Some choices are hard because we are torn between two options and the “right” outcome is not necessarily clear. We feel polarized because it is not obvious which path is the best one. With other choices, we know the answer in our deepest selves, we can clearly see what we have to do, but we know our decision is going to be painful. Those choices are equally hard.
The hardest choice I have ever made was not difficult in the first sense; I knew in my heart what needed to be done. Perhaps it could have even been considered a “no-brainer.” But it wasn’t really- it took a healthy dose of uncomfortable awareness, asking myself hard questions that I wasn’t sure I wanted answered, and the knowledge that people’s lives would be made more difficult as a result of my decision.
The hardest choice I ever made was also one of the most transformative- the decision to divorce my first husband when my daughter was eight months old.
I have no interest in trash-talking my ex-husband, nor do I wish to relive and justify the reasons I came to this monumental decision. The line between leaving an unhealthy marriage to preserve your own happiness and jumping ship on a relationship because you have been deluded into thinking marriage shouldn’t be so much “work” is a fine one, and one that may be classified very differently from person to person. On the one hand, there is something to be said for sticking things out, putting forth as much effort as possible, and leaving your comfort zone to advocate for your marriage. But let the pendulum swing a bit too far, and you have found yourself merely surviving a marriage to a partner that you know is not the right person for you.
I knew I had made the right decision; not only had I prioritized my own self-preservation, I believed that the only way to someday teach my daughter what it meant to be in a healthy relationship was by modeling it for her. I left her biological father with the intention of doing the right thing for both of us. I knew it would complicate things, that to a degree I was making things harder on myself. I felt humiliated by a sense of failure that I had not followed through with my commitment. Memories of wedding gifts from great-uncles and wishes from grandparents plagued my guilty conscience. Getting a divorce was a very demoralizing experience for someone like me- a perfectionist, a people pleaser, and a somewhat apologetic conformist.
My foray into single parenthood was not terribly long; my husband came into our lives when my daughter was still very young, and she has no conscious memories of a time in her life in which he was not enmeshed. When Izzy was just three years old, I remarried; it was around this time that my ex-husband signed the necessary paperwork to begin the stepparent adoption process. Again, my intention is not to vilify him- his forfeit of legal rights to my daughter was one of the most generous gifts I could have been given, and not having access to his private thoughts, I will never know what motivated his acquiescence.
My husband adopted Izzy several months before her 4th birthday. She has a clear recollection of “Adoption Day” and the special exchange of gifts and words shared that morning. Izzy played a central role in our wedding day, and has fond memories of throwing flower petals on the beach as she walked down the aisle.
When I look back on all the hard work that went into our preparation to be a family– the counseling, the hard conversations, the parenting classes, the paperwork– I feel extremely proud. But there is something else that hides beneath the surface. Many people have no idea that I was married before and that my husband adopted Izzy. It’s not that I lie about it, and certainly my close friends have heard the story, but I will admit- it’s not something I make public knowledge very often.
I have reflected quite a bit on why I tend to keep this information to myself, and I’m not thrilled with my conclusion: my divorce was a source of shame to me, and as I mentioned, I perceived it to be a failure. I felt terribly self-conscious about my naked ring finger during the years I spent unmarried, and once my new relationship grew serious, I occasionally pondered if I could get away with pretending the whole thing never happened. As in- the first husband and subsequent divorce was nothing but an illusion! This guy was here all along! We’re just like everyone else! In some ways, I may have succeeded.
Certainly we look just the same as every other “regular” family. When I look back on those years, I almost forget that my husband hasn’t been here all along. One of the things that brings me the most joy and pride is the knowledge that in all important ways, Izzy is my husband’s daughter. He loves her just as much as I do, and just as much as he loves our other daughter- his dedication to both his children is unquestionable. I have frequently remarked that I think he is a better parent than I am. I am particularly defensive about any implications that he is not her real father.
We have never tried to hide Izzy’s birth and adoption stories from her- she knows that she has a biological father who lives in another state, and she talks to him on the phone several times a month. Earlier this year, she and I finally had an illuminating conversation about biological parents, divorce, and adoption. She asked astute questions, and I answered openly and honestly, doing my best to make her feel secure about her place in the family. I never, never want her to feel that her story is anything to hide or be ashamed of.
