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6527212 November 30, 2009

Miscarriage: An Aberration Story

... we can not take a child's life for granted.

Norman Lear said, "To sit around and puzzle, 'What is my destiny?' is to go slowly insane." I don't know why we're all here but I do know that we're blessed--blessed to experience the gift of life. Even when life sucks, it's all good because it's happening. Ask anyone who's lost a loved one. Ask someone who's dying.

Like George Bailey (It's a Wonderful Life) maybe you think your life generally stinks. Maybe at times you feel under-appreciated, that you've lost opportunities, that you've not touched enough lives in a positive way. I'll admit that I feel that way sometimes, especially the older I get. I see time running out. I look back and think of all the things I could and should have done, all the people I've hurt, and all the ignorant mistakes I've made. I wish I could have a do-over. Sometimes I grieve over all that and wonder why I'm here at all.

But then I remember the incredible odds I beat just to show up in this crazy world. A cool site called, All About Life's Challenges says miscarriage statistics can be dramatic. Miscarriage reportedly occurs in 20 percent of all pregnancies. However, according to some sources, this may be an inaccurate number. Many women, before realizing a life has begun forming within them, may miscarry without knowing it-assuming their miscarriage is merely a heavier period. Therefore, the miscarriage rate may be closer to 40 or 50 percent. Of the number of women who miscarry, 20 percent will suffer recurring miscarriages.

Perhaps due to these statistics, it seems that our society has become immune to the grief and trauma that can be associated with miscarriage. But if you sit back and think about not only the women who suffer through them, but also the odds of any of us actually getting our feet on the ground, it's sobering. We can't always stop nature but we can certainly better appreciate our own gift of life.

This is how Diana has come to view the lives of her three children, as well as her own. Despite the painful journey she and her husband navigated through to build their family, she continues to count her blessings everyday. Like George Bailey, she appreciates what Clarence meant when he said, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?"

After all, our destiny lies in a million little things. Norman Lear also said, "Ninety-nine and 44/100 percent of everybody are not devising the new surgical procedure, are not designing the car, are not becoming Senator or President or going to the moon. The rest of them must be involved in understanding that success is a collection of their minutes, the totality of their lives. It is no good even if one does become the doctor, devises the operation, if the minutes that preceded it were miserable. There's a candidate for a high window and a big fall."

Diana's story will remind you to be thankful for simply having the chance to show up and hang your hat. The rest is icing on the cake.

You have three beautiful daughters; however, you also have a couple of difficult pregnancies that resulted in miscarriage. Can you tell us what happened?

After trying for not such a long time, I found myself pregnant with my first child. It was great because one of my dear friends was also pregnant with her first, and we were due within a couple of weeks apart. I was working at an insurance company and there were a number of other women pregnant at the same time. I was roughly 28 or 29 years old at the time. Unfortunately, at that time, my father was having chest pains, and was diagnosed with blockage in his arteries. He needed to have a multiple bypass operation and at that time, I was around five months pregnant. So, on Valentine's Day, 1998, he was scheduled for his operation. Ironic that his heart would be repaired on Valentine's Day.

My husband wanted me to relax and go out with our other couple friends for dinner. Of course, how could I concentrate when I wasn't sure my Daddy would survive the surgery? I remember my mother and sister telling me to go to dinner. It would be our last Valentine's Day without kids. I reluctantly went. Long story, short, my father is also a church pastor. So, I returned the next day to find that my Dad was allowed to have well over 40 visitors the day after his surgery! I was extremely upset, and expressed that sentiment to every hospital worker who would listen. He recovered from surgery with flying colors, but my extreme concern remained.

I remember going to work one day, not long after, and a colleague asked me if I felt that new feeling in my belly, fluttering. I told her no, but thought nothing of it. But, I do remember her facial expression. One of those expressions that says something's not right, but she wasn't about to be the bearer of that news. Is still thought nothing of it. I was having my first ultrasound in less than a week. Fast-forward to my ultrasound. I laid down, gel was put on my belly, the technician began. I had the look of anticipation. I couldn't wait to hear the details. She said, "I'll be right back." I asked if everything was OK. She just said she needed to talk to the doctor. The doctor appeared, and I will never, ever forget what he looks like. He came straight to me, introduced himself, and said, "We're getting an abnormal result from your ultrasound. If you have any questions, your doctor will be hear to answer your questions." And he turned around and walked out of the room, while I screamed, "What's wrong with my baby?!??!". No answer.

A doctor in my OB/GYN's practice appeared to say that my baby was not alive, and had probably been dead for a few days. I had to come back the next day to deliver the baby. I asked to be put under total anesthesia, which of course, they wouldn't do, so they just heavily sedated me after inducing me at five and a half months. The sedation wore off, and then, to my horror, I delivered my baby alone in a hospital room while screaming bloody murder. I will never ever forget every detail of that day.

I can't image losing a pregnancy. Can you share with us what type of emotional and physical toll the loses took on you?

More sadly than anything, as I am a born-again Christian, I was so angry at God. I stopped going to Church and stopped accepting phone calls to "pray with me". My OB/GYN advised me to take my eight weeks of maternity leave from Church, and I did. I was a total wreck, and I didn't think I would ever recover. I moved out of my husband and my home, and moved back in with my parents. My husband and I really were not speaking much. I am not sure if I was in clinical depression, but I sure felt like it. I couldn't function properly, and I couldn't even stand the sound of babies crying.

How did you cope? After the first issue, was it difficult to have faith in the subsequent pregnancy?

After much prayer, the kind that I initially rejected, I was able to get back to being myself. I was back to work and church. Within three months, I was pregnant again. I was told that my first baby had medical issues and would not have had a productive life had she survived. My husband and I chose not to see the baby at all. To this day, I have no idea what she looked like. I suppose I will see her in heaven some day. Unfortunately, I loss that baby too. And yes, after that, it was nearly impossible to function normally while pregnant. During each subsequent pregnancy, I had anxiety issues. Although I ended up with three beautiful daughters, I had two more miscarriages, bringing the total to four losses.

