How Do You Ask For Help?

How do I ask for help? In short, I don’t.

People handle stress and personal problems in different ways. I’ll never forget when I dropped blog post #10, where I shared my struggles with body dysmorphia and my weight. In the post, I touch on an old relationship that was ridiculously toxic and was essentially the catalyst of my eating disorder in high school. I remember posting it that night, and seeing the huge response it was getting. I was sitting in my traditional spot on the couch in the livingroom while my older sister sat in hers. Everyone was reposting me, the likes were skyrocketing, WordPress was notifying me that I was getting a lot of traffic all at once.

My utter shock to the support I was receiving made my older sister read what I had just posted. At that point, my little sister was reposting me from her room, quoting me directly from the blog. I awkwardly laid there, knowing that she was reading something that I never really shared in depth with others. It’s ironic that I felt awkward that she was reading something so personal, yet I published it online for the whole world to see. Sometimes I forget that aspect – that literally anyone could be reading this right now – it’s a weird but cool concept. By the end of it, she expressed her approval of the post.

She stood up and walked over to me, “Why didn’t you ever tell me, bitch?!” she said in tears, halfway laughing and half way pissed. We awkwardly hugged, an uncommon act in my family dynamic. My eyed welled up with tears.

My sisters and I are fairly close. So it was somewhat of a shock for her to read what I went through and not knowing the severity of it all. I struggled with self-esteem and my body for as long as I could remember, but reading it all laid out on the table like that was probably overwhelming for a loved one to read. Her older sister instincts kicked in, and she clung onto certain parts of my story. She was so bothered to learn that I had experienced disrespect to the point where I questioned my own value. I don’t remember what I responded to her accusatory statement, Why didn’t you ever tell me, bitch?! But we didn’t go too in depth as to why.

But the real reason why I didn’t open up about my struggles at the time? Shame. Embarrassment. Fear of being judged. Not wanting to involve family in my personal matters. But I think everything boils down to the fact that personally, I don’t know how to ask for help. Or better yet, I don’t know when to ask for help. When I finally ask for help or admit that I need help, I’m already drowning in the mess that I have helped create. I carry the burden until I am at my absolute breaking point, then in a panic, I will let others know that I’m in need of help. And I think a lot of people can relate to the fact that opening up about certain things to those around you, whether big or small, can be really difficult.

For me, my inner circle of friends and family know the gist of what’s going on in my life. I may not go into detail each time or tell every single story, but they can give you a little synopsis of what’s happening in my life. I’ve noticed too that I vent to different people for different things. Some I go to for life advice and worries, relationship woes, vent about friendships, family matters, work drama, hopes and dreams, etc. Some of these people know all the above, while some may just know about some of the topics listed. We all have our go to people to vent to, and we confide in different people depending on the matter at hand.

I think back to my middle school days or high school days where every single problem, fight, or situation was shared with my best friends and those closest to me. I can’t count how many detailed petty arguments and stories my friends have been through and told me about. And I can only imagine what they remember from what I used to share. I’m sure plenty can relate – when we’re younger, we tend to overshare, vent about everything, and ask for advice – maybe even too much advice. So much so that everyone else’s opinions helped weigh out what you were going to do. It was a group decision, rather than your own.

Now a days, I find myself just generalizing how everything is going, and if I’m really feeling saucy, I might give a couple of stories to back up my reasoning. It’s not that I don’t have time to update those around me anymore, I just find that the older I get, the more private I’m becoming. The irony since I literally post weekly blogs about my personal life and my views, but whatever. And I don’t mean to say that in a secretive way. I’m not hiding anything, and I still overshare a lot with my close friends, but not all things need to be shared all the time. Nobody has the time to be updating everyone on everything. The important things will come out, as well as the funny and small things if it’s relevant.

I have a really bad habit of isolating myself when I’m going through something stressful. There is literally no in between for me – it’s either I’m telling detail for detail, every story, every step of the way, or I say absolutely nothing about the matter until much time has passed. Even in my writing, I realized I write about things after the fact, when everything is said and done and over with already. It’s exactly what happened with my older sister. She couldn’t believe everything I had bottled up inside and dealt with alone. I tend to isolate when I’m so stressed out that venting out to someone seems like more work than relief. I’m so lazy that if I don’t tell you the very first thing in the story, I probably won’t say anything until it’s relevant because I don’t want to start from the beginning when too many things have accumulated to the present day.

