Estephanie: Motherhood Without My Life Partner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reign: The Last Gift

“This is story 7 of 10 of LoveYourzStory’s Motherhood Series. 10 mothers give us a glimpse into a small portion of their motherhood journey. I am so grateful that these 10 women gave me the opportunity to share their stories on my platform. Though they focus on different topics, each mother has gone through challenges that tested their strength, patience, and sense of self. Thank you again for sharing.” -Marinelle, LoveYourzStory

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

“The day I found out I was pregnant, it was shortly after my grandma passed away in January of 2018. I found out on February 4th. I wasn’t feeling like my normal self, my stomach was hurting and I was just feeling really weird. When the test results came back, I cried. I was mostly nervous to tell my mom. I was nervous to hear what everyone was going to say. 

My son’s dad was very supportive when we found out. He asked me what I wanted to do and how I felt. His exact words to me were, “I’m with whatever you want to do.” I was too scared to terminate my pregnancy, so I decided very quickly that I was going to go through with it. He was happy to find out he was going to be a dad. 

The beginning of my pregnancy was very rocky, everyone in my family was so focused on the loss of my grandma and the heartache that it left them with. I had very little support in the beginning. I was told things like I was being “selfish” and that they were “disappointed” in me. I also was told that I couldn’t be “focused on” because of the big loss we just took as a family. What they didn’t know was that this pregnancy was gonna save me. Mostly from self-destruction. 

Not until the middle of the pregnancy were things able to run smoothly with everyone excited and becoming more open minded to the thought of a new innocent life. The feeling of not having them be supportive was sickening to me. I didn’t know what I was going to do without my family being happy for me. I was very sad, and on top of the loss of my grandma, I was kicked out of my mom’s house.

 I was staying with my grandpa and aunt, and a couple days before my grandma’s funeral, my mom came by and had a conversation with me about what I was going to do moving forward and how I felt, etc. She didn’t apologize, but she expressed that when she got pregnant as a teen mom, her mom didn’t turn her back on her, so she didn’t plan on doing it to me. Over all, aside from family support, I had the most loving, patient, and caring partner by my side during all the tribulations. I was happily pregnant, I didn’t care what everyone was thinking of me. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to change my mind about having my baby. 

My original due date was October 3rd. I went into early labor due to the car accident that happened on September 19th 2018. My mom, grandma, and I were just running a few errands – a normal day. All of a sudden, what I can remember was an older man merging all the way into the side of my mom’s car. He was coming from the left side of me. I was in the back seat on the passenger side and my mom veered all the way to the right to avoid impact as much as possible. 

To be honest, during pregnancy I hated the seat belt, so I didn’t have one on at the time (worst decision ever), and I had to brace myself with my feet. My first reaction was getting out of the car and making sure my grandma was ok, then to curse the guy out who hit us. An elderly woman and a pregnant woman all in the same car. I was furious, so furious I forgot about my health, in that moment adrenaline took over.

 I didn’t feel the urgent need to go to the hospital that same day. I became suddenly tired after the accident, so I went home and got in bed for the rest of the day. My mom also never wrote a police report about it because the other driver didn’t have any information on him. I didn’t have any injuries from the car accident, I just had a back spasm from bracing myself from going forward from impact. My grandma and my mom were totally fine, and my mom had to go to work after dropping us off at home. 

 After the car accident, I didn’t go to the ER immediately, like I mentioned earlier, everyone was fine and I waited a day and checked into the hospital at 10am September 20th, 2018. During that time they ran tests and monitored me and baby till around 5pm and then finally told me that I couldn’t continue with the pregnancy and the baby has to come now. I was so confused and scared. Everything being told to me, I had them repeat to me twice because I wasn’t quite comprehending nor was I even remotely ready for this just to happen. The decision making and procedure was just so quick.

I’ve always expected birth to be like… I don’t know, honestly I thought something more movie-like. It’s nothing like the movies, babies come at their own pace and they are in their own race. You don’t know what is going to happen next during pregnancy or labor no matter how ready or prepared you think you are. I gave birth 2 weeks early. I was induced twice due to the accident and no, I didn’t know anything about “inducements” prior to this. Nor was I expecting to be induced. This was an emergency induction due to the fact that I didn’t have enough amniotic fluid to continue a full term pregnancy. I was at the doctors 2 days before and everything was fine prior to.