This happens to quite a lot of women, and sometimes people tend to brush it off as a "frequent" experience. Did you get this reaction from anyone and if so, how did that make you feel?

Yes, I don't think people know what to say. Sometimes, they should say nothing, and just, "I'm thinking about you" or "You are in my prayers". Instead, I heard a lot of, "At least you can get pregnant". "God was weeding out the abnormal babies." "Christians should have faith it will be OK." You also heard the "That's terrible, but listen what happened to someone I know". Of course there were countless women who said that oh, this happens so frequently, as if your occurrence is not unique or noteworthy.

When you lost your babies, what was the most comforting thing people said to you or did for you?

I really was hard-pressed to find any comforting words outside of the nurses in the maternity ward at the hospital. So many of them had similar occurrences, and they were the most amazing angels during my difficult times. Additionally, my current OB/GYN, who is now one of my dearest friends, treated me like a sister during my losses, and stood by my side for all my traumas. I will never, ever be able to thank her for the love she showed towards me. To this day, I am not allowed to call her by her credentials, but must address her by her first name. No matter how angry I was, or how hurt I was, I found comfort in "I will pray for you" (I just didn't necessarily want them to pray with me).

How did the loss affect your husband? Every relationship is different but did this bring you closer together or was if difficult to connect over it? Did he fully understand?

What I learned about miscarriages and men was key. My husband blamed me, because of the attention that I was paying to my father's health. I don't think I will ever forget that, even if I have gotten past it. The other thing I learned was this: everyone asked me how I was doing, and would ask him how I was doing. No one asked him how he was making out. That was hurtful to him, and once I found out, I was sorrowful that I had not paid more attention to him. I was so self-focused because it was my body and my experience. My husband had also told me that he would not have adopted, so I would have hoped that he would have changed his mind, because there are so many other children who do not know the joys of having a loving parent.

Do you still think about the children that could have been? Do you think it's normal for women to remember and still think about it years later, or do you think it should be easier to put it out of mind as you build your family?

Every July 28th, I think of the child I lost. I won't ever forget. In comparison, speaking only for myself, that loss was far more traumatic than the other three losses that occurred when I was I was anywhere from 8-12 weeks pregnant. I will never put the experience out of my mind because I believe so wholeheartedly that God helped me become a much stronger woman. I have so much more faith in God knowing that He watched over me when I was too upset to watch over myself, and that His plan is not necessarily my plan, but it's still the perfect plan.

Do you think there are misconceptions about how women feel after losing a baby? If so, can you explain?

There should be no misconceptions about how women feel after losing a baby because each woman is different. Going through what I went through was difficult for me, but I would NEVER say, "I know how you feel because that happened to me". I always say, "I can understand some of the things you are saying because my experience was similar." It was hell what I went through, but then I can't imagine what I would do if I had been 9 months pregnant or if the child died after birth. I kept trying to get pregnant because I knew I wanted at least one child and then wanted her to have a sibling; that was my choice. I know others who never tried again, and that's understandable, too. Again, I would suggest people talking to a counselor to find the right things to say to a couple who experiences this. I would also suggest people going to a grief counselor if they find that they can not get past this experience.

There are all kinds of tragic experiences in life. We all must face them. Many times we can take something positive away from it. Did you learn anything as a person, wife, or mother from having had unsuccessful pregnancies?

I learned that we can not take a child's life for granted. It is so precious. I am so blessed to have family/friends who care, and good health care to get me through the medical care I needed. I also learned that God puts people in your path for whatever reason, and those relationships should be treasured as well.

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6527212 November 06, 2009

Midlife Wife: An Aberration Story

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Here's a topic I (unfortunately) know a thing or two about: midlife. Why is it that we spend so much time urging our kids to make good choices, work hard and smart, study, be careful, etc.? Well, of course, it's because we know how quickly the years pass. There's only a short time to achieve success, to set the stage, and pick a road ... or so we were told. Instead maybe, just maybe, we should tell them to deal with their issues, go after their dreams, don't give up ... There are certain things that get lost in the shuffle after awhile. Maybe we should worn them about that.

Sure, it's never too late but life has a way of crowding around us, narrowing our opportunities, fresh starts, and do-overs. Some wake up one morning with the frightening thought that life is half over when just yesterday there were 15 candles on the cake. How did that happen?

It's one of those WTF moments. You realize the very life you worked so hard to create sucked you dry and left you empty. Wasn't all that supposed to fill up the 15-year-old who felt so barren, you ask? "Get a life!" they told you. Well you did that--and it filled you up so tightly that you somehow lost track of yourself. Time is ticking, destiny is calling, parents are aging, youth is fading.

It's a crisis. And maybe you haven't had an identity crisis in so long that the idea almost feels good. The heart pounds, the blood flows. There's a desperation that's so bad it feels marvelous. You're suddenly alive again, barren like a 15-year-old ... and you don't want to lose that. Not again. Problem is everything around you, all the old stuff, seems dead. You have an overwhelming urge to run, jump the train, fly away, and get the heck out of dodge. After all, isn't that what killed you?

Maybe not.

So what's the answer to this dilemma? Not sure I know but I do suspect it's different for each person. My guest today, Jeff, is trying to deal with a wife who looked into the WTF mirror to find a lot she didn't like after being married for over three decades. Jeff is a spouse-left-behind (SLB). He's still in the thick of it, but has bravely offered to share his experience. He believes that those going through midlife difficulties need each other. Sharing and expressing the pain and understanding that a spouse's behavior isn't necessarily about your failure helps. He's taking one day at a time, staying strong for his family. This is his story.

