In November of 2001, I met a fun, charismatic, intelligent, and very good looking guy at a club in Appleton. He came up to me and put his arm around me and said, “Jenny?”. I was puzzled. My name is not Jenny or even remotely close to that. I told him so and he pointed to his friend by the bar and said that his friend said he knows me and that my name was Jenny. I told him his friend was mistaken and then told him my name. He seemed to feel embarrassed, but I told him it wasn’t a big deal. I was too attracted to him to really care.
We chatted, danced, and had a great time that night. He gave me a piece of paper with a phone number on it that said Jay on top. I waited a couple days and then called. It was his work number. We talked a couple times over a couple of weeks.
One evening, he was coming to Milwaukee to help his brother take stuff to his apartment/dorm and called me to tell me they’d be in town. They came by and chatted for awhile. Then we all went to his brother’s place and took his stuff in. Later, Jay and I drove separately to Appleton, to the club we met at. It was a fun night. At the end, he’d clearly had too much to drink and threw up a few times. Between all of that, we chatted. For awhile, he was fidgeting with his pants straps. I asked him if he had anything better to do than that and he responded by kissing me. Yowza! I was giddy, so what if he tasted a bit like puke. I really liked this guy. I don’t know why, but I just felt so drawn to him.
A few weeks later, I saw him again. This time, we left together at the end of the night. It was a fun night. I remember wearing nothing but Mardi Gras beads around my waist at one point. I was that thin once upon a time. I remember loving how it felt to be with him. The next day, he was still sweet. I remember thinking that maybe there was some sort of future for us.
We didn’t hang out or talk much for a few weeks. I still really liked the guy though. I liked him so much that when a friend I made in Appleton offered me a room in her apartment, I took the opportunity. Jay’s main reason for not being ready to date was that we lived an hour and a half apart. Well, now I’d be in Appleton, so that would fix that, right?
We hung out a few times while I lived there, but when I mentioned dating again, he said he wasn’t ready to date at all. He said his last couple of girlfriends had cheated on him. My heart was broken. I felt like now I moved to Appleton for nothing.
There was a guy that I’d met up there that was real cool for my friends and I to hang out with. My friend, coincidentally enough, named Jenny told me she thought he and I would make a cute couple. (Jenny and Jay were later flirting. I was mad.) We both blew off that idea, until the night Jay told me he wanted to remain single. Drunk and vulnerable, when Zack told me I shouldn’t drive and just crash by him, I went willingly. He was right, I definitely shouldn’t have driven, glad I didn’t. We connected even more that night and after about a month of just being friends, things changed.
I was hurting over Jay’s rejection, yes, but Zack really was a great guy. He treated me like more than someone to hang out at the bar with or bring home for a night. We went to dinner, watched movies, and just hung out sometimes without drinking or even having sex. We went on real dates. He treated me with respect and care. Maybe I didn’t move to Appleton for nothing after all??
I left my friend’s apartment at some point and moved in with a different friend and her family. I got a job. Things were going pretty well.
It was shortlived joy though. After almost two months, he was getting distant and I was starting to feel different, physically and mentally. At some point, I realized I was late on getting my period. I had just gotten paid. My friend Wendy told me I should just get a pregnancy test. I got one and sure enough, when I took it that night, it was positive. Now what??
I went to the club where Zack (and Jay) and I had met and often went to. The dj, a friend of Zack’s, told me hadn’t seen him yet. I told him when he does to come find me, that it was important. He said he’d pass on that message. Later, Zack did show, as usual on a weekend evening. We ended up going to his place to talk. When the time came, I didn’t have words. I just handed him the pregnancy test. Zack said, “I hate it when I’m right.” Apparently he’d noticed the changes and had actually been planning on ending things, but never got the nerve to. My heart sank. He told me he wasn’t going to be there for me. We argued. He said he’d need some time to think.