When I find myself in a pickle, I turn to those closest to me for advice. When I really thought about it though, I don’t go to people for help. Instead, I go to them to vent, to be heard, to say how I really feel in the moment. I’m not necessarily expecting to be given an answer on what to do, I just want to let it all out. For me, I realized that as I get older, I bottle everything inside until I’m pushed to the edge and need to go on a venting rage. Only then will every single detail be shared and every story be told. I literally wait for the situation to fall apart or boil over to some extent before I notify anyone. And even then, I’m not asking for help, I’m just saying how I feel out loud.

When you’re venting, you want to express everything you’re feeling in the moment, you want to feel validated in your emotions, and you want to hear opposing thoughts and opinions. Usually after a good venting session, I leave the conversation feeling more calm and like my thoughts are clearer. Saying what’s bothering me out loud helps me sort things out in my head. It also makes it more real when you vent out loud. Almost every time, the person I’m venting to offers their wisdom and advice. Sometimes you need to hear your friends’ points of view to see the bigger picture. They know you pretty well and can help steer you back in the direction you need to go. And there are times where you need to hear the truth, no matter how hard it is to take.

I find it difficult to ask for help sometimes because I have the stubborn notion in my head that I need to deal with things on my own. I never want my personal problems to be someone else’s burden to carry because I know that nobody is responsible for me or my personal issues. My way of reaching out for help is venting. And even then, I’m not asking for help. I’m simply keeping those closest to me in the loop of what’s happening in my life. The advice comes naturally, and even though help was not outwardly asked for, it’s what’s given through words of affirmation. Sometimes it’s the advice you get from others that will actually help you help yourself.

I may not outwardly ask for help, but I’ll ironically be lowkey offended when my loved ones struggle in silence. Naturally, I want to be there for those I care about that are going through it. I want to be of assistance when I can be, and don’t want anyone to feel alone. Yet, there are times when I do exactly the same thing and isolate when the going gets tough. Sometimes we need to see ourselves through our loved ones eyes – they don’t want you to feel alone. It’s okay to ask for help, whichever way you express wanting that help. You don’t have to do figure out everything on your own.

Lunch Date Thoughts

A couple months back, I took myself out on a lunch date. I was home alone for a couple of days, which rarely happens, so I wanted to make the most of it. I was so excited to have some much anticipated “me time” that I drafted a list of all the things I would do and eat when I was finally by myself. One of the things I really wanted to do was dine out solo without feeling insecure over the fact that I was alone. It sounds like something small and foolish, but it was really important to me to check that off of my list. I’m used to eating solo at the mall food court when doing errands, or eating by myself during my college days in between classes, but not going out to eat somewhere nice with the intention of eating alone.

I don’t know why, but I was really determined to make this solo date happen during my alone time. I knew that if I didn’t, I would be really disappointed in myself for not feeling secure enough to be at a table of 1 in public. I had a tight schedule, given that I only had a couple of days to myself, so I really only had 1 day to make it happen since I had other plans. I made it a personal mission to make this date happen. I had to prove to myself that I had the security to be out in public, dining, and not giving a shit if I looked like a loser.

If I’m being completely honest, there was a part of me that thought of standing myself up and not following through. The anxiety of looking like a loser to those that might be dining in was creeping in, but I forced myself to do it anyways. I knew I would be so disappointed in myself if I backed out. This solo date, in a weird way, was like a test – a test of how secure I am to be by myself. And to be even more brave, or maybe more annoying, I decided to go balls deep and pick a Japanese BBQ place. Yup, table for 1 to have a whole ass grill to myself in a place traditionally meant for multiple people to gather and grill meats. I thought, if I’m going to go solo, I might as well give myself a challenge and pick a place that you don’t usually see people eating by themselves. Yes, I’m well aware that I tend to make things more difficult for myself for no reason.

When I was in the Uber, I was so glad that I chose to follow through. When I’m feeling overwhelmed about going somewhere, I like to break it down into steps. Okay, first get dressed, then get ready, then call the Uber, then get there. Taking it step by step makes it less stressful and overwhelming. I always feel good about following through with things when I’m already in transit to the destination. The hardest part is getting started, that’s true for many things in life. But in this case, getting started means getting my ass out of bed to get ready for where I need to be. I’m such a homebody that it’s not uncommon for me to want to do something or go somewhere on my day off and end up not doing it because I’m too lazy to get ready.

