Thanks to therapy, if even for a little while, it helped. My marriage was intact and thriving. I decided to go back to school to finish my Bachelor’s Degree and I finally graduated with honors when I turned 30. It was something I always wanted to get back to and I finally did it. What an accomplishment!

Soon after I graduated, I became pregnant with our first daughter. I honestly didn’t think I would be able to, or at the very least I thought it would be difficult; given the decision I had made years ago.

When I found out I had mixed feelings. While I was thrilled I was also terrified. Would I be a good mother? Will I be able to give this child everything I didn’t have? I had so many questions and so much doubt. But I had Scott by my side, so I knew this baby would have the best father.

When Diana was born it was one of the best days of my life. They swaddled her and put her head next to mine and when I whispered “Hello baby girl,” she opened those big eyes and looked right into my soul. I never knew I was capable of that kind of love and here it was. We had created a family. A family that was made from pure, unconditional love. There is no better kind of love than that.

Scott wanted another child right away but I wasn’t ready and wasn’t sure if I would ever be. I loved Diana so much that I didn’t know if I had enough for another. I didn’t want another child to ever feel left out and I didn’t want Diana to feel that way either. Thankfully Scott didn’t push it; he was very patient. And when Diana was just a little over 2 years old I decided we needed to complete our family.

We were able to get pregnant right away. However, I was even more terrified and unsure this time around. And a week after that pregnancy test I miscarried. I was completely devastated. I didn’t realize how much I wanted that child until I lost it. And I blamed myself. From the outside and what the doctors told me, I did nothing wrong. It just wasn’t meant to be. I didn’t believe them. In my heart of hearts I believed that I was being punished for the decision I had made more than 10 years prior. I took one away, now it was God’s turn to take one away. I didn’t tell anyone at first. Only Scott knew. It was my problem. I had to deal with it, wrap my head around it. And I learned to live with that too.

Months later we were able to get pregnant and this time we had our second daughter Emma. The minute I saw her all my worries about not having enough love for two children completely vanished. She looked at me the same way Diana did when she was born and I knew I was completely in love.

As I mentioned previously, I was disconnected from my father again for another 8 years after AH. The longer I was married and the closer I was to having my own children I started to realize I didn’t want my kids to have to deal with anything I had dealt with. I wanted to be able to have my family in their lives. I felt I needed to and I even felt obligated to; especially because they were blood relatives.

So I reached out to my father by letter before Diana was born. By that time, in my heart, I had mostly forgiven him. I told him we could have a relationship, but on my terms, not his. So we corresponded by letter/email for almost 2 years. And when I had forgiven him just a little bit more, we started speaking on the phone. I wasn’t capable of handling much more than that. I hadn’t told my family any of this. I wanted to form my own opinion of him without any outside influences. He and I never spoke of what happened, I was past the point of demanding answers to his actions. I just wanted to get to know him, plain and simple. That was it. I didn’t want anything more than that and I didn’t want anything from him. I didn’t need his approval and I didn’t want to be responsible for him. I just wanted a simple relationship. I didn’t have any expectations of him being a “grand” father so he wouldn’t disappoint me. I had already grieved for that relationship, so I knew my heart would hold up even if he failed at this simple thing. Because it was on my terms, the relationship worked. And it worked because no one else was involved in it.

As I said I didn’t tell my family. If they asked, I would tell them. And they didn’t, not for a while. Until one day they were at my house and it randomly came up. So I told them I was speaking to him, but I hadn’t seen him.

About a week later my father called and was surprised to tell me that he received a letter from some of my family. He was so happy to have heard from them. I didn’t really have any thoughts about it either way. Only that I knew how angry they were with him.

And then a few weeks after that I received a call from a family member telling me they went to visit my father. Just showed up on his door step and that was that. Again I didn’t really care. Everyone was entitled to his or her own relationship with him.

And from there the cycle began of my family seeing my father and I wasn’t. I was asked on many occasions why. It was simple; I wasn’t ready. I hadn’t forgiven him enough to let him into my life to meet Scott and the girls.

It took me about two years before that happened. I just let it all go. I was finally able to forgive my father. But what I realized was that I didn’t need to tell him. And that was ok. And being able to forgive lifted a huge weight off of my shoulders. I could breathe just a little bit more. So I invited him to Thanksgiving dinner.

It was the first time Scott and the girls were meeting him. The day went well. We didn’t talk about anything we didn’t want to. I could tell how happy he was to meet the girls. And my girls were happy as well. But both Scott and I could also see the regret in his eyes. When he left there were tears in his eyes and he kept telling me he was sorry. I believed him. For the first time in more than 20 years, I had no anger toward him. It honestly was a great feeling to have.

