Once upon a time there was a 30-something writer living a very “Carrie Bradshaw” type existence in La La Land. She enjoyed an enviable career as an entertainment journalist that took her to fancy parties with fabulous people and wore designer dresses with red-bottomed stiletto slippers.
Considering her dark past, which included a dysfunctional upbringing in a broken family, struggles with drugs and alcohol that landed her in rehab at the age of 21, years of floundering on the career front, and the fact that this was Los Angeles, she thought she was doing pretty well for herself. But during her early 30s, as many of her friends (most in lands far away) began to settle down and start families of their own, she began to feel a consuming emptiness inside. “Is this it?” she wondered. “Am I destined to be alone, forever?”
And then she got pregnant — but it wasn’t with Prince Charming’s baby. I (yes, this person was me) wasn’t too surprised when the pushing-40 writer/musician/alcoholic, who I dated periodically over the last 10 years during his brief stints of sobriety, reacted in a verbally violent manner when I told him the news. Not only was he emotionally unstable, but this also wasn’t his first time to the child-out-of-wedlock rodeo, as he had a toddler daughter back in his hometown. I told him that abortion wasn’t on the table, and that he could have as little or as much to do with this child as he pleased. After many psychotic phone calls and extreme verbal slandering, he chose the former.
So there I was, single and pregnant. Dealing with the obvious emotional repercussions of my situation was hard enough, but the technicalities of surviving as a single mother in one of the most expensive cities in the world sent me into a deep and sleepless depression that lasted several months. I was living in a ridiculously expensive one-bedroom apartment, lived pretty much month-to-month, carried insurance that was fair at best, had a job that could hardly be considered stable, and family support that bordered on non-existent.
Around this time, my college sweetheart Nick unexpectedly reappeared in my life. He was the first and most monumental love of my life, the only person that ever made me feel safe and cared for, like I had a home in the cruel world that had been my life up until that point. Unfortunately, our relationship couldn’t survive the chaos of those 18 to 21 years or the tumultuous love affair I had with drugs and alcohol, and sometime during his senior year, we went our separate ways. The last I knew he was married and living in the Midwest.
After I shared my situation with him, he confessed that he was going through a difficult time as well, as his wife of several years had recently left him and he was struggling with a drinking problem. We traded a few messages on LinkedIn, and then progressed to the phone. Romance wasn’t on my mind at the time, but for whatever reason, every day I looked forward to hearing his voice or seeing his name pop up on my phone.
I finally decided I had to get out of Los Angeles and change everything. I picked Charlottesville, Virginia, a place I had never been but had a few friends who ended up there. It seemed like a place I could give my son a “normal” upbringing and pursue a career as a freelance writer. In retrospect, this plan was totally flimsy at best, but my gut told me it was the right thing to do.
Shortly before my move, Nick told me that he would always care about me and that he didn’t want me to go through this alone. Whatever I needed from him, whether it was help moving or someone to keep me company in the delivery room, that he was there for me. For the first time, I didn’t feel alone anymore.
At seven months pregnant, on July 4, 2013, I packed up my belongings, said goodbye to all of my friends, and headed to the unknown land.
Moving to Virginia proved to be the “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” moment in my life. Suddenly I felt empowered, beautiful, smart, and independent. I immediately made friends with amazing men and women who were excited to be part of my journey. Once I signed a lease, Nick planned a visit to help move me into my house and keep me company on my birthday. Though I started hoping this was going to be more than just a friendly and helpful visit, I set my expectations low, because how could a man fall in love with a woman carrying another man’s baby?
But the instant Nick stepped off the escalator at the Charlottesville airport, I knew we were going to spend the rest of our lives together. We spent the next week splashing around in swimming pools, picnicking all over town, getting lost in the historic gardens of the UVA, and shopping for strollers — it was as if we just picked up where we left off when we were teenagers.
After 10 intense days, we were both fully committed to spending our lives together and started making plans for our family’s future. Nick returned a few weeks later for Jackson’s birth, which was the most beautiful day of my life. He held my hand throughout all the contractions, cut his umbilical cord, and even changed his first diaper, because to be quite honest, I had no idea how. Nick returned to Des Moines, Iowa for work, and I spent the next six weeks bonding with my little baby. Motherhood was natural for me. It felt as if all of the love I hadn’t felt my entire life had been storing up inside of me to prepare me for this moment. It was a high that I had never experienced before and hasn’t gone away since.
Less than two months later, Nick returned to Virginia and we packed up a giant U-Haul with all of my belongings and drove to Iowa. We moved into his downtown loft — a completely open space with no doors dividing rooms — not exactly the ideal environment for a colicky newborn.
I sort of assumed that once we were all living together, things would be perfect and we would all be totally happy and dance into the sunset, but the first few years proved to be difficult. In addition to going through his never-ending divorce, Nick didn’t really have the time to mentally prepare himself for fatherhood. Then there was me, with my unrealistic expectations pressuring him to put a ring on my finger, and the baby boy who wouldn’t stop screaming. He used alcohol to deal with the stress of it all, and he wasn’t exactly the nicest person when he came home from happy hour with his work buddies.
But despite all the drama and repercussions of moving in together so quickly and jumping into a completely insane relationship that everyone assumed would fail, we loved each other to the core, so we worked through both of our issues. It helped to have the support of Nick’s incredibly wonderful family, who welcomed us into their lives with more love than I ever could have imagined. From the moment they met Jackson, it was clear that he was one hundred percent their grandson and that they would be there for us, no matter what.
The turning point in our relationship occurred after we moved to the Chicago area, where Nick had gotten a promotion. We ended up in therapy together, and soon after, Nick completed an outpatient treatment program for his drinking. When our relationship felt like it was in a stable place, we decided that we were going to not not try to get pregnant again.
We returned to Virginia 4th of July weekend, exactly two years after I left Los Angeles. As we were watching the fireworks, Jackson huddled in fear in Nick’s arms and our daughter sprouting safely in my belly, I was overcome with a flood of tears. Everything had come full circle and my life was filled with an unimaginable love and fullness that I could never have imagined. Nick asked me what was wrong.
“Nothing,” I told him. “Everything is right.”
All I ever wanted in life was right here. He pulled me close to him and the three of us embraced in a hug and suddenly, a sparkling diamond ring appeared in his hands. He told me he felt the same way and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.
That fall, eighteen years after our first kiss, we became man and wife.
I haven’t spoken to Jackson’s sperm donor since the day I told him I was pregnant, but shortly after we got married, our adoption lawyer reached out to him to get him to sign away his rights. “Gladly,” he spat at her, “I want those people out of my life for good.”
Though I cannot pretend to understand how a parent could completely detach themselves from their flesh and blood, I have no anger toward him. Alternatively, I am grateful, because without him I wouldn’t have been blessed with this amazing son, husband, and daughter, and would most likely still be stuck in the rut which was my former life.
Because I didn’t want any other women to feel alone in their “single and pregnant” journey, I started writing about my experience and formed a support group on Facebook. Today it boasts nearly 1,500 women from all around the world, many who have formed life-long friendships with each other and walked through their entire pregnancies, as well as the first year of their child’s life, together.
Shortly after Barrett was born, a stranger approached us at Nordstrom. “I just wanted to tell you that you have the most beautiful and perfect family,” she gushed. “You are so blessed.” In the midst of my journey, I never could have fathomed a “happily ever after” ending like this one. I, like Cinderella, never even realized I was living a fairytale until The End.More On