I hop out of my Uber and enter in the Japanese BBQ restaurant. “For one,” I said confidently. All my worries went out the window when I entered and smelled the delicious scent of Toro beef in the air. That’s deadass the reason why I picked this restaurant in the first place – the Toro beef. The last time I went to this restaurant with my friends, they only allowed 2 pieces of Toro beef on the grill at a time. We were fucking baffled – all of our orders were Toro beef. We had to take turns grilling 2 pieces of meat at a time, it was torture, given that there were 3 of us and we ordered at least 2 orders of Toro beef each. The staff kept checking on us to make sure that it was only 2 at a time too, which made it even more awkward. So when I came back by myself, I was more than ready to have a grill to myself.

I sat at a table that was split down the half and with a divider. The divider had a design with plenty of openings, so I could still see the person next to me and the person across from me on the other side. There was no division between my seat and the guy that sat next to me, so I guess the divider was just there for some sense of privacy for 2 separate parties of 2. I already knew I was getting at least 2 orders of Toro beef, and my eyes were drooling at all the other options on the menu. This was my time to absolutely gorge myself – I didn’t have to worry about what someone else liked, sharing an order, or splitting a bill – I just had to worry about my damn self and pick what I wanted. As you can tell, I’m definitely a foodie, I take my food and alone time very seriously.

I tried not to depend too much on my phone to keep myself feeling secure, but I felt like there’s not much to do while waiting for your food when you’re dining out solo. I tried to just observe the restaurant, but then I felt like the couple next to me would think I was eavesdropping on their conversations… I mean, I totally was, but I didn’t want them to know that. So, I started to send emails and catch up on responses to the candidates of the Creatives Series I just completed – these series take a lot of planning ahead and there’s a ton of back and forth.

My food finally came to the table, and I was overjoyed. Food is my love language, and I was showering myself with love that afternoon. I’m a huge fan of “treat yo self” especially during work vacations. Anytime I treat myself, it almost always includes food. I was trying my best not to just inhale the food in front of me. I wanted to slow down and take advantage of the fact that I had an open afternoon to myself. The best feeling there is is knowing you’re not in a rush to do shit, cuz you don’t have shit to do after. As you can tell, I’m a busy gal, and when I have down time, I sulk in it.

Since I was enjoying my own company, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversations of the couple next to me. We were basically in the same table that seats 4 people, but the fence-like barrier on the table was the only thing keeping us separated. I could still see them through the holes, but tried my best not to look like I was staring. For the simple fact that I have fucking ears, I couldn’t not listen in on their conversations. They seemed like friends who were catching up or who haven’t seen each other in a while by how they were talking.

They got on the topic of art, and how they both like to visit Asian Art Museums. The different Asian cultures really intrigued them and they compared their similarities and differences. This was the segway into the next topic – the woman casually brought up her Japanese background and how her grandma was forced into the Japanese Internment Camps during Word War II. She shared with her friend that her mom told her to never ask about the concentration camps, and especially never to ask the grandma. Her mom let her know that it pains the grandma to think about it, and looking back on her experiences in the internment camp really makes her sad. Everyone knew that her grandmother lived through that, but it was 100% taboo to bring up.

Their conversation made me think of how some people suffer in silence, and you may never know the amount of grief someone is holding onto. It made me think about how people deal with their trauma, or don’t deal with their trauma, and how it affects the generations that follow. It made me think about all the experiences and stories that people avoid telling because it brings them back to a point in their lives that they’d rather not revisit. It made me sad to realize that experience they were talking about probably changed the way her grandma viewed the world and life, and she never felt comfortable enough to share it out loud. And it also made me feel sad for the girl, she would never fully understand her grandmother’s story because she wasn’t allowed to bring it up and ask.

I know that everyone deals with grief, loss, and traumatic experiences differently. I also know that people react to similar situations differently, and what sticks with 1 person may not impact the next person the same way. People are entitled to deal with their own issues the way they want to. But it got me thinking of all the stories and experiences that get tucked away under the rug, and how lonely that must feel. To know is to understand, and not knowing makes it difficult to see why someone is the way they are, why they interpret things differently, or how they view the world.

