This post is part of the My Mermaid series.
Click on the links below to take you to previous posts:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

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I was 19 years old, going to be a sophomore in college. I thought about how a child would affect my life and that of my boyfriend’s. What am I going to do? How am I going to tell him? But my biggest fear was not knowing how my mom would react to the news.

I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Every waking hour, I thought about my pregnancy. After thinking long and hard about my options, I finally made my decision. I was ready to tell him.

“I’m late,” I said.

“You mean your period?”

“Yes. And I took a pregnancy test. It came back positive.”

“Are you sure?”

“The nurse at the junior college confirmed it.”

We didn’t say anything. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I was not going to keep it. I didn’t know what he thought of the pregnancy or of abortion. I didn’t know if he’ll accept and respect the decision that I had made without him.

After a few minutes, he said, “If it’s a boy, I’ll call him Junior.”

“Junior? Eww, no,” I replied. Although I was happy to hear him take responsibility, my heart also felt very heavy. How was I going to tell him now?

The next week came and he didn’t visit me as he usually did. I called him, but he didn’t pick up. And when he did pick up, he didn’t want to talk. He was fishing—fishing all the time. I tried to talk with him about what we were going to do now that I was pregnant. “I don’t know” was his answer each and every time.

I was angry, frustrated, and heartbroken. How dare he ignore me when I was most vulnerable? How dare he say he doesn’t know what to do now? He said he cared, but his actions contradicted his words. I didn’t have the patience to wait this out; this was an urgent matter. I was pregnant, scared, and lost. Who knows what my mom would do if she were to find out. If he didn’t want to be around during the time when I needed him the most, so be it.

So, I called to tell him it was over between us. He came over within 30 minutes. He wanted to talk. I didn’t even look at him. It was too late. We were over. He stayed for 15 minutes, silent in the living room while I ignored him in the family room. Then he left.

And that was the last time I saw him. It has been 20 years and although I am married with children now, I still think about him from time to time.

Just kidding! And here you thought the story ended. We’re almost done though.

The next day, I received an email from him.

“I went driving Thursday night to wherever and almost got into an accident. It made me think that you and my little junior are important. It’s just that I have a lot of stressful things on my mind right now. That’s why I go fishing a lot. It helps take the stress away. Hopefully you are understanding what I’m trying to say. If not, then I guess I can understand. But please just give me a call. I know we can work this out. We have been through many harder situations. Love you…”

I thought that if he was as stressed out as I was about this, then why didn’t he come to me? We’re in this together, weren’t we? And even if he was worried about other things, I’m his partner, so why not share his struggles with me?

His last two lines echoed in my mind. I know we can work this out. We have been through many harder situations… I thought about how much we had endured ever since our first meeting. We finally conquered the prejudice that my mom exhibited toward our relationship. Was I really going to throw it all away? I cried my heart out that night.

The next day, I called the abortion clinic and made an appointment.

My boyfriend kept emailing me, asking me to call him, to give him another chance. He didn’t ignore me on purpose. He was having family problems at home. It wasn’t the pregnancy that’s keeping him away. He wanted to work things out. He had a plan. He was going to quit school and work two jobs to support us if he needed to. He wasn’t ready to let me go.

I drove to his house. I wanted to talk about our relationship and about the pregnancy. But every time I opened my mouth to speak, the words clung to my uvula. All I could do was let out a sigh each and every time. We sat in separate couches in his living room like strangers. We couldn’t say anything to each other. After 30 minutes, I went home.

He emailed me that night and told me that if it’s easier, we could talk through email. I replied by telling him how hurt I was. This was when I needed him the most and he wasn’t around. He apologized. Then I told him, I had decided to get an abortion without letting anyone else know. I also told him that I still loved him.

He was happy that I still wanted to be with him. However, he was sad to hear that I was going to get an abortion.

“I don’t know how it’s going to be like with a baby or how hard it will be, but I really want to keep it. However, if you feel you need to get rid of it, then go for it. I support your decision.”

I was really sad to hear that, but I didn’t change my mind for many reasons. Fear of my mom was one of them. She must not know about this or I’ll receive something so much worse than what I’ve experienced so far. I was at the edge of breaking. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep myself together if my mom were to confront me about anything at this point. And another reason was that I wasn’t emotionally or financially ready to take care of a child. I wanted to be secured enough so that my children will grow up in a stable home. I have received tremendous criticisms about my decision from the Hmong community, especially from anti-abortion people, but it has never bother me. I do not regret this choice I’ve made.

