‘What other first-time mom has to go through this?’ This was going to be messy.’: Divorcee marries widower, adopts stepdaughter, ‘It was worth every hurdle’

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“A surprising package… becoming a mom for the first time was not quite how I’d imagined it. It wasn’t the tiny baby wrapped up in a pure white blanket, the perfectly decorated nursery, the special little trinkets, and handmade gifts all about. In fact, it wasn’t even with the man who I thought would be the father to my children; he had long since left. Left me in a house too big for one and with a broken heart. For me, becoming a mom for the first time came with pigtails, a crazy little donkey t-shirt, and all the fun and laughter that only a 3-year-old can bring. The moment I turned around in the car to see a little face beaming at me is a moment that is etched on my heart forever.

The first time I became a wife, I was just 19 years old. I married my childhood sweetheart. I was pretty content in the beginning. Our military lifestyle did cause some challenges and I was studying for a degree at the time, which meant lots of commuting. We were happy on the occasions we were together but eventually grew apart. We lasted 7 years and I had changed a lot during that time. Fast forward to 2012, I found myself coming to terms with my second divorce. I was 36 years old. I remember feeling totally hopeless, I had failed… again. Would I get to be married happily ever after? Would I ever get to be a mother?

The age thing weighed very heavily on my mind and I felt like I was starting all over again. I partly blame our society for this, like finding a partner, owning a house, and having children is the recipe for happiness and what every single woman should be striving for. I now know happiness comes from within. On reflection, I have come to realize I was a bloody warrior! I threw myself into my newfound passion for dance and re-invented myself. I changed my look, my mindset and I took control of my health and well-being. I got my ‘sassy’ back! I put those two flunked marriages down to experience — and to quote Oprah Winfrey, I ‘turned my wounds into wisdom.’ These experiences taught me some of the best lessons in life, the main one being the importance of loving yourself like your life depends on it. So, I put some lipstick on, smiled, and had the courage to look for love, yet again.

What I discovered on this, my third and surely my final time looking for love was beyond what I ever thought I was capable of feeling. It felt like magic. Nigel and I had connected on an internet dating site. I was skeptical; this way of meeting a man seemed alien to me. I remember our first date like it was yesterday, every tiny detail imprinted on my mind forever. I sat in my car outside the restaurant and spotted him immediately. He was handsome, a little shorter than I had imagined and his shoes were immaculate! In my experience, a man who wears stylish, clean shoes is most often a keeper! Nigel looked nervous and excited all at the same time. I watched as he went to the cash machine and then headed on inside. I sat in that car feeling like a nervous wreck, feeling so completely and utterly vulnerable. What on earth was I doing putting myself forward again?

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

As I reflect now, this was me striving to be happy. What I’ve realized (through hours of delving into personal development) is I had courage. Not the heroic kind that we first think of, but ordinary courage where I was prepared to put my vulnerability on the line. Nigel was then and remains to this day a complete gentleman in every way. I knew on that date we had found what each other was looking for. The saying goes ‘in the right place at the right time’ and it was true.

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

Jessica was a baby when her mom passed and Nigel, the man I was starting to fall in love with a widower. Seeing her for the first time, was a huge reality check for me. Now, it wasn’t just about him and me…it was about her too. A little girl with a huge void in her life she hadn’t properly discovered yet. I have to admit, I did feel great pressure not to mess things up. There were three sets of emotions at play. On the first day I met Jessica, I tried to be ‘in the moment’ and take it all in. We went for a trip to the seaside and all the fun of the fair. (I absolutely hate rides but I didn’t let her know that!) She was such a happy little girl full of joy and unaware of the trauma she’d been through. As the day unfolded, we found ourselves collecting feathers and shells on the beach. It was like pressing fast forward on my life. One moment alone, next moment a ready-made family. As our ‘first date’ drew to a close, I knew I would never leave them.

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

During the early part of our relationship, at times, I felt I was living somebody else’s life. That feeling stayed with me for a few years after. I imagined what sort of mom Emma was and wondered if I was doing things the way she would? Would she approve? There were moments I felt jealous at how wonderful her little family was, having come from a relationship that ended in such a sh*t show. Somehow we had been pushed together. We all needed and wanted what the other had to offer. It was this that glued us together. We were all looking to love and be loved in return, which is the greatest gift any one of us could ever hope for.

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

The actual adoption process was exactly the same as any other adoption, which really surprised me considering Nigel was her biological father. Therefore, it involved all the kinds of checks that social services would usually carry out. There were a number of visits to the house and interviews both individually, as a couple and as a family. I have to say I did feel quite vulnerable and at times, felt like I was being judged… was I good enough? Did I meet their expectations? What other first-time mom had to go through all this?