First and foremost, I have never experienced this much pain in my whole entire life, this was the most painful thing I have ever had to endure. I honestly wish they had given me the option to undergo surgery right away instead of having to go through the inducement process. The purpose of the process was to dilate my cervix to prepare for a vaginal birth (or so they thought). The first one was too painful to endure, so they gave me a second option. That one took 3 times to attempt, the final time I was able to endure it and finally got through the hardest part.

 Overnight, we waited. On the morning of September 21st, 2018, we were just waking up and all of a sudden the heart rate dropped on the monitor. In less than 2 seconds everyone (nurses, medical assistants, doctors, specialists) come rushing through the room doors and immediately become hands on trying to figure out what is happening. All I heard was, “get on all fours!” “get on your knees and hands right now!” So, I did. As I’m in this position I start screaming to ask for information on what the hell was going on here. 

My birth wasn’t an emergency birth because of the accident,  it was because of my baby’s heart rate dropping while being induced. I was totally unprepared for this experience. They never gave me a cesarean option or made it seem like an option from the very beginning of the inducement. I never was told I was going to have a C-section until the last couple of seconds before being rolled out of my room. When everyone came to my room to figure out why his heart rate dropped, I overheard a nurse say “roll her out to the OR,” and that was as formal a warning as it was going to get in this story. 

Now that I work in healthcare, communicating everything with the patient helps them trust you. It also allows the procedure to take course in a natural flow because narration is leading. Of course, during this time it was an emergency, but I feel like I only felt doubtful or scared because I didn’t know what was going on. Nobody was communicating with me and the environment was chaotic. This part of labor was the most traumatic, the couple seconds that I didn’t know what was going to happen or what could happen.

In those fast 60 seconds, I was being rolled out to the “OR” (operating room). I asked for my child’s father to be present and they told me they would allow him to come in. They never allowed him in, assuming because of the emergency and not knowing the outcome of the emergency. I was upset (at the time) that my son’s dad couldn’t be in the delivery room with me because I needed that extra support. The nurses didn’t want to hold my hand, I was grabbing their scrubs for dear life. I was scared. It would have been nice to have him there with me but now looking back, I know that it was best he wasn’t present because anything could have happened. And instead of having them deal with possibly detaining him from acting on emotions, they were able to just focus on delivering Oriyon safely.

 I just remember being SO scared and unprepared for what was happening. None of the videos I watched on “giving birth” went like this! LOL, no more than 15 minutes passed and my baby was safely delivered and healthy. I couldn’t believe it though. I didn’t know what he was going to look like, I didn’t know that I was going to have him so quickly. I was in awe to think that this precious little baby came from inside of me. His dad was able to be the first one to hold him while I was unconscious and recovering from the procedure. I woke up in pain but was able to see and hold my baby boy, Oriyon Hasani, 4lbs 10oz for the first time. 

The most traumatizing part of my whole labor experience was being rolled into the operating room without knowledge of what could happen next. And the inducement takes second place to that. To the vaginal birth-giving mothers that may look down on C-section mothers or jokingly say that they didn’t give birth to their baby, I don’t agree. I personally don’t feel like it makes me less of a mother, But I finally understood why moms are the way they are. 

In some way, I finally understood  what my mom was talking about when she would tell me, “You’re not ready for a baby.” But honestly nobody ever is. I think she meant it in a warning way, like I wasn’t ready for the pain of giving birth but also the pain I would be willing to endure for someone else. Having money, being out of your parents’ house, being over 30, being married, that doesn’t make you any more or any less ready to have a baby. 

Being a new mom was hard for me because it was a realization of how I would be fully responsible for this little human, forever. The new thought of having created a whole entire human is still very shocking to me. Everything happened so quickly. I was in so much pain, I couldn’t begin to wrap my head around the fact that I had my baby, right here, and NOW. I began to second guess and question my ability to be the mother I wanted to be. With the reassurance of my family, friends and his dad, I was able to take it one day at a time learn to be patient and get a hang of motherhood. 

When I was still in the hospital, I was on an intense amount of drugs. I had access at the tip of my finger, with the press of a button. It was pre-covid so I was able to have visitors come to my room, and of course, people were coming in to see him. I was just so drugged out in pain. I remember what was happening but it’s so blurry as a memory. It’s as if I was watching a movie of someone else’s life. The healing process was horrid for me. At home, I was spending a lot of time alone with my newborn. At the time, I lived with my son’s dad and his family, and everyone would go to work so I was doing things for myself most of the day.

