Updated: Sep 21, 2021
DISCLAIMER: A heads up for you before you read, this is an incredibly long post (probably the longest I will ever write) and there is a little cussing. Would a post about divorce be complete if there weren't a little cussing? But, seriously though, divorce is painful and life-changing/spirit-changing/heart-changing. Going into a divorce you are one person, coming out of it, you are someone else. The details here are raw and real and, if you don't have the desire to hear raw or real then I suggest you move on to my lighter posts about recipes, design or that recent one I made about the awesome LG Stick Vacuum...you need that in your life for sure. If you do stick around for this post I want you to know that I'm writing it for you to take a behind the scenes look at divorce, but I mostly wrote it for me. It has been over five years since my separation and subsequent divorce and getting this out has been so very therapeutic for me. While I hope whoever is reading this isn't experiencing a divorce, maybe you will be able to relate to some of these details for yourself or someone you love.
So, here we go...
It's 10 am and I seriously contemplated pouring a glass of wine to get through this post. Or maybe a mimosa? That's a more socially acceptable drink at this hour, right? Something, anything, that will make this a little easier to re-tell.
I'll start with the obvious: no good marriage ends in divorce. We all know this. My children now know this. I tell them time and again that divorce is a terrible thing and they should never go through one. I also tell them that the way to avoid going through a divorce is to marry the right person.
I thought I did.
If you have been through a divorce or you are going through one now, it is no news to you that it is the single most isolating, devastating, upsetting, anxiety-inducing, humbling, soul-wrecking experience someone could probably ever go through. It's a death. A death of a marriage and a life lived together.
I'll take one of those adjectives above and expand on it. Humbling. It is with humility, and tear-filled eyes, that I bring to you the story behind my divorce in hopes that you can prevent your own, help a friend through theirs or give your grown children support and advice.
"Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He shall lift you up"
It has taken me many years, books, audiobooks, TV shows (Girlfriend's Guide to Divorce is a favorite), phone calls with friends, Bible verses and studies, emails with attorneys, meetings with advisors, talks with family members to realize this truth: there are good things that come with divorce. I'm not talking about superficial things like having a bed all to myself or not having to clean a toilet after a man has used it, but deeper things like learning grace and patience and trust in the Lord. I can honestly say that my relationship with God grew so much deeper from those sleepless nights and tear-filled days. And, I grew stronger in ways I never knew I would.
A few months into my separation a good friend of mine gifted me a dainty necklace with little crystals that looked like raindrops and a note inside that said, "What if your blessings come through raindrops and healing comes through tears?...What if the trials of this life, the rain, the storms, the hardest nights, are His mercies in disguise?" (a song by Laura Story). That note lives in the top drawer of my desk to this day. If you are reading this, thank you, sweet friend.
So, how did it all happen? How did that family who looked like they had it all together with three beautiful little girls crumble? The Christmas cards showed two then three then four then five smiling faces. The Facebook posts I would post doted on my "wonderful husband", such a "hard worker", "an amazing man", so "grateful for him". I looked back through my feed over the years and there were more than 60 (SIXTY!) of these posts. All of my Facebook friends and family could see them and read them and I'm sure they thought, "she's so lucky she has a great husband" OR they may have even thought, "she brags so much, not everyone's life is that perfect". But, it didn't matter. The one person that I wanted to read those posts wasn't even on Facebook, or any social media for that matter. My husband. I asked him countless times to make an account so he could keep up with the girls and me during the day and I offered for him to just log onto my account every now and then. His response was always the same: "I'm too busy". "Social media is for girls". "If you have to tell me something just tell me or send me an email".
"Love will find a way. Indifference will find an excuse"
Guess who has social media now? Yeah. The moment we separated, he found more time and more freedom, I guess, so Instagram and Twitter had a new member. He didn't use Facebook for a while because, as he told me, he knew that would upset me if he created an account after I asked him for so long to make one. Then, months later, I found out he made a Facebook account under a fictitious name...looks like he no longer thought "social media is for girls".
Does Facebook, Instagram and any social media platform really matter? No, not at all. I'm sure, like me, you have felt the desire more than once to delete them all (if you haven't already done so). The point here is that we were not a team. We led separate lives and, even though there was plenty of opportunity (some as simple as joining Facebook to keep up with each other during our busy days) for us to come together over the 17 years that we were together, it rarely ever happened.
We were young when we met (biology lab partners at Texas A&M). Four years later, we were young when we married (23 and 24 years old). My parents provided us the most beautiful, Greek Orthodox wedding. A gorgeous church service, flowers everywhere, seated dinner for 200 people at a Country Club, open bar, dancing into the night, glorious four tiered cake, limo send off. For years after our wedding we would get compliments from our friends about it being the most beautiful and fun wedding they had ever attended.
We spent the next 13 years of marriage going through so many of the normal life changes that everyone goes through, but we also went through some really challenging ones. Like the loss of five pregnancies. Fertility treatments. The loss of my grandparents and my great uncle and the devastating loss of one of my family members who was far too young. Seven moves. Medical school. Residency. Fellowship. The building of a house (which just has to be a top cause of marital strife, right?). His workaholism (more on that later).
With a career in medicine, I figured it was normal for him to work hard and constantly. We were married before he started medical school and didn't have children until the end of medical school so those first few years were work-filled for both of us. I had my own clinic where I practiced as a physical therapist and his days were filled with classes in medicine from early morning to late at night. I was responsible for the house, the cars, feeding us, and my job and he was responsible for becoming a doctor. For the most part, our lives felt out of balance. I would often tell him that I felt like we were on moving walkways at the airport, but going different directions. We were both working crazy hours yet we continued to put one foot in front of the other because we both knew that the reward, someday would be great.
Shortly after we were married, we took a quick trip to visit his mother. The relationship I had with his mother was very much a hot and cold one. There were times that we got along famously and then times where I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin around her. Over the 17 years I knew her I learned that she has this effect on most people.
