It was inevitable I suppose. It was what I’d been expecting since I found out that E and P had married. I expected it to feel like a punch to the guts. But when I was told that E and P were expecting a baby, I just laughed.
The circumstances under which I found out, probably contributed to my reaction. It was my 50th birthday. I was at Court. We hadn’t expected E to show up but he had. The shock of being in the same room as him was pretty much all I could deal with. My lawyer had gone to speak to him to try and arrange something before we went before the Judge. She came back with the news that he and P had just found out that they were expecting a baby. I think my exact words were a slightly resigned: “well, we could see that one coming from a mile off”. I guess my laughter might have been slightly hysterical, but actually, I really wasn’t hurt or upset. I wasn’t even shocked. I didn’t really care. In the scheme of things, in the light of everything I was trying to deal with, E’s latest life choices meant nothing to me.
The first thing that really hit me (probably because I was at Court, trying to sort my/our finances) was the fact E was practically bankrupt, and deciding to have a child, when he already had four children to support (at least technically, he hadn’t actually been supporting them at all for a year of course) was probably the most insanely irresponsible thing I’ve ever heard of. For the first time, since he left, I began to seriously consider the idea that, perhaps P really loved him. Somewhat unkindly, I could never work out what someone as attractive as she is could see in someone as not-as-attractive-as-her as him, I’d always kind of assumed that he’d got lucky and she’d fallen for a gilded image that hid the pathetic reality of who he really was. After all, he’d managed to pull at least two attractive students of his already (one whilst he was seeing P) and I was pretty sure it wasn’t his devastating good looks they’d fallen for. It had never once occurred to me that she might find him attractive for no reason other than himself (I’d made that mistake, but that was when we were both so young, it didn’t occur to me that someone as young as her, with so many ‘options’ on the dating market, would do the same) The idea that she might know of his financial mess and had still decided to have a child with him was slightly perplexing (and suggested she must have some financial means of her own). But, disbelief at the financial mess he was getting into, was really the least of my concerns. It was his problem. It was P’s problem not mine.
Of course, the enormity of the implication of this for my children soon began to hit home. One of the first thing the kids had asked when E had left was if he would have more children, but to them, it had seemed a funny thing, an impossibility. When Youngest Daughter had announced she was pregnant, I think all of them said “E is next” but it was a joke a bit of bleak humour, not something they actually thought would happen – their Dad was about to be a Grandad, the idea of him being a Dad again too seemed preposterous to them.
When I got home from Court (full of hope, E had agreed to pay child maintenance and to get back to my lawyer, I really thought I’d made some progress), I emailed E congratulating him. After all, a baby is always a blessing, and I wanted to make it clear that I had no hard feelings. I really hoped it might mark a turning point. After all, the baby marked a pretty definitive moving forwards in his life, I was so optimistic that this meant I’d also be able to move forward with mine.
It was early days, but I decided to tell the kids that night. It might not have been the wisest decision, and I think with a little hindsight, I should have delayed telling them (I suppose I could have let E tell them, but given the fact he’d not mentioned his marriage for nearly a year, I figured that this one was down to me). Oldest Daughter was away at University, so I texted her. She was shocked and upset. Her reaction took me aback a bit. I’d kind of expected her to take it with the same sense of resignation and humour that I had, but I’d not taken into account that she was E’s child herself. She was the first of all of us to realise the implications of this new baby – her texts came thick and fast – she would have a sister or brother, she love that sister or brother, but the people who had created that sister or brother had made her life a misery. She hadn’t seen her dad for nearly three years and in that time he’d got married without telling her and now he was having a baby, she was now linked, by blood with P. P was no longer someone remote and other, she was the mother of her new sibling. They were connected. Forever connected. Before now P had just been a vague figure that she didn’t have to have anything to do with. Now, P was the mother of her sister or brother and that complicated things so much. She wondered if her Dad would support this new child at University. in the way he’d never supported her. Her hurt was raw, but her love for the new child was instinctive and not governed by her feeling about her dad and P. She was already a big sister to three, to her being a big sister to four was as easy as falling off a log, it was essential to who she was. The fact that this new sibling relationship was going to be complicated by everything that had happened, by her complex feelings about her dad, made something that should be so easy incredibly difficult.
The person I was most worried about telling was Youngest Daughter, Newly pregnant herself, she had only just started rebuilding her relationship with her Dad. I was concerned that she might see this as a betrayal, of someone taking something that was ‘hers’ away from her. However, as ever, with Youngest Daughter, I she went the opposite way to the direction I’d expected her to go in. She was delighted. She thought it was brilliant that her baby and her sister or brother would be in the same year at school (!). She embraced the idea. I was surprised, but relieved.
Youngest Son, was shocked, but took the news with his usual humour and a roll of his eyes. I think, for him, it was the latest in a catalogue of stuff where his Dad had done things that could radically change his life without considering him. Moving out, getting married, not paying any child maintenance, not seeing him very often, sitting back and watching whilst he nearly lost his home are all things Youngest Son seems to have taken in his stride. He seems able to compartmentalise things much more efficiently than his siblings and I – he can push the bad stuff into one box, and get on with everything else. In some ways this isn’t always good – when he gets upset about his Dad, he gets really upset, but most of the time, it lets him get on with his life and focus on the positive things without being dragged down by the negative ones. I’m not convinced this is always the best way for him to deal with things long term, but it helped on this occasion.