I thought about how one person’s grief and experiences has a ripple effect and can affect the next generation – passing down the hurt, the isolating tendencies, and the unhealed trauma, and they are manifested in different ways, different scenarios, and different people. It made me think of my own extended family and all the stories and experiences I probably don’t even know, and how it has shaped them into the people that they are today. I’ve always had an interest in other people’s stories and lived experiences, especially of my family when they first moved to America. What was it like? How did people treat you? How did you feel? Were you mad? Were you homesick? How did you do in school? Hearing their responses really helps me see them in another light, I see why they value what they do, why they think the way they do, why they see life through a certain lens. Doesn’t mean that I always agree with them, but I’m aware why they think the way they do.

The 2 friends briefly touched on her grandma living through the internment camp, but it got me thinking of a lot of things for the remainder of my lunch. So much so that I wrote it down in my notes to think about it more at a later time. I ate my Toro beef as if I wasn’t ear hustling on their whole conversation. It was interesting to me that some people find healing through sharing, some through silence, and maybe a mixture of both. I bought a bottle of the restaurant’s spicy sauce for my place and thought about their conversation the whole Uber ride home.

A Day I Tried To Forget

In the summer of 2007, my mom’s mom, Mama, was nearing the end of her life. By that point, she was in and out of the ICU, along with her husband, my Tatay Celso, who also had his fair share of health complications. Our family spent a great deal of time visiting Mama and Tatay every weekend for hours on end. Each family would bring food – little snacks like bread and other baked goods. We would be all gathered around their bedside picking at the food that each family brought. Multiple families crammed into those hospital rooms to visit at the same time. Before this, we met every Sunday at Mama’s house for lunch. Things were different with her and Tatay Celso in and out of the hospital. “Mama’s house” didn’t feel like Mama’s house without them there. So, we’d bring “Mama’s house” to them.

My family and my cousins would visit often, every Sunday to be exact. My little sister would bring her Nintendo DS to pass time. We would use the DS’s messaging feature to pretend that our Bratz dolls were “AIM-ing” each other (lmfaooo, what a sign of the times). We really had a whole scandalous story line and everything. My sister and I would spend so much time typing out each word with that damn stylist, send the message, pass the DS back to the other, and wait for the other’s reply. We had full on Bratz dolls conversations through one DS. That’s dedication… and boredom.

My aunts, uncles, and cousins would come regularly with us to visit, and we would basically occupy the waiting rooms if they were in the ICU, or their bedside when they were stable enough, or in the Convalescent homes they were in when they were recovering. Everyone would try to come around the same time, but each family left on their own time. No matter where Mama and Tatay Celso were transferred to, whether that be the hospital, ICU, in and out of Convalescent homes, our family was there.

When Mama and Tatay Celso weren’t in the same facility, we would divide our Sunday afternoon to make sure both were being visited. When someone is sick, we really do show up and show out for the ones we love. We roll deep in numbers and make it a family gathering, just like Sunday lunches at Mama’s house. They were never completely alone for long. Especially during the weekends, when everyone was off school and work. That’s when they had the majority of their visits.

However, Mama’s health was declining way before she was in and out of the hospital. It was emotionally exhausting to witness her health decline, slightly improve, then decline, slowly improve, and then decline again. It was like false hope each time. And at 12 years old, it was a lot to take in. I knew Mama had diabetes and that she was sick. But looking back, I didn’t realize how tedious her routine was due to her sickness.

I’d get off school and walk to Mama’s house Tuesday through Friday, waiting for my mom to get off work and pick us up. Everyday I’d see Mama on the couch watching TFC. I’d greet her with a “mano po” by picking up her hand and having her “bless” me by putting her hand to my forehead. This was my usual routine from preschool until 6th grade. When she was in and out of the hospital, it was weird to get off school and open the door to Mama’s house and not see her on the couch. With her health declining, I would open Mama’s front door and be greeted by an empty living room.

We were visiting so often that it felt like the hospital was our new stomping grounds. We were always there. There was always food. And we were always there for helllllllla long. It was routine for us at that point. We would go to 1 o’clock mass, and instead of heading straight to Mama’s house for lunch, like we did every Sunday since I was born up until that point, we would go pick up food to bring to the hospital. I remember this time specifically because it would soon become a day I regretted.