We took a walk on one of the days that we were visiting her and she asked both of us how our married life was going. Being the newlywed wife that I was, I detailed our home life for her, telling her that it was frustrating to be responsible for so much at home while my husband was away so much (ha, the grown up me would have loved some of that alone time now!). I told her that on my one day off the week before, I went grocery shopping, made meals for the week, washed all of the bedding and towels, cleaned the whole house from top to bottom and washed and folded all of the laundry (including countless pairs of scrubs, both his and mine). I explained that it was an exhausting day and I went to bed a little earlier than usual while my husband stayed up and played video games with his buddies (come to think of it, I don't really remember a time that we went to bed together, like ever). The next morning when I woke up to get ready for work, I went into the family room and found my husband had left his socks and an empty beer mug on the coffee table. I told my mother-in-law that, while it only took me one minute to clean this up, it was frustrating since I had put so much time and effort into making our house clean and tidy the day before. And, I explained that it was also not the first time that something like that had happened so I was, needless to say, more than annoyed.
Her response took me aback. "It was just a fucking glass, Chrissy". Surprised, I looked to my husband for a response or some sort of back up or even a simple, "please don't talk to my wife that way". Something. But, no, he continued to stare at the trail ahead and walked beside me in silence.
That comment has stuck with me since that day. Of course, it wasn't about the "fucking glass". It was about teamwork and recognizing what each of us brought to our marriage. I wouldn't go to his treatment room and leave dirty dishes and clothing around the place. And, if the roles were reversed, I would have been grateful for his hard work and would have been careful to clean up after myself so he didn't have to continue to clean after me. It was about love and respect and gratitude, but once again, he showed up with apathy and indifference.
It took a while, but I'm over that hurtful and hateful comment that she made. The years have made me move on from a lot of things, but I would be lying if I didn't tell you that I had to strongly resist the urge to send my ex-mother-in-law a little Christmas gift that first Christmas after we were separated...I imagined a perfectly and beautifully wrapped box on her doorstep that nestled a beer mug inside with an inscription,
"Just a Fucking Glass".
About two years into our marriage we decided to work on the next step, a baby. I'm a major planner so I started tracking my cycles and we got pregnant on the first try! What a blessing...or so I thought. I scheduled my first ultrasound and my mom went with me because my husband couldn't get out of class. Excited, I laid back on the ultrasound table, my mom holding my hand, both of us staring at the black and white screen. The ultrasound tech was eerily quiet and then my mom said, "Is that TWO babies?". My eyes got wide and the first thing I said is, "My husband is going to be so upset if it's twins". Who thinks that immediately after finding out they will be having twins? I know he wasn't thrilled about the idea of starting a family, but while the idea of twins is scary to pretty much anyone, it would have been a blessing for sure.
The ultrasound tech then said, "Yes, it's twins. But, I don't see any blood flow in either of them."
My questions started, "Is it just too early?", "Is it because they are twins and they need more time to develop?", "Am I going to have a miscarriage?". The news from the tech was grim and my mom and I stood in the lobby of Presbyterian Hospital of Plano, hugging and crying.
My body held on to those twins for a few weeks. I had a series of higher level ultrasounds, I could see their hands and feet, little gummy bears. I couldn't stand to look at the ultrasound screen any longer. I checked for blood every day, multiple times a day, and nothing. Finally, I had to schedule a D&C because they were deteriorating and I was at risk for infection.
I can honestly say, I don't remember my husband so much as hugging me through that time which made me more of an angry shell of a person. He is a kind person, don't get me wrong, but we just did not have an affectionate relationship. The vicious cycle we lived in started around that time...his absence (either physically, mentally, emotionally) triggered my frustration, anger and resentment which triggered his absence even more. Why would he want to be around me when I was so on edge? Or maybe, had he chosen to be around me, I would not have been in that place that I found myself in so very often.
"I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is to end up with people who make you feel alone"
After I healed from the loss of the twins, we decided to try again to get pregnant. A few months passed and I was running errands, so I stopped at Starbucks for an afternoon coffee. When I smelled the coffee wafting out of the drive-thru window, I almost got sick. Nauseated, I went home to take a pregnancy test. Two pink lines! I was excited, but cautious. I told my husband and he shared my emotions as well. I took it easy for the next couple of days, and then the bleeding started. Another loss.
Two pregnancies, three babies, lost. I was an emotional wreck. My girlfriends were calling with news of pregnancies or deliveries, baby showers, first birthday parties. I continued to work as a physical therapist and it took my mind off of everything, but my drive to and from work was tear filled. The strain on me also put a strain on our marriage. I was frustrated and sad, I felt very alone. And, I was alone most of the time. His days and nights were long and we were living two very different lives.
I made an appointment with my OBGYN to figure out what was going on, if anything. After a series of tests (both on me and on my husband), it was decided that we needed some hormone regulation and fertility help. Clomid, progesterone, HCG trigger shots, four intrauterine inseminations, no pregnancies.
We were spending a lot of money that we didn't have and the stress level was through the roof. We were told that our only option at this point, based on our tests and our failed IUIs, would be in vitro fertilization. How in the world could we afford THAT?
One evening, I was at my parent's house for dinner. After dinner, my dad called me over to the table and, tearfully, handed me a check. Money from my grandparents, an unexpected gift at just the right time. Almost the exact amount of the cost of one round of IVF. What an incredible blessing!
Over the next few weeks, I was poked and prodded, took a variety of pills, gave myself injections, meticulously tracked my cycle, gave so many blood samples my arms looked like I was addicted to some sort of drug, had several ultrasounds and then it was time for the procedure. Again, my husband couldn't get away from medical school to be there so my dad, a physician, sat at the head of the examination table in the cold surgical room, stroking my hair as two embryos were implanted. And then, the waiting began. I was on strict bedrest (only allowed to get up to use the restroom) for three days at my parent's house.
If you have ever had to experience fertility treatments, my heart goes out to you. I remember going through it and thinking, "I had NO idea this is what IVF was all about". It truly makes you crazy, it consumes your thoughts and your entire life. You wake up thinking about it and it's the last thing you think about before you go to bed at night. But, it also makes you emotional, impatient, stressed to the max. On top of our already stressful life, now we added this. I will be the first to admit I was short tempered and often angry. I used to yell (funny, I don't really yell at all anymore and my kids know I mean business if I do because it's so rare these days), and my husband and I would fight, a lot. He frustrated me with his absence, I frustrated him with my frustration which pushed him away even more.
I just wanted him to be there. I wanted him to choose me and spend time with me. I wanted him to hug me and tell me that he was proud of what I was doing and that he knew I was going through a hard time but that he would be there. I wanted him to tell me that he loved me.
