No one told me what it was going to be like. But then no one could. And perhaps this letter to you will go unheard, because no doubt your experience will not be mine, just as mine is not yours. None of us is the same. Yet we are all human, and then some of us are mothers.
If I might have looked forward; just for a moment, when I was pregnant with my first child, ten years ago. If I might have seen me now. A glimpse into this world: sitting here typing a letter to a fictitious you. The light dimming, a Christmas tree sparkling, my cat warming my lap. My children are being picked up from school by their father, but they won’t come home after. Their father and I have separated.
Who wants that story? It’s not the story we tell ourselves when we take our vows, and make plans to have children. It’s not the story we are told: mother and father, two cosy kids between them. A husband beside you in bed, his hand on the warm mound of his unborn flesh and blood. It wasn’t his story either. So why am I telling it?
Because life is full of unknowns. It’s full of dreams made with the knowledge they might be broken. Relationships are wrought with the potential for pain, and that is perhaps why we long so much for them. If we are lucky we make it happen. If we are lucky we made the right decisions for the right reasons at the right time in our lives. But not all of us get it right.
Why am I telling you this?
Things don’t always end up the way you hoped they would. Your fiancé drinks too much at the wedding; your dress rips; it rains every day on your honeymoon; you try and fail to get pregnant; the first baby finally comes along and you don’t bond the way you imagined; you stop work, you become depressed; you feel alienated from your friends; you stop communicating with your husband. The dream – a candle-lit dinner by the beach at sunset, holding hands and drinking glasses of crisp white Chardonnay, your silhouetted children playing in the sand – is slipping away. Or perhaps it was only ever a dream. It’s okay, you might say, and you carry on, and in time you find your way… or perhaps you don’t.
But we are okay.
The years before we finally split, I call the Perplex Years. The strength of my compulsion to leave, to escape, to be elsewhere, to not be in that relationship with that man, were overwhelming. The more I tried to push my feelings away, the more they came back. I still don’t quite understand it. At marriage counselling, I kept telling my husband I wanted us to live next door from one another, to co parent our children. I wanted us to continue on as a family, but not as lovers anymore. Not as husband and wife in a conventional sense, and my husband looked at me like I was mad. I questioned myself. Was this purely because of my troubled upbringing and inability to grab that elusive thing one calls normal? Why couldn’t different be as good at the same? What was my normal anyway? On the outside, it appeared as if I had everything – the house, the children, the loving husband – but inside my heart was screaming.
But to make such seismic change? To wilfully divert the path of your loved ones’ lives. The responsibility is too big to even comprehend.
In the end, life somewhat took over. He met someone else, and I welcomed her with open arms, and the children have a new person in their life now. I have someone new, too. My husband moved out but not far away. We speak on the phone daily. We laugh; we cry together. But we no longer share a bed. Our children continue to come first though; and they are happy.
Why do I tell you this?
Because there is no right way. Because we are all different. Because sometimes different is better for everyone than what we thought we wanted, and what was expected. What we thought was a given.