 I went through an intense chapter of PPD (Postpartum Depression), and things started to change around me very quickly. I didn’t get enough time to process, just adapt. I suppressed a lot of those emotions. Being a new mom, I was sort of just existing for the first couple of months. There was a lot going on with my new extended family, shortly after I gave birth. My son’s dad went away for a short time and I had to move back in with my mom. I didn’t have much time or space to feel every emotion that I was feeling or wanted to feel. I had to think about my son and what was best for him. My emotions were on the back burner and I wasn’t able to express or identify a lot of these emotions until a year ago. 

A lot of my healing is so recent. Oriyon is now 3 years old and I am now 25, I feel like I have just now fully healed from postpartum depression. Now, I’m working through some generational trauma at this point of parenting. I have done a lot of self-reflecting and spiritual work. And I changed my career pursuit. I don’t believe that it takes everyone this long, but I do believe that it takes real work, time, self-reflecting, and acceptance of self.

Coming out of this journey I had to learn and discover who I was all over again. Not like “What’s my favorite color?” or “What’s my regular Starbucks order?” but like allowing myself to have some ME time without feeling guilty, like buying myself some essentials without buying my son anything.

I often share how I feel like my son saved me because of the decisions I could have made. I know myself, and I know I can be impulsive, but because I had my son, I could easily establish what I should be doing. I’m constantly putting my son first. I grew out of a lot of people and bad habits once I became Oriyon’s mom. The first time I experienced death really close in my family, I had bad coping mechanisms. I was unproductive, angry, and I relied a lot on numbing myself – I didn’t really care about much.

Having a baby changed me. It was hard to transition to the mom phase, but it was happening for the better. Getting in tune with my inner being allowed me to be a stronger woman and better parent. Overtime, I learned to separate myself from a lot of things that I felt were hindering me and blinding me. I did what I needed to do to reach what I wanted to obtain. I have wanted to create sustainability for us, to love myself physically and mentally, and to become more patient as a parent. 

Over all, I came to a realization that only I was in the way of my own self and I was allowing myself to come up with excuses to be toxic, sporadic, and impulsive. It was important to be gentle with myself and having those breakdowns. The set backs were essential to my personal growth. In the end, the most rewarding feeling is the amount of  growth within relationships, bonds, and experiences. Being able to use that in all areas of life to be so full and grateful to the point of self joy feels so amazing. I am truly blessed.

The best part about being a mom is having someone who truly loves you for who you are. As a parent, we don’t realize that our kids look up to us. They look at us as if we are heroes that can make anything happen, they love us unconditionally, and they spend majority of their time with us (as moms). They don’t get to see the struggles or the tears and even if they do, they wipe our tears for us. They could be so young, and still, they know just what to do. Being a mom is so dope to me because it gives me purpose on my darkest days.

I like to think of my pregnancy as a gift from my grandma to have purpose and motivation to keep going. This second family death brought new life. There’s really no telling where I would be without my son.” -Reign

Tee: On Falling Back In Love With My Body

Story 1 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 Tee’s story, written in her own words:

“Your physical body is, and has always been, your true love” – Don Miguel Ruiz Jr., The Three Questions

“On falling back in love with my body. 

Trigger warning: Sexual assault

When we consider beauty ideals and standards, we have seen the shifts in what is glorified versus what is looked down upon throughout time. For one era, thin is in, and with the switch of time, being more voluptuous has become a trend. We hear it in music, we see it on social media, where so many women have become pro-body work and the BBL has become a new sign of wealth. These beauty ideals clearly target women and femme presenting people more so than anyone, and as we know they can be very harmful to one’s self esteem. What we don’t always talk about is how certain body idealization poses a violent threat to the existence of Black women and women of color. 

On one hand, we know that the glorification of thin bodies has been heavily present in mass media time after time. This Eurocentric ideal of what an attractive body should look like has been pushed on us since.. well since colonization has ever been a thing. You do the math. But on the other hand, there is a different type of “glorification” that happens among those who are not thin. Some call it “Hypersexualization.”

“Hypersexualization, or the sexualization of public space, involves the attribution by the media of a sexual character to a product or behavior that has nothing intrinsically sexual about it.” – Quebec. Ca

It has been a silent weapon used against Black women for centuries. For women who may be heavier set with bigger breasts and butts, they are sexualized. The identity of the tempest, the spectacle, the porn star, the hooker, the woman at anyone’s sexual disposal has been highlighted and forced onto women with this kind of shape. We are often taught to cover our bodies because we are showing more skin than is appropriate, even if we are showing just as much if not less skin than our thinner counter parts. Those around us also perpetuate the harm by commenting on our bodies in a sexual manner. 

I have fallen victim and survivor to this treatment. 