I sent him so many songs over those first few years. Songs with lyrics that I could totally relate to. To me, music is what feelings sound like and these songs so perfectly expressed my feelings. Besides the emails I would send him and the words I would say to him about how I felt about our relationship, I would bombard him with these songs. Mary Chapin Carpenter's "He Thinks He'll Keep Her", Steve Wariner's "What I Didn't Do", Lorrie Morgan's "Good as I Was to You", Patty Loveless' "You Don't Even Know Who I Am", Faith Hill's "It Matters to Me", and, later, Sugarland's "Stay", Jason Aldean's "Tryin' to Love Me", Jake Owen's "When You Love Someone". So many songs and feelings. And, as we were going through our divorce and I sent these songs to him yet again he responded with, "I never listened to those songs. Guys don't listen to lyrics".
The opposite of love. Indifference. Again.
It was time for the blood test to see if I was pregnant. I waited for the call with the results and missed it! Stupid cell phone! My husband was home and it was almost 5:00 p.m. so the clinic was closing very soon. I had never seen him move so fast, he jumped in his car and sped up to the clinic to knock on the door. I don't know if he did this because he wanted to do it or if he didn't want to hear me complain and worry all night long. Either way, I felt so much love for him for doing that. He participated. He showed up.
I was pregnant. It had worked. And now, the waiting began for that first ultrasound to make sure everything was OK. The first ultrasound showed healthy twins! Good heartbeats, everything was as it should be. Over the next few weeks and ultrasounds, one of the twin's heartbeat was slowing down and the other was maintaining normal rhythm. Ultimately, we lost one of the twins and had one healthy baby left. The rest of my pregnancy was normal and, two days after my due date, I delivered a beautiful baby girl with the biggest eyes you have ever seen.
My husband was able to stay home with us for two whole weeks. It was amazing! He helped me with the baby and nursing and kept me fed. He was so supportive and, looking back, I think those were probably the best two weeks of our 17 year relationship.
When Eva was five weeks old, I had to go back to work. My partner needed me at the clinic and, when you have your own practice, maternity leave isn't really a thing. So, this new mom with hormones raging and sadness for having to leave her precious baby, still healing from a somewhat traumatic and way too fast delivery, went back to work. My mom kept Eva while I worked so I knew she was in great hands, but I just wanted to be with my baby. I felt empty without her, I was sleep deprived, I was working but also was the primary caregiver for our newborn and caretaker of our home and all of it was taking a toll on me. And on my marriage.
We moved on from those stressful and strained years of medical school and into medical residency. He was such an amazing student, the best in his class, so we pretty much had our pick of residencies all over the country. Before he flew off for his first interview I told him, "I will go anywhere you go. You focus on getting the residency that you want in the program that you feel most comfortable".
We almost moved to Boston. He loved that program and the prestige. But, then, he interviewed at Duke. As I pulled up to the DFW airport that night to pick him up, our baby sound asleep in her carseat, he opened the door and handed me a toddler-sized blue t-shirt that said "DUKE" across the front.
So, we made plans to move to Durham, North Carolina. I was excited about the new adventure, but nervous to leave my family 1200 miles behind me. The night that he was supposed to input his selection into the computer, he got cold feet. He started to worry that maybe he didn't like Duke that much after all. He kept thinking about his interview at Wake Forest Baptist in Winston Salem, North Carolina.
We had until midnight to make the selection and I remember going over the pros and cons ad nauseam. My dad suggested that we call one of his old colleagues who was now on staff at Baptist to hear more about the program from an inside source. After my husband spent a little while on the phone, learning about the program and the city, it was clear that the best choice for his career would be Winston Salem. At the last minute (literally), he selected Wake Forest Baptist and off we went to Winston Salem.
My mom and I flew to Winston Salem with my four-month-old baby girl to look for the perfect house for us. We met up with a realtor who was recommended to us by the Baptist Resident Spouses Club and, in two days, we visited more than 40 homes with lots of stops for me to nurse and change diapers.
I had so much to weigh when making the decision. The school district, the proximity of the house to the hospital (so he wouldn't have to drive for too long after sleepless nights on call), the safety of the area, the neighborhood itself. Finally, we drove into a little culdesac and came upon the perfect house. It was in our, very small, budget, and had a North Carolina feel to it with a front porch that spanned the length of the house. There were two small bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, a main level master and a finished basement where I could work and the baby could play. The owners were actually married medical residents at Wake Forest as well! As I said, perfect. I was in love and so excited. I went to a neighboring house and spoke to a neighbor (I had no idea how close to these neighbors I would be some day!) and he filled me in on the neighborhood and the other neighbors.
Excitedly, I called my husband and told him the address so he could look it up online. He said that if I liked it then we could go ahead and make an offer. We did, the offer was accepted and my mom, Eva and I flew home.
A few weeks later, he and I returned to Winston Salem to close on the house. I was filled with excitement to show him the home I had found. I eagerly opened the front door, grinning from ear to ear, as he walked in. He quietly walked through each room. I finally said, "Well, what do you think?". "I hate it", he said. What? I was crushed. He hated it? How? Why? He thought it was too expensive ($164,000) for what we were getting, he felt it was old and needed work. Tears filled my eyes. Why couldn't we ever be on the same page?
Sidenote: fast forward ten years and he will tell you that was the best house we had ever lived in. The best neighborhood, the best childhood for our girls, we renovated a little bit and made it a home. A home that my girls and I still miss to this day. I wonder if he does, now, too?
We packed up in Texas and made the two day drive with a nine month old, my parents and a Uhaul filled with all of our simple belongings (how on earth did our whole world fit in one single U-haul?). My parents stayed long enough to help us unpack in our new home, but they ultimately had to fly back to Texas. I was so scared. Alone in a new city, with a baby and my husband was off to his new position as a resident at Baptist.
I remember feeling so alone that I would cry in the shower, worrying that if something happened to me no one would know. This was before texting, we didn't have iPhones, we used the house phone for most things or a desktop computer for emails. My husband had a pager but I never really used it. I didn't have any friends in this new city, I didn't know the neighbors, my husband was gone for more than 80 hours a week. I was truly alone and isolated.
