Chapter 22, april
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “When you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
That is just what we did; we hung on for dear life. Every shred of the rope was another ounce of sanity gone. John and I never lost hope, but we were certainly prepared to accept disappointment. Knowing that these struggles were preparing us for much better times, we continued to pray and ask God for guidance and reassurance. There were, however, times that we did not think we had the strength to survive the challenges we were facing. After all, God does not give us more than we can handle. He must have thought we encompassed extreme superpowers.
I cannot recall a time that I ever made a definite decision on what size family I wanted before I began having children. That is most likely because I was still a child myself and had no business starting a family.
Nonetheless, after I gave birth to my third child, I did not feel like I wanted it to be my last. My first two pregnancies were products of teen pregnancy and a horrible marriage. My third pregnancy ended in the loss of an unborn baby, and my fourth child was made from love and the desire to create life.
I love all my children the same, however I was not able to enjoy the first two pregnancies as much as I did the last one. The first two were full of shame and guilt; I was only able to show my excitement internally, for the fact that I was growing a tiny human. When I was pregnant with my son, I proudly wore that enormous belly like a shiny pair of Red Bottoms!
I made up my mind that if I had not become pregnant before my 30th birthday, that I would not carry a fifth child. From the time my son was born, Roy and I were never ready to add to our family at the same time. One month I had baby fever and he did not; another month he would suggest that we try again, and I was not on board. The fact that we could not agree to another pregnancy at the same time led me to believe that God was telling me the timing was not right.
At the age of 30, I made what seemed like an obvious decision – I got a tubal ligation.
Due to the complications I had with the last form of birth control, I felt I was ready for a more permanent solution. While in surgery, the doctor came out to explain to Roy that the procedure was taking quite a bit longer than he had originally expected. While operating, the doctor found what he explained to be, “one of the worst cases of endometriosis he had ever seen.” Unbeknownst to me, that is a diagnosis that can only be found with an operation, and it is not something that any doctor would ever do unless they were already operating for something much more important.
I remember going through the class I was mandated to take before my surgery and thinking how ridiculous it was. Video after video, lecture after lecture, someone was trying to talk me out of what I was certain I wanted to do. It was not until halfway through my recovery that I realized what a huge mistake I had made. It is one thing to decide that you do not want to ever give birth again, it is quite another to have the option taken permanently. I compared those feelings that followed to be similar to the feelings of postpartum depression.
I was angry – angry at myself, at Roy, at God. How absurd! It was not Roy’s fault, and it certainly was not God’s fault.
It was what I wanted, it was what I decided was best for me and my family. I recall my conversations with God going much like so: “God, please send me a time machine so I can make a different decision. Please send me a miracle – even though the doctor has made it impossible for me to grow life inside my body, I know that you are the controller of all things. God, you have the ability to take my small tragedy and turn it into a great triumph. God, please send me this miracle; I so desperately want more tiny humans to add to my family.”
I began thinking back to the first time I met John, the first time we spoke to one another, our first date, then deciding we would spend the rest of our lives together.
I am not sure what I expected in reference to our family dynamic. Of course, I knew that John was a father. I also knew the justice system pretty well - fathers are rarely, if ever, granted as much custody as the mother, and never more custody than the mother. Neither of us ever dreamed he would have a fighting chance, nor did he ever mention the desire to remove all custody from Loren. We ignorantly assumed that he would likely be forced to settle with being a weekend dad, in addition to the possibility of a few weeks during the summer.
At the advice of John’s attorney, he and I were to cease communication with Loren and gather as much ammo as we could. We were prepared for the battle that we were up against. It seemed as if we had been dropped in the octagon to face a two-headed dragon. Only in this case, the octagon was a courtroom and the dragon being the justice system. During this time, the court battle was not the only struggle I was facing. My older two children had graduated high school – one was in college and the other was right behind her.
My once chaotic home had become eerily quiet. The kitchen table that once seated more teenagers than it was meant for, was clear. The bedroom floors that were once covered in clothes because everything must be tried on before a decision could be made, now held only vacuum lines. The driveway that once resembled a used car lot, was now bare.