So why would I hide it? Why am I ashamed of the fact that this is my second marriage, and that my husband is not the biological father of my oldest child? Shouldn’t I celebrate the uniqueness of our history, and share my pride in the hard work and love that went into building our family?
Because after all, we chose each other. My husband came into his fatherhood in the noblest of ways- he chose the child of the woman he loved and vowed to love us both unconditionally. That type of choice is so powerful, so beautiful, that surely it casts a shadow over any sense of shame or discomfort.
I found freedom in my choice to leave my first marriage, and I believe I will find freedom in acknowledging and sharing the path I chose. So I am going to try, particularly for the sake of my daughter, to abandon any sense of apology or embarrassment over the fact that our story is different than others, and simply embrace the choice I made. Families come in all kinds of packages– be they traditional or blended, joined through adoption or biology — but each has a unique history. It’s time for me to remember to honor ours, and all the choices that led to its creation.
Stephanie, I really didn’t have any idea, but I give you so much credit for sharing here and I do totally think you made the right decision here not only for yourself, but Izzy, too. Seriously, can’t even imagine having to make this choice, but seriously applaud you for it. Love that you have been so honest with Izzy, too and I think your husband is even more wonderful then I already thought!! 🙂
Thank you for that Janine! I had second thoughts about writing this, but the support has been amazing!
Stephanie, I loved this! That first pic of the three of you nearly brought a tear to my eye. And the wedding photo- too sweet. Sounds like you got yourself a good man.
I certainly do! Thanks for that, Pam!
Oh friend. I’m in tears. You are so brave for sharing this. So. Brave. Trust me, as an adopted kid, you’re doing the best right things for Izzy in sharing it all with her. And you’re also doing the right things for yourself with sharing this now. Dude. I am so proud of you. That sounds condescending and I don’t mean it that way at all, but as somebody who has felt shame and heard questions about kids and whose they are…
You. You you you. How lucky am I that you’re my friend? So.
You have no idea how much I appreciate- you, your perspective, your wisdom, and your support. Tearing up now.
Stephanie, leaving your marriage when your daughter was 8 months old was so brave! I cannot imagine becoming a single mother at that time. And I think your feelings about wanting to hide the divorce are so normal. My marriage is my first (and only!? lol) but my husband’s second, and he talks about how he felt so ashamed at his divorce when it happened. I love how you write about your family – such an important reminder that families are formed in so so so many ways. And I just love these pictures! Great post!
I actually thought about writing this last week for the bravery post! But I just wasn’t ready. Still not sure if I am! 🙂 Thank you so much for that, Sarah.
I’m at a loss for words, Stephanie! I’m impressed at how you handled writing about this part of your life. I’m also reflecting on growing up in a blended family and how I viewed that as a child. Obviously all signs of an important post. xo
Aw, thanks Jean. I didn’t know that was your family background- I really appreciate your comment! xo
I have tears in my eyes. This is beautiful. I love it. I hate shame. It’s so hard to deal with. I’ve struggled with being ashamed of various things throughout my life, some serious and some not so serious and then some things I probably should be ashamed of, I’m not – that’s a joke – I’m thinking of when I sold beer out of my locker. I like that you are moving forward shame-free. I totally support you and I think you’re awesome.
Kate, that means so much to me. Really. Thanks so much. xo
I love this Stephanie-it sounds like you are exactly where you are supposed to be.
Thanks so much for that Joelle! And yes, I think I am. 🙂
Okay, I started this a minute ago and got pulled away by Kristi. Let’s try it again! Your husband and I sound like we inherited similar situations. My wife had two girls when I married her, that I completely accepted. In fact, having been in a home situation, for a while, in which kids from two families were cast, I decided that her kids would be my kids. We didn’t need another to say it was “ours”, as we had two already (at least, in my mind). I think the proof of devotion came when the oldest got married. She got off the phone with her biological father one night, and told me he wanted to walk her down the aisle. Then, she added, “I told him no. My Real Father was going to walk me down the aisle.” Things like that make it all worth the challenge. Sounds like you all have it together too. Great story!
Rich, I had no idea! Thank you so much for sharing your perspective- it truly means a lot to me!
A choice made now and yet to be put into practice. Kudos to you for bringing it here and making yourself accountable for it. I think it’s an important one for you.
