Hell’s Kitchen has always been a big draw for social worker Rory Cruz. She was born and brought up here, and now lives in the neighborhood with her baby son Joey. But the struggles she had after his arrival during the pandemic inspired Rory to help other mothers suffering from postpartum depression. Here’s her West Side Story.
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I was born here, at Roosevelt Hospital (now known as Mount Sinai West) I have lived here practically my whole life. I went to school here, attending Sacred Heart, where my mother had gone before me — also having some of the same teachers. I made friends here that are still my friends today. Even though most have moved away.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
After leaving for a little while I kept being drawn back to the neighborhood, either for social events or for family. My grandmother still lives nearby and I wanted to be close by.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
Hell’s Kitchen is my home. Many people can think on their childhood and look back at certain landmarks of their neighborhood and have such great memories. I have those here. The library on 10th Avenue and 51st Street is where I had many of my class trips. My favorite bodegas with my favorite sandwiches at 2am after a night out are just around the corner. I can’t pass a block without recognizing at least one person. And now it is where my partner and I are raising our 2 kiddos. Although she does not have as much history with HK as I do, it has become home to her and the kids too.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
I am not a fan of when people refer to Hell’s Kitchen as Clinton. I take great comfort in the memories that come with the name Hell’s Kitchen.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit or did you find an escape for some of the time? I was here, and I was very pregnant. It actually was very surreal, traffic was a breeze, hardly anyone out. People were, and continue to be, pretty mindful of each other’s space.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
I was a child and family therapist pre-pandemic. I worked for Mount Sinai Morningside (St. Luke’s) and really enjoyed my work. Since the pandemic, life has changed and I, like many others have struggled with finding their footing in this journey. Now I would qualify myself as a freelancer. I still practice as a therapist, but only virtual sessions at the moment and with adults now. I host my own podcast called Pushing Through Postpartum on Apple and Spotify. Additionally, I manage my own social media accounts to bring awareness to mental health, specifically postpartum depression.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
I learned how to make pies and pancakes from scratch. This was really huge for me, because I am not a big fan of cooking, but I have gotten really good at these recipes. I have even explored outside the box a bit, adding my own take on them. While this may seem a little self-focused, I think of them in the context of community. Branching out to new things which are scary to try and being OK with it even if they aren’t OK, but you can always make them better. Also, our family took up rock climbing which was really fun.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
Humanity — the number of really amazing humans that are out there. As I mentioned, I was pregnant and gave birth during the pandemic, and just the number of people who were so helpful, kind, thoughtful and genuinely caring. It was hard being a mom during a pandemic but people who saw me out with my son or heard my story were always, and continue to be, so gracious.
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
My friend wanted to have her bachelorette weekend here, so we invited all her friends from Massachusetts down for the weekend. After a night of barhopping, I walked them back to their hotel not too far from my apartment at the time on 50th and 9th. While I was walking with my friend and the bachelorette party, someone pinched my butt. I turned and it was this woman. I told my partner and my friends and they didn’t believe me, so I went back and asked the woman “did you pinch my butt?” she said “hell yea I did, it’s a really nice ass” I just tuned to my friends and partner and said I told you! Right after that, I ran into a good friend that I have known since the first grade and the first boy I ever kissed. Oh yea, and it was 2am!
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
This one is hard. I’ve seen celebrities all around, but the closest I ever came to one was when I spoke to Julianne Moore at Starbucks (unfortunately not in Hell’s Kitchen though)
What’s your superpower?
Well, our 12 year old said the following when I asked for help with this question: “You are baddie — you don’t care what people say and you will take them down anyway.” I interpret this to mean that I am an activist and I do not take kindly to social injustices.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Actually, I don’t sing in the shower but if I did, it would be Singing in the Rain. Maybe I should try it as my new thing for 2022!
Which people inspire you the most?
RBG, Michelle Obama and Winston Churchill. They are all such different people, such different takes on like, such different eras and yet one common denominator, a fundamental understanding: “Injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere”. OK, maybe Dr. Martin Luther King Jr too, but hey I’m a social worker — what can I say….
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
“Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society” — Sonia Sotomayor
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
UGH NO!!!!! Too many tourists, and while I am so happy for them being here. I prefer not to bump into them as they are enjoying the sights on their vacations.
