Years ago when I was having my children, a common question among the mommy-sect was, “will you be using a doula?“. A doula is a trained professional who offers continual physical, emotional and informational support to a mother before, during and shortly after childbirth. Recently, I heard the term doula pertaining to divorce. Divorce doulas also offer women continual emotional and informational support, but also help to coordinate the many professionals such as accountants, mediators, lawyers and psychologists to maximize efficiency.
When I started researching divorce doulas, I came across Pamela’s blog, Welcome To The After Wife. Her candid blog is honest – a rarity in a world driven by social media perfection – and worth the read. Today Plenty asks Pam some questions, and in true fashion, she doesn’t hold back.
Plenty: When your marriage ended how would you describe how you felt those first months/years?
Pam: To be honest, those first few months were a living hell. Literally. My ex and I lived together for nearly 18 months after we decided to split and our home felt like a battlefield. He lived in the downstairs suite and I lived upstairs in the master bedroom that we used to share. We still shared a kitchen and living areas but tried to avoid spending time in the same room. It was just too sad and there was too much tension between us. If you’re prone to self-refection, as I am, I questioned everything. What could I have done differently? Was I a failure? Would my kids ever recover or would they be scarred by the emotional turmoil? Would I ever find love again? I blamed myself for everything and it was debilitating. Although I enjoy a good relationship with my ex today those early months were filled with anger, sadness and fear. It wasn’t until we reached a separation agreement – nearly two years after we split – that things began to get better. A friend once told me “It’s two years of shit, and then it just…gets better.” She was right.
Plenty: When you first married, I assume you thought that it would be forever. To an outsider, did it look like you had it all? How would you describe your relationship; in particular your dependency on your husband in those early days of your marriage?
Pam: To the outsider, we certainly looked like we had it all: two awesome kids, beautiful suburban home & a second vacation home, successful careers, exotic, fun travels. And even to the “insiders” – our families, our kids – we looked like we had it all, too. People were truly shocked by our divorce. Although we had very different personalities, we never fought and were always kind and respectful towards one another. When we met, we were both fresh out of university and focussed on our careers. We were both driven, career-wise, and our ambition and values were complementary. After we married and had kids, particularly after I chose to leave the corporate world to consult and focus on raising our family, I became the dependent one in the marriage. Financially dependent, for sure, but emotionally dependent as well. But to the outsider, I appeared wildly independent: I kept my own name, I had my own career, my own friends & hobbies but I always felt that my core identity was defined by my husband. It was an unhealthy balance that slowly, steadily ate away at my self-esteem and eventually reached a breaking point. Knowing what I know now, I understand that that is really when “the rubber hits the road” in relationships and many marriages begin to falter. Some couples rise to the occasion by seeking counselling, developing effective means of dealing with this disconnect through negotiation and healthy conflict resolution. Others…don’t.
Plenty: A discussion that I have frequently with my friends is about how women change and evolve so much over the years. I’ve seen first hand so many of my closest friends gain confidence and really come into their own. I remember hearing Oprah talk about how she felt like she was finally getting to know herself and use her voice in her 40s and that her 50s were really an empowering decade, all about leaving the woulda, coulda, shouldas behind her. Reading through your posts on your website, I get the sense not only this to be true for yourself but you are continuing to grow and discover your strengths. How would describe this shift? An empowerment? As a coming-of-age?
Pam: The shift was certainly empowering and it was A LOT OF WORK! Counselling, reading, making mistakes and learning from them, losing friendships, taking risks, being vulnerable in my life & in my writing…it’s a life-long journey of learning. Women have many roles over the course of our lives: daughter, wife, mother, employee, business owner etc. but those roles are defined by our relationships with others (parents, husband, children, staff). In our 40s & 50s after we’ve played the roles expected of us, we start to realize that the most important relationship is the one we have with OURSELVES. After getting divorced, I realized that I could not rely on anyone to take care of me or make me happy, that I had to do that for myself. The opportunity to explore my true self and form a new identity was a lot of work but one of the best gifts of my life, a gift that I share with my current partner and our children.