You're in the midst of dealing with your wife's mid-life crises. Can you tell us what is happening?

To make this part of the long story short, about two years ago my wife’s mother passed away after a year or so following a stroke. It was determined at the end of her physical and speech rehabilitation, and a year in an adult day program, that she was then suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Once it was determined she could no longer live with us due to the daily care needed and for her own safety and protection, she was admitted into an adult residence facility which catered to a senior population for Alzheimer’s and other memory related issues. Less than two months after being admitted she passed away. My wife, an only daughter, was grieving the loss. In the months following, she and I tended to her funeral affairs and estate issues.

Later that year, my youngest daughter graduated high school and went off to college leaving us an empty nest. Additionally, about a month after my mother-in-law’s death, a younger, single friend of my wife had lost her father. My wife and her friend were often conversing and supporting each other as they had something very much in common. During the year post death, something seemed different about my wife. I attributed it to grieving as anticipated but it was more than that. She and her friend were conversing regularly, texting, instant messaging, emailing and this would go both early morning and after I had gone to bed as well as multiple times during the day. From some of the conversations I heard laughing and whispering which I thought was strange but nothing more.

After a while I approached my wife about the excessive conversation with this person. She stated that she had few friends and this one was close now due to the mutual losses they both experienced. She reinforced that they needed to connect with each other to cope. In my naiveté I believed her but became suspicious. I started noticing overages on the cell phone bill, extensive computer use, her minimizing the computer screen when I walked by, and basically a secretive type of behavior. Family members of mine noticed her behavior being different, co-workers wondered what was changing with her, she became distant to me and not interested in conversation, intimacy or spending free time together. This was very atypical of her as we had a great social relationship between us for most of our 30+ years of marriage.

How can you be sure that this is a mid-life crisis? Based on your research and years of working in the psychiatric health care arena, help us understand.

At first I didn’t know what to think. This “illness” does not have a formal psychiatric diagnosis. I started to research on the internet and described it to my older female relatives, their thinking it may be the onset of menopause. More research brought on more questions. I spoke to a family counselor, minister and family physician. I stumbled across some websites and forums that spoke of similar situations (www.PathPartners.com, www.divorcebusting.com). (Also see the list below.)

In my estimation, it started as midlife “transition” since it has much of what I had read on midlife sites. Death of a family member occurred, an empty nest situation came to fruition, my wife seemed confused and short tempered at times, she lost her pleasant personality and began to attack things I had done for her, things I hadn’t done, the length and quality of our marriage, being married too young (21?), my career path, my formal education, the house we bought, the cars we own, being unhappy for the longest time, re-writing our marriage history to describe my never being there for her, saying we have grown apart, blaming me for just about everything!

She added that she was confused, needed time to be alone and possibly away from me to work things out. She asked me to move out of our bedroom which I did for a couple weeks then realized I did nothing wrong and moved back again to her dismay. She was isolative, sleeping far over the other side of the (queen) bed, no physical interaction at all (including kissing or even touching, certainly no intimacy). After two weeks she decided to move out of the bedroom to a spare room I had been using. She made this smaller room her own, changing lighting, reorganizing furniture, keeping the bed very neat and orderly. Occasionally I would hear her speaking on the phone late night or early morning, laughing and joking. She was protective of my entering this room with her there or not, basically concerned with control issues even though it is also my house as well as hers. We never had issues like this before, very protective.

When the transition became a “crisis” was when I found definitive proof of an affair in what I had read on our family computer. My wife and her friend had planned driving trips together, weekends at a shore house, plans for seeing shows, movies and anticipating upcoming meeting times- I also found documentation of emotional sharing and intimate liaisons between the two which caught me wildly by surprise. During this time she had become obsessed with bills and expenses, wanted all credit cards to be divided, joint accounts split, to pay her own bills and take care of her own car maintenance, many of the tasks I performed since marriage. She started changing passwords for the computer and email as well as keeping her cellphone at hand. Once confronted with the proof from the computer my wife immediately denied it, then blamed me for intruding into her “personal” data that wasn’t supposed to be read by others.

Later she stated they were just friends, didn’t know how it happened but is over now. Two months later my wife moved out to her own apartment.

When your wife left you, how did you initially cope and how are you currently coping? Have your methods and attitudes changed?

It has been about three months now since she moved. Initially I was devastated but kept a straight face and stayed positive saying things like “you need to do this to feel better” when she left. It was my proactive way of letting her know I cared I guess. I was coping by speaking with my elder siblings and other family members, trying to stay as active as possible both around the house and in social events, trying to eat and sleep right. I continue to research it as that is just my nature. I try to take each day as it comes as many on the forums have suggested since my wife’s mood may change significantly on any given day. A frequent motto is that you can change yourself, you cannot change another. You must take care of yourself and your children (if applicable) since that is the only thing you can control. I am practicing detachment which is a method of keeping me away from the emotional feelings I have for her. Not that I don’t love her, just that I don’t want those feelings to consume me.

Most people who share their stories have struggled through their aberrations, and come out on the other side. I realize that you're still in the thick of it. What value have you found in sharing your emotions and thoughts with others, here and in other forums?

It is cathartic and can often get you through a bad time. Sometimes you need the help of others on the forum; other times you help them by your experiences. It is also good to get suggestions on what you might be doing right (or more often wrong) in dealing with your spouse.

You have several children. How are they dealing with the situation? Sometimes that is the worst aspect of marital issues. As parents, we can't bear to see our children suffer. What approach have you taken thus far, and is it helping?

