but toxic in other cases. There are scenarios where cutting ties with someone is necessary, and then there are other times when it’s not. Don’t let social media fool you, it’s okay to set boundaries with others and let time tell if the relationship with blossom or end. It’s okay to not jump the gun, don’t make rash decisions because the media is telling you that you should handle a situation this way or that way. Whether some like to believe it or not, we all have toxic traits. No relationship, friendship, or family is perfect. It just depends on who you think is worth the effort and grace.
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.
“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 9 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Chrystina’s story, written in her own words:
“There were so many emotions when I found out Justin was in a new relationship. Sierra is from the south and when speaking with her, her southern accent was soothing. However, I of course went through the typical jealousy (why can you get it right with her and not me), fear my daughter would replace me, and awe that someone could grow to love my sassy princess as her own. At first, I was hesitant, but I’m now very comfortable co-parenting our daughter, Marlowe.
I found out about Sierra right when Justin met her. Justin was always upfront about any women he was dating. He told me about their first date. I was always informed about how their relationship was progressing. He has always been an amazing father, very protective and loving. We were both on the same page about how anyone we were in a relationship with had to accept Marlowe as well. It would be a package deal.
It was hard for me to accept that my ex had a new partner. At first, I buried my jealousy deep inside me. I wasn’t in love with him any more and hadn’t been in a very long time. My jealousy was mainly centered around the fact that he got to find his life partner before me. I have not been in a serious relationship since we separated and eventually divorced. I dated some but it always ended. That was hard for me. Seeing Justin get married and move into a family was hard for me, but I focused on how it benefited Marlowe and I tucked my pain aside.
Being a single mom was so hard on me emotionally, and I had no one to share it with. I was also limited in my ability to date because I was a single parent. My life revolved around a child. I gave up myself to parent her the best way I knew how. I couldn’t go out and make new friends, so dating was not even really possible. They say as a single mom, you have no life until your child is grown, and I was finding that to be very true. My mom was a single mom, and I swore to myself I would never have kids so that I wouldn’t be in that situation. Life had other plans for me.
I was pressured to remain single. People close to me warned of the dangers of bringing men around my daughter, so it was advised I don’t enter a relationship until she is all grown up. That wasn’t what I wanted for myself but in the end, it didn’t matter because nothing serious developed with anyone.
Moving past being hurt took some time. While I had nothing but platonic feelings for Justin, I felt like it was unfair that I had practically nothing and he had moved on to build a family that had everything. The moment I remember most vividly that I had stopped being hurt was when Sierra’s parents sent Marlowe a gift in the mail that had clothes in her size and shoes that she wore until they had holes in them. They were all items that Marlowe loved. To know that there were people out there who knew and loved my daughter made me feel not so alone.
Justin and I both didn’t grow up with our biological fathers. Justin and I always said that even if we didn’t work out, Marlowe would always know her dad. While he has always been a great father, his relationship with Sierra has made him better. She completes him in such a way that he shines better as a person, and that in turn, makes him a better man to be a father. I’m so happy Marlowe gets to experience what we never had. After long, it just stopped bothering me. Marlowe has me and she has the ideal family she has always wanted. And since I just want to see her happy, I let it go and praised his relationship instead of bashing it.
In the beginning, Marlowe tested Sierra I’m sure. She was used to having her daddy’s complete and total attention. Marlowe has a strong personality and doesn’t hold out about being herself. Soon after spending time with them, she would come home with stories of all the things they did together, such as getting nails done and going shopping. Soon, Marlowe warmed up to her.
They had been together almost a year before I met her. To me, they seemed really interested in each other from the start. I wasn’t so much hesitant as I was curious to finally meet Sierra. We had conversed through text and messaging on Facebook only. We weren’t very close but we were friendly. I really wanted to know the woman who had charmed my daughter into loving her so much. In the beginning, I wanted to meet her so I could make sure she was someone I wanted around my daughter. Marlowe was a handful so I was looking for any help I could get!
I don’t know exactly when we first met, but my very first memory of really talking with her was when I was meeting them to pick up Marlowe. Sierra was pregnant with their son, Sean. I remember asking Justin if it would be ok if Sierra got out of the car so I can see the belly. My favorite part of being pregnant was my belly, and pregnant bellies have always been special to me. Sierra was carrying someone who our daughter would be connected to, and I wanted to be a part of it too. And she looked absolutely adorable.
I think I surprised them that I was interested to see her pregnant belly. Sierra got out of the car shyly and I squealed so enthusiastically. Her face broke into a gorgeous smile and I remember Marlowe just dancing around happily. This meeting set the tone for mine and Sierra’s friendship. I wasn’t a jealous ex-wife, even though we were still legally married at the time. I was someone willing to make this work because I truly cared about everyone involved. I tried to make it very clear I had no romantic feelings for Justin at all whatsoever.