So, I did what I do, and I invited all of the neighbors over for margaritas and munchies. They all came! We had so much fun that night, so many little ones in the house for Eva to hang with, and the parents were some of the most fun people I had ever met. Over the six years that we lived in that house, they all became my family. My immediate next door neighbor and I would bathe our children together, drink wine on the porch (we would call it a "conference"), vacation at the beach, cook meals together. Her husband was like my second husband, he would be there if I needed help with pretty much anything at home. One of my other neighbors, a single guy that both my husband and I enjoyed hanging with, became like a brother to me...often sleeping on my couch weekly when my husband was on call.
Our kids played hide and seek, rode bikes, went trick or treating together, had sleepovers, they had the best childhood. The parents would cookout, have chili cook offs, have fire pits, had daily happy hours, we celebrated holidays together and so much more. This cul de sac filled a huge hole in me. These people became my family. My husband was often not present for most of our daily hangouts, so I leaned on each and every one of our neighbors.
When Eva was almost 18 months old, my husband wanted to try for another baby. What?? HE wanted to try? Was he drunk when he said this? I don't remember, but, we tried and got pregnant right away. Nervously, I went for my ultrasound and, praise God, all was well and the baby was healthy.
Because money was tight with him in residency, I had gone back to work as a physical therapist and one of our neighbors cared for Eva while I was gone during the day. So, we were deep in the groove of married life, both of us working, with a toddler and a baby on the way, in a new city that we loved surrounded by people we loved. I had found the local Greek Orthodox church and fell in love with the priest, his family, the people. Life was pretty perfect. Oh, if we could have just frozen time.
His residency was demanding and he, again, thrived on being the best of the best. The smartest, the most dedicated, the most reliable, never quit, never stop. I was the behind-the-scenes support, bringing in a small paycheck, taking care of our child, our house, our cars, our bills. I mowed the yard (even at the very end of my pregnancy with my big old belly!), I bought the groceries, cooked, cleaned, did the laundry, I took care of everything so that he could focus on his residency, uninterrupted.
You can only imagine what would happen after days, weeks, months and years of this lifestyle with someone who was constantly absent. And, as I said before, not just physically absent, emotional and mental absence is almost more painful than physical absence. We were so disconnected and with that disconnection, resentment grew. I wanted him to want us and to show us that he wanted us, call me out of the blue, send me an email, do something to show that you loved us. Me. The more he was gone, the easier it was for him to be gone, and the space between us grew. If he was around, he was tired and would often fall asleep without any real communication happening between us. I was also tired, drained and irritable. We fought. A lot. We were a young family and it was clear that our values and priorities were beginning to become very, very different.
I delivered Zoe five weeks early, she came home weighing 4 pounds and 13 ounces but, she was a strong little girl and never missed a beat (she still doesn't). She thrived and grew, and our marital stress grew as well. Two kids, I was working, he was working, no family around to help out. It was stressful. Our marriage didn't seem to have a strong enough foundation to handle it, but we continued forward.
At six months old, Zoe was diagnosed with life threatening food allergies. That changed my world. I was nursing so I couldn't eat any dairy products, eggs, sesame or kiwi (who really eats kiwi that much anyway?). So, we had a toddler, an allergy baby, I was working, a mostly absent husband and I had to completely change my diet...stress. I decided that I needed to cut something out and work had to go. While I enjoyed it and we needed the income, I needed to be home with my girls and take care of them, my husband and myself.
On top of his regular schedule, my husband would pick up call shifts on weekends to supplement our income. Looking back, that time away from the family was so incredibly unnecessary. It would have been much more beneficial for our family and our marriage for him to stay with us on his time off but, he was constantly worried about money (something that he absolutely doesn't have to worry about today or for the rest of his life, really) and his fear of not having enough money became more important that being home with us. It's funny, when I think about that time in our lives, we didn't have much and life was so much more simple, our bills were much smaller and the extra work he signed up for caused more damage than good.
We hadn't really vacationed as a family so we decided to take a trip to Disney World with my parents. Since Zoe wasn't quite two years old yet she would be free (bonus!), Disney World is majorly allergy friendly and my parents were going to split the cost with us so it seemed like a great idea. I prepared for weeks for that trip. I read books on how to do Disney, where to stay, what to eat, I made reservations and an itinerary so we didn't miss anything. I arranged allergy friendly options for Zoe, travel plans and more in a neat little binder with dividers (yes, I'm Type A). I washed clothes, bought needed supplies, perfectly packed suitcases and the diaper bag. I loaded the car with entertaining things for the girls and new DVDs to keep them interested for the long car ride. At 8 p.m. the night before we were scheduled to leave, my phone rang and it was my husband. He said that one of the other residents had forgotten that his parents were coming in town and he signed up for a shift that night and wanted my husband to take it.
I got mad. Like madder than mad. Like yelling and cussing mad. He had no idea what was going on at home, the preparation and planning it took to take two toddlers to Disney World, the around the clock work I had done so our family could have a nice vacation, the excitement I had that we would get his undivided attention for a week of vacation and then he calls to say he's going to pick up yet another shift all because his co-resident hadn't planned for his own mistake?
After much arguing and me trying to explain, through my yells, why he couldn't take the shift, he didn't take the shift. I can only imagine what he told his co-resident but, I honestly didn't care at that point.
So, off to Disney we went and, while the girls had a blast, my mom and dad and I had a blast, my husband was silent, once again. He seemed distant and didn't really participate in most of it. I asked him to please be present and with us, to choose us, to be excited that we were at the "happiest place on earth". Finally, he admitted his reason for being so melancholy. It was that he hated to think about the money we were spending. This man, who would in the very near future be making six (sometimes seven) figures, couldn't enjoy a vacation with his wife and children.
Another crack in the foundation of our already rocky marriage.
Upon the completion of residency, it was time to move on for the home stretch. Fellowship. He applied for and received a position at the University of Virginia. We leased our beloved home to a physician and his wife and left it behind along with our friends-like-family and our amazing church and took off north to Virginia for the one year program.
We lived in a two bedroom apartment to save on expenses. I enrolled the girls in preschool and I spent most of my days walking up and down the mountain that led to Jefferson's Monticello. The isolation was very real and very deep this year. He was averaging about 136 hours at the hospital every week. The girls would ask, "Is Daddy coming over tonight?" and I would have to tell them he lived with us. Those two little girls gave me the strength to keep going. To keep making beds and making meals. And him, I did it for him because I knew what he was doing was for all of us. We would all benefit from all of OUR hard work some day. Some day. In my mind, we were a team, even though we didn't see each other much at all. At least, I thought we were a team...
