I am writing this blog with my husband’s blessing. This week marks the ten-year anniversary of the first time we got married and the three-year anniversary of the second time we got married. He wasn’t too keen on the idea of me writing about our divorce. He is a pretty private person. He said, “I just don’t see what our divorce has to do with breastfeeding.” Everything, Joe. Our divorce has everything to do with breastfeeding.
As Joe read this before I posted it, he made a few comments, so I have included them alongside my story.
I married, divorced, and remarried the same man thanks to breastfeeding.
Joe and I met in nursing school and got married in a fever. You see, ever since I was a little girl, I was told that I was mature for my age. I am the youngest of three girls; my two older sisters are eight and eleven years older than I am. I always tried to be “old” like them. I listened to 10,000 Maniacs, not Backstreet Boys. I mimicked the style a high-schooler had in the late eighties, instead of maintaining the simplicity of an elementary schooler. So, at just twenty-two, I felt I was mature enough to know I had met the man of my dreams. Six months later, Joe and I eloped to Sedona, Arizona. Four months after that, we bought a house. Six months after that, I was pregnant with Lucy. Everyone told us it was too fast; we should slow down. We hurt a lot of family with our frivolous disregard for their feelings, traditions, and dreams for us. I was mature for my age. I knew what I was doing. I had a great career and a life plan. Joe was just so in love with me, he came along for the ride.
For as long as I could remember, I wanted to be a mama. I have always loved babies and I just knew I would have a little girl. It was going to be perfect. And, honestly, it was. I didn’t physically love being pregnant, but I loved being pregnant. I loved feeling her start to move and grow. I loved getting care from the midwives. I think Joe was mostly in a state of shock for the duration of my pregnancy and perhaps the first year of Lucy’s life. To be brutally honest, I didn’t really care what Joe was doing or feeling. This was The Katie Show. I had everything I ever wished for and that was all that mattered.
I had a long, hard, and deeply rewarding birth. Breastfeeding was easy for me (shocker, right?). When Lucy was about two weeks old, though, she started crying every evening inconsolably for three to four hours. She was a terrible sleeper, often waking up screaming at night and difficult to settle. Joe was working night shifts, so I dealt with most of the evening and overnight fussiness by myself. Hours and hours of screaming.
Obviously, my memory of these first months is pretty blurry. I remember I loved being Lucy’s mother. I was deeply and intimately bonded with her. She needed me so fiercely and I needed to be needed. Joe was working at night and sleeping during the day. Again, sadly, I don’t remember thinking or worrying much about him. When Lucy was about three months old, I tried to go back to work. I didn’t know what I was doing and she wasn’t taking a bottle. Joe was home with a screaming, hungry baby when I was working. Joe will tell you that I went crazy and I couldn’t handle working. I will tell you that Joe couldn’t handle taking care of Lucy when she wouldn’t eat.
(Joe’s response: I honestly tried my best: running the shower, vacuum cleaner as white noise, Moby wrap, slow dancing with Lucy. I tried my best; I was just frustrated and exhausted by the time we got to you.)
Bottom line, I asked Joe if I could just quit my job. He said, “Whatever you think is best.” This was a pivotal moment in our marriage. We couldn’t afford this. I insisted on staying home because I was used to always getting my way. He let me because he loved me. In order to pay our bills, Joe started picking up overtime. He worked four to five 12-hour night shifts a week.
Here, I will leave a pretty big gap in the story because it is just too personal. Things fell apart and Joe asked that we live separately. When Lucy was 14 months old, I moved in with my parents for a month or so in Baltimore and took a part time job at a hospital down there. I then moved to an apartment in Bear, Delaware and took a job as a nurse at The Birth Center. On weekends I would work in Baltimore; during the week I worked one or two days at The Birth Center.
I don’t remember feeling a lot of the pain of the devastation of Joe leaving me, but I was devastated. However, I am not sure that I was devastated because I loved him and missed him, but rather that my plan was ruined. I was supposed to be the one who had it all figured out and he had ruined that. Now I was just a single mom, living in an apartment, working two part-time jobs. I felt used up, worthless, and lost.
Two things got me through these dark few years in my life: Lucy and The Birth Center. I was either attached to Lucy or working at The Birth Center. I went to bed with her and nursed her all night. If I got called into a birth, Joe would come to me and sleep with her. Anytime my mind drifted, I created more work for myself at The Birth Center. Immersing myself in The Birth Center reminded me that I still had value and talent. Being present for women during childbirth was a reminder of my own strength and capacity to endure pain in the name of love. I renovated rooms, organized fundraisers, started a newsletter. What I never, ever did was sit idle. I didn’t watch T.V. I didn’t dare spend a night home alone. I was either with Lucy or at The Birth Center. If Joe had her, I was working. If I was still for too long, the intolerable pain of the failure of my life would start to creep in. I just kept moving.
Here is a picture from a photo shoot I organized at The Birth Center. I brought Lucy along for the shoot. She grew up at The Birth Center with me and feels at home there even today.
I nursed Lucy until she was almost three. It was my purpose, my place, and my medicine. You could say I needed to nurse her as much as she needed to be nursed. Just as a toddler falls and immediately yearns for the breast to ease her pain, breastfeeding Lucy calmed my mind, eased my pain, and filled a deep cavern of sorrow in my heart that otherwise seemed bottomless. No matter how bad my life seemed, the intimacy with Lucy reminded me that I was still whole and I had so much to keep living for.
