My Lifelong Struggle with Stretch Marks

If you’ve ever seen me in person, you’ve certainly caught a glimpse of some of my many stretch marks. They’re part of me I’ve had no choice but to accept, even though I’d rather not have to deal with them.

I credit my skin to my father, although he never got stretch marks as badly as I did. I remember him having stretch marks around the tops of his biceps from working out. My mother on the other hand, never got one stretch mark, despite 3 pregnancies and weight fluctuations while we were growing up. She couldn’t relate to my struggle at all, she couldn’t fathom why this was happening to me. She would even say that she didn’t even moisturize, while I slathered my body in cocoa butter, praying that I wouldn’t get another stretch mark.

I remember getting my first stretch marks on the insides of my knees in seventh grade. I had gone through a growth spurt over the summer. Later that year, I got 4 huge horizontal stretch marks across my back that even my pediatrician had never seen before. They honestly look like whip marks across my lower back. Then puberty hit, my boobs and butt grew and stretch marks came along with those.

I used to use Mederma scar gel, which did lessen the appearance of my stretch marks. But it was too expensive for my parents to keep buying for me. It needed to be applied 3-4 times per day and I had many stretch marks covering a good part of my body at that time. I remember one little tube costing $24. My parents tried, but the cost became too much.

Despite having stretch marks, I still wore my two piece bathing suits during the summer (no stretch marks on my stomach) and I always wore short shirts baring my midriff. Some people would comment but it didn’t bother me much, it was never negative, at least not to my face.

And then my now-husband and I started dating, and we both gained so much weight. I gained around 50 pounds, weighing the most in my entire life. As I packed on the pounds, I noticed stretch marks forming on my upper arms, soon reaching all the way down to my forearm. I even started to get some on my gorgeously smooth tummy, which was heartbreaking to me. When I realized I needed to make a change and start exercising and eating healthier…

I got pregnant.

I weighed 175 pounds when I got pregnant, and I was beyond excited that we were going to have a baby. The day my daughter was born, we checked in at the hospital and I weighed 201 pounds. My stomach during that time had gotten covered with stretch marks, which I expected. Despite using all kinds of lotions and creams. Yes, I used Palmers Cocoa butter, I even used cocoa butter baby oil. But nothing I tried worked. Nothing I had EVER tried worked to prevent my stretch marks. My belly got so big, people thought I was carrying twins, and the stretch marks that came in my last trimester were painful. The stretch marks on the underside of my pregnant belly were half an inch thick, my skin was literally tearing.

38 weeks pregnant.

About 2 years after my daughter was born, I was heavily into fitness and became a group fitness instructor. I had become vegan and I lost all the baby weight and then-some. I was in the best shape of my life. But I fell off when my father got sick with pancreatic cancer. I took up smoking cigarettes again and gained some weight back.

December 2013

Then in 2016 I got pregnant again with our second daughter. I was at a healthy weight to start and all was well, weight-wise. No new stretch marks, at least none that I could see. My stomach had stretched out so much the first time I was pregnant (and I still had a lot of excess skin) that at the end of my pregnancy with my second daughter I still had a little pouch of skin at the bottom of my belly. It wasn’t noticeable to anyone other than myself.

It’s been a lot harder to bounce back after having my second child. My stomach is extremely saggy and even at my lowest weight last year, I still had a lot of excess skin. So I only wear bathing suits that cover a majority of my stomach because I’m embarrassed of how horrible it looks. Yes, I know I shouldn’t be ashamed, I should be proud of my body. And for the most part, I am. I feel like a total badass that I carried two children. But there’s always that little voice in the back of my head telling me that my body, covered in all these stretch marks, is hideous. That no matter how much I work out and get my body in the best shape, I’ll never be able to do anything about these stretch marks.