Families come in all shapes and sizes, and the amount of love which goes around in yours is testament only to the fact that, however it happened, and whatever paths, challenges and difficulties brought you all here, you are meant to be.
Life is on purpose, and what you have now is absolutely the right thing.
Thanks Lizzi! I am proud of how much love our family has, for sure!
I am sobbing right now…thank you for sharing and doing it in such a respectful way. What a great man your husband is…how blessed all of you are. Families are all different and how wonderful for your daughter to know how much she is loved.
Oh, Karen, thank you SO much for that!
Wow!! What a brave choice and what a brave post!! I cannot imagine becoming a single mom with an infant. Whatever the underlying reasons, that is a brave decision. Also, very brave to share your story here and admit that sometimes you feel ashamed. However, I think you should trade in that shame for pride – pride in making tough decisions because they were the right thing for you and your daughter. Thats take strength and bravery and independence which are all qualities to be proud of, not ashamed of. I can see your husband’s joy and love for your daughter shining through his smile in that first picture. Kudos to him and to you!!!!
I really appreciate that Lisa! xo
Beautiful and brave post…you are fortunate to have made the right choice for both yourself and your beautiful family.
Thanks so much Emily! I wasn’t sure if I would be able to follow through with writing it!
Good stuff, Steph. Your arrangement really isn’t that rare anymore, but that isn’t meant to belittle how difficult this decision was for you at all. It couldn’t have been easy. As a man and a dad, I’d wonder about a person who wouldn’t fight for his daughter instead of just giving up all rights to her, but that may be a different story altogether. Thanks for sharing.
You aren’t the first person to have that reaction Don… And I would likely be more in touch with a sense of outrage, disbelief, and sadness, were I not so relieved because his decision made my life so much easier. And you are right- many families deal with these dynamics! Thanks for your kind words!
Yup, you’ve got yourself a keeper! 😉 As for leaving hubs #1, I can certainly understanding the need to get out of a relationship that you know isn’t right, but to have the cajones to do it not long after giving birth is a whole other story. That took a mountain of strength! And you’re right, I think it’s to do away is the misplaced guilt and shame and be open about it – you wouldn’t want that to rub off on Izzy. Openness will be better for her – heck, probably all of you! 🙂
Thanks for that, Chris! I agree with that last sentence 100%!
What an amazingly beautiful, hard, honest and inspiring post! I felt like cheering “hooray!” when I got to the lovely picture of your wedding at the end…almost like it was just happening! I really relate to the idea of finding freedom in the hard choices. A defining moment in my life was when I chose to leave a verbally abusive fiance who threatened to hit me. Our wedding was a month out. It was so, so hard, but I made it through the fire and it made me a better person, because I knew I had the strength to define my life the way that I wanted. I’m sorry to make this comment about me, when what I really want to say is, “Go, you, Stephanie!”
Thank you so much, Rachel. And actually, it makes me feel very happy when people share their own experiences in the comments. It makes me feel less alone, and very supported. So thanks for that! 🙂
I scrolled down quickly after reading your post, and didn’t really read the comments, except for the word “tears” that jumped out at me from some of the comments. Before finishing reading, I had already decided what I wanted to say and it was this, “I was moved to tears by your post.” It was so well written and I am and have been so proud of the way you handled the realization and subsequent “acting on” in relation to your first marriage. I believe that Shawn reads your posts, but if you think he doesn’t always catch each and every one of them, please make sure he reads this one. He has been an integral part of the family. I am honored to have both of you as my “family.”
Thank you so much, Mom. We both love you, too.
Oh Stephanie, you hit a nerve. I so wished, for years and years, for stepparents who loved me and wanted me. You and your husband and ex-husband are doing good things. I appreciate the way you spoke of your ex most especially. Slamming the other person never helps or makes anything better.
As for the shame, of “hiding” the truth… In my many years on Earth, I have learned that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has a story. In most cases, few people know those stories. Usually, it’s not because people hide their stories, but because they aren’t for everyone’s ears. You don’t introduce yourself to someone with the biggest story of your life. You start small, and as you get to know someone, more and more info is shared. I don’t see you hiding your story, more of a “there’s no reason to tell” situation. I mean, really, you aren’t going to go around introducing your husband by saying, “She’s not his biological daughter. I was married before, and yada yada yada, he adopted her.” You don’t want to be one of those people who spills her life story in the first 5 minutes. (I know 2 people like that. Don’t be that person.) If an appropriate time occurs, share. If not, don’t feel bad about the fact that people don’t know “the truth”.
