A lot of mouths dropped when my husband and I broke up for good. The two of us never fought, went on dates every week, shared the same sense of humor. As for the man himself, many considered him cute, sweet, attentive — a 10/10 catch. I grew accustomed to saying, “I’m aware,” when people commented on my luck.
“Plus, you’re going to make some beautiful babies with that one,” they’d add.
And this presented as the crack in our “pristine” foundation — kids.
Not children in a direct sense, no. Communicating took first place as the real issue. (Surprise, surprise— Poor communication is the number one reason couples break up, according to a survey of 100 mental health professionals). I didn’t want them and never will. However, I didn’t say this to my husband or anyone besides my mother since childhood.
“When you grow up, you’ll want a family.” Guess what? Reached my adult years — still no baby fever.
“Wait until you’re married, sweetheart. You kids were the best part of my life.”
I wore the ring for a while — no matter how shiny, it didn’t make me want to squeeze out a litter.
Or, she would scoff and comment, “you worked with kids for years!”
A certain phrase made the nudges go away. “Maybe one day once I’m older.”
My husband received the same response, one I hoped to mean at some point because of “the power of romance.” Yet “I love you” isn’t a wand you can wave, no matter how much conviction is behind the words.
With a laugh, he’d agree, “Of course! Building a family is way down the road.”
Then, we’d go on living our touched little lives in that oh so thin bubble of marital bliss. Still, the little seed of worry remained heavy in the pit of my stomach.
There were of course signs — bright, yet ignored, littering the path before the inevitable crash.
The first time we split, my husband stepped up and shot ‘Ole Yeller. This (attempted) mercy killing took place in his parked car a few yards away from the grocery store as I unbuckled my seat belt.
“We should go our separate ways, Ev. You want an exciting, free life, and I want to grow old with grandkids on the back porch.”
With his white-knuckled hands locked around the steering wheel, he refused to meet my eyes. Smart. Though he didn’t deserve them, the daggers I threw might’ve blinded him. This moment should’ve been my divine call to let him go, but pride and shame are funny like that, aren’t they?
Did you know that the early Christian church had a “babies not required” view of marriage? (A union could be annulled if the husband couldn’t sleep with his wife, but not if she couldn’t conceive.)
On the opposing front, “A Brief History of Bullying Women to Have Babies” says during the late 18th-19th century, motherhood was seen as “the realization of women’s natural and divinely ordained role in society.”
I even included a quote.
“It would almost seem … ‘as if the Almighty, in creating the female sex, had taken the uterus and built up a woman around it.’”
— Doctor Martin L. Holbrook, quoting recent medical research on childbirth, 1871
Now, some might argue that times have changed. History brought the introduction of modern birth control in 1961. Then the morning-after pill, and a myriad of other options to prevent pregnancy. A woman can have a career and a family today, should they wish (which is why my mother often told me, too).
Yet, I can assure you women still face a great deal of societal and familial pressure to “do our duty.” Or at least I do. (Anymore, I answer, “yup, such a shame,” when people try to tell me about the “miracle of life” or say, “what a waste.”)
Yet, in the past, this pressure is what made me so afraid to speak the truth. Ridiculous, I’m aware. Our entire relationship should’ve ended that night at Dave and Buster’s when he asked, “I want kids, do you?” The right response would’ve been, “you’re wasting your time, friend, keep the tokens,” and a good-bye handshake. Of course, life is never so simple, and we’re never so wise until after the fact.
Five years later, and my husband and I sat in his parent’s living room for Christmas. His mom, bless her, tripped the baby wire seconds after our butts hit the couch.
She’d sat down with a smile and a brief greeting to ask, “so, when am I going to be a grandma?”
Admittedly, I didn’t know her well. Which is why I almost choked on my eggnog. “Well, we have a few years left.”
My husband patted my knee and nodded. “Mom, it’s a ways away.”
“You’re thirty-one, though, Evie.”
“We can adopt.”
He bobbed his head again, despite biological children being his greatest wish in life. He loved me enough to bend, and yes — I preyed on that.
