By Noel Baldovino
When Sarah, my daughter, was younger I told her bedtime stories. I started them like this – “Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, in a faraway land, there lived a princess and her name was Sarah. Sarah was a good little princess, but always very curious.”
This story is about Sarah’s journey. I had known for a very long time that Sarah was struggling with coming out to me. There were some obvious things that stood out to me. For example, one of her most favorite animation series is Steven Universe (aimed at a younger audience that features significant representation of queer themes), she dressed up as Darth Vader for her 8th grade graduation ceremony and she would debate, rather fiercely, anyone who was not an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
When Sarah was 5 years old, she had a very traumatic experience. And while I am not yet able to discuss what happened, I will say that it rocked both of us to our core. We have both been on a journey to heal and forgive. This journey has allowed us to receive counseling services that have helped us tremendously. We had both received counseling, off and on, for this experience, from the time that Sarah was 5 until she was 10. When Sarah turned 10 her therapist and mine stated that we both had the skills we needed to move forward with our lives. At the time I did not understand why such a tragedy would befall my precious daughter. Now I believe that that experience and the counseling we both received saved her life.
At the end of last year, I noticed changes in Sarah. At first, they were subtle. She was more tired and wasn’t happy about things that used to make her happy. She also casually asked to return to therapy and we spoke a few times about me finding a new therapist for her. At that time, I was working for a non-profit and part of my job was to assist homeowners who had been affected by Hurricane Harvey. The job was demanding, overwhelming, and took me away from Sarah more than I wanted it to. I was too busy. Thankfully Sarah has always been close to my sister, her Tia Dede. One day on a walk with her, Sarah mentioned to my sister that she wanted to return to therapy. My sister told me immediately and I took that as a clear sign that my daughter was reaching out for help. After about a week I found a wonderful therapist who Sarah started seeing in December of last year. We started to see a positive change in Sarah but that all changed in April of this year.
This past April, Sarah came into my room and showed me a drawing she had made of a character she created called Small Sarah. The drawing featured Small Sarah with the words “Love Is Love” and in the background was the flag for individuals who identify as bisexual. I took the picture and thanked her. I then asked her if there was anything she wanted to tell me and she said, “Mom, I am bisexual.” At that moment I quickly remembered having read an article about how every person who ever comes out can remember in vivid detail exactly what happened when they did. So, I slowed my breath, took Sarah into my arms, thanked her for telling me and told her that I loved her and that her telling me this did not make me love her any less. We cried and she thanked me. We agreed that this would stay between me, Sarah and her therapist.
Sarah continued to go to therapy and I found Mama Dragons in an article in the Oprah magazine. I thought that by coming out to me it would make things easier on Sarah and in some ways it did. But it also made things more real. She was now struggling with how her father and the rest of our family would receive this news.
In May I got called into Sarah’s counseling session and her therapist told me that Sarah was having suicidal ideation. I think my heart stopped or at least skipped a beat. I am sure that some of you reading this now have heard those same words, and you can remember what it feels like. There is a sadness, that overwhelming feeling of hurt that you feel for your baby. There is an immediate need you feel to protect your baby from harm. You want to gather them in your arms and never let go. Sarah’s therapist gave us a plan that we would work on to keep Sarah safe while she worked through these feelings. But Sarah did not get better. Sarah was overwhelmed with feelings of insecurity, anxiety and a deep sadness. She struggled to eat, sleep, and do the things that used to make her happy……like drawing.
And, I struggled. I struggled to keep her going, while balancing work and keeping my emotions in check so that I could be strong for her. In October, with the guidance of Sarah’s therapist we sought the help of an adolescent psychiatrist. The psychiatrist diagnosed Sarah with anxiety and depression. She recommended we start Sarah on an antidepressant.
It has been a little over 5 weeks since she started her medication and Sarah is getting better. She has made significant strides in therapy, discussing her bisexuality and how that one thing does not define all of who she is. She is learning to accept the fact that there may be some people who she loves who do not accept who she is once she comes out to them. She is drawing again and attended a Quinceanera celebration last weekend. She is eating and sleeping much better, too. For now, we have decided that what is best for Sarah is to not come out to her father or our family. Sarah will decide when she is ready.
Sarah’s journey to self-acceptance is ongoing as is my education on how best to support her. I have a deep faith and believe that the Lord I know and love will help her find her way in this sometimes cruel and punishing world. And, I will be there with her to help her every step of the way. This journey that our babies take is not always easy. It can be filled with unease, depression, tears, therapists, hate and many other negative things. But I have hope. I have hope because I see so many of us fighting the good fight for equality. I have hope because I have seen what love can do. And, I have hope because I believe our children are strong enough to carry the torch we have lit for them and that they will light the way for others to follow. One day, in the not so distant future, I will be able to finish my story like I did when she was little and will be able to say, ”And she lived happily ever after”.