I grew very close to one of the fellows in his program and we are still close to this day, only separated by distance. She and I would take walks and share meals. We would have sleepovers and made great memories together. One day it dawned on me, why was it that she, who was in the same program as my husband and is a successful radiologist today, was able to make time for my girls...make time for me...but my husband couldn't get away? Or was it because he wouldn't get away?
During that year I desperately wanted a third child. We had one single frozen embryo remaining from our in vitro cycle years before and I couldn't bear to dispose of it. I spoke to my husband about it and he understood my feelings, but he absolutely in no way wanted a third child. His excuses were far and wide but, most notably, we will not be able to afford a third child. Really? A physician cannot afford three children? Hmmm. Ok, then.
I was able to convince him to let us just place it in God's hands and we shipped the embryo to North Carolina where a good friend of mine met me in the doctor's office for the implantation of the embryo. She squeezed my hand as we both watched the procedure on the ultrasound screen.
And then began the wait.
Over the next couple of weeks, I would take my five and three year old along for bloodwork and ultrasounds. The pregnancy tests were positive. For a few days. And then, another miscarriage.
I was devastated, the hurt returned, the memories of my previous losses surfaced again.
Losing that last embryo gave me an even deeper yearning for a third baby. I thought about it constantly, I talked to friends and family, I researched the cost of having three children obsessively. Whenever I would approach the subject with my husband, I was met with a multitude of reasons explaining why it was just not a good idea. So, I made a deal with him. I told him that we should compromise, try for six months, and if we did not get pregnant then we would be grateful for our two healthy daughters and move forward in life. He agreed to the plan.
Months one, two, three and four passed. I was tracking my cycle and taking ovulation test after test. Month five passed. Still nothing. In month six, we went away to Miami, Florida for a medical conference (my parents flew up to Virginia and stayed with the girls for a week so we could get away).
Upon arriving in Miami, we took a taxi to our hotel, I don't even remember the name but, I remember the room. The conference was to take place next door at the beautiful Fontainebleau Hotel. The majority of the attendees of the conference, including medical students/residents/fellows booked rooms at the Fontainebleau, not only for the ease of attending classes and lectures, but because vacation was few and far between so why not enjoy it? Well, our hotel near the Fontainebleau was less than ideal. The room he booked to save some money felt so dingy and grimy that I wouldn't even take my shoes off in the room (thankfully, he shared my sentiments and ended up calling the front desk for us to be relocated to a nicer room).
So, even though our much needed and long overdue "vacation" (medical conference) got off to a rocky start, the rest of the week was, mostly, fabulous. We had our fair share of wine and dine events at night and, during the day, while he was in lectures I spent hours walking and shopping (nine hours of walking each day!). His birthday was that week so we decided to celebrate with a dinner alone. We sat in the restaurant at a high top table and ordered food and drinks. While we ate, mostly in silence, he kept checking his watch and phone. I asked what he was doing and he said there was a group of radiologists who were getting together and would I want to join them? Um, ok? I guess we can stop spending time together and get back to the other physicians. So, that's what we did.
The trip came to an end, we returned home relaxed and refreshed. And, two weeks later, I had a positive pregnancy test. When I saw those two pink lines, I panicked. I started crying and I locked myself in my daughter's room (it was Saturday morning, they were happily eating breakfast and watching cartoons while their dad slept). I sat in the ivory gliding chair in their room and called my mom. She answered and, with tears on my face and a trembling voice I said, "Mom, I'm pregnant". I vividly remember her response. "That's wonderful! Why are you crying? Isn't this what you wanted?". I responded, "He didn't". So, I had to tell him the news that I viewed a blessing but he viewed differently. I found a song (me and my songs, right?) and played it for him on his laptop. The song was about learning of a pregnancy, I believe it was by George Strait but I don't even remember. I just remember his reaction. He sat there, stared at the screen, then dropped his head in his hands.
I knew I would be alone for that pregnancy. Don't expect much help with the girls, don't complain about any pregnancy symptoms, don't expect a companion for ultrasounds or testing (he did pop down for one of the ultrasounds when I was at the hospital and near where he was working that day). Thank God, the pregnancy was simple and I had no real complications, other than some killer Braxton-Hicks at the end, probably because at the end of fellowship I moved the girls and me back to our home in Winston Salem alone while he finished up his program in Virginia.
Before we left Virginia, we were invited to a Fellowship Dinner where his attendings spoke highly of each of the fellows and wrapped up the program. I was about six months pregnant, it was summer, I felt like a house but I was excited to get out of that tiny apartment, share a meal with my husband and meet everyone who had been his "family" that year. I hired a babysitter and off we went for a grown up night.
We sat in the upstairs room of a fancy house-turned-restaurant listening to toasts and compliments for each fellow. One of the attendings gave each of the spouses a card expressing gratitude for their "behind-the-scenes" hard work at home. I still have that card.
Then, our meal came, I sat at the table eating with my husband's back to me. I tapped him on the shoulder and whispered to him to see if he would please turn and eat as well because it was awkward to be sitting alone, with his back to me, in this environment. He replied, "Oh yes, sure, I'm sorry" turned to face forward, ate a couple of bites and then turned right back around to continue talking medicine with his favorite attending of all. Tears welled up in my eyes once again, the backburner wife. The backburner family. Along for the ride but helping him to reach the top. Building a life for him while he was focused only on building a living.
We went to a trendy downtown bar afterward. Let me ask you this, have you ever been pregnant in a bar? If you haven't, I'm here to tell you, it's probably the last thing you would want to do at six months pregnant with your third child. Your back hurts, you're sleep deprived from your other needy toddlers, your feet are swollen, your ribs hurt from the growing baby, and you can't even have a drink. I sat on a rock hard barstool at the edge of the bar, talking mostly with whoever was around me or my one girlfriend (the fellow I mentioned earlier). My husband made his rounds, rubbing elbows, being showered with compliments about his stellar performance over the last year.
Finally, it was time to go home. I drove. He motioned for me to stop, opened the car door and threw up. What a night.
