The anniversary of the day my ex-husband walked out on me and our sons has arrived. I am happy to say it is with little fanfare or even emotion that I am ending this particular day. This anniversary thing is just a little easier today than it has been in days past. It is hard to believe that I have been sometimes rocking the single mom business for 365 days. It is the hardest job that I never asked for, but we are making it.
It is interesting because the past month has been brutally difficult. One of my boys is really struggling with some major health concerns and I have found myself bouncing from hospital to hospital and speaking with lots of doctors and social workers. It has involved explaining our living situation and the challenges of the past year. I have had to email, call, and text my ex routinely to keep him updated (as per our legal agreement) and I have managed to be civil. I have had to make some tough decisions regarding his health and it has involved changing plans for the summer. Overall, though, I feel much more confident in making the decisions that are right for my family alone. That isn’t to say that my ex hasn’t been told, but rather that given his distance, most decisions are mine. Ironically, the past year has forced me to become more decisive and clearer in drawing boundaries. It is amazing what one woman can do when faced with no choice.
Would I wish this scenario on even my worst enemy? Absolutely not. I have been far from perfect and most days I feel like I am just doing a rehearsal of my life and then reviewing the day for ways to make it better. I am still really struggling to keep the communication channel open with both kids. I am struggling to show them balance. I fear they see the stressed, exhausted mom way more than they should and the silly, quirky, mom on too few occasions. But, for now, I can say, we are doing the best we can. If someone would have told me a year ago all that the next year would bring, I would never have gotten out of bed again. Now, there are days that I feel like yelling “is that it, is there anything else you can throw at me?”. Because, guess what, one year later, I am still standing.
I know I have touched upon infertility over the past year of writing, but many of my friends and acquaintances only know me now through my role as mom. For anyone, who has never experienced infertility, it is a unique journe, and a source of ongoing grief and trauma through one’s childbearing years. Even once a person has given up on the idea of every getting pregnant or giving birth, there are these monthly reminders of what could have been and isn’t. When I think about the things that have caused me to doubt God the most, it is infertility, and walking along side my son through trauma.
The background is that 10 years ago, my ex and I had been trying to conceive a baby for over a year and finally went through invasive and thorough testing to determine why it wasn’t happening for us. After all, we were young, seemingly healthy, happily married, so next logical step was to build a family together. Interestingly enough, the only indication that could be found for our inability to conceive was severe male-factor infertility, of unknown cause,with a very slim possibility of us ever being able to conceive without medical intervention. So, we began the physically painful and emotionally devastating year of IVF, and, 3 rounds later, finally gave up.
The problem, though, with being a 26-year-old married woman is that all your friends around you are starting families. So, while I was grieving the loss of my dream for motherhood, all my friends around me were popping kids out left and right. There was a period of time where I couldn’t go to baby showers, and even church could be triggering, as I was surrounded by pregnant bellies and babies. Meanwhile, I never gave up hope in a miracle for us and yet, every month I got a reminder of what wasn’t to be. It was only in the past few years that I have been able to celebrate the pregnancy of friends and family, with little challenge and true happiness for them.
I think a lot of people assume that when couples who cannot have children, adopt, that is the end of the grief over infertility. Fortunately, I approached adoption with eyes wide open, in that regards. I never expected my boys to fill the hole left by not being able to get pregnant. I adopted because I wanted to be a mom, but I knew I would still miss out on the experiences of pregnancy, breastfeeding, and cuddling an infant, and I accepted that. I also knew that my own experience gave me even greater capacity for walking with them in their own stories. Being their mom is one of the hardest jobs of my life, but also the greatest joys, but there is an inherent grief in adoption. Jody Lander’s summed up the conflict of being an adoptive mom the best:
A lot of people reached out to me after my last post and I appreciate the concern. First off, what I want to say, is that often, when I write, it is in the moment. And there is a reason for that. First off, it is helpful for me to write when I am deep in the trenches with whatever is going on. Writing has allowed me to make coherent sense of my thoughts and feelings. Also, I think it is important for people to hear the feelings of people in the midst of the story. So often, things are written through the perspective of time and hindsight (as is some of my writing). For the most part, though, I write without the luxury of distance. For all those of us walking along side people through difficult stories, it is important to “hold space for the feelings” (said by a friend of mine) without trying to convince people that those feelings aren’t real or valid.
So, the reason for sharing all this, is that I am walking in a very difficult space right now and I am only touching on the edge of the story. This whole baby thing, reactivated a lot of my own trauma over my over infertility and brought some of those feelings from 10 years ago back to the surface. But now, I am having to process through them in the middle of trying to grieve through the end of my marriage and the upcoming anniversary of the day I found out my ex was cheating. Oh, and yes, I am still trying to be mom and walk alongside my sons as they try to process their own feelings and as we try to find our footing as a family of three. Don’t worry, we have a therapist to help!