Since a child, I have always been on the thicker side. I was called names like “big booty judy” and made a spectacle at a very young age. I developed breasts fairly quickly, and because of my body developing so quickly, I was made to be mindful of it at all times. Because of my shape, I had to constantly be aware of how others saw me, whether or not they were looking at me with a lustful gaze, be sure not to wear clothing too tight, make sure not to bend over, not to show too much cleavage, always wear a bra, etc. All as early as maybe 8 years old. 

I was taught that if I revealed too much, that I would be giving off the wrong message. When I was dating, I had to be mindful of my partners dads, friends, brothers, cousins, etc. because at any moment that my partner caught one of them looking at my body, it became my fault. I was also raised both by my family and external socialization, to believe that the more of myself that I showed, the more vulnerable I was to experiences with sexual predators.

I am a survivor of multiple sexual assaults, ranging from the age of 4 years old to my early 20s. 

In none of those moments, was I ever showing too much skin. However, the shame and guilt that my parents were socialized to place upon me and thus, I was in belief of, caused me to keep these experiences to myself. I did not disclose to them any of what I experienced until I was 21 through a poem that I shared at a showcase I was performing at. The poem highlights how fear of being victim shamed and getting in trouble or causing havoc and discord could happen if someone knew. Which is often the silent burden that many survivors of sexual assault carry. Not only within their conscience, but within their bodies. This need to conceal, because the reality of the war on our bodies is too heavy a topic to be open about is an incredibly taxing place to exist in.

The feeling of my body being my fault made it such a burden to live comfortably in it. When I was a child, I was a dancer. Dancing was my first true love. But I stopped wanting to dance after I had experienced my wits end of sexual assault. The experiences I was going through behind closed doors made me hyper-aware of my body to the point where I was constantly seeing the differences between my shape and that of my peers. It felt like a constant beating into my head that my shape was the cause. And as a child, how am I to believe anything different than what trauma that hasn’t been addressed is telling me? I started to lose touch with my body. So much of me became numb because I didn’t want to feel the hurt that I had experienced. I didn’t want to touch myself, I shied away from others touching me at all, unless they were my parents or my partner. I didn’t feel comfortable with pleasing myself because I felt like my body didn’t deserve that type of intimate connection with anything. Not even myself. 

My body started to feel like nothing but a container for trauma.

Because I’ve tried to cope not only with my experience with hypersexualization, but also with my experiences with sexual violence, I resorted to many methods of changing my appearance. In some ways I felt that if I conformed to the expectations of women, that it would provide me more safety. So, I began dressing more “modest” at one point and wearing hijab, a traditional head covering observed in Islam and muslim countries. I also kept my hair cut really short/bald for several years because I thought that it gave me more respect or a distractor from my body being the main subject of people’s attraction. I can’t say that any of this helped me to fully cope, and it brought me to the idea that hypersexualization isn’t something to be coped with, more-so challenged.

My experience with body positivity is a bit different, because its less about the rejection of my image, and more about breaking down the fetishization of my image. FETISHIZATION is NOT positivity. It is detrimental to the well-being of so many femme presenting people. It makes a body problem into an internal emotional and mental problem. To me, being body positive has to do with normalizing the view of a woman’s body to de-fetishize and therefore contribute to ending rape culture.  

My first act of resistance was getting back in touch with my body. Knowing that the best way to feel safe in my body again is to know it. So I began dancing again about a year ago. 

These days, I’m definitely not all the way there yet, but I’m rebuilding a bond of trust between my mind, body and spirit as a unit. So that my body no longer feels like a place to hold trauma, but instead a place to host an abundant spirit and a brilliant mind. I’m dancing more often just because it is something I can do for and with myself to feel my body and know it is mine. It has become a celebration of sorts, to move my body and touch my body when I need it. Because of this, I now go to sleep holding myself like I’m giving myself a hug.

Then there was OnlyFans..

I am comfortably able to say that I am an OnlyFans content producer and by spectrum of definition, a sex worker. This is not my only means of income and it’s not what I do for a living, but it is something that I do. My experience with OnlyFans has made me aware of several things. The greatest being, my own sensuality. I was so disconnected from my body due to trauma, that I never touched myself, never wore lingerie, never knew myself outside of someone else’s touch or validation. But when I began using my OnlyFans, I found my ability to treat the experience of my sensuality like carefully curated art. I was able to show up in a way that I never felt comfortable doing because in my mind, concealing myself was supposed to protect me. Even though concealing myself never actually did. 