Fortunately my “children” are all adult aged. This made it a little easier for them to “understand” and for my wife to tell them. She did not want them to be told but since they saw the bizarre behavior in their father (investigating the computer files and phone bills, wondering why she was always on the phone, checking out when she didn’t come home on time) I made it a point that they needed to know and were certainly old enough to handle it, if not understand it (which I continue to struggle with). I saw some pain in them but I think they see more in me as their lives are actively unfolding and maturing.

I'm certainly not an expert on it, but my understanding is that at mid-life we often get smacked in the head with unresolved issues from growing up. Sometimes people joke about mid-life crisis, but isn't it important to deal with unresolved issues? Maybe it's life's way of telling us that time is getting short--get down to business. What are your thoughts on this?

Absolutely- unresolved childhood issues come to the forefront (such as lack of independence, control, mental or physical abuse) but manifest as control issues against the spouse. Normal “life” gets in the way (careers, home purchase, pregnancy, child rearing) and postpones those issues until something jogs our brain and we start looking at the other half of life (downhill stretch) and possibly the endpoint comes into view. In my situation, my wife wanted to do many things that she believes (in an irrational way) I kept her from doing. Not only did I not prevent those things from happening, I encouraged them to be pursued. It was her reluctance to go after her “dreams” (but in truth, they may not have been a strong influence at the time).

What are the top three things that we can do when someone we know is faced with this aberration? Sometimes it's hard to know what to say. What do you wish, hope, or welcome from others?

1) Be supportive of the person’s need to vent without judgment- it is a devastating development, often brought on by surprise. The left-behind-spouse (LBS) doesn’t know where to turn or who to speak with.

2) Don’t start a campaign against the person in crisis so that the LBS feels comfortable and vindicated. You are speaking about their wife/husband who they have been living with and possibly raised a family, often for many years.

3) A multi-faceted reply- Obtain professional help in the form of individual counseling or medical help, take care of self and children, keep active in your church, community, work, do whatever makes you feel good about yourself.

We all want a happily ever after scenario but life doesn't always work that way. Do you think that changing our expectations about what happily ever after means helps us cope?

That is the intention and just one of many coping mechanisms but it is often easier said than done. Many joke about midlife crisis but I would question those who joke if they ever had to deal with it themselves. Some of my friends have described coming from broken homes. When they explain the situation, it is frequently due to a parent having a midlife crisis while they were young and they didn’t understand it but the family got through it. They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Today as you walk through this quagmire you didn't expect to find yourself in, are there any words of hope that you cling to? What keeps you getting up each morning to search for positives?

I look at life a little more positively now. I reflect on what enjoyment I have with my friends and family and life in general since my BFF (my wife) is very distant and for the most part, no longer in the picture. I seek support where I need it, try to stave off depression and expect to look for professional help if it gets too overwhelming. I realize I can only do so much and that I cannot change someone else’s behavior, just my own.

Here are some resources that Jeff found helpful:






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6527212 August 07, 2009

Gender Bender: An Aberration Story

I just wish my ex-husband had the opportunity to be who she really is a whole lot sooner.

When I was a little girl growing up in the Deep South, I wasn't allowed to watch The Sonny & Cher Show; the clothes were just too darn skimpy. However, every now and then, my brother and I were able to sneak a peak. In those brief moments when Cher shook those tassels, feathers, and whatever else she managed to creatively attach to her slim bodacious ta-tas, I was smitten.

I didn't think about how much skin I was taking in; that meant nothing to a six year old with two huge ponytails. But there was something she exuded that meant the whole world to me. Her thin frame and long dark hair reminded me of my mother ... a happy versio
n, singing and smiling. She was absolutely magical. And to top my fantasy off, low and behold, her little blonde daughter bounced across the stage covered in lace and softness. She melted into Cher's thin, loving mother arms with Sonny smiling down upon them. I wanted to be that little girl. I wanted to be part of a celebration, regardless of how tacky or sinful anyone in my southern neighborhood may have thought it was at the time. All I saw was love.

So I watched Chastity grow up, wondering if the love I witnessed would somehow support her journey. When I heard that she was becoming a he, I wasn't surprised. I don't care; I'm still just hoping that the adorable little girl I envied can have her happy ending ... just like I want mine. But after I heard the news of Chastity's sex change, I began to think again about what it all means. I admit that I find it tough to grasp. I love being a woman, and that would stand regardless of who might float my boat from a relationship perspective.

So what happens when someone like me, or you, is greeted by news of gender issues in someone we love? My guest today, Stacey, found herself in just that situation after being married for several years. Of all the long, winding roads life can take, few are as confusing and convoluted as this. How does one emotionally survive the shock, betrayal, confusion, and grief that can often be associated with the gender change of a spouse? Stacey has remarkably agreed to share her story.

While each divorce is unique, yours revolved around an unusual situation. Can you explain?

When my ex-husband and I had been married for seven years and our only child was about three years old, he told me about his feelings of wanting to change genders. This was completely out of the blue. He had not mentioned this before we got married. I always knew he was sensitive and not quite the masculine type, but I didn't realize that he was a woman trapp
ed in a man's body. It was even more of a surprise because we had not had any problems in the bedroom. However, after he shared this revelation, our sex life fizzled to almost nothing. We decided to try to stay together and see if we could make the marriage work. It wasn't until his father, my uncle, and my father all died within a three-month span that I couldn't do it any longer. I needed that physical closeness only my partner could give. Unfortunately, he began pulling away from me even more. That's when I realized the marriage was not a marriage any more. I filed for divorce before our 17th anniversary and it was final four months later.

Most of us have difficultly understanding sex change, much less being married to someone who desires the procedure/operation. When you first learned of your husband's desire to become a woman, how did you react? How did you cope?

