My ex-husband filed for divorce when I was six months pregnant with my third son. He told me about the divorce paperwork via text while we were on a family vacation in Hawaii. According to him, I was crazy and I needed help.
He wiped our checking account, changed my spending limit on our credit card to $200, and told me he was going to get custody of our children. He and his mother slandered my name in my community and to my girlfriends. My friends were tough, though. They knew me well enough to see that my actions lined up with my words. His did not.
I could go into detail about what tactics he used during our separation to intimidate and control me. I could share a litany of incidents that occurred between the moment he filed for divorce and the moment I gave birth to our son, and I'm confident many of them would make your eyes widen, your jaw drop, and would elicit you to want to give me a virtual pity embrace. But I'm not going to do that.
He wiped our checking account, changed my spending limit on our credit card to $200, and told me he was going to get custody of our children.
Even though it would be an easier narrative to shift my hurt and anger and blame towards this broken man, I decided when I gave birth to my son two years ago that I'm not going to be a victim. Being left while pregnant is not the pinnacle of my narrative. Raising three boys to be three strong men who will love, respect, and be tender towards women — and everyone and anyone else they encounter or have a relationship with — is my narrative. Raising three men who are so secure in their masculinity that they don't need to put others down — that's the story I want to share.
When I found out I would be delivering my child alone, I became reactive and frantic. I verbally lashed out at this man who had once stood up in front of others and professed his lifetime commitment to me and to our marriage. I blew up at his parents and their active support of the dismantling of our relationship. I didn't understand why they wanted to blame me.
I spent so many late nights googling terms like "delivering a baby alone" and "raising a newborn by yourself." I felt such a heightened wave of panic that my emotions eventually shut down and I disconnected from them and went into full-on robot mode, because it's easier to feel nothing at all than to feel it all at once, right?
Was it scary to drive myself to the hospital when I had false labor contractions at 36 weeks? Yes, absolutely. I'm an only child. My mom died from pancreatic cancer when I was 22 years old. That night my dad came over to watch my two little boys, and I've never felt so alone. I wept in that hospital room while I waited for the nurse to find my son's heartbeat and assure me he was thriving and doing OK.
Was it empowering to deliver my son with my two best friends in the hospital room instead of his father? Hell yes. They were hilarious and uplifting and the mother figures that I needed. The image of the two of them sitting on a couch and pumping breastmilk for their babies who were at home with their dads while we all cracked jokes about how absurd this all looked will forever be one of the most cherished memories of my life.
Was it heartbreaking to receive a text message the afternoon I gave birth that read, "You are a piece of shit," because I wasn't responding to my ex-husband's text messages because I was too busy breathing in new baby smell? For sure. Even though I was riding high on labor endorphins and hugging a sweet little bundle of love, that message stung.
I wanted to give in and give up many times. At my lowest low I thought my sons would be better off if I died. I truly believed my ex-husband when he told me I was crazy and a problem in everyone's life, and that if I would just go away or die, everyone would be happy to see me go.
But now? I'm a secure, strong, intelligent woman. I have a college degree. I've traveled around the world. Both of my parents were CEOs and set strong examples of leadership. I don't know how I allowed someone to get in my head so much, but I did. And little by little, I dug myself out.
I'm still on the receiving end of my ex-husband's anger when we exchange our children and via email and text message. But now I focus on what I can control, because I certainly can't control him.
I attended therapy once a week. Sometimes twice. I found a weekly support group and attended religiously. I fell asleep to YouTube meditations every night. I found a fabulous, no-bullshit lawyer who took on the stress associated with divorce. I got together with friends at least twice a week, and I let them help me even when all I wanted to do was turn into a shut-in who wears sweatpants and cries over HBO documentaries and Coke commercials. I forced myself to notice things, to feel connected. Monarch butterflies on a morning walk. The cotton candy clouds at dusk. There were infinite moments of grace when I literally felt like the universe was picking me up and giving me a warm hug when I needed it most.
We finalized the divorce a year-and-a-half ago. It was expensive and nasty and I'm still on the receiving end of my ex-husband's anger when we exchange our children and via email and text message. But now I focus on what I can control, because I certainly can't control him. I can control my parenting when my sons are in my care. I can control my perspective when I find myself slipping into victim mode by practicing gratitude for what I have and trusting the narrative the universe has in store for me. I can control developing healthy friendships and modeling healthy behavior in front of my boys.
So I do small things. I ask my oldest son three questions every night: How were you kind today? How were you brave today? What are you most grateful for? I hope I'm hard-wiring his brain to display acts of compassion and thoughtfulness. When my 2-year-old takes off his diaper and proudly pees on the floor and looks up at me and laughs, I pick him up, bring him to the bathroom, and I laugh, too. (OK, I also cringe.) When my 3-year-old asks my "why" for the umpteenth time, I smile and try to explain the answers to his important questions in toddler terms. And when my 8-year-old has his feelings hurt at school by unkind words or juvenile thoughtlessness, I tell him all he can control is his reaction and his behavior, and remind him that he's amazing and is loved.
Should you find yourself in a similar situation or something worse, please reach out to others. Find support. Get into therapy. Talk about your fears openly and without hesitation or fear of judgment. Ask for help. Meditate. Go for walks and get outside. Cry when you need to, because it means you're human and you should be proud of that.
I truly believe it is our natural inclination to help others, and once I shared my fears and my pain openly and honestly, my people gathered around me and lifted me up when I couldn't do it myself.
Two years after getting that text message, I'm in the thick of single parenting three boys who are little and malleable and, to be honest, exhausting. I'm knee-deep in diapers and tantrums and brotherly wrestling and three small people vying for my attention at all times. I cherish the times I can go to the bathroom without interruption.
Being a single parent is the hardest job I've done. But when I watch my oldest son hold the door open for others, my middle son give his friend a hug, or my youngest son smile from ear to ear, my heart feels full and I come back to what I'm creating in these three little boys. Today I try to live my life with candor and grace and find humor in my comical missteps along the way. Rather than focus on the pain, I shift my attention to the good stuff. Because there's a lot of it once you go digging.