"I had an affair with a married man. And then I fell pregnant."

don’t really believe that everything happens for a reason. That’s just something people say to make you feel better, or to help them make sense of seemingly senseless things. Instead, I think it’s a lot more honest to say that we decide to give meaning (or not) to whatever happens in our lives.

Nearly seven years ago, I got involved with a writer who was in the midst of building up his blog and social media presence. We connected through Facebook, and he came in very fast, hard, and heavy in a way that seemed to meet all of my ideals for romance.

The reality, of course, was that our relationship was far from ideal. He was married with three kids, and I was far from the only woman he chased through social media.

Back then, I was especially broken and naive when it came to romantic love. Despite his marital status and habit of lying, everything about him appealed to my brokenness. We were both very good at lying to ourselves and ascribing meaning to our connection that we merely wanted to be there.

It was an addictive and codependent relationship. We fed off of the other person in different, but complementary ways.

He had a long history of cheating and various heartbreaking affairs. In May of 2013, he revealed our affair to his closest guy friend, who urged him to come clean. Instead, he told his wife that he wanted a divorce, insisted there was nobody else in the picture, and then drove to see me.

After his visit, he took me with him. It was a fantasy. I left my whole life behind to build a new life with this man who I now think would have made the same move with practically anyone else.

He wanted out of his marriage, and I wound up being the girl he left with. It was all about the timing, and I think, the fact that out of all the affairs he’d had, I was the only childless woman who didn’t care whether or not she had kids.

Because I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) after years of Lupron injections for precocious puberty, multiple doctors told me I would probably never carry a healthy baby to term.

In my mid twenties, I had an abortion for what turned out to be an empty sac pregnancy. That doctor repeated the idea that I wasn’t “built” for pregnancy.

I’d mostly made peace with the notion of never being a mother. In those days, the one thing I wanted most out of life was romantic love. And kids seemed to get in the way of that, anyway.

We briefly discussed birth control, but since our affair existed inside of a fantasy, he was unphased to hear I wasn’t on the Pill. Since he “didn’t want anything between us,” condoms were out. And he was satisfied with the notion that I probably couldn’t have a healthy baby.

Though, he made plenty of jokes and musings about how our life with kids would be so much better than his previous life with kids. We’d be cool parents, he often said.

The things we used to say to each other now make me cringe. We were idiots. I justified the beginning of our affair because he and his wife were “clearly unhappy”. I thought that a love like ours only happens once in a lifetime.

I was mistaken, of course, but I would have done just about anything for him.

If you’re approaching middle age like me, you might recall the old Meatloaf song, ‘I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)’. Our relationship lived in that sort of falsely idyllic bubble.

Just a week after my 32nd birthday, we had been living together for three months when I found out that he was actively cheating. I picked up his phone to use it and saw new text messages from old lovers, new lovers, and the worst part of it all was seeing how he was giving them the same lines he used to give me about his wife.

Basically, he told them that he was lonely and his girlfriend starved him for attention. The blood drained from my face because we spent virtually every possible moment together. We were only separated when we were at work or when he was with his kids every other weekend. I initiated sex and never said no. He bragged about how happy he was with our life on Facebook.

In the haze of “love”, I couldn’t understand what on earth he needed from me to not cheat. I didn’t know where I was missing the mark.

And because I was still locked in that place where I’d do anything for love, I didn’t even take a beat to process the texts. Instead, we talked about it, cried, and had sex.

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In the heat of the moment, I wanted him to know just how much I cared. So, I told him that he didn’t have to pull out. I wasn’t thinking ahead to the possibility of consequences. All I cared about was proving to him how much I loved him (as if I had somehow failed him and needed to make things right).

And apparently, that’s all it took. To the best of our knowledge, our daughter was conceived the one time he didn’t pull out during sex.

really hate the phrase “child of an affair”, but it’s certainly better than “product of an affair”, or a term like “bastard”. It’s frustrating, though, because child of affair can mean so many different things. And it never tells the full story.

He was separated, but still married. His divorce wasn’t finalised until I was several weeks pregnant, and in fact, his ex-wife’s lawyer brought up my pregnancy to the judge to illustrate how he was already moving on.