It did take me a long time to trust another person to be in Marlowe’s life. Marlowe is my life. Sunup to sundown – and I was so used to doing it alone. I knew Marlowe and understood her best. I didn’t want anyone to come along and hurt her. I was trying to protect her from my hurt. But I’m very glad I let my guard down. I finally did when I saw pictures of them together. My daughter was very slow to warm up to people when she was younger. Seeing her smile bright and wide let me know that she felt ok with Sierra, and I began to trust her.
Sierra began to address Marlowe as “our daughter.” She was consistently there for Marlowe, ready with love and advice. Marlowe is very feminine and I am not, so having a feline bonus mom was such a plus for Marlowe. We do not talk often, but when we do it’s always centered on Marlowe and it’s very respectful and loving. I would like to think we are friends. She contacts me when Marlowe reaches a milestone in her life and we share input on how to deal with it. We recently had a FaceTime time chat to talk to Marlowe about starting her period. She makes sure I get Mother’s Day gifts and I sent her a Christmas present. I’m sure we would be closer if I didn’t live so far away.
Justin lived in Las Vegas. The Bay Area priced us out, so we decided to move where she could still see him easily. We checked out Reno and loved it so we moved here. It was originally just summers and school breaks when Marlowe got to see Justin. Marlowe would typically fly unaccompanied minors to Vegas. It was a 40 minute flight and she had a cellphone. It made it easier because someone had to be at the gate to pick her up so I knew she was safe.
Almost two years ago, Marlowe went to live with her dad full-time. When Marlowe first moved in with her dad, it was supposed to be just for a year, and at that time they lived in Vegas. I lived in Reno so it worked out. Like I said, we used to just have her fly on school breaks to see her dad and Sierra. But Marlowe then formed a strong bond with Sierra and her baby brother, Sean, that she didn’t want to keep leaving them. She always seemed to start back up at school before his birthday and she hated missing his birthday parties.
When COVID happened and jobs dried up, they received an offer to move back to Sierra’s home in North Carolina. At the time, Marlowe was living with them in Vegas. Marlowe called me and begged me to let her go. Her eyes were full of tears, afraid I would say no. She begged me to ‘not bring up the custody thing.’ She spoke of the experiences she would have and how she didn’t want to leave her baby brother. I died inside. Vegas was far enough away. The other side of the country was too much. I felt if I let her go, I would lose her, she would never come home.
However the Lord had other plans. Before I knew it, I was agreeing to it. My heart shattered but I let her go. I knew she was being given an opportunity to have the family she dreamed of. One that I couldn’t provide. Saying yes was the hardest, most hurtful thing I’ve done to myself. Yet it was the most beneficial thing I could have ever done for her. She now attends the same school her grandmother and bonus mom attended and made friends with so many people.
Justin explained to me their situation (having a house in North Carolina). Having already spoken to Marlowe and knowing how much this meant to her, I agreed. The ultimate deciding factor was the tears in her eyes. I could never say no to that face. I had days to decide if she could move with them to North Carolina. It was not long at all. It was probably a good thing because if I had a lot more time, I probably would have changed my mind.
Marlowe living in North Carolina is very long term. They own their own home and Sierra has her own business. Also all of Sierra’s family lives there so they have a huge support system. There is no reason for them to move back out here. She has adjusted very well. She loves living there with all of them. She misses my cooking but that’s about it.
I want to move out to North Carolina, but I am afraid. I love Marlowe more than life, but I fear that we have been apart for too long and it won’t be the same as when she was my mini-me and we did everything together. She is older and angry that I haven’t been able to move out there yet. I was supposed to move out there by her birthday in October. Financially it hasn’t been possible. If I just moved out there I would be on the street, literally. My bills here prevented me from saving like I want to to be able to move to North Carolina.
I couldn’t be there by the time I said I would be there, and that has caused the rift between us. She has mentioned that she feels I have lied to her about moving out there and that now it’s ok if I don’t. She doesn’t expect it anymore. She blames me for the fact we aren’t as close anymore. That hurts a lot because all I did was what she asked for. I still want to move out there but moving across the country is not as easy as it seems.
I feel like I am missing out on so much of her life. I’m heartbroken. We were very close. She is an amazing gymnast and I have been to one of her competitions. I have missed others. I miss her incredibly. She is still too young to understand that she asked for this, not knowing the ramifications it would have. It leaves me feeling very hurt and confused. I try to talk to her as much as I can as both our schedules allow, but I know that isn’t the same as me being there.