And, I shall leave you alone now. 🙂
It was a beautiful post, and you are doing the right thing for Izzy. I’m glad you are allowing her to have a relationship with her biological dad. (Another story which hits home, but I’ll save it for another time.) 🙂
Thank you so much for your thoughts, Christine. And my husband actually raised a similar point- you don’t just go around telling your life story to everyone. (and you shouldn’t, obviously!) However, the lack of telling isn’t what bothered me; it was how I felt about the “not telling,” and the feeling that I secretly hoped nobody would know because it made me feel different and inadequate. Really, the outside “audience” served as more of a metaphor for my own feelings of shame and discomfort- the actual people that I told or didn’t tell were sort of irrelevant when compared to my own inner feelings. If that makes sense.
BRAVO!!! This post brought tears to my eyes. As some whose mother is not biologically related to her (but rather a miracle of the fact that she fell in love with my father) I feel that the family you purposely chose to be with and claim as your own is every bit as wonderful and meaningful as the ones you are related to by genetics. I feel it to my core. It’s a beautiful thing that should be celebrated, and I’m celebrating you and your awesome family right now. Your family story is just lovely and I’m so glad you shared it! Thank you!! –Lisa
Aw, thanks for that Lisa. I’m glad you have experienced that type of love as well. I so appreciate your comment!
You wrote this so beautifully, Stephanie – honestly, respectfully, candidly. I can understand where your feelings of shame are coming from, even though I think you should have none. You have done what was best for you and your daughter. Thank you for sharing your story and a glimpse of your beautiful family!
I really appreciate that, Dana! Thank you so much!
Another great post. Giving your daughter an example of loving yourself is a beautiful lesson.
Thanks so much Tatum- that means a lot!
The choice you made was the best thing for you and your child. I am glad you have found happiness now. Love won out in the end. 🙂
Yes, indeed it did- thanks Mary!
I identified with what you said (or what I read, that I thought you said), to the effect of you feel that the part of your life that lead to your present life is a private matter.
I also get the part of the desire to share it with those in your life and not hide it.
(and I totally get) how difficult a decision it was to share.
Very difficult and (very) well.
If I might offer, sharing parts of your life, even all aspects of your life is not, in my opinion, inconsistent with being a private person. While I get how others are glad that you share this (or other aspects of your life), sometimes the lines get blurred and it seems like, *not sharing* is the same as shutting people out…
…I’m going on too much, but keep in mind that sharing with other is your act and decision… not ‘theirs’.
glad I got here and had the chance to read your Post.
Thanks for that, Clark. Rather than being redundant, I will direct you to my reply to Christine up there! I agree with the privacy/not sharing thing, but felt that my underlying shame and discomfort was more central than whether or not it was appropriate or relevant to tell the story. I appreciate your insights as always!
Thank you very much for sharing your story. While I haven’t been in your situation I have been in the position of being ashamed of a choice I made.
Thanks Robbie, I suppose that’s something we can all relate to!
What a wonderful, touching post. I had no idea you’d been married before. How you explain your feelings about shame associated with the divorce – I relate to that, a lot. I mean, that’s how I’ve reacted to much that I’ve harbored shame over. We want to seem perfect…sigh. But what a beautiful family you have. 🙂 I’d rather have that than “perfection” any day!
And that wedding dress? I ALMOST picked that one (or at least a very similar one). 🙂 Gorgeous!
Stephanie, I want to say thank you so much for sharing this with us. I am getting ready to go through this myself (the divorce part) and am having a really hard time with it, trying to justify my feelings and stop feeling so darn guilty. I am a perfectionist and people-pleaser, too, so I totally understand how much harder that makes this. I love how you explained it, though. It’s not like I don’t want to try, or am not trying hard enough. We’re just not right for each other, and I’m compromising my happiness. You have no idea how much better your story has made me feel about my decision. And I am so glad you were proactive and finally have your happy family. 🙂
There is no shame in leaving a situation that wasn’t right. You made the right decision for all of you! Thank you for sharing-my goodness this has been a FTSF that has been pretty deep!
