Had there been a divorce pill to swallow, I would have thrown it down my gullet in a heartbeat — something I could have gulped down and — poof — my husband and I would be living in our own homes, setting off on our own separate journeys. You can even romanticize the notion in your head. Here’s the kicker, though — I was halfway through my pregnancy with my second child when my husband and I decided to separate. Even just typing that right now, it almost seems like a terrible nightmare.
Revealing our decision to our family and friends at the time made us appear crazy, and I often wondered whether we were. Things had been said, however, that I didn’t think we could ever get beyond. I honestly don’t remember a lot of the specifics, as our psyches do a pretty bang-up job of protecting us from the memories of all that “bad stuff,” but the bottom line was something like this — I called him an unemotional robot and he called me the word used for a female dog. Like I said, the comments almost seemed insurmountable, but, fortunately, I was wrong.
I hope I’m not making too much of a sweeping generalization here but, as women, we tend to like to be spoiled. It’s in our nature, especially when we’re pregnant. My husband is a very sweet man, but spoiling is not in his nature. I was much more nauseous with my second pregnancy than my first, and I was struggling to keep up with my freelance workload and 18-month-old boy. There were days I felt sorry for myself, but my husband just didn’t seem to get it.
During my first pregnancy, I remember him doting more. He seemed more engaged and more interested about the little details. “Oh, he’s the size of a lima bean now? Cool!” he’d say as I read to him from the many, many parenting books I’d filled my bookshelves with. Perhaps it’s just me glamorizing the first baby, but it felt like such a special time. Granted, pregnancy is never easy, but I remember being happy … really happy.
Although I felt much worse with the second pregnancy, my husband didn’t seem concerned. I began an albeit dangerous passive-aggressive game, where I’d find myself purposely complaining in front of him, only to get irate when he wouldn’t take the bait and ask me what he could do.
My sister-in-law once told me that pregnancy can be a very isolating experience, and, at the time, that didn’t make sense to me. You’ve got another human being living inside you. How can that be lonely? And yet, there I was — somehow feeling like I was taking on the world all by myself.
That’s when the horrible fighting began between us. More insults were hurled. Feelings were hurt. Tears were shed, again and again. I sent an email to my in-laws telling them that this is not what I want my boys to grow up with as an example of what love looks like. I’d rather have them see us each alone than grow up thinking love was such an angry thing.
If I’m being totally honest, I had already harbored a lot of resentments by that point. I had a strong desire to change our “story.” Everyone has a story — how they met, how they got engaged, the fairytale wedding, and the whole shebang. I’m a hopeless romantic at heart and have been known to watch marathon sessions of rom-coms. I wanted to change our tale, as ours was anything but romantic.
We broke up several times throughout our dating period, and then my husband waited six months to ask me to marry him after asking my dad for permission. He dared to not get down on one knee when he did ask me (the horror!). I remember going into the bathroom at our hotel in wine country and crying over this. I knew it was silly, but I couldn’t help it.
Our wedding day was a mess … literally, as the toilet in our tiny apartment in LA decided that was the day it was going to back up, leaving sewage all over the floor. My most memorable image from that day was of my husband carrying my wedding dress out of the apartment above his head, so as to avoid the river of muck below him. So, yeah, I wanted to change our story, but, of course, no one can change the past.
I’ve never been one to romanticize what goes on behind closed doors in others’ homes. One thing I think everyone can agree on is that marriage is hard work. The thing I felt bad about is it seemed like we had to fight that much harder than others, and I guess that made me resentful. Although I knew it was impossible, I wanted that perfect backstory.
When the time came for me to give birth to my second son, Declan, we were officially separated but still living together. We’d come to the realization that there was no way we could do this on our own, so we muddled through the pain. We slept in separate beds, and it seemed the only things keeping me going during that time were the tiny kicks that lulled me to sleep each night. “I hear you, Buddy,” I remember whispering. “Mommy’s going to make this all okay.”
The birth experience was strange, of course. My water broke when I got in the car to get groceries, and my parents came over as we all waited for labor to begin. It never did, so we made a plan to meet our doctor the next morning for induction. It was awkward, us all sitting around, trying to name a child who we all feared would be scarred for life or, worse yet, be sickly due to all the stress during my pregnancy. My husband and I battled over the name for nine months but, on that day, he finally relented and let me choose. Being the ever-generous person that I am, I let him pick the middle name. Hey, I’m not a monster.
After I gave birth, a strange thing happened. My husband seemed happy. I don’t know why I’d expected anything else, but he actually appeared hopeful for the first time in a long time. He even gave me a “push gift,” which was so thoughtful after all we’d been through the past year.
It was certainly odd bringing a baby into what we’d assumed would be a broken home soon enough, but we managed to get through it. We came together more than ever, as we had to. It was born of necessity because, as every mother knows, handling a newborn takes a village … or, at the very least, two parents who aren’t at each other’s throats.
The changes were subtle but profound. He helped around the house more, as well as with the kids. And, despite my severe sleep deprivation, I complained less. Homeostasis had been restored, and it was a peaceful time (which is not always the case in a house with a newborn!). As hard as it was to face, I also began to see more clearly how my anxiety and constant nagging had played a huge part in our rift. I’m not sure why I hadn’t seen it while pregnant but, as the saying goes, better late than never. I had put our issues squarely on his shoulders, and, once I let go of that, we both began the slow process of healing. Of course, there were still broken hearts and broken dreams to a certain extent, but we put it all aside for this beautiful and, thankfully, healthy little boy.
We even got back into counseling with a woman whom we’d seen many times before and who knew our whole painful journey. I wish I could say it was a dramatic “lightning bolt” moment filled with unicorns and rainbows, but we were sitting at a taco shop one day when I said, “We should go back to counseling.” And my husband’s eyes lit up as he agreed. Ultimately, it was just a quiet, simple moment that changed our lives.
Our therapist encouraged us to take baby steps, which was ironic all things considered. It was as if we were finding a way to walk right alongside our son.
To this day, I still don’t know how we did it, but we managed to emerge a stronger, more united pair. Our therapist still calls us the “miracle couple,” as she’d known some of the profanity-laced, hurtful comments that had been exchanged between us.
We’re thankful divorce was too difficult and expensive an option for us at the time. Had there been a pill, we’d have swallowed it. And we would have never known that such amazing beauty could come from such excruciating pain.