Marlowe has her own iPhone and I got her an Apple Watch. We text and FaceTime. She is a very active gymnast, so we don’t talk as much as we did when she first moved. Since she has moved to North Carolina, I have seen her twice. I stayed a few days each time. I sobbed until I was on the plane. She cried as well. When we are together it’s so loving and fun. She’s my mini best friend again. We talk, laugh, and hang out. It’s so hard going back to FaceTime after I’ve had her arms and basked in that sweet Marlowe glow. But the only peace I have is that she is very well taken care of. She is surrounded by a family that loves her and she’s growing up to be a fantastic and wonderful young lady.
Being on good terms with my daughter’s bonus mom is important for many reasons. The first one that comes to my mind is that it helps forge the bond between them. Sierra is a wonderful woman who loves Marlowe very much, and my acceptance of her means that my daughter doesn’t have to feel guilty about allowing another woman to be in her life in such a major role. It also allows me to breathe. I don’t have to worry when Marlowe is with her. I know she is safe, loved, and well cared for.
I’m thankful that Justin, Sierra, and I are able to communicate and do what’s best for Marlowe. At her ninth birthday dinner, she was afraid that Sierra had taken her dad from me, that I didn’t like her, and we couldn’t be friends. We cleared that misconception up right away and Marlowe was immediately happier and pleased that she didn’t have to choose between us. To clarify, I was visiting Vegas for her birthday. She was living with them full time. I’m also very thankful that their relationship is solid enough to be a good example for Marlowe.
I’m very blessed we have similar views. Communication is so important because there isn’t just one person involved. There are actually 5 because their son, Sean, is included. We need to be able to talk about what is best for Marlowe. Boundaries are needed too. There is a three hour time difference between here and there. I work the night shift. Marlowe has to be off her phone by 8:30 PM. That’s what time I typically wake up because it’s 5:30 PM here. I have to respect that because those are their rules for her and it is their home. Boundaries like those show Marlowe that there is mutual respect among all of us.
Some advice I can offer for others out there who are co-parenting – Don’t make this about you. Of course there are hurt feelings that will try to rear its ugly head, but is the child happy? Do they glow in the presence of their bonus parent? Is your child’s life better overall because they have a huge support system full of love and acceptance? If so, let that be what guides you. Let your love for your child be the focal point of your co-parenting. Parents always claim to want to do what’s best for their children. Maybe this is what’s best for them. It’s not easy, but bringing a person into the world was never supposed to be.
And lastly, IT’S ABOUT THE CHILDREN!!! I cannot stress that enough. Please put aside pride and hurt feelings and allow a relationship to blossom between the child and the bonus parent. It is scary, but the benefits are so worth it. Marlowe would not be the amazing girl she is without Sierra and her family. Communicate with each other and know that the common goal is raising a person to survive in this world. Marlowe now has many adults around that love her and care for her. She has gained another set of grandparents, aunts, and family friends that care for her. Her foundation is very strong and supported. She confidently navigates her way through life because she knows she is so loved.” -Chrystina
“This is story 6 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory
This is Jela’s story, written in her own words:
“Have I lost my identity when I became a mother? We all change. As time goes by our plans, decisions, and life change, and that’s totally okay. Sometimes the best transitions we experience or make in our lives are the ones that we feel like we are at peace with in the moment. Before I became a mother, I was a nanny, and at one point I became a traveling nanny for a very short period of time before my husband’s first duty station. When people meet me for the first time, I mostly get comments that I’m very patient and nurturing, and if I became a mother, it would already be “natural” for me. In my mind, I’ve always asked myself, “do you really need to be ‘natural’ becoming a mother or parent?”
I’ve always wanted to plan to be a mother in my mid 20s. At 23, I became pregnant with my first born son in October 2016, but only found out a month later. At that time my husband and I moved to his first duty station 3,000 miles away from our hometown. I will always remember the morning we found out I was pregnant. The night before, we went to my husband’s first command holiday party. We were about to order drinks. I had a drink in mind, but I immediately asked if they had pineapple juice or any juice only. They actually did have pineapple juice! I ordered juice because I was feeling nauseous at the time.
We planned to stay long, but we only stayed for an hour. Honestly, we left right away after that because we were going to GameStop to pick up the Pokémon Sun and Moon that we had ordered for the night release. After that, I really wanted to go to Target right across GameStop to buy a few pregnancy tests to take in the morning. The next day, I took a few pregnancy tests and it was confirmed that I was pregnant. I couldn’t really keep my pregnancy a secret from my family who lived nearby because every time we would see each other, or if we went out to eat, I would run to the bathroom to throw up what I just ate a few minutes before.
