Mother and daughter, Yajaira Gaines and Destiny Barber, reflect on the choices and challenges they faced in unplanned motherhood.
At age 18, Yajaira packed her belongings for college and left the Bronx behind, excited to experience the freedom of life on her own in upstate New York. A good student, she’d earned a full scholarship.
Her mother, Hilda, had instilled in her that education was crucial. The only one of her 12 siblings to attend college, she’d become a professor in the Dominican Republic before moving to the States. When Yajaira left for school, she had the gift of her mother’s savings with her.
But Yajaira took full advantage of college life with her new friends, and without telling her parents, made trips back to the Bronx to visit her boyfriend, and vice versa. “I got to college and went a little crazy,” Yajaira said.
When a friend became at risk for a sexually transmitted disease, Yajaira and three other girls offered moral support and got tested, too. Yajaira was the only one who got a call back from the medical clinic—she was pregnant.
“It was scary,” Yajaira said. “I remember feeling darkness, and alone. I was completely hopeless, it was awful.” She had just arrived at college, and already she was going to disappoint her parents. Ashamed, she told neither the school nor her parents. So, her brother stepped in as the messenger. As Yajaira feared, she and her mother stopped speaking to each other. “She wanted an apology, and a plan with the dad’s family,’ Yajaira said. “Now, I can comprehend, maybe she felt like I didn’t see her sacrifice.”
Unsure what to do, Yajaira left school and moved back to the Bronx to live with her boyfriend and his parents. With her Dominican family always so tightly knit, she felt the emotional toll of her severed relationship with her mother, especially when her parents moved to Florida, the shame unbearable to them.
After no word from her mother during her pregnancy, Yajaira didn’t bother letting Hilda know the morning she went into labor. But news of the baby’s impending arrival traveled quickly among family. That afternoon, Hilda arrived in New York and was by Yajaira’s side for the birth of her granddaughter, Destiny.
“We never did talk about what happened. I just knew, after having a child, that you’ll cross the ocean to be there,” Yajaira said.
While her relationship with her mother improved, Yajaira’s relationship with her baby’s father deteriorated. “My parents knew I was miserable in the Bronx with my boyfriend going to the clubs and drinking several days a week, so they let him come stay with them in Florida to find a job and get an apartment. To start fresh.”
When Yajaira was finally able to join him in Florida with Destiny, she wanted to get a job, too, contribute financially, but he was resistant. He wanted her to stay home. Soon, emotional abuse crept into their relationship. Yajaira knew she couldn’t raise her baby in that environment. “It was so toxic. I couldn’t do it.”
Getting a job at a hotel, Yajaira snuck out to work, while her aunt, who lived nearby, cared for Destiny. “I wanted better for my daughter, so I pushed past the fear of getting caught.” She made sure to return home while he was still at work to avoid any arguments.
Although she did manage to hide her job, the emotional abuse became unbearable. One morning, around 1:00 a.m., Yajaira tried to make an escape with Destiny. “I called family to come get us. But even though we weren’t legally married, some family members thought I owed him respect as the father of my child and told me to stay. But I had to get out of the fear, and all the things I was under.” Eventually, she found family who empowered her, and she was able to escape the abusive situation. “I knew it was going to take will on my end, and other people to come around to support me.”
One of Yajaira’s biggest supporters was her mom. Hilda eagerly offered to help care for Destiny while Yajaira worked 12–14-hour days at the hotel.
Working at the hotel, Yajaira grew professionally and personally, and it was there, she met Keith. Over time, they began dating. But as a single mom coming out of a toxic relationship, she clung to her independent spirit. “On dates, when he would reach to open my car door, I'd open it before he could touch it.”
But Keith was different. “He was a gentleman, and he was very intentional, always.”
Keith’s intentionality led her to church, where he introduced Yajaira to the idea of a relationship with Christ. “The pastor began talking about faith and love, and it was different than my religious upbringing,” Yajaira said. “Not being married, we were still accepted and loved, and what was being spoken from the pulpit matched the action.”
That acceptance made Yajaira want to know more about God. Eventually she was baptized, and after years of carrying shame and unforgiveness from her past, she realized, “I’m already worthy and loved, because he created me, and there is nothing he would not do for me. I didn’t have to earn it. I could stop proving myself and just be.”
“I lived through what the enemy wanted, but I’m also living for what God had for us. It’s a constant reminder of his provision. Had we not held on to god, our story would be a very different story.”Yajaira
Starting over with this new sense of freedom, Yajaira and Keith began a family together, adding a sister for Destiny. They married in 2009, with eight-year-old Destiny smiling brightly during the wedding—a smile that meant so much to Yajaira because it was a welcome sign that Destiny had finally accepted Keith into their lives, so long being protective of her mom, and the life just the two of them had together.
“I don’t have any memories of Keith not being my dad,” Destiny said. And Keith took leading their family spiritually very seriously. “We served all the time,” Destiny said. “They just instilled it in me, and we were always around people who love God.”
Until middle school, Destiny lived under her parent's faith, but she wanted to learn more about what it meant for her own life. After the family moved to Charleston, she attended Seacoast Church’s Summer Camp for students. When the speaker talked about anger toward his dad, Destiny realized she too, had been angry with her biological father. As the speaker prayed over the students sharing that pain, Destiny began to release her anger toward her absent father.
In the past, Yajaira had tried to help Destiny cope with seeing her friends showered with gifts from their dads by signing his name on cards to her. “I didn’t want to taint any perspective she had of him,” Yajaira said. But after years of sporadic communication, and little trying on her father’s part, Destiny made the decision to cut ties with him, knowing it wasn’t healthy to continue trying to have a relationship.
Instead, Destiny began to rely on God, who would never let her down. Singing became her way of expressing her faith. One day at church, when she was 14, Destiny heard her name called. Wide-eyed, she realized her mother had signed her up for an audition without telling her, knowing how uncomfortable she was with attention. Destiny sang “Someone Like You,” by Adele and earned a spot on the Seacoast worship team.
By 11th grade, Destiny made the decision to fully pursue her love of music, rather than volleyball, a sport she excelled in and was on track to play in college. “I really prayed about this,” she told her parents, “I really feel like this will follow the Lord.” In 2020, Destiny released her own worship singles, "Start With Me," and "Suddenly."
In 2021, Destiny married Jay. Four months later into their marriage, she became pregnant. It wasn’t in their plans so soon. Shocked, and scared—much like her own mother—she felt uncomfortable telling her parents. “I’m only 20 and we were only four months into marriage. I’m a planner, so I was freaking out.”
When Destiny was too nauseous to sing at church one Sunday morning, she knew she wouldn’t be able to hide her pregnancy much longer. Making an excuse, Destiny planned to meet her parents at their house to share the news.
As they sat around the table, Destiny, with nervous laughter, showed them the ultrasound photos, while Jay did the talking. Tears of joy filled Yajaira’s eyes, and Keith said everything was going to be okay.
Despite the unplanned circumstances, Destiny saw the goodness in all of it. She has learned so much from her mother. “It benefits me knowing the hard things she had to go through, because I know I can do it.
I know it [motherhood] will come with challenges, but I know I have the best person to talk to. I know how to love my child because of how she loved me.”
Now, Yajaira watches her daughter sing on stage with such confidence and in complete devotion to the God who got her to this place. “Seeing her now is such a testament to God’s faithfulness,” Yajaira said. “I lived through what the enemy wanted, but I’m also living for what God had for us. It’s a constant reminder of his provision. Had we not held on to God, our story would be a very different story.”
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