And from that moment on, I knew that I had to forgive my stepmother as well. I had started to before that, but I was still struggling with “Why did she treat me that way?” I came to the realization that I would never know that answer and accepted it. So I took it and turned it around; everything happens for a reason. I learned from her how I didn’t want to be, especially with my kids. I can look back now and know that some of what she did was for my own protection; to teach me how to be independent and how to take care of myself. She did love me, in her own weird and very warped way. I know she did. She just didn’t know how to show it. Clearly she had mental issues, but she didn’t know what they were or how to seek help.

I became who I am in spite of her and I also became who I am despite her; and my father as well.

During all of this it was extremely hard to navigate my relationship with the rest of my family. I knew how I grew up and what I lived with. I have my own memories of what happened. But everyone was telling me all of these other things as to how my stepmother gave my father an ultimatum about my sister, how terrible my real mother was when she was alive; everyone telling me his or her own version. No one understood the love I had for my stepmother. Yes, I did love her. She was my mother; it was that simple. Despite what she put me through; she was my mother. When she passed away, some family members asked me why I had cried. While I was going through a sense of relief I was also grieving, but no one seemed to understand that.

The real thing that bothered me and what I have struggled with for 17 years is that no one asked me how I felt about any of it or about what I went through for all those years. When the subject did come up, it was brushed aside as if it had never happened. As if that time I was “away” had never existed. It was as if I was expected to completely forget about that life I had lived and just now I was born into life — at 23. Some family members even said I reminded them of my stepmother, which was odd to me because except for my brother, none of them even knew her. So I never spoke of it. Instead I started punishing myself emotionally because I kept looking back and thinking, “The common denominator in all of this was me, it is me. All of those bad things that happened were my fault.” Yes, I’m completely responsible for the decisions I had control over, but the ones I didn’t? I felt those were my entire fault. And I felt I deserved every last bit of punishment that was dished out. It felt like I was made to feel guilty about all of it, when really I was just an innocent bystander. My family made it impossible for me to talk about my upbringing, whether it was a happy or sad memory because they weren’t a part of it and it felt like they were blaming me.

I also continued to be a people pleaser. I never spoke my peace about anything. I did what I was asked or told without a word. I complained about it only to Scott or Keri — never to my family. For the most part I kept it all inside. Pushed it away to be dealt with at a later time.

But when was the right time to deal with all of this? When was the right time to stop punishing myself? I had no idea; I just knew there was no time. So I learned to live with it, just as I was taught to do when I was younger.

While I projected love and happiness on the outside, I was suffering on the inside. I still didn’t know who I was or where I fit in. I knew I belonged with Scott and our girls. But with everything else, I had no idea.

While my transition started when I had my girls, the real transition didn’t start until two years ago. I was very capable of taking care of Scott and our girls — there were no issues there. I realized I didn’t know how to take care of myself. I was feeling sick and tired all of the time. The first thing I knew I needed to do was start exercising. I also knew I needed to get my nutrition in check. Once I started this health and fitness journey, I was feeling so much better physically. What I didn’t realize was how it would affect my mind. Through this journey my mind opened up. I began to look at everything with fresh, new eyes.

I learned how to forgive myself and no longer punish myself. Once I was able to forgive and not live in the past, I was able to move on. I was stuck for so long, flailing around.

I’m not stuck anymore. Thanks to so many supportive people in my life who have believed in me and stuck by me, I was able to let go. And even from things I’ve learned on my own, I survived. And I’m so much stronger for it.

I know who I am and where I belong. Everything I went through; every moment of pain and suffering; anger and despair; even fear has led me right to where I am now, where I am meant to be. I realized I couldn’t change the past and my past no longer defines me. I define me.

Seven months ago was another defining moment in my life. My mother-in-law became very ill and has since passed away. She was the kindest, sweetest and most generous person I have ever known. I miss her tremendously. Somehow, some way a few of my family members inserted themselves into this situation and not in a good way. Despite the details surrounding these events, I felt myself becoming “unglued”. I decided to remove those family members from my life, because I knew I needed to work on myself. I recognized it and realized I still needed to work on things, which is why I always say I’m a work in progress. Since then I have been in therapy. Once a week I see my therapist and it’s been such a blessing. Someone outside of my circle who validates my thoughts and feelings, while also helping me realize my potential and objectively telling me when I’m wrong.

I have the best husband and we created our own family with our beautiful girls. I have surrounded myself with some pretty amazing people too. All of them are my family. I can’t even put into words how much I love every one of them.

This is me — all of me. I have no regrets.

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