I got tested again and yep, another positive test. We did talk a few days later. He said we should get together to chat. When we met, he told me he didn’t have a lot of money saved up, but could afford an abortion. Then we really fought. There was no way I was considering that. Another day, he asked me why I was against it and I told him I’m pro-life, that to me, abortion is murder. He told me not to apologize for my feelings on that. Then, we talked again and he gave me an ultimatum, said that if I didn’t get an abortion, not only would we not date anymore, we’d no longer be friends either. I was a wreck. The weather was bad and I spun my car on ice. I didn’t hit anything, but I got pulled over and got a ticket. That was a bad night.
I started calling WIC and other state services. They needed to test me again to verify my pregnancy. At first, I was given a due date of November 20th. But then, with the OBGYN, it was changed to November 9th. With the math done, I realized it might be Jay’s baby. Oh boy.
I told Jay. His response was that he wouldn’t push abortion, but what about adoption??? He told me he was also not ready to be a dad. He was 21, in college, working a couple jobs, etc. He said if I kept the baby that I’d be on my own. I felt like things were just getting worse.
I went through my pregnancy feeling so very alone. Once Jay realized I wasn’t lying, months later, he stopped talking to me period. Zack was also quiet. At about month eight, Zack and I talked. He apologized about the abortion stuff. He said since it might not be his, he had no right to suggest it. He then firmly told me he still didn’t want anything to do with my baby if it was his. He said he’s just not ready to be a dad and maybe he never would be. I left in tears.
With three weeks until my due date, I got sick, but originally mistook it for early labor. I went in and found out I had a UTI. (That was my third during my pregnancy.) Contractions stopped, but they kept me overnight and gave me antibiotics. The 9th arrived. Really early that morning, I saw I’d lost my mucus plug. I just knew my baby would be coming soon. Labor started at about 9pm that night, was feeling off starting at about 8pm. My mom, old foster mom and then friend of my mom’s, one of her girls, and I went to the hospital at about 9:30pm or so. It was going to be a long night.
I was made to walk to further labor, but I ended up crawling after awhile due to the pain. They eventually gave me an epidural, broke my water, etc. I went from 4cm to 7cm pretty quickly after my water was broken. I hovered at 9cm for a long while. Every time they had me push, my child’s heartbeat raced and my blood pressure dropped. Eventually, they stopped making me push and just let the epidural stay kicked in. After 14 hours of labor, my son was born at 11am on the dot, on the 10th.
After I had him, I got very sick. They also had to give me blood because I lost a lot. They had to use forceps to get my son out. He was 8lbs, 14ozs and 22 inches. He was not tiny!!! They didn’t catch what was wrong with me until after they’d released us. As I was at my son’s first pediatrician appointment, the doctor noticed I didn’t look well. After checking Zach out, basic vitals were done on me and then said I needed to go back to the hospital. Ugh. They called and informed the hospital I would be back.
While there at the hospital, they discovered I had an infection in my uterus. Oh joy. Post partum depression was already kicking in. They insisted that I make an appointment with a psychiatrist before they’d release me. I was a wreck physically and mentally. When I was released, my son and I went to my mom’s. I stayed for a few days and then she sent me to my former foster mom’s. During that time, I was really falling apart. What was I going to do??
I’m single. I was recently diagnosed with bi-polar. I didn’t know anything about being a good parent. Neither my mom or dad had shown me the way and I just didn’t know if I could do it. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced I was going to fail. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom. I considered giving Zach to my old foster parents. Then, I thought, maybe I could do it. Looking at Zach filled me with such joy. Then I was unsure again. I was all over the place. In the end, my mom decided she’d take him until I was ready.
I left for Milwaukee and went to stay with my grandma, again. She took me in a few times from 17 through 28. That woman did so much for me, more than anyone. I was trying to stabilize my moods, myself. I made some efforts to see Zach, but my mom was definitely the primary caregiver for my boy. It broke my heart. More and more, I felt like a failure. Maybe I really wasn’t cut out to be a mom….