I spent most of my days and appointments alone because my husband was out to sea a lot during that time. He missed pretty much the first appointment and all the ultrasounds, but I am thankful that on some days my sister would drive an hour away to stay with me during the week. I would drive down to visit my siblings every other day, even if that underwater tunnel bridge traffic was always rough! I’d drive a few minutes to visit my husband’s relatives that lived so close to us, or drive up 3 hours to visit my husband’s relatives in another state.
Fast forward to when it was delivery day, we moved from Hampton to Virginia Beach, VA to be closer to family and my husband’s work, but the hospital I was being seen at was still in Hampton. I had an appointment that day, and I was called back in because my blood pressure was high (not sure why they sent me home the first time they saw my BP high in person). I developed Gestational Hypertension the day I delivered and needed to be monitored for contractions. I was having contractions, but to me they weren’t super painful in the beginning and I was 1 cm dilated as soon as we drove back to the hospital. They suggested that I walk for 2-3 hours, come back to get induced with a Foley bulb, but as soon as I came back from my walk at Costco (we even drove back home to pick up our hospital bag), I was already 4 cm dilated.
I had a few complications during my pregnancy prior to having Gestational Hypertension, one of them being that I had to gain a lot of weight during my pregnancy (I did have a hard time gaining weight growing up). The second was that I was GBS positive. I was on antibiotics during delivery for that, so that meant I was only allowed to push every 3 hours when the antibiotics were administered to prevent passing it on to my baby, but everything was so quick after that last push. I tried pushing on my back and right side and I needed to push one last time so they turned me to my left side because his heart rate was dropping before my last push. I remember my midwife asking if I wanted to use the mirror up in the ceiling that they had (because his head was already out and I needed to push a little bit more). I remember looking at the mirror up the ceiling and I was just so amazed.
After giving birth, everything felt so surreal. Nobody told me that giving birth was going to sound quiet (at least with my first it was quiet!), lots of shaking, vomiting, and feeling the need to go to the bathroom A LOT. I started to push at 9pm, waited 3 hours to push again, then around 2 am, Isaac was out.
When Isaac (my firstborn) was born, everything was already prepared for him. I nested a lot even with my husband out to sea and we even got to move and settle into another town a week before I gave birth. We also moved to a smaller apartment, it was a 750 sq ft apartment but it felt so homey and loved our space. I felt so much excitement and happiness before and after giving birth. My husband and I even took classes and made sure we were informed about all the safety procedures we could possibly learn about.
But even with that, after giving birth came days where I felt off, not myself, a lot of pain experienced from healing postpartum, and breastfeeding in the early weeks. I was even told that if I ever felt sad or baby blues, to not talk to anyone about it. EVER. It felt invalidating, but I just brushed it off. I’m not sure what the person’s reasoning was for telling me that. I’m sure a lot of mothers have experienced the same thing where someone would give them unsolicited advice. I understand, maybe that person didn’t mean harm when they said it to me. Maybe it’s just an automatic response to what people learned to say before we were more exposed to raising awareness of mental health.
I didn’t think much of it until later on when I became more aware of things that were very stigmatized towards pregnant women, mothers, and parents. As a mother, we are constantly told to not feel certain things, judged by the way we look while pregnant, and especially after giving birth. That we’ll be fine, as long as the baby is okay, that’s all that matters. It didn’t matter if the mother wasn’t okay, especially with their mental health. When I had Isaac, I thought that self-care meant taking a shower, going to the grocery store alone (to get things we needed for the house), and all the basic needs that everyone should have, was what I thought was self-care, to be able to do those things again.
When I was going through postpartum, I turned to my husband and friends. They were the ones who were mostly there to listen or just be there as a friend. I am so grateful for them. I realized that the person in my ear was wrong because I didn’t feel at peace with it. I felt like I had to be ashamed of having feelings, it felt very invalidating. I felt like I had to shrink myself so everything could be “fine.” I felt like I couldn’t ask for help, making me feel smaller and smaller. As I talk to more mothers, once we open up a topic that is usually considered “not normal” to the world, we find ourselves relating to each other, and remember that we are not alone in this. It’s okay to feel positive and negative feelings at the same time. It’s okay if what works for you doesn’t work for another parent. It’s a really big deal for me when I finally get the courage to speak up or talk to someone.
A year and a few months after Isaac was born, we needed to move to California because my husband’s job was moving homeports. We moved to San Diego in March 2019. It was a really big move this time. Everything we had, had to be shipped, including our car. We were actually going to move back to our home state, but this time with no family nearby to just walk or drive to. My husband couldn’t fly to see the place we were going to live in because he was going to deploy in a few days before our move in date, so it was only me and Isaac that flew.