My boyfriend and I didn’t tell anyone about what we did. We knew the repercussions. If we weren’t forced to get married, he would be “fined” and have to “fix” me. Then we’d probably never be allowed to see each other again. These were the Hmong traditional ways of handling a pregnancy and abortion. It was either marriage or you cut ties all-together. We were not ready for marriage. We were stuck in a lose-lose situation and secrecy was the key to preventing these traditions from taking over. However, my efforts to keep my abortion from my mom was all in vain. And when she did find out, the marriage my boyfriend and I tried to avoid was inevitable in our eyes.

My sisters and I were not really close growing up for many reasons. I was 3 years older than the oldest of them. Three of my younger sisters were only 1 year or less apart in age, so they shared many interests and had a sisterly bond. Additionally, because of the things I was going through with my mom during adolescence, I had distanced myself from them.

My sisters found out about my abortion by reading my diary and going through my discharge paper work from the clinic (Yes, very stupid of me to have not thrown them away immediately). And because I wouldn’t take them with me that fateful day to my boyfriend’s house, they ratted me out.

As I expected, my mom was angry. I had ruined her reputation by getting pregnant. And not only that, but I had gotten an abortion and came back into her house. This was the ultimate shame any unmarried Hmong daughter could bring to her family and ancestors.

My grams was over and she jumped in as well. With two people telling me how wrong I was and reminding me of every single mistake I’ve made until then—in addition to realizing that my sisters didn’t have my back—I went berserk. I screamed and shouted and my mom did the same. I took off running because I couldn’t stand my mom berating me for ruining her reputation. I didn’t even stop to put my shoes on. I ran barefooted across the busy street a block from our house. A car whizzed passed me, nearly missing me by inches. My boyfriend caught up to me and with tears in his eyes, he yelled at me, “Did you know that car almost ran you over? Don’t you do anything stupid!”

He pulled me into his arms and it was then that I calmed down. I always felt the safest and most secure in his arms and so I just closed my eyes and let myself cry.

My boyfriend wanted to take me home, but I told him I did not want to go. I was afraid of my mom and angry at my sisters and myself. I needed time. After a few hours of driving around aimlessly in town, he received a phone call from his brother. My mom had contacted his older brother and let him know what we did. The voice message on his phone said, “You either marry your girlfriend or ‘fix’ her (ua neeb kho).”

That night, we talked about our relationship and our future. Do we love each other? If so, how much? What were our options? No, we didn’t have any choice because we are Hmong.

I had always tried to run away from the cultural traditions that I despised so much, but in all my effort, I never got far. In the end, I was very much tied to these traditions. No matter how much I ran, I couldn’t escape that I am Hmong. I was a helpless young Hmong woman whose fate was already sealed the minute she got pregnant and had an abortion. There was nothing we could do at this point, we both thought. And so, I went home with my boyfriend that night.

Of course, we were pressured to get married. But that didn’t matter. We never talked about marriage, but we knew in our hearts that we were going to marry each other some time in the future. And even though this was not how or when we wanted to get married, we felt we had no choice. My mom set our wedding date for June 26th.

There were a lot of tears during my wedding. I realized that day how strong my mother’s love was for me and how hurt she was that I was getting married. Despite her pain and anger, she cared so much about me that she didn’t make the wedding negotiations hard for my husband’s family. I was thankful. I cried tears of regret for putting her through so much. It was the words she said to me during my wedding that made me realize she was more disappointed than angry. She was disappointed at the fact that our relationship had deteriorated so much that I couldn’t go to her when I was in trouble. “Why didn’t you come to me for help when you were pregnant?” Why didn’t I? Because, Mom, we had such a dysfunctional relationship that I didn’t see that as an option.

Today marks my husband and my 8th wedding anniversary. It has been 13 years since I met this boy in baggy clothing. I may never know why he decided to retire his gangster ways. He won’t tell me. I like to think that I had something to do with it (yes, he didn’t see a good future with me if he continued his bad ways), but I would be giving myself too much credit. Ironically, he is now a juvenile probation officer, working with teens like his adolescent self. My mom is a proud mother-in-law.