I began my OnlyFans account in the midst of the pandemic, because it seemed like an interesting and easy way to accrue income. I liked the fact that I could have full discretion, post what I wanted to and if people wanted to subscribe, they could, while I could also make money from what seemed like them simply just wanting to see what I shared there that the rest of the cyber-world didn’t get to see. During my span on OnlyFans, I’ve had many of my subscribers express to me that although I am sexually attractive, they can’t sexualize me because they see me as a person. Many of them have become far more interested in just knowing how my day is going, hearing my poetry, and engaging with me about my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong, they still subscribe to see my content. But I’d like to believe that because I have taken the time to get to know my body again, as my own.. that it shows in my content. 

Of course, when it comes to any kind of sex work, there is a negative connotation that I believe is inherently an attack on women. That being that sex-work is shameful and it is solely a matter of force and trauma response. However, that is simply not true. Sex-work has existed for centuries and is actually one of the oldest trades to exist. The reason for it to be condemned is heavily rooted in colonialism and capitalism because a person’s body is not something you can put a price on and/or tax. Otherwise, that is slavery. Which does happen. But so much of how we base our moral compass, our perspective of women and what is women’s business, has to do with money. So, as I engage with OnlyFans, I feel content with my ability to charge what I want to disclose and what I want. When you allow people autonomy and agency, they are able to do so much to reclaim themselves. 

My body, in many ways, has responded to my agency. It responds to me giving it options through what I eat, how I move it around, who I allow to engage with it, how I embrace it. This is what I love most about it. My body, no matter what it has been through at the hands of others, or even myself, always believes in me enough to keep me living in it. I’m not sure that I gain as much for being confident in my body as I do from the sheer fact that my body is confident in me. I am building a relationship with it that is focused on close intention and attention. My body trusts itself and trust me to notice when something is wrong, and to remedy what the issue is. I am in immense gratitude for the resilience of this vessel. 

I show my body positivity by thanking it for all that it survived through. I thank it for still giving me the ability to feel pleasure even though I denied it of that for so long. I thank it for bearing with me as I numbed and navigated out of touch with it. I thank it for choosing to host my spirit everyday. I thank if for all of its imperfections. I thank if for looking the way it looks, for how it carries weight. I thank it for sticking with me and having patience with me as I learn to love it despite all that has made it feel unworthy of love. Above all, I thank it for always loving me back.” -Tee

Pushing Forward

For the sake of the individual’s safety and privacy, they have chosen to share their story anonymously.

Do you ever think back to the times before something very significant in your life happened? You can remember the exact moment when someone entered your life, and little did you know at the time that life as you knew it would never be the same again? This is one of those stories. Their story started with a handshake.

It was kind’ve awkward to be honest. Jordan said hello, but Alex stayed mute, keeping their eyes down to the ground, and finally they shook Jordan’s hand. At work, they befriended the same people and were in the same department. They were bound to have conversations and bump into each other regularly. Alex started to notice that Jordan was taking an interest in them, maybe even trying to pursue a relationship. Jordan was very flirtatious, and Alex didn’t know how to feel. Alex definately thought that Jordan was out of their league – there was no way a romantic relationship would develop between the two. But Alex started to feel themself getting attracted to Jordan’s charming ways. Alex really liked that Jordan’s presence came off as “in control.” One day Alex caught a glimpse of Jordan’s eyes in the sunlight, it was a done deal.

From there, the couple moved pretty fast. They moved in together about 6 months into their relationship, and they were already planning a wedding by the end of their first year together. Alex describes everything in their relationship as “moving fast.” From “I love you’s,” to moving in, to taking “what’s mine is yours,” very literally, and so on. At the time, Alex didn’t see that as a red flag. And why would Alex second guess Jordan? Jordan swept Alex off of their feet and played the part well – making their love look so real, and making Alex feel like their love would last a lifetime. Alex was ecstatic, they never thought that a person like Jordan would be in a relationship with them. However, moving fast in the relationship was just 1 red flag of many. And unfortunately, Alex’s happiness did not last very long.

Alex explains that initially, these red flags didn’t even come up as red flags to them at the time. Why? They were so wrapped up in the “bubble” of happiness and the relationship, that they didn’t think twice about the manipulation. In fact, it took almost a decade later for Alex to understand that they were a victim of domestic abuse. Alex’s therapist helped Alex see all of the red flags that they missed throughout their 8 year long relationship. Moving fast in the relationship, Alex learned, is a tactic narcissist abusers use to start controlling their partners. But Alex was so caught up in the bubble, that they didn’t even realize Jordan’s actions were signs of control.

