‘People ask if Emilio is mine. Without a second thought, I respond, ‘Yes.’: Woman shares beautiful bonus mom journey after toxic relationship

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“Two years ago, had you asked me about the chances of me becoming a mother any time soon, I surely would have laughed and said, ‘Not likely.’ Not because a desire to create life and have a baby of my own was not a goal and strong desire of mine. Certainly not because I do not like children either. In fact, my occupation centers around young children and their development as a behavior analyst.

woman posing for a pic
Courtesy of Sierra Brown

On the contrary, becoming a mother and raising children in a loving family has been heavy on my mind for quite some time. At the immature age of 11 or 12, I had already begun choosing unique names for my future babies with birth order, gender, and namesake in mind. In fact, I truly dreamt of being called ‘mommy,’ nurturing children to the fullest, and experiencing that love which many mothers and fathers describe as ‘a love you cannot place limits upon,’ one you will never understand until you become a parent yourself. However, my experiences have led me to find this untrue.

There were many reasons why I feared pregnancy and motherhood would not be in the cards for me. For starters, I was diagnosed with Poly-cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) at age 20, during my sophomore year of college at the beginning of softball season. At the time, many uncertainties held a place in my mind. First off, my symptoms of PCOS were often so unbearable that I couldn’t make it out of my dorm room bed. For those unfamiliar with PCOS, common symptoms include nausea, unpredictable and painful menstrual cycles, excessive hair growth, significant fluctuations in weight, and extreme fatigue. I happened to experience all of these symptoms in excess.

My doctor loaded me up on many prescriptions to reduce the intensity and frequency of my symptoms, in hopes to increase my quality of life. However, one of the most significant and life-altering symptoms of PCOS is a lack of fertility, and being on numerous medications to alter my hormones was only making my likelihood of experiencing motherhood less and less. Since becoming a mother has always been so important to me, I would constantly worry about my fertility and hopelessly wonder if the life of a mother could ever be mine.

In addition to my medical condition, I had committed to a toxic and unhealthy relationship for almost six years. Constantly, I was reminded to not speak unless I was spoken to. Affection was incredibly rare and not given unless asked for frequently. My job was to secure the home financially, keep things clean, and simply do as I was told. There was not enough space for my dreams and goals.

woman posing in the forest
Courtesy of Sierra Brown

Physical and mental abuse was truly all I knew. At that point, I felt I deserved it too. Not because I was a bad person, but because my significant other at the time had made me feel so small. I felt I had so much to improve upon that I would never be in a place where I felt secure, loved, and supported because I would always come up short. How in the world could I become a loving mother and raise children if everything I did was wrong and my needs are not important? This belief, I came to realize was largely untrue as well.

In July of 2019, I sat in a recording studio on the East side of Saint Louis. Although I was still dating and found myself in yet another unhealthy relationship at the time, I couldn’t help but have a free-flowing conversation with the handsome guy who was recording after the musician I arrived with. We lingered outside the studio, chatting about our favorite snacks, our goals, and our passions. Part of our discussion included how we had both been burnt in the past by unhealthy relationships that prevented us from being our full selves and working towards our goals. We ended up at the same place many times following our initial meeting and always made a point to interact with each other. At the time, I had no clue that this man would come to be the most important person in my life and the man I loved in just a few short years.

Fast forward to March 2020, the beginning of COVID and the end of my tolerance for abusive relationships…I started therapy for my anxiety and past traumas that led me to believe I was so unworthy to receive the unconditional love I dreamt of giving to my future lover and children. After 6 months devoted to relearning myself and my needs, I opened my heart to meet new people and to attempt to love again. If I wanted to have any chance at conceiving in a healthy window of time, I needed to allow myself to try and love once again. What began as a sweet summer fling, led to two anxious and broken hearts finding amends in one another and a lesson in learning true love in the absence of toxicity.

woman posing for a pic
Courtesy of Sierra Brown

A simple message from the handsome boy at the studio sparked a flame of desire in my heart. I was babysitting for a family in my hometown for a child with special needs when the message arrived. Of course, I remembered him and the way he made me feel so comfortable talking about anything outside the small home studio the last summer. We made plans to hang out later that evening, and I had not felt so nervous and excited to spend time with someone in ages. He arrived at my apartment, extremely well-dressed, and smelt of designer cologne. We spent the majority of the night sharing our creative works and getting to know each other in great detail. Although I was extremely attracted to him, I was also incredibly wary of releasing my doubts from past relationships and trauma. Interestingly enough, he had felt the same way, and we mutually decided to take things slow.