A number of things ran through my head. First I wondered if I was woman enough to make him stay a man. If I lost weight, would that make him want me more? It's like the steps in grieving; I was in the bargaining phase. Then I questioned my own sexuality. Am I attracted to women because I want to stay married to him even thought he doesn't want to be a man? Could I continue a relationship with him as a woman? Then, as he started down the road of gender reassignment, I just started feeling nauseous. How could I have loved someone like that? How could I have been intimate with someone who now wants to be a woman? I essentially had a nervous breakdown when he started the process. I couldn't handle it even though we were already divorced by that time.

You remained married for some time after learning of your husband's sexual identity issues. How would you describe the marriage? How did you try to embrace his uniqueness/aberration, from the perspective of being a loyal and loving spouse?

Since we had a young child, I spent more time with her and at work, and tried not to dwell on the fact that my sexual desires were not being met. We
decided to go to therapy to see if we could work out our issues. I became more and more angry about the situation and he became more timid. It was like he was so caught up in the fact that he wasn't in the right body that he didn't realize what was going on around him. I felt that the weight of running the household was on my shoulders, and I was enabling his lazy behavior. It was like we were roommates and not lovers. We became more and more distant, and I suppressed my needs for sexual expression. I eventually began wondering why I was continuing down the path of doing nothing when I was dissatisfied with the relationship. We fought over small things and I began resenting him. I don't think I really tried to embrace his uniqueness at all, but instead hoped that it was something that would go away. It wasn't until 10 years later that I decided I couldn't ignore the fact that our relationship was not the way it used to be.

Like many people, I find the sexual aspects of changing sexual identity confusing. If a man becomes a woman, does he then seek to be with a man? If so, is he homosexual or heterosexual? Did these kinds of questions and issues creep up and how did you deal with them?

Sexual orientation is a separate issue from wanting to change genders. A person can go from male to female and still like women. A person can go from male to female and still like men if he was gay befor
e. My ex had experimented with both men and women (I found this out after I married him as well), and she currently is not sure which way she wants to go or if she wants to have sex at all. She says she's asexual right now. The main issue is that transgendered people are not really accepted by straight people or homosexuals. They are often caught in a type of limbo situation.

Ultimately, you and your husband divorced. While divorce is more common than we'd like, each situation is unique. What ultimately happened and how did you cope?

I was very distraught over my father's death. He was my rock and I was daddy's little girl. My brother had died seven years before and my uncle had died the month before. I had no close male members of my family left. I was trying to lean on my husband to replace what I had with my father, but my husband was not up to that task. I began leanin
g on an ex-boyfriend of mine who was between marriages at the time. My ex-boyfriend had always been my confidante, but this time I was wondering if we could rekindle what we had in the past. He also gave me good advice about whether I should get divorced or not. I was calling him a lot trying to find my way because I felt adrift after my father died. Since my husband couldn't be the man I wanted him to be and I was over 40 by then, I decided I could not live this sham of a marriage any longer. I needed to be able to have a relationship where my partner could be the man I need him to be. I decided to file for divorce and my husband moved out.

Then I had to do all the jobs my ex used to do. I was very angry about this. I also lost his companionship. Questions would come up that I would normally ask him, but then he wouldn't be there to help me with the answer. It took awhile to mourn the relationship. I coped by trying to find guys in bars and in Internet dating services. Neither worked. I lost money on the deal with two of the men I met that way. I was getting discouraged about ever meeting another man that would be good enough for me and would want me at the same time. I was really angry because I married my husband for life and it seemed as if he had stolen the opportunity I could have had with another man and now I couldn't have another man because they didn't want me because I was over 40, overweight, too smart, and too independent. It wasn't until I decided to stop looking for men and joined Facebook that I met my fiance, Kevin. Since meeting him, I have been able to cope with a lot of my problems because I have him in my life. I feel like I can start a new life with him.

What advice can you share with men or women who meet the news that their spouse want to change their sex?

I would say that the man or woman will have to decide whether they want to stay with that spouse and help them through the transition or leave and find another partner. If the transgendered person really feels that they are in the wrong body, that feeling is not going to go away. It's not going to be easy for that person to stay the sex they don't want to be.

I couldn't stay in the relationship because I want a man. However, some spouses are able to stay and appreciate the person regardless of the gender they are. I would encourage the spouse to read up on what transgendered is all about and even see a therapist that specializes in treating people with those feelings. It is a decision that each person has to make on their own. I didn't like having to make the choice I did, but I didn't see any other way to make the marriage work. Now I'm glad I made that choice because I'm struggling to deal with the person who is no longer the man I fell in love with. It's almost like another woman took my husband away and yet she is him. It's something I still struggle with and it's not an easy decision. I would not rush into a decision, but I would not stay in a marriage that's not what both partners want.

What do you think are the top misconceptions about sex change?

I think the biggest misconception is that the person wants to change genders on purpose--that they can make the decision to stay the way they are. This is something the person is born with. Another misconception is that transgendered people are just transvestites. Transvestites can be straight, but just want to wear the other gender's clothes. Sexual orientation is also something that is confusing about transgendered people. They truly are sepa
rate issues. Transgendered people may not change their sexual orientation when they change from one gender to the other. Even though transgendered people are lumped in with the lesbian, gay, bisexual group, they often aren't accepted by gays either. It's almost like they're a group unto themselves.

What do you think are the top misconceptions about divorce? Do we still have them in today's culture?

Divorce is not as much of a stigma as it once was, but I think people fail to understand that a divorce is like a death. I'm still grieving the loss of my marriage and of the relationship I once had with my ex-husband. It's like he died and essentially he did because he does not exist any more. She does now. Also I don't want people to think that I got divorced because I was tired of my husband. I used to think that when couples got divorced, they either should not have gotten married in the first place or that they are not trying hard enough to stay together.

