This originally appeared on Role/Reboot and has been republished with full permission.
By KATERINA ZACHARIA
The day my daughter was conceived, I knew the love in my relationship was gone. We weren’t trying to get pregnant on that day. It was one of those rare pre-cum moments. We never even completed the act. After five years of unprotected sex and a steadfast commitment to the pull-out method, I got pregnant on nothing more than pre-cum. My daughter’s name means “victorious one” for that very reason.
I was absolutely thrilled. I was 34 years old, and had been with my ex-husband, Del, for five years. I had invested so much into our partnership that I stayed despite the deep dysfunctions. I believed if I left and entered the single scene again, I would lose all chances of having children. I thought it was too late to start over again.
A month later, my ex-husband proposed to me with a now-that-you’re-pregnant-we-should-get-married type of line. I agreed and to this day I have no idea why. I don’t even believe in lawful marriage.
The day my daughter was born, I sat in the hospital riding the hormonal roller coaster that is the day a mother’s milk comes in. I was weeping, distraught, frightened, in pain, and feeling utterly unfit to be a mother. As I wept out loud, my husband looked at me and shushed me sternly, “Calm down. Quiet your voice. You are going to disturb the other mother in the room.”
In that moment, all the qualities that I despised in my husband but had intentionally ignored exploded into my brain. I shook violently and yelled “From here on out, you have our backs. No one but this little baby and I come first. Not your dead family. Not your social justice mission. Not your community. You need to have our backs first, not everyone else’s.”
I despised him in that moment. And, quite honestly, he must have felt the same sense of hate toward me. He seethed quietly in the corner.
But, in that moment when my milk was burning up and engorging my breasts, I saw the truth I had avoided for so long. For the sake of my daughter, I started my own revolution. On her second day of life in a stuffy hospital room with my bleeding, cracked nipples, I began to write a new storyline into the “Del and Kat Show.” Same set. Same Del. Different Kat. New cast member, Jaya.
Even though our marriage was done, the outside world remained devoted to the idea of a couple they believed we embodied. “If any couple should bring children into this world, it’s you guys.” I had heard people say, “That first year of the baby’s life is the toughest on the marriage. Don’t make any rash decisions.” So, I stayed.
Our sex life was dead. All intimacy was gone. I had no respect for him. When he talked about work, I’d glaze over and think to myself, “Are you that unimaginative, boring, and incompetent?” When he climbed into bed at night, I stiffened up and scooted to the edge of the bed. Not that he ever tried to touch me. I’m certain his love for me was as dead as mine for him.
But still I stayed. I wanted another child. If I wasn’t going to get marital bliss, god damnit I would get babies.
A month before my daughter completed her second year of life, I was getting out of bed to take an early morning shower. Del turned to me and said, “Wait, don’t you have an agenda this morning?” I was ovulating.
“Hop back in bed.” I did, and imagining another man beneath me, we had sex for the first time since I had gotten pregnant with my daughter. It was all my fertile body needed. I became pregnant with my son. The hugs of joy we shared upon hearing the news were fake, affected.
Then, we packed up and moved to New Zealand for work. A great extension of the “Del and Kat Show,” compelling those in our audience who had grown uncomfortable with the tensions they saw seeping through the ripped seams of our façade.
When we arrived in New Zealand, Del had already been there two months. Jaya was 2, I was four months pregnant and we were exhausted. After a long international flight, we climbed into the exorbitantly expensive car Del had purchased. Jaya, in her weariness, forgot to say thank you to my husband and he let her have it.
I turned to him with disdainful calm said, “A 2-year-old does not need to say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ after a 20-hour flight.” He looked at me in rage and said, “Bitch, you can get back on the plane and take our kids with you.”
Then and there, 9,000 miles from home, I divorced him spiritually, emotionally, physically, and cursed myself for ever getting married in the first place. Still, I stayed. I’d left my home, business, health insurance, and dignity back in the United States. I was ashamed to return home.
A year after my son was born, the kids and I left. My husband had grown violent. He lost his job, and refused to leave. I practically did pirouettes down the tarmac as we walked to the airplane. I finally felt free.
Here’s what I know about my marriage: There were signs before we had children that we weren’t compatible for the long haul. Our emotional playing fields were completely different. But, the longer the “Del and Kat Show” ran, the easier it was to set aside what seemed like minute differences. I know that it is within the mundane where we can really access compatibility. My ex-husband and I were both big personalities doing good work. All the big stuff lined up well, but the severe differences in our morals, beliefs, and values were obvious in the menial realities of the day-to-day.
When our children arrived on set, the mundane took a front seat and marginalized the big work we did. Our competing priorities and beliefs blew up on us. All the flaws in the foundation of our bond grew into massive cracks that we could not seal. In the end, the dissolution of our marriage had nothing to do with the kids and everything do with what we never really had.
Katerina Zacharia is a media executive, teacher, anthropologist, storyteller and sole parent raising two children on her own. She is passionate about her work in media, diversity, and workforce development, her children Jaya and Demitri, her friendships and family, and keeping her sanity. She has no nanny. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Did the birth of your children affect how you felt about your partner?