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
I am mixed on this one. Aesthetically it is beautiful, it has brought such a charming factor to the neighborhood but I miss the grittiness of the HK of my youth.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
A bakery from a while ago called Pozzo’s on 48th and 9th. It closed in January 2008. It had my mother’s favorite birthday cake.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
Well, since you asked… You should follow me at Pushing Through Postpartum on Spotify and Apple. Search for the hashtags #Itsoktonotbeok and #DysfunctionallyFunctioning. Please follow me on Instagram @pushingthroughpostpartum and/or Twitter @Pushingthrough4
COVID only heightened postpartum — which is already so isolating and scary. When you have an infant in a pandemic it’s like having a monster manifesting in your greatest fears.
Pushing Through Postpartum was inspired by the pandemic. I gave birth to my son on June 19, 2020, and when I got pregnant I never imagined the world would be so upside down. Our birth story was not what I thought it would be, no family or friends visiting the hospital — and for several weeks prior to his birth and having contractions I was so scared of being on my own. New York State and I believe many states surrounding had mandated an order where women gave birth alone, and there was a lingering question of if you tested positive for COVID in the hospital your baby would be taken from you for up to 14 days.
I became worried, anxious and depressed. After giving birth I was in a really dark place. On day 7 post birth I told my partner I needed to have human contact with people outside our home and we brought our newborn to her brother’s house. This was my first saving place — somewhere safe where my newborn could be taken care of if I couldn’t do the job.
As the months went on I progressively got worse. I had no motivation to leave the house, I cried often and for no reason. I worried about being unable to function, not being a good mom, struggling to do simple tasks like showering, and when I did shower and get out the house I needed to stay active the whole time. My son was always dressed, read to, cared for, always doted on by me or his other mother, and engaged in some activity to promote his milestones. I still felt like it wasn’t enough, I must be doing something wrong.
My breaking point was when I was driving alone to visit my uncle in Queens for dinner and my car accidentally swerved on the road. I remember looking to the side and seeing a pole and thinking what if I wasn’t here anymore… I was in a really scary place. I called my partner and told her, and said I need more help. I called my therapist and spoke to him about what was happening and how I freaked myself out. He assured me I would be OK because I was aware and to speak with my PCP. At the PCP appointment I was honest, even though it was scary to be honest about failing as a mom and as a person. She prescribed medication, and I started it that same day.
After a few weeks I felt better and could talk about that day with some close friends. It was in the conversation I said to one of them, I am a highly educated woman, with a Masters in Mental Health, who knew this could be a possibility after birth and put in as many supports as possible pre birth to make sure I had the right supports around in case I needed them — and look, I am still a mess. What happens to the women who do not have support and do not know where to look for them, especially with COVID? That’s what made me launch Pushing Through Postpartum.
Anything we missed?
I want to take a moment and recognize a wonderful organization right here in Hell’s Kitchen — the Housing Conservation Coordinators on 10th Avenue, and the work that they do to help preserve some of the grittiness I so love. They are especially focused on rent stabilization, immigration and other housing-related concerns. They have been operating since the 70s and I love the history that they come with. I am the vice-president of the Board.
Rory’s Hell’s Kitchen Happy Places
Hibernia: I love that place. We used to live right above it, and it was great. They have the best burgers. The staff is always so sweet and it’s a real neighborhood bar.
Alfie’s: Our dog’s name is Alfie so maybe it’s a little biased. But truthfully there is a really good spinach dip and a great beer selection.
Fine and Dandy: I could get lost in this store for hours, even though it isn’t that big. All the nostalgic memorabilia makes me want to redecorate my apartment all the time.
Delphinium Home: This place just has really cool stuff. Cards for all occasions, and fun quirky gifts for all.
Fountain House Gallery: I enjoy the exhibits there. They always inspire me. One time there was one on how mental health affected you. The authors were anonymous and you could be part of the exhibit. It was really inspirational and an idea I wanted to bring back to my own clinic uptown.
Sonny’s Deli: This one brings me back to my childhood, when my grandmother and I would stop in for some candy, cheese and neighborhood chit-chat.
Sushi Damo: I don’t know how they do it but wow, the sushi is incredible. Andy, the manager, is not just friendly but beyond welcoming, almost like your family. Last year, we had a small gathering for my girlfriend’s birthday here with her brothers and their families. It was very sweet and everything was delicious!
Marseille: My favorite date place with my squeeze (hey MaryAnn). I love everything from the baguettes to chocolate mousse cake at the end and everything in between. It’s perfect for a group and or a quiet night for two.
Clinton Veterinary Center: Dr. Fisch is my main dude. This place makes me happy because my Alfie is always so well taken care of here. Dr. Fisch, Wolfgang and Millie are always there for our Alfie whenever he’s in need.
Flaming Saddles Saloon: I put this as 10 because I give them all a 10! and that is why it is my happy place.