The Wound We Never Talk About
Why the break-up of a family is one of the most painful losses.
I wept on my yoga mat. Deep, heaving sobs that wouldn’t stop. The song the yoga instructor played about unraveling your ego only adding to the deluge of my tears.
I’ve wanted to be a mother for as long as I could remember.
When I was 29 I had a dream about a blonde, curly-haired girl. She was sitting at the foot of my bed, looking at me with her big crystal blue eyes. “I’m your daughter,” she said to me. I remember waking up confused. My daughter? Other than her blue eyes, she looked nothing like me.
Three years later I gave birth to a blue-eyed baby girl. It took three years for her blonde curls to grow in. In quiet moments, when she sat in the living room reading books or playing with toys, her blonde ringlets rippling around her eyes, I remembered that dream and felt a wave of comfort wash over my soul. The daughter of my dreams had become real.
Never did my childhood dream of becoming a mother involve a broken home.
Never did my young adult dream of motherhood consist of me doing it alone.
When I left the man who I called part of my family for three years, I felt I was doing the best thing that I could do for my daughter.
I left him six years ago — the man whom my daughter calls dad.
We were never married. We didn’t love each other in the traditional way. We grew to tolerate each other when I found out I was pregnant after we split up. Tolerance grew into love somewhere into my second trimester. Love turned into something ungraspable after our daughter was born. He grew distant. He buried himself in his work and we had trouble keeping afloat financially. He became unresponsive to my requests to spend time together — even just to chat about the mundane aspects of our day. I began binge-watching Netflix shows while he buried himself in paperwork every evening. He finally agreed to couples counseling. When, two sessions into counseling, the therapist told us we should split up, I called her crazy and did everything I could to make our barely-there relationship survive.
I tried until I became exhausted. He just wouldn’t meet me halfway. He wouldn’t do individual counseling, so I got my own therapist and realized I couldn’t keep a relationship going on my own.
We often teach what we are learning.
A month ago I received a full scholarship to a perinatal mood disorder training. As a therapist, I’ve gravitated towards working with moms, moms-to-be and nurturing souls who want to take care of anyone but themselves. My own life’s work has been learning to love, care for, and attune to myself the way I wished my own parents did. Most therapists find the population they are drawn to work with connects somehow to their own personal self-love journey. My mission is to help other nurture and nourish themselves like an unconditionally loving parent.
A day into the emotionally intense three-day training, I realized the universe had presented me with a gift. After watching a video about fathers who are diagnosed with postpartum depression, I started to relive the ending of my relationship.
I started to feel guilty. Did I leave him when he needed me most? He had so many of the symptoms: working constantly, fatigue, increased irritability, feeling discouraged, isolation from family and friends, to name a few. The trainer said something that relieved some guilt: “You don’t often see the symptoms in those that are close to you.” It was so true — I didn’t see it, and neither did our families. He had a family history of depression. He had his own mental health struggles before the pregnancy, including unresolved trauma.
I left him after he punched a hole in the wall in front of my baby and me. We all have our dealbreakers.
As I sat in the training, I started to grieve — hard. I started to question why I haven’t moved on — why I haven’t found another partner in the six years since we’ve separated.
As I started to ask myself the deep questions, I came to the realization that I haven’t moved on not because I miss him; I haven’t moved on because I miss us. I am still grieving the loss of our family structure.
Divorce and separation sever a family in a way that is irreparable.
It is a loss; a death. Like the loss of a loved one, the grief that comes with the loss of a family unit is complicated and leaves a mark that will never fully heal.
I think once a family splits, that sever never completely goes away. All the single father’s I’ve dated have openly talked about their regret, admitting, just like me, what they miss is the family they created, not the partner they walked away from.
But sometimes, as in my case, that split is for everyone’s highest and best. My ex moved on and got married within a year to someone who loves my daughter as her own.
Embracing the new family structure takes courage, lots of inner work, and patience.
My family is not broken. My daughter not only gained a stepmother, but also an extra set of grandparents. It took me years to put my pride aside and embrace the words of the therapist I saw during the rough patch of our early separation. “Maybe you can look at the new family your daughter has in her life as more people to love her.” Those words were like nails down a chalkboard to my still bitter self. But time does heal deep inner wounds.
Healing happens in bits and pieces. True healing takes time. The mind naturally tries to integrate painful experiences.
Something deep integrated in the three days of my perinatal mood disorder training. I feel like my six-year-old wound was sealed by a calming salve of understanding and integration on a soul level.
Suddenly I realized why, for 6 years, I’ve longed for a relationship but haven’t been able to open up to one — not fully anyways. I’ve danced with the idea of real intimacy — but when it’s presented itself to me, I’ve wanted to run.
After each night of the training, I went to yoga. My whole being needed that quiet, mindful movement to unravel. On the third night, as I let it all go, I wept hard on my mat. Not for him. For us.
Suddenly, it was all okay. My solo six-year dance as a parent was perfect and exactly what it needed to be. No man could ever replace him. Our family as we knew it would never exist as it once was.
I wept for the loss of not only what was, but what could have been. And through my tears and my breath and the moving bodies around me, I felt it was all going to be okay. It is okay. My wound was my teacher. The loss, my motivating force to be the mom I always dreamed I would be. With or without a partner, I was living my dream. That sweet, blonde, curly-haired girl has been made flesh. And all I can do is say, “Thank you” for her, for us, for what was, and what will be.
All I can do is say thank you to the universe for making me a mother and for teaching me that us can be her and me.
Thank you for showing me that she and I are enough.
Postpartum depression is serious. If you or anyone you love is suffering from postpartum depression, there are excellent resources out there for support. Help is available to you through Postpartum Support International. As I alluded to in this article, fathers can struggle with postpartum depression. Here is a resource for dads. If you need help now, PSI has a helpline or you can call the 24-hour national helpline.
If you’re struggling with the myriad of feelings that come from divorce, which is considered a trauma, I highly recommend seeking out the support of a qualified therapist in your area.
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