Welcome to our series, The Divorce Diaries. In the past six instalments we’ve covered everything from the effect of lockdown on divorces to whether they’re contagious and have now spoken to dozens of women – including one who discovered her husband’s affair during lockdown and another who found out her husband had a vasectomy and didn’t tell her – even after they’d been trying for a baby.
This week we talk to a woman who had been married for six years – and was seven months pregnant – when her husband announced he was moving out.
If there was one thing that Lily* knew for certain about her husband, Max, it was that he desperately wanted to be a father.
It was a topic he brought up, surprisingly early, when they first met – both just 25. Max was an only child, plus neither of his parents had siblings, and he told her that he’d always dreamed of having a big family one day instead. He said he’d always gravitated to friends who had masses of siblings and cousins and jumped at any offers to go to any events or on holidays with them. It was like he had always felt he’d missed out on something – and was determined to create it for himself later on in life.
Lily says she thought it was all quite sweet, but she was honest with him about how she felt. “I’d always felt like it wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t have kids, but that I’d also be happy to have one. Maybe two at a stretch,” she says. “He wanted three, minimum!”
But, hearing how much he wanted kids made her change her tune a little bit – he’d clearly be such an attentive dad, So, when they married at 28 they made a compromise – they’d start by trying for two and then reassess, but they’d wait a few years for Lily to build up her career. “We agreed that we’d wait to start trying until I was 32 – which I had to remind him of a lot, because he got very clucky when a couple of friends started having kids,” she says.
Then, almost quite literally after cutting the cake on her 32nd birthday, they began trying for a family. When a year passed without any success, they both got checkd out and went through a series of tests, which couldn’t find any obvious reason why they’d be having trouble conceiving. “My sister – who is a naturopath – kept telling me it was because I was too stressed and there was too much pressure on it, which I think was probably spot on,” tells Lily. They took a holiday, Lily tried to stop thinking about it – and over time it seemed Max had stopped talking about it so much, which helped. She figured he knew the toll the pressure was taking on her, and was backing off a bit. And then, after 16 months of trying, she saw those two little lines pop up.
“I think relief was the major thing I felt – and then excitement about how Max would react,” she remembers. So, she headed to the kitchen, with the positive stick in her hand, ready to tell him the good news.
“If I were to go back and think when things started feeling not quite right – if I’m honest with myself, it’d be then,” she says.
Max, who had been desperate for children for so long, hugged his wife and said something along the lines of “Wow! This is so great!!”.
“And then he went back to making dinner,” Lily says.
She’d always pictured being pregnant as being like some sort of fairytale with Max – she imagined him holding her hand every ultrasound, rubbing her feet when she was tired and excitedly touching her stomach every time the baby kicked. Instead, Max seemed to be getting more disinterested as the weeks went on. He was spending more time working, more time at the gym and more time out with his friends. “I had to nag him about appointments and about getting stuff ready for the baby. He’d always talked about building a cot from scratch himself, and now I couldn’t even get him to go to the store and pick one up.”
Finally, when he arrived home late one night, Lily confronted him about his behaviour – why was he never around? Why was he so disinterested when having a kid had been all he’d ever wanted? What was going on??
“That’s when he told me that he’d be thinking a lot lately, and the truth was he’d realised he didn’t want to have children.”
Lily was seven months pregnant.
“I can’t really remember what happened next,” she says. “The next two months were a total blur.”
She knows they did have a conversation that night where he said he was going to move out – which she assumed was just something temporary. She figured he must be having some sort of (hideously timed) freak out about becoming a dad and that he’d move back in a few days, full of apologies and regret.
But that moment never came.
“I didn’t tell anyone for a week, because it didn’t seem real,” she says. “I couldn’t make any sense of it and he never gave me a good reason for what had happened. He just kept saying the more he thought about it the more he knew he wasn’t ready for kids. He said he was sorry, but it sounded robotic to me.”
Thankfully her younger sister moved in the very same day she told her (although she took some convincing that Lily was playing some sort of sick practical joke on her, right until she looked through the house and saw that Max had cleared everything of his out).
Her sister was the one who was by her side when she was in labour, and who called Max to tell him that he had a daughter. He’d moved to Australia two weeks earlier, after getting a good job offer and deciding to have “a fresh start”.
He’d planned on coming back shortly after the birth – but Covid hit a few months later and Max hasn’t been home to NZ since.
“Sometimes I still can’t believe this has happened,” she says. “Adjusting to being a mum has been so huge, I think it’s really only just hitting me that I’m a single mum.”
She’s had little contact with Max since he left, but she’s ended up becoming quite close to his parents who have been playing an active role in their grandchild’s life.
“He did send me a text one night at 3am that said, ‘I think I made a mistake’ but I know through friends that he has a girlfriend who he is living with over there.”
Lily says the last two years have been a nightmare, but she’s also completely besotted by her daughter. “Weirdly, I think I would have been more devastated by our marriage ending if I didn’t have her. I hate that he’s not here for her, but he’s the one missing out.”
While she can’t help but feel a whole heap of bitterness and resentment towards her ex, she says her reason for sharing her story isn’t to get back at him – but to let other women know that they’re not alone.
“I spent so many nights googling women whose husbands had left them while they were pregnant because I was so desperate to not feel alone,” she says. “I read so many weird forum threads and emailed strangers in the middle of the night. I hope that someone might be googling now and can read this and know it happens to other people and you will be okay. You need a good counsellor, good friends and to constantly ask for help, but you will be okay.”
THE DIVORCE DIARIES
If you’d like to share your own experiences, tips or advice (we can keep you anonymous if you’d prefer!) please do email me at [email protected].
Missed an instalment? Catch up here!
- Week one: Women Tell: ‘My Lockdown Betrayal’ ‘He Ended Up With My Pilates Instructor!’ Charting the Rise of Divorce Coaches in NZ
- Week two: When Are You Most At Risk of Splitting? Plus, Can Divorces Be Contagious?
- Week three: “My Husband Didn’t Tell Me He’d Had a Vasectomy Until A Year Into Trying For a Baby.”
- Week four: “Mum’s Reaction Was: ‘Oh Darling, I Kept Telling You to Get Your Grey Roots Dyed!’” What to – and What NOT to Say – After a Split
- Week five: “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”
- Week six: The Number One Mistake Women Make When Separating
- Week seven: He Left To Be In An Open Relationship With the 19-year-old He’d Been Having an Affair With
- *Names have been changed