However, our friendship escalated daily, and it seemed as if we couldn’t spend more than a few days apart. We truly did everything together. After a few weeks of being out on the town, studio sessions, and hangouts, he felt it was time for me to meet his 2-year-old son, Emilio. Growing up in a Hispanic home, Emilio was just beginning to speak and knew mostly Spanish. Working in the field of behavioral analysis, I had interacted with many toddlers of families who spoke English as a second language, so that fact did not deter me at all from developing a relationship with this sweet boy. We took trips to the zoo, visited the new aquarium downtown, rode rollercoasters at Six Flags, among many other fun trips around the city. Soon enough, I truly could not imagine my life without either of these boys.

Unfortunately, Juan was soon called to work out of town, and we put the confirmation of a true relationship on hold. We remained close and spoke nearly every day while he was gone, and I continued to visit Emilio whenever possible. He frequently stayed the night, and we would FaceTime Juan while he was in Atlanta making music. It truly seemed like Juan couldn’t come back soon enough for either of us.

dad and son being goofy
Courtesy of Sierra Brown

Emilio had at that point become one of my best friends. He would squeal with excitement whenever I came to the door to pick him up. Although he was not quite able to say my name, he had nicknamed me and would call me frequently if he needed anything. This nickname developed when he was learning to speak and would often call out ‘hey’ for attention. Since I was around so frequently at this time and answering to his needs, I became his ‘hey.’ I learned the ins and outs of his likes and dislikes, watched him develop new skills, and have experiences that I hope he will never forget.

As my love for Emilio grew, Juan’s love for me emerged as well. I was very aware of how I felt about him and that I desired a committed relationship. Not only did I fear losing Juan but also Emilio at this point. I couldn’t imagine living another day without both of them. Just before Juan returned home, he asked me to become his girlfriend, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled. My past luck with relationships had filled my head with doubts that the distance between us would only push him further away, and his job for music would offer him plenty of beautiful companions if he wished to take advantage of that situation. But, for the first time in my life, I felt I was the most desirable and important person to the one I sought after the most.

Every day, Juan and Emilio fill my heart with love and laughter. My fears of not being good enough slowly faded away. I feel as if I am meant for these two boys and they are meant for me. Although I am not Emilio’s biological mom, I learned that I am incredibly capable of being maternal and of caring for a young child to nurture their growth. In addition, I learned that I am worthy of the love I received from both Juan and Emilio. The toxic nature of my past relationships no longer impacted my feelings about myself because I felt more powerful and comfortable being myself than ever before. I no longer fear the possibility of infertility, because my relationship has allowed me to be a bonus mom to the sweetest and smartest boy on the planet.

mom and son smiling
Courtesy of Sierra Brown

Often people will ask me if Emilio is mine, and without a second thought, I respond, ‘Yes.’

No, I am not his biological mom, but I will claim him until my last breath.

I don’t get to look at his sweet face and see my features, but I see his eyes light up when he learns something new or finds what he loves. I see how fascinated he is with the world around him, how bright he is for his age, and how much he loves the people in his life.

I didn’t get to carry him for 9 months, see my belly grow with excitement, and endure the difficulties and beauty of birth…but I watch him grow, learn, and become such a smart and sweet boy every day. I don’t have him every day, but I sure try to make the most of when I do and show him how much I adore him through the activities we share and the lessons we learn together.

I’m not his real mom, but sometimes he’ll accidentally call me mom, and it fills my heart. The way he laughs at himself and says, ‘You’re ‘hey’, not mommy,’ but reminds me how much he loves me constantly, tells me how I’m pretty and what he likes about my features.

little boy smiling
Courtesy of Sierra Brown

I wasn’t there to watch him come into this world, but I can’t wait to see what impact he has on it and what amazing experiences he will have along the way. Whatever I can do to make those experiences meaningful, I try my best to give him everything he needs and wants within reason and to make every day special.

Sometimes I lose my patience, and we disagree. But he teaches me how to love and laugh when life is hard, and to be grateful to have someone who is so innocent and charming, even when he’s a stinker. We always make up and remind each other of the love we have for one another every day.

So no, I’m not his real mom…but I do my best to be the greatest bonus mommy he has, the best friend he can count on, one of his favorite people to play with, the person he can cry and express his feelings to, the one who gives him love and laughter every day, the one who fills his belly and his heart, and his biggest fan in everything he does.

I can’t wait to be a ‘real mommy’ one day, but I sure am grateful for the hugs, kisses, and cuddles I get with this special boy. I’m proud to be his ‘hey,’ and I never want that to change.”

wedding photo of family
Courtesy of Sierra Brown

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sierra Brown from Maryland Heights, Missouri. You can follow her journey on  Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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