Oldest Son was really hurt. Rather like when I told him his Dad had left nearly three years ago. he went pale. He didn’t really say anything. He blinked, and muttered something about ‘fucking stupid’ and left the room. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this marked the beginning of a downward slope for Oldest Son’s mental health as well as his perception of and relationship with this Dad, that I’m still dealing with the consequences of now. Unlike the others Oldest Son had tried so hard to remain impartial, to stand up for his Dad, to always see the good in him, but this seemed to be the final straw. Just a few days later, after he’d had a couple of beers, he came down to talk to me. He told me ‘he was done’ with his Dad and wanted nothing more to do with him. I tried to reassure him, I told him is Dad was an idiot, but that he loved his kids. Oldest Son just shrugged and said ‘he should be telling me that, not you’. He then talked for quite some time about how he was feeling. He didn’t understand how his Dad could act like he was acting if he loved him, He told me that he wanted to make sure that he got married when he was older so he could never treat anyone like E had treated me, He told me that he was worried that he was like his Dad and that he’d hurt someone badly one day. I didn’t know what to say. Oldest Son is the sort of person that thinks deeply about things and doesn’t talk much. He was laying his soul bare – he was so hurt. I think he’d tried so hard to always see the good in his Dad, but he’d now done a similar 180 to Youngest Daughter. She’d gone from loathing her Dad to worshipping him in a matter of days. He’d gone from worship to despair, but it had taken him three years. I told him that he was a good kid and that I was sure he’d change his mind. I reassured him again and again that his Dad loved him (something I have to believe is true) and that nothing E had done was directed against him. But Oldest Son just wouldn’t have it. He loped back to his room and I sat there trying to work out what to do, what I could say, to make him feel better. Once again, E’s decisions were impacting upon my life, my relationships with my children and creating so many things for me to deal with.
I’d told the kids not to tell anyone, after all it was early days and it wasn’t really our news to share. But as the months went on, it became clear E hadn’t told his family. Every time his parents visited, I had to warn the kids not to say anything. This made us feel guilty, complicit. In the end E didn’t tell his family until Mid-March, and apparently, he did it by text, in such a cryptic way that, apparently, they weren’t sure if they’d already had the baby. I’m not sure how they feel about it (well, I’m pretty sure they’ll be delighted about the baby, I’m just not sure how they’ll feel about the baby being born to a son/brother they haven’t seen for three and a half years and to the wife that they haven’t met yet), but I’m sure that having not been invited or even told about his wedding, this will feel like another betrayal.
I suppose my feelings about the baby are largely irrelevant. Technically, she (it’s a girl) isn’t really anything to do with me and I still don’t really have any strong feelings about E and P having a baby, at least not in terms of personal emotional hurt. However, whether I like it or not, whether she likes it or not, this little girl and I are intimately linked. She is going to be my children’s’ sister. She is going to be as closely linked to them as I am. They are going to love her as much as they love me. In a funny sort of way, she’s part of my family. because she’s part of my kids. My anxieties lie in the fact that my children will want her to be as much a part of their little group as they already are. There’s a great big loving welcome waiting for this little girl from her sisters and brothers. I worry that E and P won’t allow that closeness. I worry that E and P will split up and, if E’s behaviour towards my children is anything to go by, she will drift out of his life, and therefore out of my children’s’. I worry that E has done so much damage that the four children he has with me won’t get the same sibling relationship with their new sister because they don’t see him and I know how much this will hurt them. I’m guessing there will be more babies in the future – P is only 30, just a year older than I was when I had Oldest Daughter, and that with more children will be more heartache.
I know that when I see pictures of this baby, this baby who has nothing to do with me, that my heart will melt a little because she shares features and personality traits with my children. I’m worried that this baby, this child who is so innocent of all the heartache her parents have caused, will never know how amazing her brothers and sisters are. I’m scared for her that one day her Dad will let her and her Mum down as much as he’s let my children and I down, and that if he does, that might end her and my children’s chances of being proper siblings, siblings in the way that they know it – a tight knit group of brothers and sisters who hate each other sometimes, but are always there for each other and who love each other deeply. I hope for her sake and theirs that they can have this kind of relationship and it will break my heart if they can’t.
I know how much having children changed the way I thought about almost everything and I sometimes wonder if, when P has the baby, she might wonder how she’d feel if her child was hurt the way my children have been. I wonder if it might make her re-evaluate the decisions she made when she knowingly became involved with a man with a partner and four children and the devastating effects of being involved in breaking up that unit. I don’t blame her for the split, but at some point, whatever lies she was told, she decided she was more important than four children. I wonder if having a baby might make her understand what that decision meant? Most of all though, I hope she’s fierce. She’s choosing to have a baby with a man she has already seen refuse to financially support his kids, with a man who rarely sees his children, with a man she knows has lied to his partner again and again and with a man who is financially crippled. Frankly, that takes courage, and I hope she keeps her nerve – she’ll probably need it.
Most of all though, I think about the baby. This new life, so close in age to my Grandson. None of this is her fault. She deserves the best and most brilliant life and I genuinely hope that her Dad never hurts her the way he’s hurt my children.