Very early on, Alex would hear the way Jordan would treat and talk to their ex-partners, since Jordan had children from previous relationships. Alex would always try to get Jordan to see the ex partners’ side, especially since Jordan had to co-parent with them. Jordan would boast about having children with different partners, and how there were probably more children they didn’t know about. Alex thought it was odd that Jordan would take pride in that, but brushed it off. 7 months into their relationship, Alex and Jordan got news that they were expecting. Alex never expected that co-parenting would soon be in their distant future, and they would be in Jordan’s exs’ shoes.

As soon as their relationship started, so did the rules. Jordan didn’t like the fact that Alex had personal social media accounts. Alex was forced into deleting their personal accounts, and had to replace them with joint accounts that they shared with Jordan. The people that they followed were mostly Jordan’s family and friends. Every friend / follower was approved by Jordan. Jordan got to choose who Alex interacted with on social media, and made sure Alex wasn’t searching or interacting with anyone they didn’t approve of. This meant that Alex couldn’t keep in contact with their own friends if Jordan didn’t approve of them. The first round of cut off’s happened with social media, and Alex didn’t know that they’d lose a lot more friendships due to Jordan down the line.

Jordan wanted the joint social media accounts because they wanted to keep tabs on who Alex spoke to. The agreement was that both of them would delete their personal accounts and just have the joint relationship account. Alex discovered that Jordan had personal accounts of their own. Alex couldn’t believe it, they thought it was bullshit that Jordan went out of their way to control the followers and accounts, only to have their own accounts secretly. Alex was pissed, so they decided to make their own personal accounts again. This would only add more fuel to the small fire already burning.

Alex started to lose a lot of friendships quickly. Some ended because Jordan demanded Alex end the friendships, and others ended because some friends were trying to tell Alex that this was not a healthy relationship. Alex would blame themself for the way Jordan treated them – not trusting them, accusing them, and controlling them. When Alex would vent to friends, their friends would tell them how the relationship wasn’t normal behavior. Alex would brush it off and try to justify Jordan’s actions, being oblivious and in denial about their reality. Jordan didn’t approve of Alex’s friends that were of the opposite sex. Jordan forced Alex to block and cut ties with many friends, but the rules never applied to Jordan. They were still friends with people of the opposite sex, and being very suspicious with a certain classmate. It was a double standard, and Alex was the only one having boundaries and rules.

Jordan started to accuse Alex of cheating. To make sure Alex’s self-esteem was low, Jordan would verbally put Alex down – commenting on their appearance, weight, and claiming that they could sleep with anyone. It was ironic to say the least because majority of their fights were due to Jordan’s flirtatious ways. Sometimes, the flirting would happen right infront of Alex. But when Alex would get upset, Jordan would brush it off as Alex having jealously issues. No matter what, Jordan always made Alex feel like they were doing something wrong and sneaky.

“No matter how many times I defended myself, I was always wrong in (their) eyes and I was the cheater,” Alex recalls. “I was upset of course. I could give reason – a valid reason – but (they) would never accept it as the truth.”

Jordan never let up on accusing Alex of cheating their whole 8+ year relationship. But there were multiple times where Alex caught Jordan cheating on them. And everytime Alex would confront Jordan about it, Jordan would say Alex is delusional. But the proof was in the pudding – all the messages, lies, and things not adding up. This put Alex in a difficult situation because by this time, they had a couple of children together already. Alex was tired of Jordan putting them down for things they were not guilty of. The least Jordan could do was admit their wrong doing, instead of projecting it back on Alex.

But that’s what Jordan was best at. Jordan would emotionally abuse Alex by not validating their feelings, ignoring them when they needed support, being very detached from the family. Alex admits that almost 9 years together and they still didn’t feel like they knew much about Jordan. Jordan kept to themselves, and didn’t give too much detail about their personal life and upbringing. This sense of privacy angered Alex because they just wanted to bond. Alex felt as though they only knew snippets of who Jordan really was, and there was no sign of Jordan budging or letting anyone in. They knew the basics of Jordan – like their favorite color, simple likes and dislikes, food, but anything passed that, Jordan kept Alex in the dark.

“8 years with (them), I’m assuming I was the only person who stayed the longest, and I learned about (them) from others,” Alex said.

Throughout their relationship, verbal abuse was very common. Jordan would call Alex names and put them down all the time. Everytime Alex tried to confront Jordan of cheating, even having valid evidence, Jordan would resort to name calling. Psycho. Stalker. Crazy. The list went on. Jordan would comment on Alex’s appearance, saying they gained weight, they should work out, they should do XYZ to themselves. Threats, insults, name calling, and being put down was common in their household.