People have expressed concern over my anger and bitterness with God. I have been walking a very hard journey for a decade and there have been glimpses of God’s grace and love, but I have spent many years feeling alone in my faith. I am not saying I am walking away, but lately I feel like my faith hurts. It hurts to see God bless other people while I am struggling. It hurts to hear people tell stories of God turning evil for good, when it isn’t my experience now. I will never understand why so many times God has answered my prayers by saying “no”. I know I have mentioned in the past, I love the show, Gilmore Girls. There is a scene in the end of season 6 that the words keep playing over in my head:
“So I am hanging on to the bumper and life goes on and the car goes on, and I get really badly bruised and I’m hitting potholes. And it hurts. It really hurts. So yesterday I had to let go of the bumper. Because it hurts too much.”
Some days, I just want to let go of the bumper because hoping that God will intervene, hurts too much. Yes, people can give me all the advice in the world, and all the anecdotal stories of people that have had God intervene greatly. But right now, right in this moment, I am badly bruised.
I knew it was coming. After all, they announced their “miracle, blessing from God” last summer. This was the hill that I felt I would die on. It felt like some cruel, cruel joke from God. I thought I worked through it. I thought I was dealing with it better. Then it happened. In usual fashion, I did not find out directly, but rather an email saying that the reason he was late again on childcare expenses was that he spent “all day in labor”. Then, I was in the car with my son and I looked over and there was a picture of a baby on his phone. So, it happened.
I think for the past 7 months or so, I just blocked it out of my mind. I thought, surely God wouldn’t really bless them for cheating with the one thing I prayed hardest for my entire marriage. I guess I was wrong. He leaves me, leaves our sons, and is immediately handed the gift of a second chance…a chance given while he was sleeping with another woman while we ere still married.
Am I bitter? Yes, yes, yes. I don’t understand. I am here struggling to make ends meet, with two boys that don’t want anything to do with me. He is living the good life – new baby, new wife, his kids adore him and worship the ground he walks on. So, maybe my kids have the right idea in their agnosticism. God rewards cheaters and liars with blessing after blessing. I get the crumbs that are left over. Yeah, God exists. I am just not sure I want anything to do with him.
The one-year anniversary of the day everything changed is rapidly approaching. I can now see that the events that transpired on March 23, 2017, were traumatic and changed the course of my life. The subtle reminders are there. The weekend he left for “Comicon” (otherwise known as his scheduled weekend to consummate his affair) was the same weekend as my boys’ yearly March soccer tournament, which always gets re-scheduled do to weather. That weekend is coming around next week, and the tournament has been re-scheduled, yet again. When he left last year at this time I was anxious and uneasy and couldn’t put my finger on why. I now know that deep down I knew something was wrong long before my mind new exactly what. I am approaching this weekend with eyes wide open, but that doesn’t make it easier. I am unsettled and anxious. There is a pit deep down in my stomach. I am sure they are approaching it as some sort of anniversary, while I am having to approach it as a trauma-versary, so to speak.
I am raising sons that have both experienced trauma as young boys, in losing their birth families, so I am familiar with what trauma is and how anniversaries of trauma can affect people in unusual ways. I know that I need to give myself extra grace to grieve and emote. My head knows this stuff, which will allow me a little more control of the emotions, but that doesn’t make it easier. A year ago, I was married, albeit starting to feel that something was wrong. A year ago, I thought my husband had always been faithful to me and now I know how untrue that was. A year ago, I envisioned raising our sons together and allowing him to pick up some extra slack so that I could finish grad school. A year ago, I was able to support my family with our two incomes and now I struggle to get by on my salary with a small amount of child support. A year ago, things were so very different from the current reality.
I suspect that for the rest of my life this time of the year will always bring out the before and after comparisons. Right now, those are hard comparisons because the boys and I are in such a rough season. I hope that eventually I will be able to see the “after” as the best part of my life. I am not there yet. I see the glimmers of what could be, but it is not yet a reality. I am still hurting and grieving and raw. Somedays, the events of last March wake me from sleep or bring me to my knees in tears. I want to one day see myself as a strong, capable, woman, mother, and employee, but most days I feel like I keep dropping the pieces that I am juggling.
So, as I approach this trauma-versary, please give me grace. I am trying to put the past in the past, but I also know the importance of allowing myself to feel through things rather than pretend everything is okay. I know the next few weeks will be hard and triggering, but I must just live through them. It has been a year of firsts, some good, some bad, but all necessary.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting a meme went around, which I shared because it resonated with me over my thoughts on the shooting, but also my thoughts on anyone in crisis. It crossed out the words “thoughts and prayers” and replaced it with “policy and change”. For someone that professes a faith in God, this may seem and odd thing to share. However, having lived through my own crisis over the past year, I understand what those words do and do not mean to me.
When someone says they are thinking of me or praying for me, it feels like a punch to the gut. I know it is a phrase that is meant well, but when you are in crisis, you don’t want people watching from the shore as your ship sinks. When you are in crisis, you want someone to jump in the boat and help bale out the water. I am not discounting the power of prayer, but you don’t need to tell me you are praying – I know that people who really love and care for me ARE praying, even if they don’t tell me.
