No one gets married expecting to have more than one baby at a time. But there it was. You peed on the stick and you were pregnant. Then your HCG levels were through the roof. Then you saw the heartbeat, in my case, two heartbeats. After months of anticipation, worry, tears, and joy, you and your babies were home.
Between feedings, pumping, diaper changing, bottle warming, laundry, pediatric visits, and the occasional refreshing shower, your spouse became someone you would see in the passing. Maybe this is the case for all new parents. I don’t know. But I do know this: routine was mandatory to maintain sanity. And then one day a few years later, you realize something was lost. Spontaneity.
Those quick trips to the local hardware store where you unknowingly bonded with your spouse were a thing of the past. The midnight field trips for ice cream were no longer feasible. Every single thing you used to do together became a task for one, while staying with the babies was the responsibility of the other.
It was a Thursday. My girls’ 8th birthday, actually. I still remember hearing my housekeeper open the front door and call for me. My girls assumed it was a birthday delivery for them. As I walked to the entry, I saw them both standing there, reading the first page in a stack of papers thicker than a short novel. My life moved in slow motion for the next 14 months.
“Mommy, what’s a citation?,” as she looked up at me. I took the papers and started reading: I had just been served. I was in shock. I mean, I knew we were getting divorced, but I was sick. Really sick. I had just survived a life AND limb threatening post-surgical infection that almost claimed my life.
I asked him for time because my small, one person consulting business wasn’t doing so well, as I had been hospitalized. He agreed. Then the first diagnosis came, and I asked for more time. I wasn’t sure when I could work again, if ever. I could not be without health insurance right now. He said he would be patient.
In hindsight, I realize he was most likely willing to be patient. His girlfriend, however, was not. She had her friend, an attorney, to convince him my medical bills would drain him financially. As I continued to read, my face got hot. I was sweating. My heart was racing. I was shaking, the tears were coming.
I asked Victoria, our family au pair, to take the girls into the kitchen to continue with their lunch. I went into my bathroom, well out of earshot, closed the door, fell to the floor, and sobbed. The screaming, angry sobbing you do when you truly think you are having a nightmare and you are trying to wake yourself.
Along with the citation and petition, he had filed a temporary restraining order against me which dictated I could not have access to my children. Apparently, due to my health, I was no longer a suitable mother. I carried these tiny babies in my body cavity for 8 long, scary, bathroom frequent months. I laid in a hospital bed for two of those months due to pre-term contractions. I had vasa previa with velamentous insertion. In plain English, if my membranes ruptured, one baby’s cord would be torn, and she would bleed to death.
Having previously filed for divorce myself, I had attended the mandatory parenting class required in my state. I still had the booklet…where is the booklet? It was light yellow…I took notes. I messaged my friend who I knew had an amazing attorney. She sent me his information, and I called and left an unintelligible voice message. The booklet…where is the stupid booklet?
The attorney called me back within minutes. He told me to breathe, and he would contact my husband’s attorney. He promised to call back right away. Meanwhile, the girls had finished their lunch and we’re now sitting beside me, along with Victoria. What’s happening? Is daddy okay? Are we going to a hotel? Victoria is coming with us, right mommy? Why is daddy making you move out on our birthday? They are both crying by this time.
“This is the worst birthday ever!!!”
“I never want to see daddy again!”
I looked at Victoria. She looked back at me and, in her distinctively German voice, “What do we do now?” The phone rang. “Hello…” It was my attorney. He had spoken with my husband’s attorney, and there was a misunderstanding. My husband had signed the documents without reading through them. He had no intention of taking my children or evicting me from our house. He was sorry. He should have read them.
My attorney says he will file a counter-suit and starts asking me questions. Do I think my husband is a danger to me or my children? No. Has he ever hit me? Um, no. Do I want him to move out immediately? No…wait…yes…wait…um…
“No, he can stay.” My attorney assures me it is the best decision considering I have no income and there is no history of violence. From that point forward, I focused on my girls. I met every question with the thought, “What is best for the girls?” To this day, whenever a conflict with my ex-husband arises, my mantra is: I love my children far more than I will ever allow myself to hate him.
In retrospect, I wish we would have known how hard divorce would be. I wish we had entered couples therapy earlier. I wish I had known that EVERYONE ultimately takes sides in a divorce, and sometimes that side isn’t your own. I wish I had known the strength of a twin’s bond with a particular parent and that loyalty to a particular parent could divide my children’s allegiance to each other. I wish I had known that three person roller coasters don’t exist, and that I would always be forced to choose, and no matter how fair I tried to be, as a twin, one of my daughters would always perceive an injustice. I wish I had known what it felt like to be completely alone in my house and how deafening the silence would be. I wish I had known our therapist’s advice that, barring addiction or abuse, your best chance for happiness is with your initial spouse, is true. I wish I would have seen him for what he was, instead of what he wasn’t.
But most of all, I wish we hadn’t been so focused on providing the best things in life for our girls, and instead focused on being the best team for our girls, because ultimately, we chose them. They didn’t choose us. I wish we could have been more like our girls…able to scream, argue, and protect our personal space, yet always able to put aside our personal differences when necessary, having each other’s back, no matter what.
Now, concerning the yellow booklet…
To be continued…
Stephanie Leininger is a divorced, single mother of 12 year-old identical twin girls. She holds a BBA and MSEE from Southern Methodist University in Dallas. Currently employed by a major financial institution, she has maintained a career in data architecture and software engineering for 15 years.
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