My baby is five years old. There’s a part of me that feels like he was born yesterday, and I can’t believe he’s already in kindergarten, learning to read, and having intelligent conversations. With each new day he grows and develops his own interests and personality a little more, always showcasing his creativity and beautiful spirit. He’s funny, kind-hearted, powerful, stubborn, and I love that I get to be his mom. There’s also a part of me that feels like I’ve lived a lifetime of experiences, change, trials and victories since he was born… has it really only been five years? Time is a funny thing; so subjective.
Beautiful things can come out of truly terrible times. Hardship and change can be used to positivity transform, learn and grow, and I’m so thankful that every time life has presented me with a reason to give-up, give-in, quit, or get stuck, I’ve not only survived but risen above. Humans are truly amazing. We are always stronger than we believe, and able to survive, start over, and become completely different over and over again. The past few years have been transformative for me personally, and for the spirit and culture of my home. Who I am as a parent and how I choose to live is unlike any previous version of myself. There’s peace, laughter, quality conversation, adventure, and friendship in my family, and after years of tension, conflict, inconsistency, and unhappiness, I feel blessed every single day. That’s not to say we don’t still struggle, or that being a single parent of a teenager and two young boys is easy, but at the foundation there is love, trust and safety, and that makes even our hardest moments feel healthy and easier to navigate in comparison.
I have three children, and each pregnancy and birth story is both tragic and beautiful. My first-born was conceived by force within a marriage, and I literally had no idea that that was even possible. I always thought of sexual assault as a one-time thing; a crime committed by a stranger or acquaintance, or because of drugs and alcohol, but not repeatedly by my husband while claiming to love me. I was young, naive, and couldn’t believe the control and mistreatment I’d committed myself to for “forever”, and while I was sure he didn’t love me I did everything I could think of to change myself into someone he could love in hopes that the abuse would end. There was so much darkness, fear, physical and emotional abuse, and loneliness during my pregnancy and after my baby was born, but out of that misery I became a mother to the most lovable little firecracker; my “dolly”. She was my reason to get up when I felt like staying down, she was my reason to smile and work hard, and she was eventually my reason to get divorced and change everything about our lives. As a byproduct of the rollercoaster of my life, she has gotten some hard lessons about life, love, trust, and loss, making her wise beyond her years.
Fast forward to my second marriage, where I was full of hope and faith that the nightmare I’d survived and escaped was a one-time experience, and everything was going to be different and better in this new life. I wanted another baby and to experience a supportive partner while pregnant. I had a vision of what it would look like to bring a baby into a happy family, and instead I got the opposite. My husband was angry with me for being sick, treated me like an inconvenience, and completely ignored me to party like he was a teenager. The disrespect and lack of understanding was heartbreaking. In most ways our marriage was over by the time our son was born. To make things worse, I became the breadwinner and he became the stay-at-home parent. He was always angry about the baby, angry with me for having a life outside of the house, and his drinking, verbal and emotional abuse skyrocketed. I hated how he treated me, my daughter, our son, and even our animals, and I often feared for our safety. Once again I was living in hell with someone I’d promised to spend my entire life with, and was overwhelmed with grief, obligation, and pride. I didn’t want to fail at marriage for a second time because of what others would think about me, and how it would impact my parents. So I tried everything I could think of to keep the peace, create happy memories for my children, and find common ground. When none of that worked, we fell into a routine of avoiding and ignoring each other as much as possible, while I pretended life was wonderful for friends, family, and social media.
Out of wifely obligation and serious pressure, I consented to intimacy with my husband six months after our son was born, and I felt so used and unloved that I promised myself it would be the last time. A month later I learned I was pregnant. Clearly my baby was meant to be in this family based on the circumstances that brought him into the world. When I fearfully shared the news with my husband his immediate response was to get an abortion. My decision to keep the baby ensured our eventual end, and we began a multi-year downward spiral that eventually resulted in a nasty, drawn-out divorce. The disrespect and lack of care I experienced during the first pregnancy was a cake-walk compared to the treatment I received the second time around, and while we shared the same house until our baby was over a year old, we were physically and emotionally separated for years prior to parting ways.
All three of my children were born into turmoil, and have experienced significant change in their young lives, yet each of them have a happiness and kindness that shows me that light is always more powerful than darkness. While I couldn’t insulate my children from the hardships we’ve endured, I choose to show-up for them with positivity and love every day, purposefully and thoughtfully living in the moment, and demonstrating peace, forgiveness, and gratitude. Recently my daughter asked a series of unanswerable questions, like “what if you’d married a good man” or “what if I had a dad?”. We determined after traveling down a rabbit-hole that both of us would be completely different people. She thanked me for my example of not giving-up, not living in the past, transforming life from awful to something good while also positively taking care of my children, and said that my example is empowering to her. Years ago, when I was so fearful of failure and unsure if I had the courage to leave my marriage, I was most worried about ruining my children’s lives, so to hear her observations and appreciation melted my heart and flooded my spirit with an abundance of peace and happiness.
As parents we do our very best, and even our best includes falling down, screwing-up, and living with some regrets. Sometimes the most crucial decisions we make are in the darkest of times, and we’re rewarded with the most beautiful outcomes. While the story of how each of my children came into this world isn’t full of happiness, each of their lives is a wonderful blessing, and with them by my side we’ve traveled out of devastation and created a new normal as a family.
Birthday’s are a time of reflection for me, and in the past when everything was still impossibly difficult, I felt so much heaviness when I thought about the everyday unhappiness my children were exposed to. What they knew as normal was dysfunctional and miserable. It’s a truly beautiful thing that we now have a life opposite of what it once was, and the journey from then to now is a powerful example for my children about having the courage to fight for better, being brave enough to start over, and choosing happiness day after day until it becomes reality. Now birthday’s are a special kind of celebration for me; a time of deep appreciation and an overflowing sense of gratitude for all we’ve been through and overcome to have the life we now live.