I thought “Hey, if I did this once, I can get through it again!” Since it also happened with our first move to VA while my husband was in Mississippi for his school before moving to his first duty station. Every time there was a huge change in our life, it felt surreal. It felt surreal that I picked up the house keys myself, lived in an empty house with no furniture, and our car was still in the shipping company waiting to be picked up. I was so grateful that time, my friend picked me up from the airport, offered her home to have us stay before our move in date, lent me her air mattress, and drove me and Isaac to pick up our car.
Even though I am used to being alone and doing things alone, I was grateful that during these critical times, it’s always the people that you go through these things with that show up. Honestly, I had times where I dealt with my husband being out to sea just fine and sometimes I didn’t deal with it really well. I found what helped me the most is when I am preoccupied throughout the day like being outdoors, staying active, learning the area by commuting instead of taking the car, traveling (LOTS of Disneyland trips!!) and going to spouse connection events.
I felt really blessed that even if my husband was deployed for a few months, my friends, military spouses, and neighbors showed up not just once but numerous times. My husband was deployed, and Fall of 2019 is where I think I started to feel like I lost track of who I was. It got really depressing when the homecoming days changed 3 times. That meant my husband’s deployment got extended for months that exceeded the maximum time that they should be away at sea. It got so rough that I stopped organizing (organizing calms me) and doing things I usually do to get through the day.
At that time, I was going through so much and focused on making everyone happy and setting my own needs aside. I felt like everytime I tried to take care of myself full on, someone would always tell me I was being selfish for doing it, or question my husband behind my back, and ask unnecessary questions when I was trying to give myself time and space. I started to not be as active online anymore and took a lot of huge breaks from social media. I felt like I needed to just stay silent and isolate myself because everytime I tried to communicate, it was often misunderstood and thought of as me reacting differently or being negative about it when I was not.
My husband and I were planning for a second baby. Planning on having a second baby was a huge discussion to talk about because we were both going to school full-time during the pandemic. I became pregnant with my second baby at the end of September 2020. I had already felt a bit nauseous, and I was even giving away some of my firstborn’s baby clothes, I honestly thought it was just the stress from school and the pandemic. But then I missed my period so I just had to check, just in case. With this pregnancy, I thought that it was going to be easy because I found out early. I didn’t feel the need to throw up, I was still doing some small hikes that were open during the pandemic with my family, and I only felt a little nauseous.
I was wrong, 2 weeks after finding out, we dropped off Isaac on his first day at daycare, my husband and I went out to eat breakfast, our very first date together since he got home from deployment. As soon as the food got to our table, I rushed to the bathroom and vomited. I was just about 5 weeks pregnant. After that I started to feel so stressed, I know it sounds ridiculous, but morning sickness really took a toll on me. Everything I wanted to eat, I wanted to throw up, even if it was just a banana, a bowl of oatmeal, a bag of chips, or a rice bowl with my favorite side dish. Even driving made me dizzy that I had to drive all the time so I felt less nauseous, and I would still throw up before and after driving.
I tried all the remedies that were supposedly supposed to work to even get prescribed medicine to help me with the nausea. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I would literally cry almost everyday because I didn’t know what to eat or how to manage being pregnant anymore. I didn’t have much energy to go out, but I also felt so isolated if I didn’t go out for a walk or do something outside of the house.
What was different from my 1st and 2nd pregnancy was the amount of stress I experienced. I was going to school full-time while having my toddler learn how to use the toilet after showing lots of signs that he was ready, having him transition to his first daycare for a few months, and finding out where we were going be stationed next (the military doesn’t really give you so much time when it comes to moving to the next duty station, even if you are a planner and have set plans just in case), and with the pandemic, it caused so much stress and anxiety. I went to the hospital & ER a couple of times during my pregnancy early on for palpitations, monitoring my heart with a Holter heart monitor, and getting a 2D Echo (heart ultrasound). It was a relief that all the tests came back normal. But my depression and anxiety were peaking, and at the time I finally started to see a therapist.
The start of the pandemic, as we know, was scary and tremendously stressful for everyone. Some days, I was able to use some of that time of uncertainty to try to heal all the things I repeatedly brushed off and set aside, even if it meant feeling all my feelings at once to heal. By healing, I don’t mean “positive vibes only,” or being so certain about everything so quickly. I mean days where sometimes it’s a sad day, crying day, or even just a day where I sat by myself thinking “Hey, this was not okay before, but now that I’m able to recognize that, I can reflect on it and move on.” I felt like a lot of these things that were considered “normal” had to do with the toxic culture that most of us grew up in. We were conditioned to think and act a certain way because it’s become normalized in our culture and society.