I have accepted the fact that I can’t do anything about my stretch marks. The best thing I can do is love my body with all its flaws. I’m learning to ignore that voice in my head telling me my stretch marks make me ugly. I love myself, and I’m learning to love my stretch marks. My stretch marks tell a story about my life:

A story of a little girl growing up…

…of a young woman happily in love,

…of a mother carrying her children,

…and a story of a certified badass.

-Toniann

Riding the Happiness Wave

Hello everyone! I’ve taken the longest break in posting since I’ve started this blog almost a year ago. It’s been a crazy busy time during my absence. To sum up, I started this month with anxiety and dread because my husband was going to be away for almost a whole week and with his schedule, we wouldn’t be able to talk frequently. Partner that with the thought of me being completely alone with the girls for that entire time without any help, and I was scared shitless. Thankfully, brother-in-law came to the rescue and came over for the weekend and helped me out. That week was rough to say the least, but I made it through.

About a week after my husband came home, I woke up in a good mood, which is rare for me. And I thought to myself:

It feels amazing to be in such a good mood!

Now when I usually wake up in a good mood, it doesn’t make it to the afternoon. With picking up my daughter from school, heading to the grocery store, homework and cooking dinner, I’m pretty wiped out and cranky.

But these past few weeks, I’ve been choosing to be happy. It started out unwittingly, but then I became aware of the choices I was making throughout the day. I realized that happiness is not a daily choice, but its a moment-by-moment choice. That sounds exhausting, but honestly, holding on to my anxiety and stress of the day is so much more tiring. It is hard to choose happiness in certain moments, but I am becoming more conscious of when I need to just let things go. And it feels great.

I always thought singing along to music meant you were in a good mood, but that’s not always the case. When I’m starting to feel anxious, I’ve been busting out in song while in the car with the girls and getting them to join in. It makes me forget about my stress in that moment. It’s little things like that that are keeping me on this happiness wave.

When I thought about riding the happiness wave, I always imagined it was something out of my control, like an actual wave.

“I’m riding this happiness wave for as long as I can because I’m not sure how long it will last.”

I would always say that when I was in a good mood. But it’s not actually like that. I can ride this happiness wave for as long as I want. I can choose to be happy, to see joy in everything, even the stressful situations. I’ve always heard that happiness is not a destination, it’s a journey. Even knowing that, I still didn’t fully understand it. Now, I feel like I’m finally grasping it. I no longer want to drown in a sea of unhappiness and negativity, and I don’t have to. I choose happiness.

It’s pretty liberating to say “fuck off” to those negative feelings. I not only owe it to my family to be happy, I owe it to myself. So to all of you reading this, I hope you choose happiness today and everyday. It’s too fun to pass up.

Halloween Family Fun

-Toniann

A Lesson from my Daughter

My world has drastically changed since becoming a mother. Motherhood has taught me everything. I’ve learned about unconditional love, patience, failure, happiness, gratitude, and forgiveness to name a few.

My daughters are constantly teaching me new ways to be a better mother, a better person.

I remember this one time, a few months back, where I dropped something of my daughters. I don’t remember what it was exactly, a box of crayons, cereal maybe. All I know was that it made a huge mess. I apologized to my daughter and she just said “Don’t worry Mommy, accidents happen.” And it just stopped me in my tracks.

When my daughter was growing up, I always told her this. But recently, with the addition of another daughter and my patience wearing thin, I’ve gotten frustrated almost every time the girls make a mess. It took my daughter to remind me that accidents happen, we all make messes, and that’s OKAY.

I’ve been holding my daughters to a higher standard than I even hold myself. I’m clumsy, so if I drop something (which happens too much) I get upset but quickly brush it off. Why am I not doing the same for them?

When they get upset, aren’t they allowed to be angry or sad?

I’m learning more everyday about how they are just little people who need a great amount of patience. And I’m glad my daughter reminded me of that. It’s gotten too easy for me to lose my shit lately. But I’m learning to be patient with myself as well.