It was your typical Sunday, and this hangout at the hospital was no different than the others. My mom and my aunts were chatting it up with Mama as she laid on the hospital bed. By that point, we have been there for what seemed like a couple of hours. Don’t get me wrong, I liked visiting Mama because I knew throughout the week when all her kids were at work and us grandkids were at school, it can get pretty lonely. The weekends were the only time the whole family was available and could gather together since the weekdays were so hectic and busy. I knew that us visiting would make her day. So I knew the importance of visiting and that the quality time meant a lot to my mom. But we would stay for a looooooooong time.

At the time, my 12 year old self dreaded the extended hours, only because there was nothing for us to do. I didn’t have a phone, the TV didn’t have good channels, the chairs were uncomfortable, and don’t even get my started on the hospital smell. 1 hour was cool, 2 hours was chillin’, but longer than that, boredom started to kick in. And this particular visit, I hit my limit again. I was getting bored. My little sister, my dad, and I sat outside the hospital room where it was more open. I hinted to my dad, more so irritatingly suggested, that we should get going since we been there for a long time. I was over the DS and writing back and forth with my little sister. But, as all Filipino parents do, they tell their kids 5 more minutes, even though they know it won’t be 5 minutes.

I whined to my dad tirelessly for us to leave. I already knew that we would be there doing the same thing next week. Then, I would go to my mom and try to discreetly tell her we should get going. I was met with “yeah, yeah, yeah’s,” and being shooed away. Being a preteen, moody, with no phone, nothing to do, and just sitting there to pass time seemed like the hardest thing to do at the time. Looking back, I was definitely just a bored brat.

Like any typical Sunday visit, we left after a couple of hours, and we said bye to Mama, planning to see her again the week after. However, that’s not what happened. Unfortunately, her health declined and she ended up back in the ICU, where she remained until the day she passed. We never got to visit again. And that last visit haunted me for a long time. I felt so guilty, so selfish, so foolish for pushing to leave early that day, not knowing that it would be the last time I saw Mama fairly well and alive. That last visit I urged my parents to leave early because of my boredom, and even though they ignored my advances, I still felt guilty for wanting to leave. I was completely unaware that that would be my last visit to Mama.

I felt guilty for a long time. I was hard on myself years after the fact, and the regret was heavy on my conscious. I’ve come to terms with it now, 14 years later, knowing that I was literally just a kid who couldn’t have known what was to come. And now, I find myself trying to make up for it in different ways in the present day. I prioritize family events, especially when it was events for Tatay Jack or at his house when he was still alive. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to be so present and available when Tatay was living out the remainder of his final days. He was my last living grandparent, I didn’t want the same situation to repeat. I wanted to make up for my past by being present, showing up, and not being impatient.

Now as an adult, I see the importance of spending time and giving quality time. Your time is really all you can give. Now I understand that. That last visit with Mama has been a day in my life that I have tried to forget because I was so ashamed of my attitude and restlessness. I battled with myself and replayed that day in my head for a long time, wishing I could go back and change how I acted. That day really slapped me into reality and taught me the bittersweet lesson that you never know what the future holds.

Estephanie: Motherhood Without My Life Partner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chrystina: Co-Parenting With Love

“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

Jayna: Moms Are Still A Work In Progress

“This is story 8 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 Jayna’s story, written in her own words:

“If you were to ask me how motherhood looked like for me 2 years ago, I would’ve said, ‘well, breast-pumping sucks, I’m tired af, and the constant questioning of, ‘when does this get easier?’ crosses my mind as many times as I breathe in a day.’ Today, Motherhood for me still looks like all of the above minus the breast pumping. Truthfully, parenting is hard and if you are a parent, I know I don’t need to tell you that. But for me, navigating through my current life as a ‘stay-at-home mom’ these past 2 years has met me with so many internal challenges of self-doubt and anxiety/depression that I never expected to go through as a mom. 

Ultimately, being faced with the adversities of motherhood has guided me to the start of my own self-discovery and healing journey to continuously work on becoming the best person and mom I can be for my son, Cade. While I speak from my own personal experience, I do believe it is 100% a full-time job to learn how to raise a child that requires your undivided love and attention, all while pretty much still raising yourself and learning who you are as an individual.