To be fair, our daughter was conceived in love, as misguided as it was. Her father and I lived together and were building a new life. He was in therapy, and making attempts to lead a more honest existence.

Part of what he loved about me was the way I could see the best in him. I told him that he didn’t have to lead a mismatched and tumultuous life. His inner and outer lives could be congruent.

But he had to make that choice. Nobody else could do it for him. And that’s not what he chose.

The pregnancy was hard on me. I battled deep prenatal depression and anxiety. I had to see high-risk obstetricians, and wound up spending a lot of time in the hospital or ER due to suicidal ideation, an incompetent cervix, and later, severe preeclampsia.

Although I continued to love my daughter’s dad for a couple of years after she was born, the pregnancy changed everything between us rather instantly. I finally discovered what I wouldn’t do for love. And I couldn’t keep seeing him in his best light when I needed him to be emotionally there and actively supportive.

We conceived our daughter in mid August and he left me three months later. I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons why he left, starting with the fact that our relationship was a fantasy from the start.

But with the pregnancy, we started to fight, mostly because I realised it wasn’t all about us anymore. The bubble was burst, and I was positive that even if I wound up having an abortion, nothing would be the same between us again.

It wasn’t, and he hated that I no longer saw the best in him.

When faced with the choice to continue the pregnancy, terminate it, or consider adoption, I think motherhood was the only thing I could choose in that moment, not because it was “meant to be,” but because it would require the most out of me.

At the time, however, it was hard to see through the fog to make sense of anything.

In four months, our daughter is going to turn six. My relationship with her father now seems like a lifetime away.

It’s hard to believe that I was ever that person who depended upon a man so much that she nearly threw her life away on more than one occasion.

And it’s equally hard to see my former self and tell her to stop weeping over a fantasy. I know damn well that if I could go back in time to tell her that what she was feeling wasn’t real love would never be believed.

Back then, I wanted to believe in a love that was worth my own destruction. I wanted passion that was bigger and better than anything I ever could have dreamed. It was foolish, and I can’t make any excuses. I was wrong, and I made a lot of terrible choices in those days.

The best choice I ever made (for me) was becoming a mum, and that’s still really strange to wrap my head around today.

Lately, my daughter is very much into birth stories. She wants to know what it was like when I was pregnant, and how I had to be induced five weeks early to save our lives. She’s interested in hearing how the labour took 38 hours and why she spent her first two weeks of life in the NICU.

Right now, she is full of questions, but I know that one day, those questions are going to change. She will want to know more about the pregnancy and why I didn’t fill out a baby book back then. She might wonder why I have no pictures from those days.

She’ll also want to know more about the relationship between myself and her dad. And I think it’s only natural that one day, I’ll have to be honest about the tougher truths.

It’s not as if her origins are a secret, and I was certainly not her father’s last affair. But I know it’s also not going to be the easiest thing to hear even when she’s old enough to really hear it.

My daughter is “the child of an affair”, but that isn’t her identity. Much like “I was once the other woman”, but that’s not who I actually am.

Of course, the biggest difference in all of this is that my daughter didn’t have any choice, while I always did.

People love to say that everything happens for a reason. They love to say it to me.

Back when I was still heartbroken over my daughter’s father, people thought it was helpful to tell me that God gave me the love and family I always longed for. As if my daughter exists to save me. Or to fulfil my desires.

I have a very hard time looking at parenthood that way. And an even harder time seeing my daughter in that kind of light.

When I look at my child, I see someone whom I brought into this world through my own choices. As a result, I believe I owe her the very best of me.

Along with age-appropriate honesty.

So, no. I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. But I do believe that we get to decide what everything means in our lives.

Having my daughter was a turning point in mine. Not because it was meant to be, and not because it could ever be her role to change me.

But her birth gave me the opportunity to quit living just for myself. And her needs helped burst the bubble of fantasy I lived in with her father.

Becoming her mother has helped me to see the best in myself and to choose the best for us instead of looking for others to save me. Building our bond has taught me how completely wrong I was about romantic love.

And that’s not anything like fate or destiny. It’s something so much better.

It’s honesty.

This article originally appeared on Medium and was republished here with full permission. 

You can read more from Shannon Ashley on Medium, or follow her on Twitter