At this moment, I feel like I “lost” myself. I find myself thinking about things I used to do, that I can’t anymore. Like who am I besides being a mother? But I realized that that’s just temporary and that I’m not “lost.” Having to handle two kids, I felt like I wasn’t enough to attend to them both. But school and exploring the city I’m in is helping me right now because I am learning more of what interests me and my family.Some days, I can balance being a mom and an individual, and some days I can’t. It really just depends on my 4 year old and newborn’s moods and needs that day! When I can’t, I really try my best to have an easy day for both me and my children. But I do know that being an individual is taking time for me to try to get used to, especially when I am around other adults. This pandemic got me going back to being more introverted than I already was before!
Self-care to me looks like having the time to yourself to enjoy things that you want or need. Even if others think it’s taking a few minutes showering or walking alone at the store or somewhere, it’s nice to have that time for yourself. As long as you’re happy with it. I notice myself feeling burnt out a lot lately, and I really need to find the time to take care of myself. To me, taking care of myself means finding the time to run (I love running, even if I’m a slow runner!), watching tv, eating my favorite food, or going on a date with my fave person aka my husband. One day I do want to try to go on a mini vacation by myself without the kids, BUT I don’t know when that will be since I don’t have it in me yet to try to do that.
My husband has been there for me, even if there were days where we weren’t on the same page. He’s such a great partner and father. Every couple has their struggles, and we’re all not perfect. When I’m not myself, he is there to pick up where I left off, whether it’s cleaning the house, filling up my gas tank so I don’t have to drive 15 minutes to the cheapest gas station, or doing so many loads of laundry. A lot of those things get undone or unfinished especially with 2 children now. We don’t believe in “gender roles,” so he is just doing his part as a partner and father. He just helps take off so much of that mother’s guilt.
He makes me feel like I can be myself and that I am more than just the negative things I think about myself. I think and care about so much and he is more of a laid back person, so it balances out sometimes. There were many days when I couldn’t get out of bed, even trying to get myself to eat or shower was just so difficult for me. When it’s the other way around where he looks so tired from work or school, I try to pick up where he left off. We’re also still learning many things during this process and I’m glad that he tries his very best to help in any way he can as a partner.
My advice is to surround yourself with your village and take it easy some days. It’s okay if your child/children had cereal for dinner just to survive the day, because we can’t be and do everything all at once. I tried that – trying to be a mom, help with what was going on with the world (especially during the pandemic), absorbing every feeling and problems that needed to be attended to – and trust me, it’s not possible to be everything for everyone. So I went offline for a few months and helped with what I was able to do at the time, and control what I can control at the moment.
We’re all human, I know it’s hard sometimes to not feel guilty for parenting what works for us, or for doing one small or big thing for ourselves, and you’ll lose people who are close to you. Sometimes families can’t be there for each other because of being far away and having different schedules and plans in life, but I think that it’s nice to surround yourself with people who can relate to you or understand your situation. Even if it’s just 1or 2 people. We all can’t do it alone and everything all at once.” -Jela
“This is story 3 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
Fuck this pandemic.
That’s what I really wanted to say during my speech. But like I said, it wasn’t the place or the time. I guess I’m at the 2nd stage of grief – ANGER.
I know that Tatay was so blessed and fortunate to reach 98 years old. But I just know his life was cut “short” due to this pandemic. And I can’t get passed the feeling of anger and thinking of what could have been. Pre-pandemic, you could’ve asked anyone in my family – we all believed that Tatay would live long enough to reach at least 100 years old. Other than small complications that come with old age, Tatay was in great health for 98. He complained about his back hurting, not being able to get around like he used to, his memory wasn’t as sharp, but that all comes with the process of aging. If anything, it was amazing what his body could still do in his mid to late 90’s!
When the 3 week mandatory shutdown was called in March 2020, we all didn’t expect that almost a year and a half later we would still be worried about the virus. We knew that the shutdown was looming around the corner, so we decided to go to Tatay’s house for Sunday dinner, even though it wasn’t the week we were supposed to since we go every other Sunday. We were all a little hesitant to go over his house because we didn’t know much about the virus then and didn’t want to put Tatay’s health in danger since he was the most vulnerable. On the family group chat, my cousin joked that we should go to Tatay’s for dinner, the day before the official lockdown, because it might be the last one for a long time. Unfortunately, it was true.
