"I would walk with my shoulders curved inward and wear baggy shirts all the time."
Where are you from?
I was actually born in Hoboken, New Jersey but I was raised in the Bronx, then moved to Greenpoint and spent my teenage years and early adulthood in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I lived next door to my cousin. I was the oldest of all the grandkids in the family. The first one.
My family is Dominican and Puerto Rican. We’re very loud, fun, loving, and there are a lot of us! We are a big group. I have 13 aunts and uncles and they all have at least two or three children. So when we get together it’s a big ol’ gang.
Were you pretty happy growing up?
Well, yes, I was happy being surrounded by family. However, I developed really early. I was busty, very busty. I have a very small frame and small features and thought they were just too big. I always had back pain and struggled standing straight.
I remember playing volleyball when I was 12 years old and I jumped up to spike the ball but my bra strap broke from my heavy breasts! The coach took me to the nurse’s office and safety pinned my bra together.
What was dating life like?
Now, all the men I know love that Brazilian body. I always heard my brothers say if a woman does not have a derrière then she is not attractive. My sister did not have boobies but she did have the tushie and men liked her. I did not have a bootie. I thought oh, God forgot to give me extra there. I felt unbalanced with my big breasts. My first boyfriend, I dated for four years, and he really brought down my self-esteem. He would comment on my lacking backside and say “oh no, you need to have a bigger bootie!”
How did you deal with that?
I would walk with my shoulders curved inward and wear baggy shirts all the time. Then when I got in to my sophomore year I went to a new school and I decided to join theater. They were doing West Side Story and I was given the role of Maria. The music coach suggested that I start to dress more like Maria would have so that I could develop into her character. So the baggy ill-fitting clothes were taken over by more feminine ones. If my coach would catch me slouching, she would remind me to straighten up because Maria was confident. She even gave me some core strengthening exercises to help with posture and singing.
Did you continue singing?
Well, I was always singing. I’m very operatic. I was given a scholarship to go to college in Massachusetts. But my mother has trouble letting go of the umbilical cord and I was not allowed to accept. Instead I stayed home and graduated college with the typical business administration. I have a degree in finance and investment.
Did you ever leave the nest?
Yes! Finally I got married at 28. My husband is Colombian. We lived near my family for a while and then, in 2009, we moved to Florida. In my whole life, I have never lived on my own.
What’s it like making that move?
It’s happy and sad. I miss my family but I’m so proud of the family my husband and I have created. Although, after having two kids my breasts are back! I’d had a breast reduction after college because I just couldn’t bear the weight any more. I truly felt free after that! Now they’re big as ever and a lot more saggy.
How do you feel about your body now?
My husband is very vocal about what he likes. He loves breasts! When I first married him I was still pretty insecure about not being perfect. But he just embraces me, stretch marks and all. Little by little I became more comfortable and confident in my own skin. He has never made negative comments about me.
Tell me about your kids.
I had a miscarriage the first time I got pregnant. I got pregnant again and that’s when we had Ethan. He was born early though. I had eclampsia and went into labor at 32 weeks. I guess you could say I died. The doctor asked my husband to choose between me and our baby. My husband said “Sorry, but no! They are both going to live.” So I was four hours in the OR getting a C-section as well as blood transfusions. Ethan was born only weighing 3lbs 11oz. Because of my loss of oxygen, he suffers from cognitive delay. I was in a coma for four days.
Then, December of 2009, I found out I was pregnant again! Everyone was panicking and freaking out, but I had a great doctor and I knew the signs to look for, so I wasn’t as worried. This time around I had gestational diabetes. However, I was able to experience a happy, full pregnancy. I went the full forty weeks, my water broke, it all happened like it should. When my baby girl, Amalia, was born we found out she has downs syndrome. I said cut me up, tie me up, do what you need to do, but I should not have more kids. I guess destiny has a different plan.
Can you tell me what experiences you’ve had raising your kids?
Amalia is two and has already been through so much; eye surgery, heart surgery, and seven hours of therapy a week. She does not walk yet but she can crawl and she talks a lot! We all have our strengths. Hers is more verbal while she is weaker in physical abilities. Ethan goes to speech therapy because of his cognitive delay.
What are ways you instill confidence in your children?
Having a job, in a way, requires a person to take care of themselves. Being a stay at home mom was kind of hard for me at first. I’m not saying staying at home is not a job, but it’s easy to forget about yourself when you take care of others. It was important for me to stay out of the comfortable sweat pants and continue to take care of myself like I did before. I want my son to say “I remember my mom used to wear the red lipstick and mascara even around the house.”
Having a daughter with Down syndrome makes me want to give extra. I want her to know that she is beautiful. I am going to take her to the salon and get manicures with her because she needs to know she can embrace her femininity, too, even with her condition. I admit I cried when I found out about her having Down syndrome but, I know eventually those tears will be tears of joy. I am going to be so happy when she finally learns to walk and talk, and maybe she won’t go to college but she will go to school. And I’m going to help her reach as far as she can just like any other kid does.
I want Ethan to see this, too. To see that she is beautiful and we all have different forms. I really believe beauty comes from within and shines out.