 Being a mom has brought me the awareness I never knew I needed to learn. And it helped uncover my personal triggers and consciously build my awareness to not ‘take it out’ on my child when he decided that his lunch looks better thrown all over the floor or when he decided to happily jump on my bed while unknowingly smearing a poop-filled diaper onto my bed sheets (true story). But you’re telling me, moms don’t get paid for this? Just kidding…

At my most vulnerable state, there are lots of days when I don’t feel like being a mom, doing mom duties, or just having my mind consumed with anything and every little thing involving my son, only then to ask myself at the end of the day, ‘Am I doing enough? Am I a good mom?’ These thoughts still make me feel incredibly guilty at times but I’ve learned to accept that they’re completely normal to have and not every day or even half the days as a parent will go as we expect it to. 

I think the feeling of me ‘not wanting to be a mom’ at times comes from a combination of the mental exhaustion I feel from being a stay-at-home mom, as well as my personal issues with anxiety and depression. When I think back to my life before becoming a mom, I always dealt with bouts of anxiety and depression from the time I was 12 years old to my earliest knowledge. It can feel ten times more overwhelming for present-day-me to internally work through my mental health struggles while caring for a toddler and being a safe space for his own emotions as well. 

Cade is extremely clingy to me (I’m his one and only caretaker for the majority of the day until David gets home from work) and I find myself getting overwhelmingly frustrated, stressed out, and helpless trying to figure out his growing needs and tantrums. However, what this shows me is that for me to readily meet my child with love, patience, and understanding, it requires me to always hold love, patience, and understanding with myself first and foremost.

My personal struggle of trying to have everything figured out as a new mom and actively raising my son added to the pressure of having yet to establish my career. It is definitely the hardest battle I go through daily. Society has its way of making you feel like what you’re doing isn’t enough whether you’re a parent or not. And everyone seems to have an opinion/judgment on your life like they know what’s best for you. I personally struggle at times with feeling like I need to prove myself to others in my life to deserve acceptance as if what I do as a stay-at-home mom isn’t enough.

I hold strongly to the belief that a person can’t meet you somewhere where they’ve never been. In other words, a person can’t begin to understand you without judgment if they haven’t been close to being in your shoes. It’s no one’s place to judge anyone but people will be people and that’s something I have no control over.

Nonetheless, I fully recognize that it’s a blessing to be able to be a stay-at-home mom over the past two years, and I never take that for granted. But just like any job, it comes with stress, hardship, and a whole lot of mental and emotional battles that an outsider wouldn’t see, let alone someone that hasn’t spent a day in their life raising a child. While everyone is entitled to their own opinion, that sure as hell doesn’t mean they know a fraction of what’s best for you or even understand what you go through. I remind myself daily that the only opinion that truly matters at the end of the day is the one that I hold of myself. 

Before becoming a mom, I never self-reflected or took the time to learn about my anxiety and depression. From having an unexpected C-section, to adjusting to life as a new mom with new responsibilities, to having little emotional and physical support during this challenging time, made it clear as ever to me that I needed to start taking care of myself. And for the first time in my life, stop internalizing all of my emotions and pain. My anxiety and depression will always be a part of my life but I’m on a life-long journey to consistently cope in healthy and healing ways. 

I truly never prioritized my mental health or even understood what ‘mental health’ means. Because of this, I always felt anxious and worried that I’m not a ‘good mom.’ Cade just turned 2 years old and I still struggle with that feeling. But I understand now that I’m in control of my thoughts and feelings. I still get anxious, but I’ve learned to let my worries go instead of clinging onto them and letting them multiply. 

 I’ll always experience hard days where my anxiety will tell me that I must be doing something wrong, but what’s important is how I don’t allow myself to get stuck in that narrative because it’s simply not true. One way I do this is to ‘fill my cup first’ by doing things that support my mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being. This is so I feel more able to approach whatever kind of day my son is having with that patience, love, and understanding – because I’ve taken care of myself first. 

An easy thing I like to do, that takes less than 5 minutes each morning, is to set my day with an intention before I even get out of bed – especially on those hard days when I ‘don’t feel like being a mom.’ I’ll take a minute to stretch, take a few deep belly breaths(life-changing and I highly recommend it if you struggle with anxiety), and I’ll repeatedly tell myself something as simple as, ‘I am patient. I am strong. I am the best mom to my son.’ Some days I’ll get lazy or forget to do this and I’ve just started to appreciate the impactful difference it makes in my mood and how I handle Cade’s hundred waves of moods. 