So, the girls and I moved home. I unloaded box after box, settling back into our Winston Salem house. He stayed behind in Virginia, finishing up his fellowship program. I would take breaks in unpacking to wait until the false contractions would subside, and then I would get back up and at it again.
The day he left UVA and pulled into our driveway in North Carolina it felt very much like a soldier returning from battle. He cried, I cried, the kids asked why we were crying. We hugged in the driveway. We made it! YEARS of sleepless nights for both of us, hard work for both of us, changes, growing apart and sometimes coming back together only to feel like we grew apart again but that was all behind us now. Time to focus on the family. Ten years into our marriage and it was finally time to build a lifetime of memories. Together.
I had a couple of false labor scares as I was nearing my due date and, once I was finally in true labor, my neighbor (a teacher) left work midday and drove me to the hospital to be admitted. I was five centimeters dilated but the contractions were pretty irregular so, we walked. She and I walked up and down and around those halls for what seemed like hours. She was right beside me the whole time, such a good friend. I was about 6 centimeters dilated when I called my husband to leave work and come to the hospital, it was probably about 7:00 p.m. at this time. He asked me to hand the phone to my doctor, I did and he questioned her about whether or not he needed to leave work. I remember her vividly saying, "Um, yes. She's about to get her epidural". He will tell you that he asked her this because I had those couple of false labor scares so he wasn't sure if he should stop working or not. Um, ok.
About 30 minutes later, the door opened, he came in and I was 7 centimeters dilated and getting prepped for my epidural. I sat up on the edge of the bed, breathing through contractions as a slumped forward in a C-curve, trying to create space for the anesthesiologist to insert the needle into my spine. With my chin to my chest, I held both of my palms upward in my lap, waiting for my husband to wrap his hands around mine. He didn't. I looked up at him standing in front of me, texting work.
Our sweet, precious third daughter was born and no one missed a beat. I was back to driving carpool the next week, nursing in carline, he was back at work in Greensboro. We both decided that he would accept a position with a practice in Greensboro based on the practice's family values, their prestige and the opportunities they could offer our family. My husband would make the 40+ minute drive to Greensboro before the sun came up and would come home after the sun came down. Why did this sort of feel like we were still in training?
While we loved our Winston Salem community, it just made sense for us to move to be closer to his job. So, the house hunting in Greensboro commenced and, unable to find anything that we absolutely loved, we decided to build. That was such a fun project! We actually got along really well for most of the building process, we worked together to create our vision, I selected the finishes and worked with the contractor and subcontractors while he researched appliances and backed up my decisions. I don't really remember us butting heads on much during that year of building, maybe because we had finally found a common goal that we both wanted and the reward of our hard work would be worth it in a very short time? I don't know.
The build was complete and it was time to close. He and I sat in the closing attorney's office and, for reasons I don't remember, closing was delayed for HOURS. He didn't have HOURS in a work day, he barely had 30 minutes for lunch, so after a while he had to return to the hospital. He signed the Power of Attorney documents to allow me to sign for him and he took off, back to the hospital. I sat at the closing table alone, nursing our six month old, and signed page after page. The closing attorney congratulated me, handed me our keys and that was that. Anti-climactic but, whatever, we were so very fortunate. I didn't know what to do now, the girls were still in school in Winston so I strapped the baby in her carseat, ran to Whole Foods for a few things, then went over to the new house. The house where I would sit in the car, holding our baby, while I watched it being built from the ground up. The house where I took our two oldest daughters to graffiti the wall studs with their names, artwork, Bible verses, before the drywall was installed. I put the brand new key in the lock, opened the door and entered our beautiful, empty house.
With tears and hearts breaking, we packed our Winston Salem house up one last time and moved to Greensboro. That move was our last one as a married couple and would you believe I don't even remember it? Life was a blur at this point. A series of events and decisions. Changes and I was starting to feel numb. In some ways, it felt weird, like we were pretending to live a life that wasn't really ours.
His early mornings and late nights continued (I remember one of his colleague's wife telling me that she and her husband share an email account and they laugh because my husband would frequently email her husband at 4:30 a.m.). He was no longer in training. There were no grades now. He wasn't interviewing or trying to get a position. He had it. So why did it still feel like we were living our old life? I thought we had graduated from that and we could move forward.
I remember him telling me to sign our oldest up for soccer and choose the latest practice time so he could take her to practice. I believe the slot I chose was close to 7:00 p.m. Pretty risky considering that if he couldn't take her then I would be taking her (six years old), a four year old and a 7 month old to a practice that was right around bedtime. He took her once. I took her a couple of times, with sleeping babies in the car, until a new friend (whose super sweet twin girls were on the same team) offered for her husband to pick our daughter up and take her. So, our daughter was picked up weekly to go to practice by another dad...also a physician.
One day after work my husband told me that one of his patients, a sweet man from Nigeria, had given him a Thank You card for all of his help. He told me that his nurse said to him, "Your family must be so proud of you for what you do" and that he had to resist the urge to tell her "not really". I asked him why he felt that way and did he tell his nurse about the sacrifices and support he had at home to do what he does and do it really well? Of course I was proud of him for his dedication to his patients and his brilliance in the operating room, but at what cost did he have to take to get there? What did it do to our family? Isn't family supposed to be more important than work? That's what I had always thought. Maybe I was wrong, maybe I'm still wrong.
That's when someone mentioned (I believe it was my sister) that workaholism is a real thing, a real disease. So, I researched a little bit and came up with this:
Common signs of workaholism are:
Work late and/or take work home often and unnecessarily
Checking messages at home, maybe even in the middle of the night
Working or continually checking messages on holidays
Time and relationships with others are compromised
Lack of sleep or poor sleep
You're defined by your work
Check, check, check, check, check, check.
We didn't really have date nights. Do you? If not, you should. Every now and then we would order some sort of food to be delivered after the kids were in bed and then we would watch a movie and go to bed, at different times. Well, one night when the strain on our marriage was palpable, we decided to go out to 913 Whiskey Bar. It felt very awkward, very silent. We started bickering about something and I finally said, "Do you love me?". Silence. He couldn't answer that simple question? I mean, he could have even said of course he loved me but he didn't like me right now. Or of course he loved me, but we had a lot to work on. No, he gave no response. I just got up, left the table and went back to the car. Today he will tell you that he didn't answer because he "felt like that question was a trap". I'm not really sure that I understand what that means. Maybe someone can explain it to me?