Good for you. I am so proud of you. You recognized the importance of your self worth and knew that being in that relationship was nothing more than toxic. I think a lot of people believe in the “hardcore sanctity” of marriage…and fail to realize that just because there is a ring on your finger, it doesn’t mean that you gave up your rights as an individual. You cannot ignore how you are feeling. You deserve the life you wanted. And look at you…all three…with your gorgeous hearts shining through those smiles. That is life.
You opened up your heart wide my friend. Thank you for giving hope to those who are struggling to cope with divorce. xo
Such an amazing post, Steph! Such a profound and honest introspection. So personal and powerful, yet so relatable. I heard a sentence this week at the conference: the most personal is the most universal, or something along those lines. I feel like your emotional twin. The way you think and interact is the way I think and interact, this is why despite not having gone through the same experience I’ve identified with every single word, the shame and guilt toward the great uncles, the sense of failure. I know that you know it’s not a failure, but I just wanted to reinforce that and agree with your conclusion that families are shaped differently and by different circumstances but it’s the package that count, but what’s in it. And I do apologize for the cliche.
I love you.
This brought tears to my eyes. You have NOTHING to be ashamed of. I’m sure so many in your life were (and new ones are now after reading this) so inspired by seeing you first make that hard decision, then execute it. I don’t know your husband, of course, but I think he must be an extremely special soul to want to formally become Izzy’s dad even though that would have been the case (for all intents and purposes) without the paper work. Formal is the extra step and what a fantastic thing that he went that route.
I love that you put this “out there” almost in an attempt to hold yourself accountable…to mark it in such a way that you will be making that effort to be aware, to be open, to not feel the instinct of shame.
I get it, though. I don’t hide the fact that this is my second marriage, but it’s now been so long that so many people don’t know, and I don’t love bringing it up. I almost feel, in my gut, as if they might be judging me because that one didn’t work…which I think logically is silly since I don’t think that of others. Yet, my instinct is to hold in the information if I can.
I think it probably is linked to my need for perfection, and I am just starting to realize how much I actually worry about what others will think of me (a realization that floored me…thank you therapist?!). 🙂
And PS…your wedding picture is gorgeous, and how blessed you are to have found each other. I’m a sucker for a good romance, and your story really is a beautiful one.
I think that this is a beautiful story and one much like my own (except I did not have a child when I left my first marriage). You are brave and you definitely did what was right for all of you. Much love and happiness – I am so glad that you found each other!!
Beautiful share, honest and heart felt. I can relate to your story, I too had some tough decisions to make in the last few years that changed not just my life but life of a few others. I too believe in the end we just have to go with what is best for us. Thank you for your share much blessings to you and your family xo 🙂
I so appreciated this post. And, I’m so glad that you found your husband and that he found you! I don’t have anything profound to say, just…I love your story and I’m so happy for your family. 🙂
Thank you for this…just thank you 🙂
You are more than welcome, and I have to thank YOU for that comment. It means a lot to me!
I love this post. It really resonates with me. I, too, struggled with my first marriage and the idea that divorcing my first husband was somehow a failure. I kept thinking of divorce as “the ‘D’ word”, something too heinous to be mentioned. Coming from a divorced family, I swore to avoid divorce myself at all costs. I struggled for years, trying counseling, separation, reading books like “Too Good to Leave, Too Bad to Stay”. But one day, as I was arguing with my ex-husband for the millionth time, he said “I don’t know what you expect from me. You should be happy. There’s nothing better out there. This is as good as it gets.” I know he was motivated by fear. Fear of the changes I was asking him to make in himself and our relationship and fear of losing me. But that statement stuck with me and rattled around in my head until one day I woke up and said “If this is as good as it gets, then I don’t want it. I’d rather be alone.” And then I finally had the courage to pick up the pieces and move on. It was scary at first, but once I started moving forward, I never looked back and I never regretted my decision. My ex-husband was a good man, we just really weren’t right for each other. And once I found my current husband, the difference was night and day. There were many, many months where I marveled every single day at how happy, healthy and peaceful our relationship was and I was so grateful. And I also appreciate my first marriage for what it taught me about growth and change, commitment and giving everything you have as long as possible and then recognizing that it’s time to let go and move on.