Even though my mom and I still have our differences in opinions and beliefs, our relationship is a lot better. We are still mending it and we have some ways to go. Living apart from each other has improved our relationship immensely. I doubt we will ever truly get to a place of complete mutual understanding because culture is the biggest barrier. I truly love, respect, and appreciate her—more-so now that I have children of my own. Additionally, I know my children and I have a long hard road ahead of us. I don’t want to treat them the way my mom treated me. I am already establishing open communication with them so that we will always have dialogue. I appreciate everything that my mom has done for me, and I hold no grudge to what we went through during my teen years (I don’t condone child abuse no matter what the circumstances and my mom had no right to treat me the way she did, but I have forgiven her).

Class of 2009, Cum Laude

In fact, my mom is the person who planted that feminist seed in my mind with her refusal to remarry and her fight for respect from the Hmong community. Despite her traditional values, she has influenced me indirectly with her actions. She taught me how to be a strong Hmong woman and stand up for my rights. Hmong females are taught from an early age to listen and honor our parents, and one way of doing so is staying silent. I have broken down that barrier with my mom and now I’m not afraid to voice my opinions.

My partner stood by me through so much. He had the choice to leave and not go through the verbal abuse that my mom put him through year after year. He could’ve said, “Fuck this shit. I’m out of here.” But he stayed with me. And I’m really grateful for him.

Even though my Mermaid and I have been together since we were very young, I believe our relationship was mature beyond our years. We had to endure so much from my mom that we didn’t have time to put ourselves through other stuff. We built our relationship on a foundation of trust, honesty, respect, communication, and compromise. But most importantly, we were real with each other. We never made silly promises like we’ll love each other forever. I truly believe that promises only create unrealistic expectations in any relationship, and we never had any of that. We just lived in the moment and took everything as it came because we didn’t know what tomorrow will bring us.

My Mermaid dropped out of college to support me through college. We both value higher education, but since it wasn’t feasible for the two of us to be working and going to school, he decided it would be best for me to finish college. Why would you want your wife to be more educated than you, others have asked. Aren’t you afraid she’ll run off with a more educated man? Well, I’m still here, aren’t I? No other man can ever take the place of this mermaid.

My Mermaid and I share parental and household responsibilities. We are not bound by traditional gender roles. He helps cook, clean, and takes care of the children. Heck, he encourages me to have time to myself. It doesn’t affect him when other men criticize him for “allowing” me to be an equal. And ever since I started volunteering and working with victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, I have come to appreciate him even more. He may not be a perfect person, but he is perfect for me in every way.

Some would only speculate that after this many years, the fire must’ve died down. Sorry to disappoint my readers, but the fire is very much alive and the butterflies are still fluttering. Of course the dynamics of our relationship has changed with the addition of two gargantuan balls of energy, but the essence of the relationship we have built is still there. He still looks at me the same way as he did 13 years ago. He still makes me feel tingly and warm inside with either just a look, a kiss, or a touch. I am still very much in love with him and I know that he loves me even more. We also haven’t stopped communicating through notes, although nowadays, it’s more in the form of emails and text messages.

My views on love and marriage has changed over the years, but some things stayed the same. I am still not a hopeless romantic: still don’t believe in love at first sight, a soul mate, or happily ever after. Love is not destined or fated. To me, love is something one must put effort into if one wishes to see it last. It’s not an easy task and there will be times when you feel as if you just want to give up. In order to live “happily ever after,” one must do the work.

I have always been fascinated with mermaids. To me, they are mystical creatures that represent something beautiful, rare, and uneasily attainable. Is it possible for a creature to have the body of a human and tail of a fish, breathe underwater and sing on land? Is it possible to find love at such a young age? Is it possible to fight for something only you see the value in? My husband is the mermaid I caught from the sea. He is my impossible turned possible and I’m truly blessed to have him in my life.

They say there are many fishes in the sea.
I don’t want a fish.
I want to catch a mermaid, and when I do, I’m never letting go.


35 thoughts on “My Mermaid (Part 5)

  1. Mai Bao…I love your blogs, you make it so personal and I love how you’re so opened about everything. I could only imagine half the things that you and Fong had gone through. But you have made it. I know that you two will care and love one another and work on whatever it takes to make things bigger and better for your children. I’m very blessed to know you and Fong and I can’t believe that it has been 13 years. Happy anniversary and I know you’re mom is very proud of you. Don’t ever doubt her, with that toughness in her, she is the loving and caring mother that will always have your back and watch you from the sideline, wanting to see you succeed. Thanks for always being an inspirational friend and supportive when I need someone to talk to 🙂


  2. Your story was beautifully written and very inspirational. I think a lot of young Hmong women living in America today struggle to voice their opinions and stray away from the traditional role that parents try to instill in us. It’s rather amazing that you were able to find strength in believing in yourself despite your mother’s disapproval and abuse. It definitely shows how strong of a woman you are by forgiving your mother for all the pain she put you through and looking past it all. Not all stories have a “good” ending, but I’m glad yours did! You have given hope to many of us by openly sharing your experiences and showing us that even if you are a Hmong women, you can still fight for equality and live life to its fullest. Thank you and wishing you the best in the years to come!