In that time, I had Zack tested, as I knew how to reach him, first. Zack was not the dad. Oh nuts. I really had loved him and wanted my son conceived in something more real. Well, that’s not how it turned out. I called the only number I knew where I may reach Jay, his work. After a couple of failed attempts, Jay and I connected. We chatted online and the phone for awhile. In early conversations, he was making lame excuses about not being around. As angry as I was with him, I was angry with myself too. Neither of Zach’s parents were there for him. I broke every promise I’d made before becoming a mom. I am a failure.
Little by little, both Jay and I were becoming more involved in Zach’s life. Jay was definitely on track faster than I was, but I was getting there. When our son was almost two, my mom’s role was becoming more of a grandparent one, though she still helped us quite a bit with things like transportation, as one or both of us were dealing with car issues. We were trying though and getting there more everyday. We didn’t have many issues with working together, yet.
When our son was about three, Jay brought me court papers. Court papers!?#?!#;&! I didn’t know he had a lawyer. He was asking me for temporary primary placement, just until I was more stable. He assured me I could see Zach often. He also said he’d not ask for child support at this point because he knew I wasn’t in a great position financially. After looking at the papers over and over, I decided to sign them. I should have said that I’d think about it. I should have consulted a lawyer. I should have waited. I naively trusted Jay. Zach paid for that and so did I.
At first, we worked together okay. I saw Zach a decent amount. It didn’t take long before he started breaking our verbal agreements. He’d keep our son from me for days and then weeks longer than discussed. At one point, I was tired of waiting weeks and called the cops to make sure Zach was okay. Jay called the next day. I was often met with either lame excuses, no excuse at all, or attitude. It was getting old quick.
When Zach was three and a half, we verbally agreed that Jay would have Zach primarily for six months and we see how he does and then I would do the same. After, we’d review and decide where Zach would go to school. It was my idea and I should have had a lawyer and also put something in writing, but once again, I believed Jay would honor our agreement. I was an ignorant fool.
After his six months, Zach was four. Jay told me he’d already enrolled Zach in school. He didn’t consult me, just did it. I was furious. In that time, Jay did ask for some help, so we agreed that instead of formal child support, I would drive to Appleton to pick Zach up and also to drop him off. That was draining, but I had no problem doing it, except when I’d find he wasn’t home or had fallen asleep and wouldn’t wake. I waited in the parking lot with a four year old for a couple of hours a few times. During these times, I took Zach back home with me. His dad got mad. Yeah, well, then be home and be awake. I was getting so angry. He could keep Zach from me when he pleased and yet often showed me zero respect.
In late March of 2007, I had enough. A friend of mine told me that Jay wasn’t likely to change and that if I wanted more rights and time, I’d need to get a lawyer and fight. I did just that, got a lawyer and got the ball rolling. In April, the only way Jay would let me see Zach is if I came up to visit/stay at his place in Appleton. At first I was mad, but I caved because I hadn’t seen my son in weeks.
Those two visits were awkward. His dad could get drunk, have loud sex with his girlfriend, take off to see friends, and come home late while I was pretty much treated like a glorified babysitter. I hated being judged and treated poorly and yet he could do as he pleased.
I finally got to bring my son to Milwaukee for Easter weekend so Zach could spend time with my family. That was nice. A couple of weeks later, I moved into a townhouse in Waukesha. Then, I got to take Zach to see my new place. He got to see me regularly for about a month and a half or so. That changed at the end of June. More issues ensued.