I started seeing a counselor and those appointments pretty much just ended up in breakdown crying sessions every single time. I was heartbroken and hopeless. I didn't want a divorce but why did that seem like the only way? She asked if I would consider having an "open marriage". Um, what? People DO that? NO, thank you. But, then I got to thinking, I already had an open marriage...his mistress was all over the Triad in the form of tall buildings, concrete walls and operating rooms.
I didn't love the house we were living in. Don't get me wrong, it was beautiful and had plenty of space for us (just literally, zero yard) but it didn't feel like a "home". The school that my kids attended was not offering them what I felt they should be offered in their academics and there were other areas of Greensboro that seemed so much better for our children. My counselor suggested that we separate. I could move, with the girls, to a house in an area that I liked better and my husband could stay behind and try to sell our current house. During that time, we would work on our marriage and see if we could mend or if we truly needed to move on. The plan seemed solid and like the best option we really had.
Tension was at an all time high for us. One afternoon on his random and rare day off, I asked him to watch the baby monitor so I could go pick the big girls up from school and not have to wake the baby up. He said, "I can't". I got pissed. Why? What did he have going on NOW that was, yet again so important, that he couldn't help out at home? He said he had a meeting and couldn't tell me where or with who. I pressed the issue. Why couldn't he tell me where he was going? Another meeting at the hospital? Why couldn't they leave him alone on his day off? Finally, and reluctantly, he said he was meeting with an attorney. What? An attorney? Why?
His answer: "Because I have to protect myself".
Ok, so I see, you have to protect yourself? What about me, your wife? What about our children? Why would you go to an attorney to protect yourself and not go to our priest? Why would you not go to a few counseling sessions? Why would you not invest in your marriage instead of investing in your attorney's pockets? Why did I feel like a gauntlet had been thrown down?
Well, that Wednesday changed my life. Forever. I guess I needed an attorney, then. I asked around and hired one (looking back, she did more damage than good and I certainly wasn't "protected"). I can give you SO much information on divorce in North Carolina and it's not pretty. I have so much advice for anyone going through this, but I just can't give it all here. It's not what you think it is, the doctor's wife doesn't make out with riches and jewels and cars. The doctor's wife doesn't get set up for years and certainly doesn't get any long term return on the investment she made in her husband's entire medical career. I was actually advised by my husband and his attorney to move into an apartment with our three children because the only way for us to get a house would be if it was in my husband's name and, "if I couldn't afford the mortgage, he didn't want to have to kick the girls and me out". Who thinks like this? His lawyer, that's who. And, who agrees with this kind of lawyer? Him, that's who. Protect himself.
Then, he took away my car. His lawyers advice, of course. We had just bought our third Yukon XL, the Denali this time with all the bells and whistles. My husband had been driving our old Toyota Highlander because he "just needed something to get him to and from work and didn't care what it was". He was also a bit of an absent minded driver so it was a good idea for him to motor around in that car. Well, his lawyer convinced him to give the girls and me the Highlander and my husband would drive our brand new 7-passenger Denali, alone, until he could sell it again. I asked him why he would do this to us and his answer was that it was in his name and he didn't want me to wreck it while he tried to sell it. I guess karma is a real thing, he got into three fender benders with that Denali before he finally sold it.
Mediation ensued, phone calls, emails, accountants, real estate, car dealers, financial advisors, credit card companies, the dissolution of a marriage is very detailed and very mind shattering. I remember sitting at the table with him and his attorney, me and my attorney and I remember his attorney trying to figure out a custody schedule. Ha! Impossible. What time did he go to work every day? What time did he come home? My husband fumbled. He didn't really have any answers. What about weekends? What were those like? I just sat there watching, trying to figure out how on earth he would even be able to answer these questions. Was he truthfully going to detail his schedule or was he going to sugar-coat it? I pulled out my phone and opened my Lists app. On April 21st he left the house at 6 am and got home at 8:30 pm. On April 22nd he left the house at 5:30 am and got home at 7:30 pm. On April 23rd he left the house at 6:00 am and got home at 9:00 pm. And so on and so forth. I had answers. I had concrete evidence that showed it would be VERY hard to figure out custody. His sleazy attorney turned to me and said, "How long have you been planning this, Chrissy?". I looked right at him and said, "I'm not planning anything, this is my LIFE". Shaking, I had to leave the table and collect myself in the bathroom so we could continue the joke of a meeting.
On countless occasions, I heard from my husband that I had "already benefited from our marriage and I didn't deserve anything else". Again, what does this even mean? Hadn't we both benefited in some way from this union that was supposed to be a marriage? Didn't I provide him with a house (that he really didn't want), a family (that he really didn't want), a life for so very long and he would benefit from my investment in us for his lifetime? He would benefit FOREVER, but I had already benefited enough and I should just shut up, be happy and move on? His attorney was a real winner. He sure did like to rack up those billable hours with his sage advice, though.
So, our foundation was cracked and shattering now. We had a family trip that had been planned for months to go to the beach the next week with my parents and some of our friends. We decided to go forth with the trip because everyone had already made arrangements, the house was rented, and no one knew of our impending separation or really any of our marital problems. To me, this might even have been a helpful trip, maybe a time to get away and reconnect. A time for him to step up to the plate and show his love and desire to stay married.
The week before we left I prayed so hard. I prayed in the morning, afternoon and evening. I had a church friend over for coffee and I confided in her about our marriage. She hugged me and she prayed. She texted me a video of a prayer she was saying for our whole family. I asked God to show me what to do, give me some sort of sign. Should I be in this marriage? Is this going to get better? What do I do? Dear God, I am on my knees and begging for you to talk to me. Guide me. Help me, Lord.
We went to the beach. Things happened, unimaginable things, and my prayers were answered. I got a sign from God, that is all I can figure, that showed me our marriage was, indeed, over. I couldn't imagine our marriage making a comeback from what happened during that week. I was devastated and completely numb.
So, now it was time to move on. I don't remember packing the girls and me to move to our new house at all. I don't remember one single box but somehow I did it. I packed boxes, loaded my car, hired movers, unpacked boxes, hung pictures, made beds, ordered furniture, cleaned and tried to make the entire thing appear completely normal to our children so that they would not feel any aftershock of the devastation that was happening.