    1. We can all do it; fight for our rights as a human being. It just takes a lot. And some people will never see the reasons behind your actions, but it is our lives, so take control.

      Thank you for reading and also the beautiful comment.


  3. Congrats on your anniversary! I am sorry about your abortion but I am glad that you are able to share that. I’m glad that you and your mom are getting along now. You remind me of my relationship with my mom, except mine was not physical (only psychological) and my relationship with my mom isn’t close. But I love Mom with all my heart and sometimes I feel as though I am an exact reflection of her. Thanks for another great read.


    1. Thank you. Although my mom and I still have communication problems and do not see eye to eye on many things, we have learned to let go of the past and start anew. It’s still a work in progress.


  4. Happy Anniversary to you and your husband! Every relationship has an embedded story of their own ups and downs. I was very surprised that your husband turned out to be the boy that you were talking about! I’m glad that you two were able to stick with each other thru thick and thin. My husband and I are middle school sweet hearts (together 11 years) and it’s definitely a beautiful relationship when the butterflies and tingles are still there. 😉


    1. Wow, middle school sweethearts! Love that last this long is hard to find, so whenever people hear my story, they’re amazed at how long we’ve been together. Best wishes to you and your husband.


  5. wow…..your story is almost a replica of my own story. I grew up in the same kind of household but with both parents. My relationship growing up was exactly the same as your mother and yours. I’ve been beaten with broom sticks until they snapped in two, chased with knives, punched, hair pulled, you name it. I remember being as young as 8 and being pushed outside into the winter cold by my mother, in pajamas and barefoot. I started walking around the neighborhood and she wanted to embarrass me in front of all our Hmong neighbors so she came out and grabbed me by the hair and pulled me through the carport and apartments while I screamed and cried so all the neighbors could see. The only difference is, as an adult, I have no love or hate for her. I used to hate her a lot but it only ate me up and ruined the relationships around me so I have moved past the hate and accepted that she will be the way she is. My relationship with my sisters growing up was exactly like yours also although as adults we are best friends. And just like you, I feel as though my husband (he’s not hmong) kind of rescued me. Through the ridicule, name calling, nasty stares, he stood by me through everything. I was shocked that someone who didn’t even understand our culture would be so understanding. We married almost 11 years ago. Parents did not approve and I knew they wouldn’t so we got married without anyone knowing. My sister dug through my room, just like yours did through your diary and found my marriage certificate. We were planning on moving together and then revealing that we were married after I had already left which was a few weeks away. At this point, I wasn’t beaten anymore because I was an adult (I assume) but I really think it is because one day, freshmen year(?) I remember what I did but it upset her and she kept punching me (never in the face, because she knew teachers would contact cps) over and over again on my thighs, arms, back and back of head and I just sat there. I did not scream, yell, cry or anything. It surprised her. She stared at me with disbief because I was not crying like I normally did. I sat there and stared at the white wall and let her pound on me until her hands numbed probably. I was pounded on so much that after a few minutes I was numb and it didn’t even hurt anymore. She finally just stopped and said (I’m sure) some nasty words and left me alone. The power over me was gone! I went to my room and cried to myself. We did not follow the bridal price and for the first couple of years she demanded money from me because I was the hardest to raise, I told her no it was never going to happen. I was hurt and upset and still reaming from all the abuse that I just cut everyone out of my life after I moved and concentrated on my new marriage. Eventually, my sisters came around first and slowly my mother did. She likes to act now like she doesn’t know why we don’t have a relationship or bond like she does with my other sisters and she likes to play victim, even crying to my husband who she hated about it but I’m over it and don’t entertain her crazy ideas she has made up in her head. My husband also supported me to finish college and I was the first to graduate with a bachelors from my family. At my graduation, I did not want her there as I wanted people who have supported me through the years, but my husband convinced me she needed to come and see what she missed out on. I did it! I did it on my own without any of her help. I was told I would be beaten, raped and cheated on….after 11 years of marriage, I have yet been beaten, raped or cheated on. In some ways, I thank her for all the punches, hair pullings, and abuse because it definitely helped shaped my view of the world. It has made me strong and appreciate the love I have with my husband. It was hard for me to love him at first and although I knew he loved me very much, all I knew was hurt and pain. I’m still in love after all these years. Best wishes….I enjoyed My Mermaid very much. Reading your story was almost like reading my own story. I hope it teaches our young Hmong women they can be more than what is culturally expected of them.