I don't think divorce should be used as an easy way out just like abortion should not be used as birth control. However, sometimes divorce like abortion is necessary and I feel that in my case there was no way to keep the marriage going. The marriage was entered under false pretenses and it took a long time to see that. My ex-husband misrepresented himself and I would probably have grounds to get the marriage annulled if I was into doing that. I don't think a lot of people realize that sometimes divorce is the answer no matter how much the couple has tried to stay together. I think I waited too long to get divorced and should have done it sooner, but I don't think I was ready to be a single parent 10 years ago. I'm much better at being one now with an older child.

One thing I would like to say to the LBGT community is that it would be nice if you could be yourself and not try to pretend that you are straight. At least if you're going to marry a straight person, be open about your sexuality. Let that straight person decide if he or she wants to enter the marriage knowing that it may not be a traditional marriage. I don't think I would have married my ex-husband if I had known he had these feelings. I wish I could have been given that option. I don't regret the child we had together, but I regret that I was unable to have the marriage I wanted. I hope to try again soon, but I do feel that being divorced carries a certain stigma of failure that is hard to live down.

What have you learned through this highly unique situation? What has it ultimately taught you about yourself, life, identity, and relationships?

Well, I have learned to appreciate all kinds of people. When I was growing up, I was around children of all colors because I was a military brat. Some were mixed race even. I did not judge people by the color of their skin or the slant of their eyes. I was not exposed to LGBT people directly. That was not talked about. It wasn't until I was an adult that I even knew anyone who had a different sexual orientation than mine. I wish I had been exposed more because now I have a certain gaydar that I didn't have in the past. I can sense when someone is gay or not. I wasn't able to pick that up in the past. If I had, perhaps I may have recognized it with my ex-husband. I have also learned that people should not be ashamed to say if they are LGBT. I know some people may say that they can't come out because of the prejudice of others. I realize that is the case.

I would like to ask those who have prejudice against LGBT to really ask themselves why they have that prejudice. Are they afraid that the LGBT people are going to convert them to the dark side? Are they afraid that their children will be converted? It's not like that. Having friends in the LGBT community, I've grown to love them for themselves when they can be open about their sexuality. When they have to hide it, it's not comfortable for them or for me. I'm hoping that there will be a day when LGBT people will not have to hide their sexuality any more. What someone does in the privacy of their own home is none of my business. I will not like anyone less because they are LGBT.

I just wish my ex-husband had the opportunity to be who she really is a whole lot sooner. Maybe things would be different between us now. We might have been friends instead of having this antagonism between us. So what I have learned most of all? It is that everyone should be allowed to be themselves without having to worry about whether they will be accepted.

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6527212 June 29, 2009

Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story (Part 2)

...awareness is an absolutely necessary factor in breaking destructive parenting cycles that are handed down to us from our parents.

Welcome back to the ongoing story of Lisa Morguess. Go here for Part 1 of Runaway Lisa: An Aberration Story.
Your first marriage resulted in an abusive situation. How old were you when you married? Were the issues in the marriage, or the dynamic that developed, related to the those that led you to runaway from home as a teen?

I was 19 when I married my first husband, and he was 21. He was the boyfriend I had run away with. The abuse actually started pretty soon after we began living together, but by then I felt pretty trapped; I was far away from a home I couldn’t bear to return to anyway. It is pretty typical, too, for people who grow up in abusive families to see abuse as normal. I grew up watching my father abuse my mother, and being abused myself by both of my parents as well as my mother’s boyfriends and my older brother, so abuse seemed like a normal part of existence, sadly.

When you are in an abusive relationship with a boyfriend/husband, the dynamic is a little different, though. There tend to be enough periods of calm that you hang on to this hope, this belief, that the periods of calm are reality, and the awful periods are aberrations, if you will. Every time he smacked me around, I tried to believe that it would never happen again.

Then, too, there is the typical modus operandi of the abuser: to slowly but surely take away just about every bit of self-esteem and self-respect of their abused. The physical abuse is horrible, but the emotional abuse is more insidious and has much deeper and longer-lasting effects.

My husband was a drug addict and an alcoholic. When we were teenagers, we partied together. I did my share of drinking and getting high. . .but by the time we got married (even before I turned 19) I got to a point where I realized how dangerously we were living and I wanted no part of the drugs and partying anymore (and, in fact, I haven’t touched an illicit drug since then, in over 23 years). He led me to believe that he felt the same way, but it wasn’t long before I realized that he was still doing all of it on the sly, and it became a recurring nightmare of an issue throughout our 12-year marriage. He would tell me that I was the one with the problem. “My drinking wouldn’t be a problem if you didn’t have a problem with it,” he would tell me. “It’s your fault I hit you,” he would tell me. “You bring out the worst in me, you make me do that,” he would say.” “Nobody else would ever put up with you. Nobody even likes you. Everyone says behind your back that you’re nothing but a bitch,” he would say to me. “You’re crazy,” he would tell me. “YOU need help,” he would say. After you’ve heard those things enough times, you begin to believe them.

So, in a nutshell, I would say that his alcohol and drug addiction played a big part in the abuse and the general issues in our marriage. I think he was just naturally a very controlling person, too, and I think now, looking back, that he would have been abusive to anybody he was in a relationship with--not just me. When he and I got together, I was so young and needy, and he clearly wanted somebody to rescue. I think he got off on that whole damsel in distress thing. So he saved me from my family and then his own demons took over. And although I was victimized by him, I grew up, and he never really did--when he died at the age of 33, he was the same exact person he had been at 18. And I think the more I “grew up,” the more determined he was to keep me under his thumb.

How did you find the courage to leave such a destructive relationship and move on?