I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. Two of the three happiest days of my life were the days they were both born. My daughters mean the world to me. This journey of motherhood has taught me everything, and I’m still learning every single day. I hope everyday that I can be the best mom for them. I want to be someone my daughters can be proud of.

Being a mom is hands down the toughest job in the world. But even on the worst days, I wouldn’t trade being their mom for the world.

I love you girls.

-Toniann

The Importance of Mom Friends

Making friends as an adult is one of the most difficult things to do. At least it’s been that way for me. I am usually very shy when I first meet people; it takes some time for me to warm up and I rarely initiate conversations with people I don’t know. Also, being a stay-at-home-mom, I don’t have many opportunities to meet new people. And of course, moving away from my family and childhood friends has made the quest for adult friendship much harder.

And it’s been even more difficult to make mom-friends.

I got pregnant with my first daughter at 20 years old, the first in my circle of friends (both of whom were back in the Bronx, while I was living in Florida) to start a family. My family was also back in the Bronx and I didn’t have anyone in Florida to lean on besides my husband. The friends we had made while living in Florida were all very different: the ones around our age were still living at home and the thought of kids was a long way off, and the ones who had kids already were so much older and a lot more established i.e. living in houses they owned while we were renting an apartment. So it was difficult for both my husband and I to find friends who truly understood our struggle as young parents.

Thankfully one of my best friends had a daughter a few years later. But living so far away from each other means not as much face time as we’d like. We do get together every time we visit New York and it’s like we were never apart. I love getting texts from her asking about breastfeeding and if I’ve gone through the same things. We lean on each other and realize things are okay.

My best friend, our daughters and I back in 2014.

And than goodness for my sister-in-law in Florida. Over the years, once my oldest was born, we grew closer and closer, which helped me so much. She has truly become my sister.

My amazing sister-in-law and my youngest daughter.

But we moved across the country to Arizona.

And we had to start all over. Don’t get me wrong, both my husband and I were all in on the decision to move, we felt this would be the best choice for our family, and it has been so far. But when we first arrived, I went through postpartum depression. I was already suffering from anxiety since my daughters and I were away from my husband for almost 3 months. To give you an idea of how my depression was triggered: before moving to Arizona, I lived with my sister-in-law, brother-in-law and their kids. So, I went from a place where I had more help with my kids than I knew what to do with, to having absolutely no help with my 6 year old and 6 week old daughters while my husband was at work.

Thankfully, my depression wasn’t too bad. We soon started to make friends, but no mom-friends for me. And the mom-friends I had tried to make on my own fell through. We just didn’t click. It seemed like the harder I tried to make mom-friends, the more horribly it would turn out. So, I had to just come to terms with the fact that I probably wouldn’t have any mom-friends in Arizona. Oh well, I guess.

But recently, I’ve made a mom-friend here, and things are going pretty well. We all just went on an impromptu trip this weekend. The toddlers had a few meltdowns, but they’re toddlers. The best part about that was we understood the struggle each of us was going through. The meltdowns, tears, and tantrums were things we were both trying to deal with. With other friends who don’t have kids, sometimes it’s just embarrassing when your kid cries or misbehaves.

That’s why having a mom friendship is so important. Being a mom isn’t always fun, its demanding and can really wear you down. A lot of times, I’ve felt lonely because I struggle so much with my girls. I’m constantly worrying about them, wondering if I’m doing a good job. It’s nice to have a friend who can empathize with you. To know you’re not the only one having a hard time managing motherhood is a great relief.

So to all my mamas out there who are struggling, it won’t last forever. Find the courage to put yourself out there and make some mom-friends. And don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away or if you don’t click with the moms you’re meeting. If you’re really having a difficult time, reach out to someone or even send me a message. Your tribe of mamas is out there. I sure do appreciate mine.

My girls and I at Walnut Canyon.