On top of the verbal abuse, Jordan was notorious for their gaslighting. Jordan was constantly lying, making Alex believe the things they claimed – even if Alex had solid proof. Jordan’s go to defense mechanism was to deny deny deny. Jordan would deny saying something, even when Alex recalled the conversation and the details. It seemed like everything Jordan was guilty of, he would just project it back on Alex. Any questions Alex may have had were always met with accusations of Alex being a cheater, liar, and being at fault for causing a fight. Alex was miserable, but at the same time desperately wanted Jordan’s love. It was a love hate relationship, and that’s what made it all the more confusing.

Alex kept all these red flags from her family. They didn’t want their family’s perception of Jordan to change. Alex was protecting Jordan’s honor, and wanted their family to still see Jordan in a positive light. Therefore, Alex dealt with the abuse alone. Alex’s mother was extremely fond of Jordan. From the moment Alex brought Jordan home, Alex’s mother thought Jordan was great and really loved them. For 8 years, Alex’s family didn’t know how tumultuous their relationship was. On top of that, Jordan started to shit talk Alex’s family. Jordan would categorize them with certain stereotypes, and would judge them. To make Alex more insecure, Jordan would say that Alex’s sibling(s) wanted to have sex with them. Jordan claimed that Alex’s sibling(s) have mentioned it/ have hinted that they would be down for a sexual encounter. Alex didn’t believe what Jordan claimed, but was weary. Alex no longer wanted their sibling(s) around Jordan, fearing that what Jordan claimed was true. Alex started to distance themselves from their siblings.

Alex believes that this is part of the reason why Jordan wanted to move so far away from their family. Alex now sees, over 10 years later, that this was Jordan’s way of isolating them from people they were close to. They moved to another state – far enough that Jordan was confident that Alex’s family couldn’t afford to visit. They moved around a lot because Jordan was never satisfied with their location. Within 2 years they moved 4 times, from apartment complex to the next, to out of state, and another relocation after that. They finally settled in California. Alex had no family and no friends near by. All they had was Jordan, their kids, and Jordan’s family and friends. Alex felt alone throughout their relationship, but this time, they were actually alone, with no one to turn to except their abuser.

Alex was really lonely in California. Jordan would tell Alex that they were boring, and would act as if they were helping by forcing their family to hangout with Alex. In reality, Alex knew that they were just a burden to Jordan’s family, and Jordan forced others to hangout with Alex so they themself wouldn’t have to. Alex’s main and only concern were their children. But it seemed like Jordan always put their family last. Alex had enough. They were tired of the mind games, the name calling, the abuse, the cheating, not feeling good enough, they didn’t even recognize themself in the mirror anymore. Alex hit their breaking point. The relationship was going on 9 years, 9 years too long.

“I wanted to be loved, noticed, valued, and appreciated… but I wasn’t,” Alex shared. “I know now that I will never get those things from (Jordan), (they’re) incapable of it. Instead, I felt like I was a chess piece in (their) mind, just waiting to use me for (their) personal gain.”

A month before their 9 year anniversary, Alex made the decision to end their relationship. Alex was in the shower, taking extra long to avoid their reality. Something about that shower made Alex realize how unhappy they were in the relationship. It dawned on them that they were in a relationship with Jordan for almost 9 years, and never really knew the real them. Alex got out of the shower, and Jordan walked in the room with their phone in hand. Alex knew they had to end it.

“I don’t want to be with you anymore,” Alex told Jordan.

“Okay,” Jordan said.

Not a week later, Jordan was in a relationship with someone else. Alex was heartbroken. Jordan didn’t hesitate to say “okay” to not being together, and didn’t put up a fight for their family. And just like that, Jordan was repeating the same cycle with someone else, saying “I love you,” fast -less than 1 week after breaking up with Alex. On top of that, their lease was ending. Alex wanted to stay in the apartment and was going to take full responsibility of the rent and bills, and just needed Jordan to sign off on the lease. But Alex knew they couldn’t depend on Jordan, so Alex started to look for short term residency for themself and the children, not waiting for Jordan’s response.

Jordan didn’t come through with signing on another lease. This left Alex and their children homeless. For a month they lived in a motel, while Jordan moved in with their new significant other. When the children would go with Jordan, Alex would crash on a friend’s couch. Jordan never offered for the kids and Alex to stay with them in the meantime. Eventually, Alex found a place for themself and the kids. But California was just too much – too expensive, too stressful, too much for a single parent. Alex and the kids had to move back to Alex’s home state.