We told them that their dad would stay behind in our old house to sell it. They believed this, for months. They rarely saw him anyway so it really wasn't that different for them. He would come over and see them at night sometimes, read them a book, tuck them in. Then he would be gone with a, "Bye, Chris". During that year of separation I didn't hear, "I want you and I need you. I want our family. We are going to get through this. I'm sorry for not being there, I'm sorry for what I did. I'm sorry for what I didn't do". Not one single time. Not one time did he show up with a bottle of wine and say, "After we put the kids to bed, we are going to open this bottle and spend some time together". Not one time. To me, we were separated. To me, this was the last chance to try to mend, heal and be stronger than ever before. To me, separation did not mean divorce. I knew lots of people who had separated and then gotten back together after working on their marriage. I did not know until almost a year into our separation that he never viewed it this way. To him separation meant divorce. Period.
I was now a hollow person, a numb person. I felt like I was walking through mud every single day. I didn't know how to get through a day without crying anymore. We were still going through a legal battle, one that led me to vomit on more than one occasion. I would send him late night texts telling him that I was struggling, they went unanswered. I hand wrote him a letter apologizing for my part in our marital problems and explaining to him what I wished could have been done differently, what could still be done differently. I don't know if he got it. I sent him long texts filled with apologies, sadness, fear and, many months later, on an old phone he had given one of our daughters, I found that he had shared those texts over Snapchat with his girlfriend who told him that I was just begging him to come back and he should ignore it and he just needs to hurry up and finalize our divorce to be done with me. The mother of his children and the person who was there through thick and thin, when we were "broke as joke" (as one of my church friends said).
For his birthday, I got him the Fireproof DVD. He returned it to me, unopened. Why was I still trying? When was I going to "get" it? Why was it so hard for me to move on and let go? My children. Their future. That's why. Divorce has taken a toll on them in many ways, but, thankfully they have grown from it so much. They are intelligent, well adjusted, happy children. And, this is difficult for me to do, but I am going to pat myself on the back here. My kids are this way because of me, I will stand in front of God and give myself that compliment because I have worked so very hard to deserve it. The girls will tell you absolutely, without a doubt, that I am the glue that has held them together. That they can depend on me and they can look to me for advice and help whenever and wherever they are. WE are a team and they know this, they feel this every single day, to this day.
"One of the hardest things to do is let go of what you thought would last a lifetime"
So, during that year of separation, while I was a shell, numb and walking through mud every day, I was also changing. I read books on finance, faith, divorce, raising kids and more. The memories of our broken marriage would come back, like strobe lights, and I would have to learn to breathe, focus and move on. I was taking classes to become an interior designer, I had started a business, I was volunteering at church and school, I was growing in all directions.
"Change is what happens when the pain of holding on becomes greater than the fear of letting go"
I remember feeling so hurt and confused when one of my old neighbors in Winston told me that she heard we got a divorce because my ex-husband "worked too much". How simple and selfish of me does that sound? Is that what people really thought? Wow. People truly had no idea who I was, what our marriage was (and wasn't) and the struggles, broken road, shattered and isolated life my children and I lived. They had no idea about the betrayal and the words, the lack of words. The not showing up physically, emotionally and mentally. Divorce is not just an easy way out because your husband "works too much". Divorce is dark. It takes two people who are evenly yoked to want a marriage to work. I'm not saying that good marriages don't have their struggles, every single marriage absolutely has struggle. Sometimes very long seasons of struggle. Husbands change, wives change. Lives look different over time. Growing together, giving each other grace, showing each other that each person is valuable and necessary is so important. My parents have struggled, but they never gave up. 40 years of never giving up.
"There comes a day when you realize turning the page is the best feeling in the world, because you realize there is so much more to the book than the page you were stuck on"
Remember at the beginning of this post when I said I got stronger in so many ways? Even though divorce is dark, there are moments of light. In almost every challenging life experience we have, there is good. There are good things that come from darkness and trials. And so much good came out of this major life event. Like the love I am in today, the relationship that my girls now see between Allan and me that is real, pure, unconditional, loving and faithful. The girls have learned what it means to be a team. Beyond that, my faith in God has grown to such a level that it is so much easier for me to find peace in hard situations. Through all of the sleepless nights and days when I felt like a zombie, I never lost faith in God. I never asked Him, "Why me?". I never felt like He had forsaken me, even that lowest of low night when I put my girls to bed and I curled up on the floor of my bedroom, feeling the weight of the isolation as I cried out every bit of my soul. God was always with me, I knew this. I felt Him working in my life in some really hard ways and I knew he was building a new me, which is really painful. In all of the reading I was doing, I came across this page from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. So powerful.
I have forgiven my ex-husband. I don't have a problem with forgiveness. How can I, a sinner, not forgive my fellow man when my merciful God forgives my sins every single day? I would be lying if I said I still don't have days of hurt and wonder. I still have so many questions and have some real worry and fear that I'm trying to work through. It's like I'm cleaning up the last bits of the aftermath of a devastating storm, it's mostly clean but there is still some rubble to work through. And, I pray constantly. I get on my knees on Sundays at church and I pray for my ex-husband. I find even more peace when I pray for him. He doesn't know that I do this, to this day, but I have learned that that doesn't matter. When I pray for my ex-husband I also ask the Lord to create a clean heart in me, to forgive my thoughts, words and actions and to help me see more clearly. If you haven't tried it before, pray for the person who has hurt you and for the person you may have hurt. It is powerful.
I would probably rather die than live through another divorce. Well, not probably, yes I would rather be at peace with my Lord than walk this earth and live through that again. I know I have changed so much. The best way that I can describe it is that I feel that I have become more "real", I am a little more blunt and often too honest. But, I also learned that so many people are struggling or living through something or have lived through something that is challenging or even devastating. Something that we can't possibly understand. Something that requires us to have a little more grace and a lot more empathy. Living through a divorce has helped me to value the relationships and the friendships that are life-giving and real, no matter how hard things are, no matter what our differences of opinion may be. I don't give up easily, I try and try, sometimes to a fault. But, more than anything, I trust in God's plan and when I can't understand, I let Him show me and I succumb much more easily now.
The Velveteen Rabbit
"He said you become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But, these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real, you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."