Something changed in Joe when Lucy was about 16 months old. For the first time, he owned his role as a father. He is a wonderful father. At that time, I used to say that he was a wonderful father, but not much of a man. Since Lucy was my everything and I wanted her to be nothing but loved, I respected Joe deeply for doing right by her. Our mutual dedication to her best interest carried us through three years of co-parenting. She never went to daycare because we were able to organize our shift work around her. He didn’t ask to have her for prolonged periods of time or even overnight until I started to wean her (which he never pressured me to do). I think Joe knew that he had trampled my dreams of having a family and a home. He knew how important nursing my baby was to me and he didn’t dare even mention interrupting that. (Joe’s response: I wouldn’t dare.)
However angry Joe and I were at each other, we somehow maintained a working relationship built on respect, trust, and love for Lucy.
I also believe that breastfeeding was an anchor for Lucy during unstable times. We moved every year I was single mom, some years twice. Although the environment changed, co-sleeping and breastfeeding never changed. Riddled with guilt for the childhood she was experiencing, I found solace in knowing that I was her constant.
After about a year of being divorced, I convinced myself that I didn’t love Joe anymore. I would even tell myself stories about how I never loved him, that we were never the right match for each other. I realized I was carrying a lot of anger, understandably. I read a book called Radical Forgiveness and I worked through all of the anger, disappointment, and heartache Joe had caused me. I realized that by divorcing me and turning my life upside down, he had given me the greatest gift of my life. He forced me to grow up and become a deeply mature, selfless, tough adult. He showed me that I didn’t need him or any other man to take care of me and bend to my every irresponsible whim. I needed to assume personal responsibility for my life and start living for others instead of myself. That, coupled with my intensity of growth as mother, made me an extremely wise, self-sufficient woman who is able to love with a depth I never before knew.
When Lucy was with Joe, I started dating again. I enjoyed a long series of ridiculous relationships that entertained me, but that were hollow and inauthentic.
Around Christmas of 2010, Joe and I were at Lucy’s preschool Christmas concert together. She was four and a half; we had been divorced for about three years. I was at the tail end of a terrible relationship; he had recently ended his. There was this flicker at that concert where we saw each other for the first time in a long time. I remember thinking he was really handsome and he smelled really good. I remember feeling a twinge of something for him I hadn’t let myself feel for a long time. He later told me he felt it, too, but at the time, neither of us had said anything.
Then, on New Year’s Day, I needed his help. Lucy was staying at my mom’s for the weekend because both Joe and I were working. My disintegrating relationship went very bad very fast and I needed somewhere to go. Joe invited me to stay at his place for the weekend, then to have Lucy and me move in with him until I got back on my feet. I was at rock bottom and he, for the first time in years, was my soft place to land. While I was living there, we talked about our marriage and divorce in ways we never had before. He gave me some of his first apologies and confessed that he still loved me. I was overwhelmed and confused and I decided to move into my own place to figure out what the hell was going on. Joe helped up move into the new place and he would come over and spend time with us. After weeks of persisting, I agreed to go out on a date with him. We got a babysitter and he took me out for sushi. At that dinner, I allowed myself to really see him again and my love for him came rushing back in an instant. I am not sure that I can say I “fell in love with him all over again,”because I believe I never really stopped loving him. I had just convinced myself I had stopped as a method of self-preservation.
Over the next year, we dated and spent more and more time together. We watched as Lucy thrived when her two favorite people were together in one room. We watched her sleep habits improve when we were all sleeping in the same house.
(Joe’s response: She always slept well in that house we first bought together, that the house that never could sell.) She was a happier child. I was happier. Joe was happier.
We were remarried the day after the anniversary of our first marriage. This time, we did it differently. I went shopping for a real wedding dress with my mother and mother-in-law, an experience I robbed them of the first time around. This time, Lucy got to come as well and try on her flower girl dresses.
Our wedding was small, but perfect. Our closest family members and friends were there. My dad got to give me away and dance with me to “Fly me to the Moon,”the song we had always planned for our father-daughter dance, which I had robbed from him the first time around. We had our family’s love and support as they watched Lucy’s parents reunite.
Tomorrow, Joe and I will be married three years. This second marriage is infinitely stronger than our first because we both grew as individuals during the time we were apart. Joe learned how to speak up and tell me no; I learned how to love him as unconditionally as he loves me, but without losing myself or compromising my dreams. Sometimes, I forget how unique and spectacular our story is, but he and I never, ever take it for granted.
Often, before we fall asleep, Joe says to me, “Thanks for taking me back.” I kiss him and say, “Thanks for wanting me back,”and we fall asleep in with a peaceful state of appreciation of all that we have lost and all we have gained in the ten years we have loved one another.
(Joe’s response: We never lost our focus, our daughter, our reason for each other.)
In case you can’t read it, the quote above our head says, “Work like you don’t need the money, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like no one is watching.” Words by which I live my life.
So, without breastfeeding, I don’t think Joe and I would have been able to reunite. Even when we could no longer be married, he respected my treasured breastfeeding relationship with Lucy. His display of respect for breastfeeding allowed me to maintain a critical thread of respect and love for him. Holding tight to that thread, we navigated parenting Lucy through our divorce always keeping our personal pain and anger in check while we did what was best for her. Three years later, that tiny thread strengthened to the unbreakable rope that holds us together today.