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

I would love to say it was plain sailing from here. It should have been, being signed and sealed in one final court hearing. However, the night before we received a call from our social worker to say the adoption had been contested by some family members. It was a complete shock as we thought everybody was happy for us. We were devastated. On the day of the hearing, the judge decided he wanted to refer our case to the High Court in London. This was going to be messy. So instead of going home to tell Jessica I was going to be her Mommy, we had to tell her she would have to wait. The whole process ended up taking 11 months with yet more meetings with family members supervised by social workers. Inside I was angry, angry I had stepped forward to take care of Jessica…. forever and that somehow it was wrong. It seemed as though everybody had a say in our lives. Were they trying to destroy our relationship? Didn’t they want Nigel and Jessica to move on? It felt impossible to please everybody.

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

I remember sitting through some of the meetings and my whole body physically shaking. It was like we had opened Pandora’s box, and out of it spewed anger, grief, and resentment. I tried desperately to see all sides but couldn’t help but feel it had gone too far, too many words spoken that should have lain dormant. It seemed no longer about what was best for Jessica but about what was best for them. Over and over I kept thinking, if this was my little girl, what would I want for her? I felt sad for Nigel, after everything he had been through. Surely, they both deserved a chance to be happy once more?

On July 18, 2016, I officially adopted Jessica and we were invited to meet the Judge at The High Court for a celebration. It was one of the most emotional days ever! Seeing Jessica’s little face light up when the Judge presented her with the adoption certificate was priceless. It was worth every hurdle we had to jump through. I knew to my core this was the right and proper thing to do for her. I hoped Emma would rest easy knowing her little girl wouldn’t have to navigate this world alone. I loved Jessica and from that moment on, the ties that bound us together were unbreakable.

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner
Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

My second journey to motherhood was yet another battle, yet another time in my life I would need to hit ‘the dig deep button.’ The first time I fell pregnant was with husband #2, I was 32 years old and thought it was the perfect age and with the perfect man. I was wrong on both accounts. As you know, my second marriage didn’t last and my first pregnancy barely reached 8 weeks. Looking back, I think the further 18 months of trying for a baby played a part in destroying my marriage. So, when Nigel and I decided we would try for our own baby and give Jessica a sibling, I was back in old territory. Even writing about this now uncovers old wounds that are going to take a long time to heal.

The years trying to have a baby, although not with the same person, were the longest and the loneliest. I existed in a constant cycle of the unknown. The overriding emotion was one of hopelessness. The questions in my head played like a constant merry go round but this was a ride that never seemed to end. Why hadn’t it happened for me? What was wrong with me? How long would I have to wait? Why was it so easy for everybody else? I would come up with reasons why it had worked for my friends, she was younger than me, she was more relaxed about the whole thing. Honestly, those voices inside your head consume you.

I had to remind myself I WAS A MOM, to my beautiful Jessica, and to an extent, it did ease much of my pain. For me, carrying my own child was a chapter left undone. We tried naturally for a short time, but I’d trodden this path before so we soon moved onto IVF. We got caught up on this rollercoaster for another 2 years. On every attempt, I would fall pregnant and every time, I would miscarry within the first 3 months. It was draining physically, emotionally, and financially. By now, we had spent thousands on treatments and got nowhere. So, there I was right back to being the 3 a.m. nutter on the computer searching for a reason why, only this time — why I kept miscarrying.

Little Alfie Photography

I eventually came across a specialist in Harley Street who on reading, thought might be able to help us. This was going to be our last attempt. I made the appointment and we waited patiently for 6 weeks. In the meantime, I had been given a business card from a friend of a friend who had been on a similar journey and who had fallen pregnant under the care of the very same consultant I had booked! For the first time I felt hope, the Universe had my back. We sat in Mr. Shehata’s office for the second time after having a series of simple blood tests to be told I would never carry a baby full-term without assistance. He had discovered an auto-immune issue. Basically, my blood contained killer cells that would attack every embryo. There it was, the answer to all that suffering over all those years.

I am delighted to tell you following one more round of IVF coupled with treatment from Mr. Shehata, I finally carried my baby full term. On March 21, 2017, at 16:08, I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. Her name is Liberty, meaning freedom. She was the final piece in my quest for happiness… she joins us all together. She has set me free.

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

For those of you struggling on your journey to find love or to grow a family, I see you. I will continue to share our story in hope it finds someone who needs to hear it and be reminded they are not alone. Everyone has different challenges and none is greater or less than others, just different. My final words of wisdom: Never ever give up on love, belonging, and finding joy. Sending you love, hope, and the power to be resilient.”

Courtesy of Claudia Gardner

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Claudia Gardner. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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