From the web: Our Marriage Ended. Our Family Did Not.
Our Marriage Ended. Our Family Did Not.
My birth plan was eight pages long. At 26, I hadn’t planned my pregnancy, so I was determined that our baby’s debut would be precise. Throughout those nine months, I read any parenting book I could get my swollen fingers on, dog-earing every other page. I considered whether our baby boy would be circumcised, how many months I would breast-feed, what preschool he would attend. I’d carefully carved out the details for any possible mishaps and milestones of our son’s little life — except for one. I never considered what would happen if I divorced the man who’d made me a mother.
We were married a year to the date we met. Our start was storybook, perfect for plot but disastrous in real life. When it became undeniable that my husband and I were toxic together, I panicked. With blood-shot eyes and a bottle of Malbec, I settled in for a long night of searching the web. How does divorce affect children? Fifty-five million results appeared on my screen, and they contradicted one another. Every click left me more alarmed than the click before. Between the bloggers and the message boards, I was convinced that at best my son would develop post-divorce asthma and at worst he’d spend his life in prison. Of course we tried staying together for the sake of our son.
Until one night, during one of our fine-tuned feuds, our shouting woke up the baby. He rubbed his tired little eyes as our volume grew. His stare darted back and forth, following our wild gestures like at a terrifying tennis match. He was the only witness to the ugly side of our love, an unfortunate and unavoidable truth. That was the moment I knew that staying together might be the worst thing we could do for him.
By his first birthday, I’d moved out. By the week he turned 2, we’d decided to divorce. Between those two birthdays were 365 battles. We fought because we desperately wanted to stay together. We fought because our differences pushed each other to the edge of madness. We said things that were unforgivable. We did things that were unspeakable. We made threats, always ferocious, always empty. We spent a year circling the inevitable.
Divorcing felt like a death that deserved mourning. Yet we had no choice but to continue raising a child together in the aftermath. There was no space, no real distance, no time away for us to recover separately. We needed to heal, but our baby needed to be cared for; our most important job was to protect him from feeling our family’s collapse.
We saw a Lower East Side Ph.D. who, by the end of our sessions, seemed more distressed than either of us. We asked two of our uncoupled friends for tips, but both had waited until their children were older to split. I searched everywhere but couldn’t find a model for the kind of family we still hoped to build, despite our separation.
On our bad days, and I mean where-can-I-hide-a-dead-body bad, we avoided each other entirely. That meant our son had no choice but to miss the absent parent. On the days it hurt to look at each other, our innocent child was passed from his father’s arms to mine without so much as a glance. We knew we couldn’t continue on like we were.
One weekend that winter, he called me to say that our boy had come down with the flu and was asking for me. I didn’t remind him that we weren’t on speaking terms but instead hung up and raced the 12 blocks between our homes.
When I arrived, our baby’s fever was high, his energy low. He was miserable and wanted nothing more than to be held. His father rocked him while he whimpered, soothing him with shushing. I quietly watched from the doorway as he softly stroked the little bald spot on the back of our son’s head. This was why I had chosen to have a child with this man. It was no longer important what kind of husband he’d been; that part was now past. As a father he was exactly the partner I needed: patient, present, committed in every way.
I took our son from his arms and gave my husband a break. Without speaking, I ran a lavender bath and warmed up a bottle. We spent the remainder of the weekend working as a team while we silently nursed our child back to health. Being together was no longer about us.
Later that night I softly sang as our son fell asleep between us. It was strange to feel equally heartbroken and happy. My husband reached out and put his hand on mine.
“Thank you for coming over,” he whispered.
“Thank you for letting me,” I whispered back.
Just because our marriage was broken didn’t mean that our family had to be.