If you have ever watched your grown children leave the nest, you can fully understand the loneliness a mother feels when her children become young adults.
It is a joyous pain – a sickness that bears no cure. You give up your entire life to raise these little people, and then they leave you – and they are happy to do so! They are excited to start the next chapter of their lives, and it is pure bliss to witness that milestone. However, it is an agony like no other for a parent to feel like they are losing their children to the cruel, cold world.
Looking back now, John and I had no idea what we were doing or how we had arrived at that place in time. Ultimately, this had not been the plan – we had expected things to go much different than where they were headed. We both knew that the odds were against us, both in our relationship and in our chances of John receiving full, or even joint custody of his children. The night before the hearing, John and I sat quietly in our room. We prayed together; we prayed that God’s will be done in our lives. We asked Him to keep all of our children safe and healthy. We pleaded with God to allow the strangers that would be determining our future to make the decision that was in the best interest of the children. Secretly, we hoped that decision afforded us the ability to raise Johns’ boys in our home, more than every other weekend.
The day arrived; the day we had been so anxious to appear before us.
We decided that I would not attend the hearing, instead I would stay at home with the boys. Court began at 9 am, and we were told it could last the entire day. I remember doing everything in my power to take my mind off what was happening across town. I hugged those babies and held them as tight as I could, preparing myself for the worst while praying for the best.
I was aware that these were not my children, biologically, but I had fallen in love with their sweet souls. We had attempted to blend our families the best way we knew how – all or nothing!
When I thought hours had passed, I looked at the clock only to learn it had been mere minutes. The day drug on like molasses in the wintertime. As I watched four little boys playing with water guns in the backyard, their screams of laughter echoing off the trees, I felt a sense of tranquility pour over me. This is what dreams are made of, I thought to myself. I never imagined I would find such serenity amongst so much chaos – but stranger things have happened.
One more clock check announced the end of the day. It was now after 5 pm, and I knew court was scheduled to end no later than 4:30 pm. I checked my phone for what felt like the millionth time that day – nothing. I began to assume the worst.
Just before my imagination took off to irrational town, the phone rang…it was John.
I ran to my closet to answer the call. The only sound coming from the other end of the phone was that of a grown man sobbing uncontrollably. The tears began falling from my eyes. I tried to gather my composure, telling myself that my fiancé needed my strength – he needed me to be the rock in our relationship at that moment.
Calmly, I began to tell him that everything was going to be fine. “We will not give up. We will continue to fight; God will hear our prayers and He will answer them.” Just when I had no other encouraging words to offer, I heard a faint sound – other than weeping – come from the phone.
“The judge ruled in my favor.”
I could not believe the words that were coming out of his mouth. That never happens. Fathers do not get custody of their children, especially in North Carolina, especially when they are active duty Marines. Was he mistaken? Had he misunderstood the judge’s verdict? I had so many questions, questions that he promised to answer as soon as he got home.
The moment he came through the door, we embraced tighter than we ever had before. We cried and held each other, as we headed out the back door to our children. John grabbed his boys and squeezed them and kissed them, as if it were the first time he was truly seeing them. For hours, he could not speak, he just sat staring and smiling at those tiny humans.
After we put all the boys to bed, we sat down to discuss the emotional events that had transpired earlier that day.
He began to describe the stressful atmosphere that encompassed the courtroom. I imagined it just like something from a television show, very dramatic. Both attorneys questioned their clients and cross-examined the other. Jackson’s therapist was also questioned by John’s attorney, then Loren’s. After a very short deliberation, the judge had reached a verdict. Her decision, based on the testimonies of all parties and her professional opinion, was to rule in the favor of John. He was awarded primary custody of all three children.
That night, after John fell asleep, I began talking to God again. I recalled the conversation He and I had a few years back, where I begged Him for the ability to have more children. Was this God’s way of answering the prayer I had prayed after my surgery? Was He giving me the chance to be an additional mother to three more children? In my mind, I believed He was allowing me this opportunity to love three boys, as if they were my own.
I had been entrusted this gift, and I would not let Him, nor the children, down.