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My Road to Motherhood by Rochelle Cortez

My second cousin/nephew is my son. Allow me to explain.

When I was five years old, I accompanied my mom to the gynecologist. We were sitting in the waiting room and there were dusty pamphlets on the end tables. I was an avid reader so I grabbed one, not knowing how that one action would have such an unbelievably huge affect on my life. When I opened it, it was a play-by-play of childbirth… with photos… I was both fascinated & horrified. I looked at my mom and told her, “Mommy, I’m never having babies.” She kind of laughed it off and said I’d change my mind when I was older and being a mom was the best thing in the world. I looked at her with disgust and said, “I’m never having babies.” At the age of five, I had no idea what life would bring me.

Believe it or not, as I got older, I stuck to my mantra of “I’m never having babies.” I didn’t want children. It wasn’t part of my 5 or 10 year plan. I didn’t want the experience of pregnancy or childbirth. I didn’t want to raise or nurture another human being. So, when at the age of 18, cysts on my ovaries resulted in the removal of my right ovary and a severely damaged left ovary, the option of having babies was no longer viable. When I woke up after surgery, the surgeon and my parents were in the room. Everyone looked so sad and that’s when they explained the damage and how having children wouldn’t be in the cards for me. I looked at them and said, “That’s fine. I don’t want kids anyway.” I didn’t feel sad or upset. Please, understand — I’m in no way making light of the many women whose journey to motherhood isn’t easy. I have nothing but love and compassion for these beautiful warriors. For me, I just never had that yearning. My cousin Tommy grew up with us. My parents essentially raised him and to them, he was their son, to us he was our brother. We were extremely close so when he shared with us that he was going to be a father, we were really excited. As with most Mexican families, the older cousins become “Tia” or “Tio” to their cousin’s children. So, although I had long been a Tia, this felt different. I couldn’t wait to be an aunt. I remember telling Tommy’s girlfriend, Norma, “I feel like you’re going to have twins.” When they went to the doctor to hear the baby’s heart beat, they found out she was indeed carrying twins! Later, we found out it was a boy and a girl. It was an a exciting time because they lived with us so I was able to hear about every check up and watch the twins grow in her ever expanding belly. On August 11, 1993, Tommy Don Talley, Jr. (TJ) and Christina Marie Talley were born. Unfortunately, baby Christina had complications and she didn’t make it. Heaven gained another angel. It was a devastation I hadn’t felt before — I kept telling Norma during her pregnancy that baby girl was going to be my baby and I was going to kidnap her. I felt such a connection to the twins, something inside me kept saying these babies were going to be a huge part of my life. When Tommy & Norma brought TJ home, he was wrapped in a big blanket, face covered, and they placed him in my arms. I pulled the blanket from his face — he was wide awake. He had the biggest, most expressive eyes — his eyes stared up at me & I melted. I immediately fell in love. I knew he was special. I knew it even back then. It is TJ’s story to tell, and perhaps one day, I’ll get to a place where I’ll feel comfortable speaking of the details and my own experiences leading up to him coming to live with us. It wasn’t a burden, it was a privilege to raise him. My family and close friends all know TJ isn’t my biological child, but I am one of his moms and he is my child. It’s offensive to me when people minimize my role in his life. As if not carrying or giving birth to TJ somehow lessens my role or contributions. Imaging giving your all to a child, sacrificing, loving them with all of your heart and then someone demotes you. Just because I know who I am doesn’t make it any less hurtful. I didn’t need to carry or give birth to TJ — I’m his mom in every way that matters. I like to say that 28 years later, I’m still trying to lose the baby weight. Lol! Norma and I have had our battles over the years. Knock down, drag out fights. It wasn’t easy. It was always combative. Always. Lines were drawn. Sides were taken. We couldn’t stand being in the same room. There were no winners. All it did was hurt the kids. My granddaughter had 3 baby showers because her grandmothers couldn’t come together and have just one. It was hard. There was no shortage of resentment, anger or regret. Six years ago, our nephew passed away and it hugely impacted our family. We all wanted peace. Something in us clicked — we knew TJ had enough love in his heart for all of us. We didn’t need to compete. We didn’t need to fight for his affection. We needed to forgive. We needed to heal. It’s gotten much better, but there’s still work to do, and as long as we’re in each other’s lives, there will always be work to do. Through my own therapy, I’m learning how to cultivate and navigate these complex relationships, and acknowledge my role in the combativeness so that we don’t revert back to type. As long as it makes us better, I’ll keep doing the work. I’m proud of us — we’ve come a long way. I couldn’t love TJ (or his sisters, my nieces, Tiffany & Emily) any more than I already do. Up to the age of 23, I didn’t want children… then I became a mom. And it has been the greatest joy in my life. It has also been a great source of pain and hurt, however, as parents we understand the need for resiliency. We know we don’t have the luxury of falling apart because we have these little human beings who need us. Then, they grow up and still need us. We do our best to shield our children from pain. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we don’t. When we don’t, we carry that with us, wishing we could absorb their pain… any of it. All of it. I wasn’t a perfect parent. I made many, many mistakes. If I could get a do over for the times I was less than perfect, I’d take it. Without question. Life, however, doesn’t work that way. I did the best I could, with what I knew. I loved, cared for, supported and nurtured TJ. I look at him and I know there’s a God because he has survived so much. He is healing and sharing his story in hopes of helping others. In a devoted bid to break generational cycles, he shares his pain, his growth, his life lessons. I’m so proud of him — like I said, I always knew he was special. 28 years ago, I became a mom. 8 years ago, I became a grandmother for the first time. Today, I have a son, two daughters (my nieces Tiffany & Emily), a daughter-in-law, a granddaughter, a grandson and another grandson making his debut in October. I didn’t want to be a mom, but being one has been everything my mom said it would be. It is the greatest gift I never knew I needed. I have learned valuable lessons and been blessed beyond measure. I’ve had more love than any one person deserves. It hasn’t always been easy… but it has always been worth it. It will ALWAYS be worth it.

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