I never truly felt like I ‘found myself’ before becoming a mom, so now I feel like I’m still finding and trying to be who I want to become while still becoming the mom I want to be. The most challenging part of this is simply taking the time and effort to do the things that I want to do and prioritizing my self-care. For me, that’s giving myself permission to let go of any ‘mom guilt’ or worry I may have and literally just do whatever it is I want to do in that moment without Cade and enjoy every minute of a much deserved ‘break.’ Some days this looks like taking a walk by myself and catching up on Jay Shetty’s latest podcast episode, or learning to sit with and address toxic thoughts, and other days it’s just eating Samyang spicy ramen noodles in peace without having to try to explain to a screaming toddler why he can’t have any or else his mouth is going to have a ‘booboo.’

While I currently don’t have my career established like others might, I feel that I’m where I’m supposed to be in this present time and that’s with my son. Anyone can be a parent, but to be a parent that also recognizes there is so much more to it than just providing the basic necessities to survive is hard work. Becoming a mom sort of forced me into a deep self-reflection of how I was raised and conditioned to be as an adult. It’s a daily choice and effort I have to make to consciously learn how to reparent myself and break generational trauma to parent Cade in a way where he grows up knowing that his feelings are valid, important, and respected. 

There’s always going to be that feeling of ‘pressure’ to have my ‘life together’ according to societal norms. But right now, I’m at peace with all that I’m doing- working on my self-development and prioritizing my mental health while being a stay-at-home mom raising a toddler. As long as I know I’m flourishing in that part of my life, I’m confident that I will ‘figure everything else out’ in due time and on my own time. It gets hard to not feel anxious about what the future holds for me, but that’s when I try to push myself to see the good in my life – practicing gratitude for everything in my life presently and focusing less on what it’s not or what it could be.

I really don’t have this all figured out, and maybe I never will. But motherhood to me will remain a journey presented with unraveling lessons, and Cade being a reminder of my self-growth, healing, and development. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, working mom, or both, what you’re doing is enough and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. There is no such thing as a perfect parent but I truly feel the best thing we can provide to our kids is the life-long journey of healing ourselves and allowing ourselves to become better individuals as our kids will become exactly who and what we model to them. 

The most important thing for me to teach Cade is to be kind and loving to himself and others. I want him to live each day intentionally grounded by respect, compassion, honesty, and nothing short of his true authentic self. Additionally, I want him to grow up knowing that every single feeling/emotion he experiences at any time in his life is 100% valid. Seeing Cade grow more and more every day and become a tiny little person will always be a blessing. But the best part of motherhood for me currently would be the new perspective it’s given me on myself, my life, and who I want to be for my child. As well as the life and lessons I want to be able to give him outside of material things. 

If I could give pre-Cade Jayna any advice, I’d tell her this:

Please don’t ever give up on healing yourself to become the person you’ve always needed. And love yourself before loving anyone else.” -Jayna

Savannah: And Then There Were 2

“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:

Savannah, pregnant with Sebastian (May 2021)

“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!

Santiago as a newborn (September 2018)

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.

Breastfeeding Santiago (April 2019)

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.

Sebastian as a newborn (July 2021)

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

Sebastian & Santiago (July 2021)

Tatay Jacinto P. Cabillo

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.”

April: The Scar That Brought Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Allysa: To The Girl I Once Was

Story 7 of 10. This Body Positivity series is a project I hold dear to my heart. For years, I’ve struggled with my body image, and since reviving this blog, LoveYourzStory, I’ve shared so many of my personal stories, internal battles, and insecurities. This time, I wanted to hear your stories. I took to social media and found 9 individuals who were willing to share their body positive journey with not only me, but my readers as well. I collaborated with two Bay Area photographers, Missdirected (Instagram: @missdirected.art) to photograph these amazing people. Missdirected did not photoshop / alter any of the models’ faces or bodies. These stories are entirely written by them and in their own words, because after all, who can tell their story better than them?” -Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory

This is Allysa’s story, edited by Marinelle Cabillo, LoveYourzStory:

“Dear Allysa,

I know you hate your body now, and you think you need to have a “perfect body” like you see all over social media. You also feel lost and stuck in your body because you just won’t accept it. You think about your body negatively, but that’s okay. You are going to realize that the “perfect body” comes in different shapes and sizes no matter how much you doubt yourself and the body you’re in. You are too focused on social media’s definition of a “perfect body,” and you keep asking yourself, “why can’t my body be like that.” You grew up thinking like that and it made you think that’s the only body type out there. You’re struggling with looking for clothes that fit you or what you’re comfortable in. You can’t get the clothes you want because you are afraid of what people think of you. You have to get oversized clothes to be comfortable because you don’t want people to make fun of your body.