    1. You have an amazingly inspirational story. I am truly happy that you have shared it with me. What I don’t understand about certain Hmong parents is that when they shame and ridicule their children, do they not see that it also shows others how their character is? I don’t know, just a thought I have always wondered. Thank you for sharing your story with me. I wish only the best for you.


  6. Wow, what a personal story so far. You are incredibly lucky that you and mermaid stayed together despite some rocky beginnings. With respect to your mother, it would have been a long journey to deal with fall-out from her physical abuse.

    May you and your hubby learn and grow together for many more years to come.


  7. MB…your story reminds me of so many women in my life. I appreciated the time you took to share your personal history and stories. I want to thank you for sharing a portion of your life with the world. You have inspired me to write my personal story. Though I’ve been trying to write my thoughts for so many months now, I didn’t have anyone to look up to or to model after, but now that I’ve found you I’m forever grateful.


  8. I really love your story and thanks for sharing. I am dating a “bad” boy myself who is definitely the total opposite of me in each and every way. Whereas I am book-smart, he is street-smart and dresses in baggy clothes that makes him look bigger than how he really is. We’ve been dating for about 5 years now, and your story makes me reflect on my own personal relationship. Having two different mentalities, I never really understood his side of things and just like your story, he told me he loved me prior to dating and asked me the same thing, which I replied saying: “No, what is love? I only like you, not love”. I’m not a believer in love and until this day, do not believe much it in as well. I thought he was too “clingy” or just told me he loved me to get to me because I wasn’t the “type” of girls that he would date or go for, but little did I know that he wears his heart on his sleeve. Perhaps men tend to fall in love faster while women take their time, I’m not sure. I was always scared of dating bad boys, because there is this whole stigma against them (being abusive and such), but I’ve learned that although there are some who flows like that stigma/stereotype, there are those who love deeply and will do anything to protect their love. I’m glad to find someone like that, someone who can balance me and allow me to see the world in a different light/perspective. Unfortunately, right now my heart is in question and my mind boggles since my parents have their own disagreements, they disagree due to his education level vs. mine and his religion since he is a Christian and I’m not. Many disagreements that is slowly changing us and changing the “love” that once mended our hearts..

    Once again, thank you for sharing. I’m glad to have read something so similar to my own relationship. 🙂


  9. this is the first time I’ve come across your blog and reading your “My Mermaid” post totally struck me. It’s not very often that I come across Hmong Women like yourself & I am truly inspired to follow my own values. I am very sorry for your tragedy but feel somewhat connected. I can relate to some parts of your story and am honored to have a slight peak at your personal thoughts, insights, & your story to find your individualism. I hope to continue reading more & learning more about your life.


    1. Thank you. I do hope that my readers, especially Hmong women, can get something out of my story and follow their hearts.


  10. wow… thank you for sharing your story. i am very fortunate i didn’t have to face that adversity growing up, but i’m a believer in what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger – and it looks like you are living, breathing proof of that.

    every person is the doorway to a different universe; we just have to open our hearts and listen.

    again, i very much appreciate your blog and to many more beautiful years to you and yours!


    1. My story, although it has its own uniqueness, is very similar to many Hmong women and girls. I am glad that you did not have to face similar things growing up.


  11. Wow…MB that was wonderfully told….I can’t believe how similar our life are…I don’t know if you remember me but I had thought that my journey to be with my husband was a rough road but you too had experience it. Life is full of unexpected event it was great that you made it through it with your mermaid standing by you. You had always been a strong person even in elementary school. Some time our parent just don’t want us to follow in their footstep but you can’t help what the heart wants. Happy anniversary to you and your husband.


    1. Hi Ka! I definitely remember a Ka Lee from my childhood. Glad to hear from you. Although we love our parents, sometimes, we just have to fight for ourselves because in the end, it is our lives and not theirs. Don’t be a stranger; drop by often.


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