Plenty: How did you come to arrive as the Divorce Doula? What is the role of the Divorce Doula? What purpose does she serve others – and perhaps more importantly, how has she served you?
Pam: I’d been divorced for about 2 years when friends started to come to me for advice and support through their own divorces. A number of friends (and friends of friends) were considering divorce and wanted to know if they would ever get through the pain and turmoil. I met with a lot of people one-on-one but as a writer, I knew that there was a better way to tell my story and give people hope during divorce. My girlfriend & I coined the name Divorce Doula during a meeting to discuss her own divorce. We had both employed birth doulas during our pregnancies and realized sometimes people need a “Divorce Doula” to encourage and support them through divorce. I purchased the domain name and built the bones of the blog but wasn’t sure how to start so my blog just sat empty. I wrote my first post on Divorce Doula after a family dinner at my house. My ex and our kids were cleaning up the dishes in my kitchen and I suddenly realized “This is what I want to write about” That it was possible to have a peaceful relationship with your ex and have emotionally healthy children after divorce. This was before the days of “Conscious Uncoupling” so the majority of stories that were out there dealt with the sensationalistic, ugly side of divorce – epic court battles over money, children caught in the middle. Although my divorce hadn’t been easy, it didn’t ruin my life and that there is a good life to be found in “the after wife.” During the early days of divorce, when everything seems hopeless, that’s a really important message to hear. I let my ex know that I planned to write a blog about our divorce and he was wary but supportive. His only request was that I not use our children’s names in the blog and that if he read anything false or offensive or too revealing, that I take it down. Four years & dozens of posts later, he’s never requested that I change a single word.
I often say that I wish I’d had a Divorce Doula during the early days of my separation but the reality is that I didn’t. I learned all of those lessons the hard way and they helped me become the person I am today. a resilient, strong, loving woman. Writing about my experiences was cathartic for me but it was also letter to my ex – a love letter of sorts. A lot of healing has taken place through my blog. The writer Adam Phillips said it best: You don’t write the things you believe. You write to find out what you believe. Through writing Divorce Doula, I’ve learned that it’s only through being honest and vulnerable can we truly heal and more forward. That there can be a wonderful life in “the after wife” and that my ex is a good man – thoughtful, kind and funny – a great dad and truly the world’s best ex-husband.
Plenty: What has been the hardest part about sharing your experiences and being vulnerable with others through your writing?
Pam: I feel really raw and exposed after I write a post; it’s like an emotional hangover. Revisiting dark times and emotions is tough work and it can take days or weeks to recover. I love that my writing comforts people – makes them laugh or gives them hope during a difficult time, but digging deep and putting myself out there takes courage.
Plenty: As the mother to boys, what advice do you give them about life and love? Is it the same advice that you give yourself?
Pam: My 14 year old is on the cusp of learning some big lessons about life. He might not always be listening – because teenagers know everything – but I would like him to know that it’s ok to be vulnerable. To be generous and loving but not to compromise your own needs or identity for someone else. That in order to truly love another person, you have to love yourself first. I remind myself of this every day.
Plenty: Our theme for this month is #TheFutureIsFemale. What do you see in store for you?
Pam: As a life-long feminist, I totally believe that #TheFutureisFemale. There is so much toxicity, divisiveness and uncertainly out there today but as evidenced by the Women’s March, it’s also an incredible time for engagement, resistance and the establishment of a new world order. This doesn’t mean the #TheFutureisAntiMale but when women demand equality – in the workplace and at home – strong, competent and emotionally secure men will be empowered by our inclusion, not threatened.
For me personally, I’m taking a sabbatical from the divorce scene and heading back to the corporate world. I’m grateful to have a loving partner who supports me emotionally and professionally. We are both committed to the unconditional love and mutual care of our blended family. For me, the Future is Family.
Pamela is a Vancouver-based communications professional with BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, Certified Divorce Coach and writer. She is the divorced mother to two amazing boys that she respectfully & often humorously co-parents with their dad.