Alex and the kids moved out of state, and for a while the two were co-parenting from a distance. Alex finally decided to seek help. Therapy was Alex’s way to regain control of themself again. Alex felt lost, they couldn’t eat, they couldn’t sleep, and they wanted to find another way to cope with the failed relationship. It is at therapy that Alex learned that they were in an abusive relationship with a narcissist. They couldn’t believe it. When the therapist pointed out all the red flags and all the ways Jordan manipulated and abused them, Alex broke out into tears. 8 plus years of abuse validated. The therapist was confirming that Alex wasn’t crazy, they weren’t psycho, they weren’t making things up and misremembering information. It was abuse.

For a while, Alex felt like they were in a better place mentally. Their progress was tested when Jordan moved to where Alex and the children were after a couple of years of co-parenting from different states. Alex and Jordan became fuck buddies, and with time, it started to give Alex hope. Hope that they could possibly be a family again, or atleast co-parent respectfully. Alex was wrong. They realized once again that Jordan would never be the partner they wanted them to be. Alex admits that the fuck buddy system was put in place only because it was familiar.

The two stopped being friends with benefits, and Jordan found another partner to move in with. After all these years, Jordan was still pulling the same tactics. But even though Jordan has a new love interest, that doesn’t mean they’re over playing mind games with Alex. Jordan brings up occasionally how the two should try for another child. Alex thinks back to the crazy custody battles and how difficult it is to co-parent with Jordan, and shuts down the idea.

To this day, Alex’s family doesn’t know the truth about Jordan and their relationship. Only one of Alex’s siblings knows the truth. When Alex’s mom boasts about Jordan doing a good deed or brings them up in general, Alex can’t help but roll their eyes. But they don’t divulge their deepest darkest secrets, they don’t try to get their family to hate Jordan too, they don’t tell a peep about anything from the past. And in a way, Alex still fights this battle alone. They notice a huge change in the person they have become, but still won’t share it with the family.

And the same goes for friends. After Jordan and Alex broke up, Alex tried to rekindle the old friendships they lost. Sometimes it was successful, and sometimes it wasn’t. They acknowledge that these friendships ended due to Jordan, but sometimes it didn’t seem worth it to rekindle. Long absences usually calls for catching up, and Alex didn’t want to explain the past and relive what they went through. It was their business and they didn’t feel comfortable to share. They also didn’t feel like they needed to explain themself.

“I reached out to them, sometimes it worked and other times I realized it wasn’t a good situation to rekindle anything,” Alex said. “When you’re forced to remove friends from your life and you go back and rekindle things, you face judgments and you go into catching up with them. Oftentimes, there are questions, and I didn’t want to answer any of it so I just left it alone and left the friendship alone.”

Alex’s advice for the outsiders worried about a friend’s relationship is to be understanding. They advise that you hold your judments and opinions, and simply just be there for your friend. It’s easy to say and give advice when you are an outsider looking in, but when you’re actually in a toxic abusive relationship, it’s hard. Yes, give your opinions and voice out your concerns, but don’t make the person feel worse about themselves.

Alex and Jordan was in a relationship for almost 9 years, and they will have to both be in each other’s lives to an extent for their children. Alex has lost hope that they can co-parent peacefully with Jordan. Alex sees how happy their children are to have Jordan back in their lives, and they say that’s what made this journey worth it. But Alex does admit that co-parenting with a narcissist is nearly impossible. They feel as though they’re being sabotaged majority of the time. Alex doesn’t know yet if they’ll ever tell their kids the truth about Jordan. Their main concern is to protect the kids from the illusions Jordan tends to paint.

Alex has come a long way with working on themselves. They put up boundaries, and try hard to not let Jordan’s words get to them. Alex stressed the importance of thinking before reacting, and that has saved them a lot of tears. But of course, there are days when Alex just can’t stand Jordan – they break, they cry, they yell, they blast music to try to remember the bulletpoints of how Jordan tries to manipulate and control situations. There are days when Alex just writes. They write down all the negative things they want to say to Jordan until they feel better. They’ve put up walls, and they know they’re not the same person they used to be. Alex is at a constant battle fighting for themself, their mind, their heart.

“After the relationship ended, it took a while for me to accept what I went through, what my kids went through,” Alex said. “Now I accept it, I no longer deny my experience and my past. It is not my fault. What I went through was never my fault.”