Sunday dinners at Tatay’s were postponed until further notice. When the shutdown kept getting longer and longer, I started to get a bad feeling about how this would effect Tatay and his health. Obviously we stayed away because we wanted to protect him at all costs, but it wasn’t an easy thing to do. In my opinion, being surrounded by family often, getting up to do usual routines, and getting out every once in a while is what kept Tatay young. It kept his mind working, it kept his body moving, it’s the reason why he made it to 98. But literally over night, all of those things changed. He went from being around family consistently, to just being at home with my step-grandma, Tita. Both of them cooped up in the house to keep themselves safe and healthy. And I hate that it happened this way.
It was around July that my family started visiting Tatay every Sunday. A little over 3 months of not seeing him. Except these visitations were nothing like our usual Sunday dinners. Most of the time, it was just me, my dad, my sisters, and occasionally my mom stopping by to say hello. There was no official gathering, no other family members, and not even enough time to catch up. We would come in with our masks on and try to social distance as best as we could. We just wanted to see Tatay and let him know that we’re not neglecting him because we don’t have time, but because there’s a deadly virus going around that’s easily transmissible. In the beginning we would stay tops 2-5 minutes. A quick hello, dropping off food, and seeing how he’s doing. We wanted to make sure that we were being safe about it and not staying too long to protect him.
Tatay’s house used to be so lively. It was the house to be at for family gatherings, and there was never a dull moment. His great granddaughters ran through the house, screaming from the top of their lungs with excitement every time they were present. “Tatay’s house,” to the kids was a place to play with your cousins, scream your heart out, and eat your weight in Puto. It was the house that always had America’s Funniest Home Videos playing since Tatay didn’t have cable, and it was the only thing everyone could agree on. It was the house where you brought your laptop to finish your assignments because school’s the next day, but Tatay’s house on Sunday is mandatory. It’s the house where all your dietary plans go out the window because everyone brings bomb food for a potluck. That was Tatay’s house.
Entering Tatay’s house during the pandemic was the exact opposite – quiet, untouched, dull. It’s a depressing thing to replay in my mind – how we would doorbell, greet Tita, take off our shoes, and head straight up the stairs to Tatay’s room. We would peak in to see if he was asleep, but would end up going in and waking him up to say hello anyways. 95% of the time we visited him, he was in his bed resting. We would stay far from his bed when we greeted him, being sure to wear our masks, not touching anything, and not “blessing” him to be safe. With his old age, not having family gatherings for months to stimulate his mind, on top of wearing a mask, there were days where Tatay didn’t know who we were.
“What part of the Philippines are you visiting from?”
“What day is it?”
“When can I go back to the Philippines?”
“Why are you wearing a mask?”
Explaining the pandemic to Tatay was not an easy task. Tita, my dad, my aunts and uncles – everyone – would tell him why we have on masks and why we can’t have family gatherings for the time being. No matter how many times it was explained, I don’t think Tatay ever really got the severity of it all. He was starting to show signs of dementia, so there would be times where he remembered that a sickness was going around, and other times where he just didn’t get it. And because he couldn’t fully comprehend the pandemic, it broke my heart to realize that there was a possibility that he believed we all just weren’t visiting him. It’s a thought I tried to avoid the whole time we visited him during the pandemic because it made me feel overwhelmed with sadness.
His many questions would be asked on loop throughout our short stay every Sunday. It was sad to see his mind slowly going. But I didn’t know what was more sad – when he was speaking nonsense, or when he was fully aware of everything around him. Seeing what mind state Tatay would be in every Sunday was a gamble. Was he going to be happy? Was he going to remember us? Was he going to ask for people who have passed on already? Is he going to bring up the Philippines – a very touchy topic that nobody wanted to bring up in his presence because of how bad he wanted to go back… the list went on. I would feel sad when he would ask questions that we just answered 30 seconds prior, because it was a sign that his memory was going. He was slipping away and there was nothing we could do about it.
But I think what was more heartbreaking was when he was completely aware of where he was and the situation at hand. There were some Sundays where we would go up straight to his room and find him in his usual spot – his bed. We would ask him how he is and he’d sound depressed. Saying how he’s bored at the house, there’s nothing to do, he can’t go anywhere, and he just wants to go back to the Philippines already. We had to explain to him that he’s not the only one feeling those feelings. Everyone around the world were getting pandemic fatigue as well. We let him know that my mom and sisters were working from home, nobody really leaves the house except to do necessary things like getting groceries, and even if we wanted to go out, everything is shutdown anyways.