There are a couple factors that came into play in my finally getting out of the relationship. The first one was our son. We struggled with infertility for the better part of our marriage, and didn’t end up having a child until we had been married for 10 years. After Kevin was born, I realized that it was one thing to put up with that kind of destructive life when it was just me, but it’s a whole different story when there is a child involved. And having grown up watching the horrors of abuse and alcoholism with my own parents, I didn’t want my son to grow up with that. To my knowledge, my husband never abused Kevin, but Kevin certainly witnessed a lot of ugliness. By the time Kevin was born, I think I knew in my heart that the marriage was never going to make it. . .but it’s another matter to find one’s way out of something like that. I tried to get my husband to go to counseling with me--he refused, time and time again (after all, I was the one with the problems, according to him). I begged him to enter rehab--he wouldn’t, even after he finally admitted to me that he was addicted to cocaine. I gave him ultimatums, even leaving him once, only to be coaxed back with empty promises.

The impetus for my finally leaving for good was two-fold: the friendship I had with a guy I worked with at a law firm began to develop into something more than a friendship. I was committed to making my marriage work for far longer than I ever should have; the marriage was over--in every aspect--long before I actually filed papers. Without going into a lot of detail for the sake of privacy, I’ll just say that Michael allowed me to believe, finally, that somebody actually could not only put up with me, but love me, and treat me with kindness, respect, and dignity. That’s an incredibly strong motivator.

The final straw came one evening when my husband grabbed our two-year-old son and disappeared with him overnight. He was clearly on a binge. I was frantic all night, not having any idea where they were. My husband called me from payphones throughout the night, screaming obscenities at me. He returned home with our son the following morning, and I went to see an attorney that day to draw up divorce papers.

What did you learn about yourself though the ordeal? Looking back, do you believe it was part of a unique circuitous path you had to follow to find the great place where you eventually landed?

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself throughout everything is that I am strong. I feel weak at times--who doesn’t? But I’m a survivor. I’ve survived some really terrible things, and I am not only here, but thriving and happy. At the risk of tempting fate by saying so, I feel like I can survive just about anything.

As far as it all being a circuitous path I had to follow to get to where I am now. . . I’m not so sure. I’m sure under different circumstances and with different choices, I could have landed in a good place much sooner than I did. But I will say that the struggles I’ve faced and overcome have certainly made me more appreciative and grateful for my life as it is now. Not a day goes by that I don’t consciously take a moment to reflect and acknowledge how fortunate I am.

How did you meet your current husband? Was it difficult to trust again after such a devastating first marriage?

As I said, I met Michael at work. I had been working as a paralegal for a small law firm for several years, and we hired this guy as a law clerk who was awaiting his bar results. He passed the bar and was given an associate attorney position with the firm. He and I hit it off immediately and became friends--just friends. We were friends for a year and a half before it developed into something more than that.
Yes, it was very difficult to trust again after my first marriage. I had been lied to so much, for so long, and in so many ways. . .yeah, trust was a big issue for a long time when Michael and I got together. And the first couple years of our marriage were rough, in large part because of my “baggage.” We’ve worked very hard to make this marriage work, and it’s all paid off a hundred times over. Michael is my best friend in the world, and in spite of the challenges our family is now facing, I love my life, and I feel like this is the happiness I was waiting for for so long.

You have six kids now! Did you always want to have such a large family?

I never dreamed I would have this many kids! I will say, though, that I loved being pregnant so much the first time, that when Kevin was born I instantly decided that I’d love to have ten kids! With my first marriage falling apart the way it did, though, I got to a point where I had to accept that I might never have another child. Then Michael and I got married, and he was eager to be a dad (and he took on the role of dad to Kevin from the get-go, even making vows to Kevin at our wedding).

We never set out to have six kids. I think early on, we talked about having a total of three kids (including Kevin). By the time Michael and I got married, we were both already approaching our mid-thirties, so we didn’t feel we should wait too long to get started on expanding our family. So Joey was born a couple weeks shy of our first wedding anniversary. When Joey was about 18 months old, we were ready to try for a third, and we got one of the biggest surprises of our lives: twins! Even after four kids, we weren’t sure if we felt “done,” and it’s funny because I still remember having this long, serious discussion when the twins were about 16 months old: should we have another, or shouldn’t we? We agreed to wait until the twins turned two to make a decision, but a couple weeks later I found out that I was already pregnant. So Lilah was born shortly after the twins turned two, and then when Lilah was a year old, I became pregnant again, with Finn (so obviously we were still open to having another, although he was a surprise, in more ways than one).

Your youngest son has Down syndrome. How has your family had to adjust to ensure he is well cared for and given the attention he needs?

We did not find out that Finn has Down syndrome until after he was born, and it was quite a devastating shock, probably made worse by the fact that he was a planned home birth and had to be rushed to the hospital when he was less than a day old and had major surgery the day after he was born and then spent two weeks in the NICU. I think the adjustment our family has had to make concerning Finn has been much more of an emotional adjustment than a logistical one. When you are expecting a baby, you have expectations of what that baby is going to be like, and on some level, you map out his life even before he’s born - you imagine him learning to walk, talk, going to school, playing baseball, learning to drive a car, growing up, going to college, getting married, and having children of his own. When you receive a diagnosis like Down syndrome, a lot of your dreams and expectations are shattered . . . and a lot of them you might think are shattered but really aren’t at all. So there was a whole grief process that I went through; I grieved for the baby I thought I was going to have. It never interfered with my love for and acceptance of Finn - I’ve felt this fierce love and protection for him since he was born - but it’s a process of accepting a new reality. My husband didn’t have as tough a time as I did with the diagnosis - maybe because he worked with people with various disabilities for many years, so it didn’t seem so foreign and frightening to him, maybe because he’s just a much more laid back, accepting person, I don’t know. The kids have been very accepting, and honestly, the youngest kids still don’t really understand what Down syndrome is, and I don’t think they feel like Finn is “different” in any way - he’s just their baby brother.

