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We fell into each other fast and hard, exchanging I-love-yous within a week, discussing marriage within a few months. We were 18 and naive, both caught up in the intoxication that comes from one’s first serious relationship.
In the beginning, it felt like we balanced each other well: I was a Type-A, rule-following, plan-making good-girl; he was laid-back, funny and carefree with a rebellious streak. I thought he would help me learn how to relax and that I could motivate him to be more responsible. (Spoiler alert: Neither of those things happen.)
After the newness wore off, our differences caused more discord than harmony. We made much better friends than lovers. But I stayed with him through college, moved in with him, got a dog with him, said yes when he proposed, married him, bought a house with him, built my life around him.
We agreed early in our relationship that we both wanted to be young parents, so we started trying about six months after our wedding. I knew going into it that it would be challenging. Without birth control, my period didn’t exist. Something was obviously not working correctly, but my doctors had never been able to give me answers. After a few months with no luck, I was handed a prescription for Clomid.
I was supposed to take the first pill the day he told me he was leaving me.
He didn’t even explain himself, just said that he was miserable and didn’t want to try to fix anything. And just like that, everything was different. We fell apart as quickly as we had fallen together. I hadn’t expected heartbreak to be such a visceral thing -- for weeks, I felt a heaviness in my chest, an inability to fully catch my breath. I prayed that he would come back, take it all back, tell me he loved me again.
And after a couple of months, he did. He explained that he had fallen for a girl at work. She had thrown herself at him, and he couldn’t resist. He begged me to forgive him, promised he realized how stupid he had been, swore he was a changed man.
I told myself I should be strong and walk away. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t ready to give up on my Loving-Husband-Nice-House-Two-Kids-and-a-Dog-American-Dream. I was terrified of being alone. I willfully ignored the tiny voice in my head whispering that I was settling for less than I deserved. Instead, I believed the other voice, the one shouting that I was lucky to have anyone at all, that maybe I didn’t deserve better.
And I loved him. Really, I did. I thought that was enough.
About a year later, we were ready to start trying for a baby again. After four failed cycles with my regular doctor, I was referred to a fertility specialist. Before the initial appointment was over, he diagnosed me with PCOS. Although I finally had an explanation, I was crushed. As difficult as the previous few months had been, it was only going to get harder.
My memories of the next several months are blurry: endless doctor’s appointments, countless tests, weeks of tentative hope followed by heartbreak and tears. Wash, rinse, repeat.
I pushed myself to emotional exhaustion. Infertility beat me down until I could barely get through a day without dissolving into tears. I didn’t tell many people about my struggles, which left me feeling incredibly alone. I put on a happy mask in public, then fell apart at home, my increasingly distant husband never putting much effort into comforting me. Everything seemed overwhelming and impossible. But the thought of giving up never crossed my mind. The only thing I could truly focus on was how much I wanted a child. Everything else was lost in the haze.
It was a Tuesday, in the middle of our 13th cycle, when he told me he was miserable -- again. And again, everything changed overnight. He pulled away at an alarming speed. As we sat in an emergency counseling appointment, he told me he hadn’t loved me in a long time. A familiar pain settled into my chest.
I felt humiliated. I was aware that he had been getting close with another girl at work, and I had a feeling boundaries were crossed but forced myself to trust him when he said nothing was going on. But when I finally checked our phone records and saw the thousands of texts back-and-forth, it was undeniable. I didn’t even have to ask him if that was why he wanted out of our marriage -- I knew it was.
It felt pathetic, but I begged him to stay, to not give up on us, on me. I promised to do anything he wanted. I didn’t want to be with someone I had to convince to be with me, but I was still so scared of being alone. I was scared that him leaving would mean my chances of having a baby were gone. I was scared of being forced to let go of my dreams.
But something unexpected happened when he finally told me he wanted a divorce. I felt lighter. I could breathe again. The ever-present heaviness in my chest started to lift. It was almost a relief that things were no longer up in the air. Besides, my heart was already so broken by the time he said the words that it felt like an afterthought. I didn’t think he could hurt me any worse than he already had.
I spent the next several weeks working through the logistics of ending our relationship. He was far too absorbed with his new girlfriend to help me with anything. I ended up filing for divorce myself. I got our house ready to sell and split up all of our belongings. Slowly, I was figuring out my new life. I felt like maybe I had gotten through the worst of it.
Just as my heart was starting to heal, he broke it again, and it hurt more than ever before.
He got his girlfriend pregnant.
I won’t pretend like I had magically gained enough emotional strength to even sort of handle that news. Oh, no, I broke down. I sat on the cold kitchen floor of my half-empty house and sobbed until my tear ducts ran dry. I intuitively knew it wasn’t an accident. In less than two months, he had gone from trying to have a baby with me, his partner of eight years, to actually having a baby with someone he’d been dating for two weeks. (A mutual friend later verified that they were indeed trying to get pregnant.) The self-esteem I had been working hard to rebuild vanished.
I felt betrayed in a way I never thought possible. I couldn’t keep myself from picturing them rejoicing over a positive pregnancy test, seeing a little heartbeat flickering on the ultrasound screen, picking out names. All of those milestones that he should have shared with me. It hurt. Really fucking bad. It still hurts.
But somehow, I’ve managed to keep my head above water instead of spiraling into a dark hole, which would be so easy. I have a lot of hard days, but slowly, they’re becoming outnumbered by good days. I’m getting better at not blaming myself for the way things unfolded. Yes, I have faults and shortcomings, but that doesn’t make me a bad person or a bad partner. I am not responsible for the choices he made. It’s hard to admit, but I’m actually grateful that I never got pregnant. I know in my heart he would have left me at some point anyway, and I’m glad I don't have to put a child through that.
I’m also learning to accept that there are many questions to which I will never have answers. Did he leave me because I couldn’t give him a baby? Perhaps. But maybe it was just because he was never fully committed to me anyway? What would my life have been like if I hadn’t taken him back the first time? Maybe better, maybe not. Certainly my life hasn’t unfolded the way I imagined, but I can’t deny that I’ve learned oh-so-many lessons that I might not have, had it all happened differently.
Honestly, I’ve shocked the hell out of myself. Despite everything, he didn’t destroy me. I’m even finding pieces of myself that I lost while we were together. I’m feeling stronger and more confident every day. On paper, my life sounds like the plot of a Lifetime movie: I'm infertile, my husband left me for another woman, I’m divorced and I’m not yet 30. But somehow, I’m more at peace with myself than I’ve ever been.