So, what is the opposite of the phrase “thoughts and prayers”, to me? It is action. It is bringing a meal to a struggling family. It is offering to come watch someone’s kids, so they can get away – whether for some self-care or support groups or whatever. It is someone helping with the cost of house cleaning. We all have our gifts, some of us are blessed with abundant finances, or the ability to stay at home with kids, or great cooks, or great networkers. When people are in crisis, they need some doers to step in and help share a little of the burden. And if that is not a possibility, a phone call is invaluable. I have spent the better part of a year barely keeping my family from sinking and sometimes it is exhausting to always be the one reaching out for a life preserver.
Ten months ago, I began this extremely lonely journey. I have found that I am stronger than I ever thought possible, but sometimes it is the insignificant things that can tip me over the edge. Today Messi had surgery and as I tried to schedule his post-op appointment, I nearly broke down. My sitter is out of town, I am working full time, and the person sitting at the desk didn’t seem to get the reality that I truly had no way to get him to the appointment. We finally figured something out, but it was just a reminder of how it feels to be living in a situation where you are barely staying afloat. So, for my friends near and far, please don’t take this as a cry for help (though I wouldn’t turn it down). Rather, it is a reminder for all of us that when we know someone in crisis, those prayers need to be paired with some practical action otherwise they just feel hollow.
Something about having a free night or weekend to myself, seems to trigger emotional releases in me. Today, I met my sister half-way to New York City, so the boys could spend the night with her, then cried most of the way home. My boys are old enough that I have allowed them on some social media, but with that comes their dad. As I am responsible for making sure their accounts are private and appropriate, I was confronted by the smiling images of my ex and the other woman. Then, I saw the mutual friends and family who loved those images. And now, here I sit, with an afternoon free and tears streaming down my face.
When you marry young, most of your friends end up mutual friends. So, when 14 years later and the rug is pulled out from under you, suddenly everyone comes under suspicion. I have had to learn who I can trust and those who are safe people. This is hard to do, and even harder with family members. I had hoped to maintain a relationship with my ex siblings-in-law, but I realized that I can no longer have people in my life who support my ex and the choices he has made, so today I made the painful decision to write them a note, but explain that I didn’t want them to choose me over their brother, so I was severing our relationship I have known most of them most of their lives as they are all younger than my ex and I. I honestly, though, couldn’t stomach the idea of them loving seeing pictures of the life he chose when he walked out the door on the boys and me.
Nine months in and the actions of the man who I chose to love, still bring me to my knees in grief and pain. Many days, I just feel stuck, like I will never be through this. Other days, I just wish I had a timeline on this grief, so I could see the end, how ever far it may be. I am so emotionally exhausted, trying to parent well (and often failing), trying to work, trying to grieve, and trying to move one. When, when, will I have shed my last tear over the actions of the man who broke my heart?
It is funny because part of the thing I decided to due to grieve the losses of the past few months was to write a list of all the things I lost. And in writing it, I found the list was much shorter than imagined and even many of the things I had thought of as losses were not actually losses. I am not going to go into detail on everything I wrote, but it was interesting because the more I wrote the less I felt the loss.
The first thing I listed was the loss of my best friend and the more I thought about it, the more clarity has come regarding our relationship. A best friend doesn’t repeatedly lie to and about you. A best friend is honest about problems in the relationship. A best friend doesn’t tell everyone who will listen how lucky you are that he puts up with you. A best friend doesn’t walk out of your life without looking back.
As I look through the list of everything, I see nothing about these losses is irreplaceable, except maybe the loss of a co-parent. Considering he only responds to about 10% of what I email and has not continued to same standards in his house, that we had for our sons together, I can honestly say that is an irreplaceable loss. No longer do I have anyone to consult about issues our sons are facing or have a partner to help parent or give me a break. And no longer do my sons have a day-to-day father that watches tv with them or coaches soccer.
Every other loss is one that can be replaced. I didn’t lose my future, but rather the one I imagined, and I am okay with that. The more I wrote the list, the more I see what I have gained…
My self-confidence – as a woman and as a parent. I had spent years hearing how much I needed him and, surprisingly, I don’t.
My future – it was never set in stone, so I realized it was never there to be lost, but only to be gained.
Freedom – to make decisions without worrying about what he thinks or wishes.
A relationship with my sons – he had always been the “good cop” in our parenting relationship, so now I get to learn to be both good and bad cop. It is hard, but it is good.
Quiet – I used to feel the need to fill silences with talking…now I am content to sit silent with myself and my thoughts.
Potential relationships – I spent years hearing how lucky I was that he put up with me. I watched friends with husbands who treated them like queens. I assumed our relationship was different, but now I see that I settled for feeling like I was not equal to him, so therefore I couldn’t expect to be treated better. Now, in any relationship, friendship or romantic, I have clearer expectations of what I need and what I am willing to give. I can also say that I deserve so much better than what I experienced.
As hard has the holiday season was, I feel like it was one of the big hurdles that I needed to survive before I could really start to move forward. I have started the new year with a calmness and peace, as have the boys. As I sat in church today, I was reminded that the faith I profess to follow is based in resurrection. Last year, I experienced the death of my marriage, but I do serve a God who is very comfortable with loss and death, but also in re-birth. So, this is my year of renaissance…of rebirth and finding beauty in ashes.