Memoir: The Joy of Ex

Divorce is the kiss of death for a relationship—or maybe not. Can a medical crisis heal the wounds of the past?

by Anna Monardo
divorce reconciliation
Photograph: Brian Cronin

Months down the road in our fragile reconciliation, X and I realized that one of the main reasons we’d felt compelled to come together postdivorce was that we couldn’t move forward in any direction until we mourned the babies we’d lost through miscarriage. X suggested we plant a memorial garden in my backyard. Rather than daisies or other flowers commonly associated with infants, I chose irises. Those complicated inside-out blooms seemed more appropriate to our situation. Though X and I continued to get along so well that we sometimes joked about marrying each other again, we both knew we couldn’t go backward. Every few weekends, we visited in his town or mine. I grieved with him, I grieved alone. Trying to figure out if I should or could or should not become a single mother, I talked to doctors about new regimens of fertility drugs and other medical options, but none felt right for me. And then one autumn Sunday morning over long-distance phone, I admitted to X that I was making lists of all the opportunities that would be available to me if I lived out my days as a childless person: I could travel, buy cashmere, live in Paris. “But I can’t do it,” I cried. “I can’t give up the idea of being a mother.”

“But you shouldn’t give it up,” X said. “You already are a mother. You just have to figure out how to make it happen.”

Even after so many failures, X still believed I had a chance. And if I was, as he said, already a mother, didn’t that qualify me to step in and sweep my arms around an already-born baby who needed a mother? Already. All ready. With those words, the seed of the idea of adoption was firmly planted in my heart. Two and a half years later, I adopted a four-month-old baby, Leo.

X did notbecome my son’s adoptive father, nor did he become a father figure to him. They’ve never met and most likely never will. X was with me right up until I reached the threshold of motherhood, but a few months before I got word from Vietnam of my baby’s birth, our reconciliation ended. The arguments had begun again. Our good intentions and mutual attraction had run out. Was it the weekend X visited and saw the high chair in my kitchen? The day I got lost among the racks of tiny clothes at the Carter’s outlet? Did he begin to feel left out? Bored? And was I kidding myself? I had ended the marriage and opted for single motherhood, yet I’d hoped that X, in some murky role as “friend of family,” would stay by my side. Was there logic in that? What I know for sure is that couples are ever inventive in the ways they manage to disappoint each other. There was one last fiery clash, and then X and I moved on separately to the next lives we were meant to live. I hear that he has remarried. I wish him well, as I do his boys, who are now men and thriving.

Leo is 11. He loves science. Recently, he asked me, “Do I have to believe in God? There’s no proof, so how can I believe?”

“Honey, no one can ever tell you what to believe. That’s the whole point of belief. It comes from inside you.” I told him the truth as I know it, yet I kept thinking there was something more I wanted to say on this topic—something about mystery and faith, which may not be part of science but which have been, at times, very real in my life.

Then the other day, picking through the Legos piled deep in our sunroom turned playroom, trying to remember what the house looked like before it became a toy pit, I flashed on the memory of that odd long-ago weekend when this tiny room with the daybed and TV was transformed into a sickroom, syringe wrappings and IV tubing scattered across the floor, and I realized that though Leo never saw that scene, it’s always here with us. Like a single thread of color woven into the pillow coverings of our playroom, that IV weekend—and the generous love it inspired—is a pointillist pinpoint in the fabric of our family life.

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