I am finally ready to tell the truth.
"You need to move on with your life, because I’ve moved on with mine."
That final sentence from my ex-boyfriend (let's call him Mark) was the culmination a nearly 5-year relationship. Our son's headstone was still on order, and they'd place it on his grave any day now.
I sat outside the doctor’s office in my car, waiting for the next medication to resolve trauma I suffered from the recent delivery of my stillborn son. They contemplated admitting me to the hospital, but my mind wasn't focused on my health. I wanted to know who this woman was that Mark had been seen with, and why he didn’t contribute more money to the cost of our son’s funeral or help me with medical bills like he said he would.
"It was your decision to bury him," Mark said. You’re his mother and that was your choice."
"But what was I supposed to do?" I screamed, sinking into the black leather interior of my car in the September Midwest heat.
That was the last I heard from him.
As someone who works in public relations, I've spun this story — the story that my ex left me after I gave birth to our stillborn son — 100 times.
I've lied to mutual friends, family members, and acquaintances about what happened to my son's father. Only those closest to me know the truth. On Mark's side, I can only assume the truth has been glossed over, like frosting on a cake. I know this because his co-workers and friends don't hesitate to speak to me or "like" my statuses on Facebook (which I welcome because I appreciate that those people still think of me).
At the same time, though, it confirms the incredibly meticulous job we've done pretending the breakup was amicable, that the ending was as smooth as we made it seem. I hate lying. I'm terrible at it, but I don't do messy. I make it look good for the cameras. When I write about my son, I write about him very carefully. I censor myself because part of me is programmed to honor my ex in ways all the ways he didn't honor me.
But I'm finally ready to tell the truth.
I want to shout the truth from the rooftops and take out an ad in the newspaper. I want to have a meltdown at a wedding – kicking, screaming, and hitting the floor like I'm doing the cry-baby near the cake table. I want to lose my SH*T, and question why God allowed this incredibly unfortunate series of events — losing my baby, then losing the father of my child — to happen to me.
I want answers, not just from God, but from my ex, too. Not because I didn't know the relationship might eventually end, but because he left me in the worst of times without an apology or an acknowledgement. And when I tried to demand answers, he gave me nothing. No words, not even $20 for flowers on the grave. That's what investing years in the wrong relationship does to you. It. Hurts. You. It's shown me what it's like to have gravitational pull toward a man, only to realize he was never really tied to you.
But let's go back in time a bit.
When he first saw me at church in 2009, he made it a point to come to another event to meet me.
His plan worked and within a couple of weeks, I retired my nine-man rotation. The rest is a blur of us falling in love between vacations, dinners, jokes, conversations, and hours of dreaming with each another.
I thought I was having the time of my life, and a poolside, tropical proposal in Jamaica turned into a wedding date with a shiny Tiffany's band. Soon, there were move-ins, naming hypothetical children, shopping trips with his mother, and a complete intertwining of our lives. I helped build his business, and I built my career. It was perfect ... until it wasn't.
Soon came the calls from other women, the Facebook messages, and even some actual women confronting me. We broke up one morning when he told me he didn’t want to get married anymore. I kicked him out of our apartment and then left the state to take a job opportunity I didn't carefully think through.
The separation was short-lived. We spent the next several months chasing each other across the country on red-eye flights. Several months later, after a first-class flight and a lavish Ritz Carlton suite, our son was conceived.
The news that I was now a single, pregnant minority living in the Bible Belt with a high-profile corporate job didn’t sit well with anyone.
Mark called me only to yell and berate me until I cried. He didn't want me to keep the baby (and promised me the world if I didn't) and then threatened me when I told him I was planning to keep our baby. I cried, waddling into doctors' appointments two to three times a week for my high-risk pregnancy.
But then there were days filled with hope, when I realized that my son was fighting all of the physical obstacles my body laid out for him. Some days, Mark wanted to not only be a part of the baby’s life, but mine, too. When he'd fly in to see me and hear his son's heartbeat on ultrasound, he'd soften toward me. But fear of him becoming a dad brought back the same emotional abuse days later.
I knew I had to be strong for my baby, because in my darkest times, he gave me something to look forward to when it felt like there was nothing else worth living for. Before I went to bed that night, I prayed to God that he'd be in control of my future. Just a few hours later, I was in labor.
Somehow, I gathered up the strength to walk down 16 stairs in my condo, holding what I found out later was my son's literal lifeline in my hands as fluid threatened to penetrate his partially prolapsed-amniotic sac. My water wouldn’t break for hours later. I hailed the ambulance from my sidewalk like I once did with New York City cabs, before a paramedic scooped me threshold-carry style, onto the stretcher.
But even that very bold act of courage couldn't make him stay. When I called him to tell him I had given birth to his stillborn baby, he didn't rush to see me or change his previously-booked flight, which arrived a couple of days later. Sure, he did a lot of things right — taking care of me after my mother and sister left, making arrangements with the funeral home and even paying for the casket, dealing with my night sweats and milk-laden breasts as my hormonal body tried to understand that I was no longer pregnant.
We got through the big family event that was our son's funeral and we even went on a much-needed vacation following my maternity leave. "I'll see you soon. I love you," he said as he boarded the plane back.
That would be the last time I saw him in person.
Several weeks of delayed phone calls later, unanswered texts and hard-to-understand answers to difficult questions, that call in September came. I knew it would come: He ended it. To this day, he doesn't call on Christmas, Mother’s Day, our deceased son's birthday, not any day. In two weeks, it'll be an entire year since we spoke.
When people see me now, they're so impressed with how 'happy' I seem since he's been gone. It's a tricky juxtaposition to what I know to be true: I'm not necessarily happy, but I am complete. It took a horrible experience for me to learn that even though I'd been with one person most of my adulthood that my identity wasn't linked to him. The experience wasn't about me losing my son or the man I loved, but about all the perspective and wisdom I gained.
Often times, I wonder if the shock I still feel over what happened is a sign that I'm not fully healed. But like my mother says, moving on is a state of mind, and that even though I'd welcome an apology or even a phone call from Mark, I may never get one. That's an important lesson that has helped me to fully heal my wounds.
On some levels, the breakup was the best thing that ever happened to me.
In a situation that could have ruined my future, I emerged victorious and stronger than ever, becoming my own biggest fan. Just in the last several months, I've seen the growth from this experience develop into even more career success for me than I've ever had before and propel me into community service and pursuing my passions.
But most importantly, I've become my biggest fan by investing in ME, even in the grief. And while I sometimes feel like I've lived the lives of five other people in my short 28 years, I know that I didn't truly know what I was capable of until I met my son and had to clean up the aftermath of what I thought was love.
I didn't know myself until I almost lost myself. But, what a wake-up call it was, and I'm genuinely blessed to be on the other side and thriving more than I ever thought possible.