“No, no, that’s silly,” said Mom-in-Law, giving me serious whiplash with her logic. “My co-worker is six months pregnant at fifty with twin boys the natural way, and she’s doing fine. You have time.”
On the way home after a week, once we said our good-byes and started down the road, my husband spoke. “Should we start trying?”
The birth control stopped, and days later, the roots of uncertainty started to spread. Instead of opening up like an adult, I straight up panicked and went somewhere else. Those days are fuzzy, save for one.
While my husband worked, I stayed home alone after calling out of my job for the fifth time that month. Rolling out of bed, I went to the grocery store for supplies.
I hadn’t been cooking lately or doing much of anything I used to. The dishes I used to enjoy scrubbing stood “soaking” on the counters and sink since Tuesday. Our floors needed a good mopping. Marie Callender frozen dinner boxes littered the trash. The mishmash was disgusting and pitiful (but this is how my depression operated).
So, I made an effort — a feeble one, but enough.
On my way to grab my husband’s favorite spaghetti sauce, I spotted them — pregnancy tests. Why the store placed the Family Planning aisle so close to the damned Ragu, I’ll never know, but it pulled me right in. I stood staring at the neat, pink packages behind the thick plexiglass for a while. It took too long to find someone with a key or at least felt this way.
Once home, I ripped open the foil and used the test. The negative wasn’t enough for me, though. Yes, I understood a pregnancy would show so soon unless you’re the Virgin Mary. This logic remained on the couch with my mother-in-law, along with the real answer to her question.
Every day, I peed on that miserable little stick, and every day, I received the same result until I ran out. Then, I bought more. When those came up negative, I chose to secretly dig out the birth control and go back on it. The fucked-up plan was to take them until I aged out of the birthing years. (Trust me, I’m cringing, too. We won’t even get into the mentality behind this — a lot of baggage to unpack.)
Selfishness and fear have a way of changing a person — a flimsy excuse for my behavior, but at least for me, an honest one.
Months in, I started to clean up my act, go back to my wifey ways, but too late. You know where I landed. Right in that parking lot with two shotgun barrels in my face and an “I’m sorry, boy. You were a good dog.”
My husband, despite my protests, insisted I take the upstairs bedroom. He stayed downstairs while I figured out where to go and what to do.
We lasted about two weeks this way before we ended up in the same bed. What can I say? He missed us. I missed us. Familiarity is comforting, and divorce is devastating.
“I’m so happy we’re going to try again,” he told me.
Then, he fell asleep, his heartbeat and breath on my back.
Lying still, I finally understood why some caged birds fling themselves at walls. The reason zoo animals wither behind bars. No worry for me, though, not anymore, but for him.
Love was enough to mend my mistakes, but not in the way I wanted. In my perfect world, the one I’d tried to keep to no avail, would include no children and me as this man’s wife. Eventually, he’d resent me anyway for taking years away from his life, no matter how wonderful of a person. Deceit cuts deep. The end would either come then or later. More time wasted with me.
Real love is not about manipulation. Real love is giving a partner, and yourself, the best chance. He made the right choice the first time, and I had my own to make.
My husband comforted me when I started sobbing beside him, waking with one eye half-open to rub my back. “Whatever is wrong, we’ll make it work, and there’s counseling…”
I could’ve taken this offer, melted into his chest. Pulling away was cold — like stepping out of a steaming shower. Same as his words once I’d told him everything, head hung.
“Why do you love me like this?” I paused. “Do you want to give up a family?”
He sighed, shoulders dropping with realization.
“No children’ is a deal-breaker, isn’t it?” He kissed my cheek. “You are still the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Relationships are never just about you.
For those who want closure, you might be glad to know my ex-husband is doing excellent. We like to text funny memes to each other regularly.
Friendship is the best outcome I could ask for. Yet, even if we weren’t friends, I would still leave should I have to again. Despite the absolute mess of an end to my sparkly marriage and the self-reflection on what an asshole I can be, leaving was still the best decision I’ve ever made.
Everyone deserves the life they want. Relationships are never only about one person, and sometimes the right path for them isn’t the one for you.
Also, if you have to use shady tactics not to tip your love boat, you might as well take a deep breath before you capsize. It will happen.