Practically speaking, there haven’t been a whole lot of adjustments to be made. Finn’s a baby - not even a year old yet, so for the most part, he just does what babies do. He’s had a couple of surgeries, and he has a physical therapist who comes over once a week to help him achieve his gross motor skills, but other than that, he doesn’t require any more specialized care or attention than any other baby. I’m sure that as he gets older, we’ll have to make more adjustments as his needs change, but it’s a gradual process.

How did your experiences as a runaway, and as a partner in an abusive marriage, prepare you for the stress involved in having such a large family, including a set of twins and a child with a disability?

Like I said: I’m a survivor. Every challenge I’ve overcome and every heartbreak I’ve lived through has shown me that I’m made of pretty tough stuff. Having a large family, having twins, having a child with a disability. . . those are all big challenges, but they’re also things that enrich my life to a much greater degree than the challenges they present.

Do you believe that your teen and young adult experiences will help you be a better parent to your kids, particularly as teens?

I think those experiences have definitely made me more aware--and awareness is an absolutely necessary factor in breaking destructive parenting cycles that are handed down to us from our parents. That said, I fail sometimes. I fall short of being the parent I want to be, the parent my kids deserve. And at those times when I know I’ve failed, I think about what my experiences as a young person were, and how I felt, and I endeavor to be accountable, make amends to my kids, and purposefully parent them in a positive manner.

When you ran away from home as a teen, did you ever imagine that your life would one day be filled with so much love?

No, I never imagined it. I spent the better part of my life--into my thirties, waiting for happiness to find me, and believing it never would. And it wasn’t until my first marriage fell apart that I realized that happiness doesn’t find anyone, you have to make your own happiness.

Now, I truly feel like I’m living the life I always wanted to have, even with all the challenges we face as a family.
Come back on July 3rd for Part 3 of Lisa's story.

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6527212 September 16, 2008

A Bond Beyond the Realm

I’ve been married for seventeen years. When I met my husband, he had just turned 24. Somehow he'd made his way from a small town in the Pennsylvania coal region down to Louisiana for grad school. Soon after the culture shock set in, he ran into the likes of me, a single 22-year-old Southern belle with a 3-month old baby on my knee. We both had big dreams, his fashioned after Norman Rockwell and mine looking more like a Picasso. When he told a wise-ass friend he’d give him a nice punch in exchange for the next crack about me having a baby, I knew he was my match. Like a knight in shining armor, he led me away from the painful places I’d roamed and showed me a world where I could harness my spirited soul and mold it into something productive.

It hasn’t always been easy. We’re both flawed and like everyone, at times we struggle to focus on the positives. Sometimes, we both want to run away, pulling our hair out, but we always find our way back to the beautiful world we’ve created together.

It seems to me that a lot of married folks forget the part about sticking it out when hit with the for worse. For Better is easy. Heck, it’s great! I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of considering a towel toss when things got tough. Marriage is complex, each one as unique as the united individuals. I won’t judge anyone’s decisions because I know how sweet and how tough it can be, and how those emotions can coil so tightly that we’re safe and warm one day, one year, one decade, and then unable to breath the next. If we’re lucky, we find a way to loosen and tighten those coils as needed. For some, it just doesn’t work. I won’t pretend to know why nor will I ask whether they tried hard enough. There are no guarantees in life, or marriage, for me or anyone.

Is it just me, or does society seem to push an extremely mixed message about marriage these days? When I was growing up in the South, divorce was considered sinful, and the kids who lived through it seemed to either walk around in shame, or constantly act out for attention. By the time I became a teenager in the late 70's, it seemed a bit more acceptable. When my parents divorced in 1985, I hardly batted an eyelash, thankful to be done with it. But subconsciously, I felt as if the little life I had was being sucked away. I was floating in a vacuum, searching for something to hang on to. At nineteen, I could have been the poster child for the directive, “Get a life!”

Where had my life gone and what had it been about in the first place? Where do our lives go when divorce comes in like a tidal wave wiping out everything we had or thought we had? These days it seems that while we know it’s damaging to our children, divorce seems to be a decent fix for discontent and poor choices. The truth is that sometimes people do marry for the wrong reasons. Are they supposed to keep hanging on because of a piece of paper, or money and time invested? Or should they move on, salvaging what’s left of their lives to find a better situation?

Mac, one of the characters in Aberrations is an adulterer. Why does he stay in a marriage he shouldn’t have entered in the first place, and why would someone want to date a married guy? Well, he doesn’t want to face his mistake: marrying for the wrong reason. He doesn’t want to be the kind of person that would make that mistake. He struggles to understand how he feels, what he should do, and what that means about him. His dilemma exposes the question of whether one should always do what society says is the right thing versus what is right for the individual. When they don’t mesh, society can be unforgiving. In this case, loneliness causes Angel to do things others may not consider, such as getting involved with a married man--an unsafe situation. But for her, Mac is safe because he understands her condition, a major issue for her. They are uniquely drawn to each other, as many of us are, in ways that float above and beyond the realm of right versus wrong, black and white, logic, or rules.

Someone told me recently that the bond between husband and wife can be similar to that of parent and child. Now there’s a bond that forms well beyond the realm. If you come across a cuter, smarter, or more well-behaved kid, you wouldn’t consider trading yours in, now would you? Perhaps the real test of marriage is whether or not that type of unbreakable bond took. If not, is it too late? Is there a law of nature that says the bond must form in the first sixty days, or the first ten years? I don’t think so. Who wrote the rules of marriage anyway? Was it Dr. Phil, Oprah, your pastor, priest or rabbi? Frankly, the rules seem simple, and fairly nebulous. Norman and I prefer to create our own. We won’t expect you to live by ours so please don’t expect us to live by yours. As for Mac, I think he makes the right decision in Aberrations.

As for me, I think I’ll stick with my Rockwell for as long as he can stand to wake up each day with a Picasso hanging over his head.

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