The question is, “what is the definition of true beauty?” You’ll finally realize that “true beauty” comes in ALL shapes and sizes. Always keep that in mind because your body is beautiful just the way it is. 

Your current relationship with food is not the best. You binge eat every 1-2 hours because you are going through anxiety and depression, making you feel stressed out and confused. You think binge eating will help you get through all of the problems you are facing, but it won’t. You’re seeing your body and face changing because you binge eat. It’s to the point where you’re not comfortable taking pictures of yourself because you don’t like how you look. You’re too focused on what your body should be, even though you know it’s not good for you. You’re skipping some meals because you think it will help you lose weight, but it won’t help you mentally or emotionally. Even though food is good, you think you can’t control your eating habits. But the truth is you can control your eating habits if you believe in yourself. 

I know you’re going through countless mental breakdowns where you start to doubt yourself – from your body to your future. Your mental breakdowns have made a huge impact on your eating habits. 2018 will be the most traumatic year of your life because you are going to go through depression and anxiety. You will lose yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. The real reason why you are going through mental breakdowns is because you are still grieving the death of your cousin, who you loved so much. You have a special bond with her & she inspires you to follow your dreams. She is still your light whenever you see her smile or her face. Right now, you can’t accept that she is gone and you feel empty inside because her presence is not with you anymore. But try to remember that she will always be watching over you and you’re doing everything you can to keep her spirit alive.

You just sit and cry when you want to be alone, and think that no one is going to help you. You say, “what am I going to do?” and think no one is going to understand what you’re going through. You keep blaming God for taking your cousin away so soon. But that’s not the case, you know your cousin fought for her life. She was strong & brave after all she had to go through. You’re not comfortable opening up about your mental breakdowns to anyone yet, that’s okay. But keeping your mental breakdowns to yourself is very unhealthy. You will realize that you can’t help yourself unless you have people helping and guiding you through it. 

You’re thinking about who you can talk to about your emotional breakdowns. You start to think of who you can trust that will help you, people that have always been there for you, even at your lowest. You’ll turn to your Godsister, Ezra, & your best friend, Janine, because they’re the only ones who have been there for you since the beginning. But how do you tell them? You need someone to be by your side through all of this. Once you reach out to them, they’ll completely uplift you. They tell you that they believe in you, which motivates you to be the best version of yourself. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where you’d be. After some time, you’ll finally have motivation and words of wisdom to finally realize that you are worth it and enough to be in this world.

2019 is the year that your life changes. That is the year you focus on yourself. You’ll finally accept who you truly are because you will learn that only you know the real you. So don’t put yourself down just because you don’t like how you look right now. You’ll finally find yourself by changing your eating and exercising habits. You start to journal, where you write about your day and all the things you like about yourself. You’ll start to portion out your food and drink more water. You’ll make working out a daily routine. Losing weight will make you proud of your hard work, it will boost up how you see your body, and you’ll gain confidence. The amazing thing is you did everything for yourself. You’ll start to believe that you are enough.

You’ll get back into dancing, and it’ll make you feel more confident. You’ve been dancing since 15 years old and your dream has always been to be a professional dancer. You stopped dancing at 19 years old because you didn’t like how you performed at a birthday event. Giving up dancing was hard for you because you loved it so much. Dance is how you expressed all of your feelings, but you felt like it was not going to take you anywhere in life. But how would you know? It’s okay to doubt yourself sometimes, but what’s not okay is quitting on yourself and what you love doing. If only you knew that right now, in the present day, you are pursing your dreams in becoming a professional dancer, and you’ll soon move to Los Angeles.

I want to apologize for how I treated you. I’m sorry for not believing in you. I’m sorry for the way I thought about our body- being too focused on what our body “should be,” not what it truly is. You are going to be so proud of the Allysa now, because you have come so far.” -Allysa