One Sunday Tatay was giving us an ear full about how he’s so bored, frustrated that he can’t do anything, and all he does is just stay in the house. “What kind of life is this?! / Anong klaseng buhay ito?!” He would say bitterly. Again we dived into the conversation that it’s a global pandemic, that everyone around the world is cooped up in their house with nothing to do, everything is shutdown everywhere, and it’s all because of a deadly virus. We told him that’s why everyone is wearing masks, why we were wearing masks at that exact moment to protect him, and that the virus could spread without you even knowing it. Typical Tatay sighed and let all the things my dad translated go over his head. He continued to complain – which he had every right to do especially since he didn’t get what the pandemic actually was. My dad went downstairs to help Tita with packing things for the Philippines, so it was just me and my older sister with Tatay. One thing about Tatay, he will give you a mouth full and be stubborn as can be, but when it comes to his grandchildren and great grandkids, he eases up and doesn’t give us that side of him.
“So when you’re at home, you’re doing nothing too?” Tatay said tenderly in Tagalog, as he laid in his bed. He was no longer irritated.
We reassured him that we were bored as hell at home too. We told him schools were closed, everyone was working from home, everything is shutdown, and “lahat” (everyone) around the world is doing nothing. We let him know that his current reality was one of many. This seemed to make Tatay feel a little better, even though my dad had just explained it moments before. I laughed and quietly told my sister, “misery loves company,” to make light of the situation. But it was true, we let him know how boring life is during a pandemic, and let him know that yes, it did suck. He found comfort in knowing that he wasn’t the only one. I could see it in his face – his change of heart, his anger slipping away, his face expression now replaced with a look of pondering. I always wondered if he asked that for reassurance, or if he wanted to know if the pandemic was as serious as we were telling him.
We continued to visit Tatay every single Sunday, and when he got vaccinated in early 2021, we felt more comfortable extending our visits from 2-5 minutes, to about 15 – 20 minutes. We would sit around his bedside and try to make small talk, show him animals on our phones, or show him pictures that would entertain him. We would still have our masks on, and he would still ask why we had them on. One week it would seem like Tatay’s health was super weak and declining, then the next week he would be playful, in a good mood, and seemed to be aware of what time frame he was in. He had his good days and his bad days. Even on days he didn’t know who we were, Tita would tell us the many stories about him asking about us. He would ask Tita the same thing: “Where is Roland and Beth? Where do the kids sleep? Are they cold?”
I wondered what time frame he believed he was living in since he used to live with my family and I until I was about 7 years old. Pre-pandemic he would occasionally ask me where I sleep at home and if I get cold. I never really got why he asked that, but it obviously it seemed to be of some importance to him since he asked that question often. When we would visit Tita would tell him, “Do you know who they are? Here’s your grandchildren! These are your grandchildren!” He would smile and laugh, a little embarrassed that he didn’t know who we were. I would show him pictures of us when we were really young, to jog his memory, hoping he’d recognize me in the pictures.
Little by little, Tatay’s health started to decline. When it was apparent that his health was declining rapidly, the family decided to resume Sunday dinners again. At this point, it was May 2021, a year and 2 months of not all being at Tatay’s house as a family. The damage of not being around everyone was irreversible, he was slipping away. Tita would give us little updates every Sunday, and it all happened so gradually. It started with his memory, then he didn’t have much of an appetite, then he only ate because he was forced to not because he was actually hungry, then he couldn’t walk up and down the stairs all that great anymore, it quickly turned to him not being able to get up and walk by himself, and on his 98th birthday was the cherry on top of the “fuck this pandemic” cake. My aunts and uncles decided to start taking shifts to take care of Tatay throughout the week because he didn’t have much time left and needed around the clock care. Up until that point, Tita was doing it all.
I don’t think I’ll ever get over the feeling of believing in my heart that this pandemic cut Tatay’s life short. It robbed Tatay of his last years here on Earth to be spent mostly isolated, it prevented him from going back to the Philippines, and I personally believe that it stole a couple of good years he still had left in him. This is where my anger stems from. Fuck this pandemic. It took my Tatay away prematurely, and I’m pissed. I understand why we had to stop family gatherings to protect him and his health, but I hate that we weren’t there to keep him consistent company. I hate that we couldn’t hug him, take off our masks, or be in close proximity without feeling like we were putting him in danger. I’m upset that he left under these circumstances, Tatay deserved better than this depressing pandemic as his last 2 years.
I’m simmering in my anger and just letting myself feel whatever I’m feeling. I find myself thinking of alternate endings, what it would be like if COVID was never a thing, if the pandemic had an ending, if we continued with Sunday dinners despite the shutdown, if he had made it back to the Philippines before COVID, would things workout differently? Would there be an ending that I would be satisfied with? I don’t know. I just know that my family and I went into the pandemic with X amount of people, and we’re coming out of it with 1 less… I know there’s no use in dwelling on what could have been. This is the reality of it all. For the time being, I need something to blame.