When someone asked five-year-old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the answer was “a mommy.” I always only ever wanted to be a mommy.

I imagined having the most beautiful little brown babies, which is why everyone was surprised when I married a white woman.

“My dad was gay. So, I knew it would be okay if I was, too, right? So, I thought I’d give it a shot.”

I had my first girlfriend my sophomore year of college. I loved kissing her and grew attached quickly (I do that) but she was still in love with her ex, so that ended after two weeks. No sex. The second girlfriend began transitioning shortly after we broke up. He is now an old, bald, bearded man married to a woman, and he has three kids. So, that doesn’t really count as a girlfriend, does it?

And then I met Laurie. We started out fine. I enjoyed kissing her. The partnership worked. She moved in after only three weeks. I was happy to have found someone with whom I could possibly co-parent. Our lives balanced. But I didn’t enjoy the sex. Six months in, we were already in couple’s counseling. We knew it wasn’t working. I was not physically attracted to her—or women. I mean, I like to kiss. I love to kiss! But I’m not into vaginas. Should have been a red flag for me. But it wasn’t.

Two years later we were “married” in front of 150 of our closest friends.

We did not even have sex on our honeymoon.

Things were already bad. I knew I wasn’t attracted to her. Kissing was just fine! But thinking it would lead to sex, we didn’t even kiss much. She was going through some past issues in therapy and had no desire to have sex at all. And I was just not into sex with her.

A year later we started inseminating. I was ready. I was born ready! I loved being pregnant. I felt so feminine! I didn’t even realize I was blowing up to 238 pounds. (I’m only 5’3″.) But I started to really feel some strong internalized homophobia. I couldn’t even hold hands with her. Any sign of affection from her freaked me out. I hated the thought of anyone knowing or thinking I was a (whisper) lesbian. I wanted to have a dad for my baby. I wanted a husband.

The discomforts of pregnancy kept our already non-existent sex life at bay. At the time, we both just thought my maternal instincts were protecting the baby from any homophobia we might encounter from strangers. After the pregnancy, I blamed post-partum depression.

The instant our daughter was born, I was in love with her. I wanted everyone, and I mean everyone, to just go away and leave me alone with my baby. I lost friends. I pushed everyone away. I wasn’t classically depressed. I wasn’t sad. I was apathetic. I was a bitch!

I was starting to get progressively more and more mad at Laurie for making me stuck in a miserable, sexless marriage. We were still not being physical. I didn’t want to be touched by her. I just figured this was normal for a breastfeeding mom to feel.

I wanted another baby, but because the post-partum depression was so bad for so long, Laurie was (rightfully) reluctant. But three years and nine months later, I had my second child. Now, I had two little ones.

“So, I stayed. And stayed. And … stayed.”

I cried every day. I longed to be happy. But not at the expense of the happiness of my children, or even Laurie. I felt like it was selfish to want my own happiness more. I ached.

She felt like my sister.

I knew in my heart that I needed to be out of there, but I couldn’t muster the courage to escape. I unloaded about once a month. Big, heavy, weighted sobs in the shower. Or emotional vomiting on the nearest friend who would listen. No amount of unloading resolved the pain.

I knew it all along: This wasn’t where I belonged. But if I left, I risked losing my children. I had been a stay-at-home mom doing little other than spending every single second with my girls. I couldn’t imagine going one single night without them. I didn’t want to imagine that.

So, I stayed. And stayed. And … stayed.

On our 21st anniversary, we went to therapy. Afterward, the kids and I watched the movie We Bought a Zoo. The main idea of the movie is that it only takes 20 seconds of courage to do anything scary. This rang through my head like a mantra that day. We went back to therapy a second time later that same day. I knew that it would only take me 20 seconds of courage to ask for what I wanted. With every ounce of courage I could muster, I said, “I want out.” (Exhale.) It was the bravest thing I had ever done. It was frightening. And it had taken me 21 years to do it.

I moved into the guest room, and for the next few years, we tried living together, but not being together. Neither of us wanted to be away from the girls for one night.

I started to go onto dating sites to meet men. My first quality match, and I start to get to know this wonderful guy. He’s communicative, handsome, smart, educated, politically active, great with his niece, and has no kids! Wow! So, we meet! He tells me he’s trans. So, here I am, first date with the first man in more than 22 years—and he has a vagina.

I went on to date several more men, learning about myself and what I do and don’t want in a partner. I know it’s not a vagina. Over the past few years, I’ve had many fulfilling relationships and experiences. My girls, now 15 and 19, have finally seen what a happy mommy looks like. They’ve seen affection. And they’ve learned to not settle for less than what makes you happy.

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