-Toniann

Creating Family Traditions

Growing up, we didn’t have much. I mean, my dad was a hoarder, so we had a lot of junk, but we were poor. But when I was younger, before my parents drinking got really bad, we had some great family traditions. I remember every October, my father would set up our Halloween monster, Harvey. He would take a pullover sweatshirt and sweatpants, stuff them with old clothes, and top him with the Harvey mask. We would set Harvey up on a chair outside of our apartment building, probably to scare the neighbors and religious solicitors away.

There was one time that my dad convinced my brother to wear the sweatshirt and sweatpants while we stuffed clothes around him. My father put the mask on him and then called my mother to see how Harvey looked. When she came into the living room, my brother jumped up and scared the shit out of my mom. But the sweatpants were stuffed so tight with clothes that my brother toppled over trying to lunge at my mom. We all laughed so hard, except for mom, who was pretty pissed off. It’s one of my favorite childhood memories.

Now that I have children of my own, I’m realizing more, just how important it is to have family traditions. Making precious memories is powerful. So I’ve created our own family traditions around the holidays to make them more special.

October, November and December are my favorite months because they involve my favorite holidays: Halloween, Thanksgiving, and my most favorite holiday ever, Christmas.

We’re coming up on Halloween in a couple of months, and one of my favorite family traditions is all of us making Jack-O-Lanterns. We go and pick out the best pumpkins, we get our templates, stickers and other decorations for the girls and bring them home. We put on our favorite Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus, and get carving. It takes us about the whole length of the movie for my husband and I to finish our Jack-O-Lanterns. Then when we’re finished, we put our lights inside them, turn out the lights and marvel at the fruits of our labor.

Halloween 2018 Jack-O-Lanterns

Our longest standing family tradition is watching The Santa Clause with Tim Allen while we put up our Christmas tree. Jon and I started this in our first apartment in Florida while I was pregnant with my first daughter. Its my favorite thing to do around Christmastime.

December 2018

Since moving to Arizona, we recently started up new Christmastime traditions. A farm near our house sets up a little ice skating rink and this year will be our third year going ice skating. Its only August, but my daughter is already talking about how she cannot wait to go ice skating again. And yes, it gets cold here in Arizona.

First time ice skating December 2017

We also go to a show called Symphony of Light, which is a drive through show with synchronized lights and Christmas music. Its such a gorgeous and well-done show. Last year, we had the girls watching out of the sunroof of our SUV. We top out at 5 mph, so it’s safe.

Symphony of Light show December 2018

The best part about our family traditions is seeing how much joy my daughters get out of them. To see their faces light up and have so much fun. I love doing all these activities myself, but their reaction makes them much more enjoyable.

I hope when they’re older, they will remember how much fun we had together. I hope they will carry these memories and cherish them forever. I certainly will.

-Toniann

5 Vegan Foods I Can’t Live Without

When I became vegan, I tried countless new foods that I wouldn’t have tried if I still ate meat. Being vegan for 6 years, I’ve tried so many different foods and I can’t wait to try more. So here I’ve compiled a list of 5 vegan foods I can’t live without.

1. Unsweetened Almond Milk

I cannot live without almond milk. I used to drink a lot of milk before I went vegan. I grew up having a glass of milk with almost every meal. I’ve tried different types of plant milks and I’m willing to try more but for now, almond milk is my go-to choice. It’s also much more affordable than some of the other plant milks.

2. Adam’s Natural Peanut Butter

Most peanut butters are naturally vegan, but a lot of brands like Jif and Skippy contain mono and diglycerides which are animal fats that help blend the peanut butter. Mono and diglycerides are also found in lots of breads. But getting back to peanut butter, I’ve fallen in love with Adam’s Natural Peanut Butter which only contains peanuts and less than 1% of salt.

3. Tofu

For those who don’t know, tofu is made from soy beans. It’s also known as bean curd, which you’ll see on a lot of Chinese food restaurant menus. I never tried tofu until I became vegan and it’s honestly one of my favorite vegan staples. My favorite is the extra firm tofu, since it’s one the most versatile types.

4. Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a great supplement that is used a lot in vegan cooking. Unlike traditional yeast, nutritional yeast undergoes a heating and drying process that renders it inactive. Nutritional yeast is used for many “cheesy” vegan recipes because of it’s taste. It’s also loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and protein. I also love to sprinkle this on my freshly popped popcorn.

5. Bananas

I’m sure most vegans would agree how important bananas are to a vegan diet. Bananas can be frozen and blended up into “nice” cream. Ripe bananas are great for banana bread and many other baking recipes. Of course, they’re also great on their own.

Well, there you have it. 5 vegan foods I cannot live without. Hopefully this list helps anyone who is looking to become vegan. To my fellow vegans, what are some foods you can’t live without?

-Toniann

Navigating Through a Tumultuous Relationship

One of my first blogs last year, I talked about toxic people. It’s easy to cut toxic people out of your life, but not if its family. Sadly, I have many toxic family members as I’m sure most people do. But I’ve put up with shit out of loyalty to my family.

I am struggling as I’m writing this. I’m really not sure if I should be talking about this or not.

I’m fighting with this decision to blog because the tumultuous relationship I’m referring, to is with my mother. And I’m terrified she might read this.

Throughout my life with my mother, things weren’t always difficult, I have plenty of great memories with her. But I feel like there are so many more bad memories. Maybe that’s just because those are much more painful.

My mother, like my father was, is an alcoholic. She has struggled with alcoholism for what feels like my whole life. Like most addicts, she downplays the role that alcohol has in her life and doesn’t believe she has a problem.

My mother has suffered from depression on and off throughout my life, even though she never got a diagnosis from a doctor. And I know her struggle with depression and alcohol go hand-in-hand. Her depression got so bad when I was a child that she hadn’t left our apartment for years. People in our neighborhood actually believed she was dead. As a young child, I remember her telling me…

“…I should just kill myself.”

I remember pleading with her not to leave me, that I needed her. And even though we don’t have the best relationship, I’m glad she didn’t commit suicide like she had wanted to countless times.

Her struggle with alcoholism got worse when I was around 12 years old. I suspect she had been mixing prescription pills with alcohol but I can’t be certain. I remember her hallucinating and my father had to take her to the hospital. She had alcoholic hepatitis which caused jaundice. She went into the hospital the day of my first period, so that day will always stay with me. I didn’t have my mother at such an important stage in my young life.

She was in the hospital for days, I can’t recall how long, but I do remember the doctor talking to us. My godmother was there, and the doctor had said if she starts drinking again, she will die. She seemed sincere when she said she never wanted to drink again. I was hopeful for the future.

But she went back to drinking. It wasn’t long after she got out of the hospital. I remember we were at our neighbors house and she had poured my mom a beer. I yelled and reminded her that the doctor said she’ll die if she drinks again. She brushed it off like nothing and took a big gulp. I ran back across the hall to our apartment crying because I really believed that my mother was going to die. And she couldn’t have cared less.

Quitting drinking was difficult for my mother since my father was also struggling with the same addiction. Alcoholism is something both my parents fought with. My father lost his battle 4 years ago and I know my mother will eventually lose hers too. Losing my father was hard for all of us, but especially for my mom. This has caused her depression, and thus her alcoholism, to get worse.

I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I’m done fighting. Alcohol will always win. For a long time, I was angry and bitter about my parents “choice” to drink. But I know that addiction is a disease. And as long as my mother doesn’t want help, I cannot help her. It still stings of course, because alcoholism has negatively shaped our relationship.

The only thing I can do is be there for her as much as possible. I have come to terms with the fact that she probably won’t be around for much longer because of her addiction. It doesn’t make it easier. I try to take it one day at a time. Some days are more difficult than others. But I am really trying to maintain a good relationship with my mother.

I love my mother with all my heart. I wish so much that my love was enough for her to quit drinking for good, but life doesn’t work that way. I wish things were easier, I wish I could help her, and I wish she could be happy.

-Toniann