He called me two hours before I was to drive to Appleton and told me he was going on a work trip out of town and that his mom had our son. He didn’t give me a time frame. I mentioned the Fourth of July and he said his mom had plans with Zach. I then mentioned that my mom was due for time with him. He told me his mom would call. She didn’t call. I waited until the fifth. I called and left a message. I called again on the seventh, twice. They answered the second time. Jay’s mom was talking about Jay being in Japan. Japan?!?! She thought I knew. He didn’t say he was leaving the country!! (Around that time, I also found out online through his girlfriend, now wife, before he blocked me on MySpace, that he was going to be gone for two weeks.) His mom did let me talk to Zach and told me she after that she felt bad for me, as a mom. Then though, she told me, as Jay’s mom, that she wasn’t butting in and she wouldn’t let me have Zach. I should have said I’m coming to get Zach and as his other custodial parent, she can’t do anything to stop me, but I didn’t. There’s so much I should have done and didn’t….
He took his sweet time calling me once he got back. By the time he called me and I saw Zach again, it had been a month. Yet, he acted like everything was just fine. Obviously, I simply don’t have a right to be upset. My lawyer found out about that. It was the end of July or so. I kept Zach a few days longer than agreed, not that Jay was unable to pick him up, but I wasn’t driving to Appleton until car stuff was dealt with. Jay chose to wait.
We had a Child Caught in the Middle class to attend in August. After, I was to get Zach, but Jay didn’t let me get him. He punished me for keeping Zach a few extra days. Hmm. He punished Zach with that too though. He kept Zach from me until I took him to court and mediation was ordered. By the time I saw Zach again, it had been two months.
We had mediation and I reluctantly ended up agreeing to every other weekend at our last session. I did make sure that I’m to be given the first right of refusal if Jay were to leave on a work trip. That went okay for awhile, but I was still going forward with our fight for placement. Zach had asked his dad outright that year if he could live primarily in Waukesha with me. That wasn’t dealt with and with as unhappy as Zach was, I knew I had to fight.
A Guardian ad Litem was appointed. I met the GAL the day I found out my grandpa died, August 29th, 2008. Despite the grief I was trying to process, I decided to keep the appointment. I thought it went alright.
In October, we had our court date. The GAL recommended he stay with his dad primarily as he’s in school now and didn’t want to disrupt things, plus Jay was more stable. Oh joy. Now what? The judge told me I could fight it. I talked with my lawyer and decided to do so. My lawyer dropped me though and said he fully understood why I was fighting, but couldn’t represent me anymore. I found a lawyer in the Appleton area this time. Zach was begging me to bring him home. I was getting ready to fight.
In early January of 2009, I asked Jay if I could claim Zach on my taxes, as I had only claimed him once and really needed the money to fix my car. My Mazda needed a new transmission, again, and was going to cost roughly $2,000 since we were going to use a more reputable shop this time. As my form of support, I was still driving to Appleton to pick up and drop off Zach. I needed my car to work to get Zach, to work, pay bills, etc. I told him I’m living paycheck to paycheck and really needed the help. Jay’s response to my request was to take me to court for child support, just a few months before our April court date. He’s known money has been something I struggle with and tightened the screws to help his case.
We had a case study that was ordered through all of that. I thought that was going well. I didn’t know how it was going for Jay.
April 20th came. I was the only one to speak for myself. Jay had his ex, his mom, his now wife, etc testify for him. Even my mom seemed to be against me when she wrote a letter to the GAL. (My mom wasn’t against me. She was and still is pro Zach and at that time, she’d felt I still needed time to get on my feet more.) At the end of it, the GAL, case worker, etc recommended still that Zach stay primarily with his dad, didn’t want to disrupt things. Zach was struggling in school and at his dad’s, but that didn’t matter.
The judge did say though that we have joint custody and should be working together and that we should make all major decisions as a team. The case worker did at least recognize that Jay wasn’t keeping me informed or allowing me to help make decisions. The judge wanted to see that change. He did also state that if I moved to Appleton within 18 months, that we’d have what amounts to a 51/49 split. Jay didn’t contest it, but then I’m sure he didn’t think I would move to Appleton.
I did apply to some jobs in Appleton and even had a few interviews. I didn’t get any of those jobs. I did at least keep working in Milwaukee. In late July of 2009, I drove drunk and paid the price by getting an OWI. I stupidly didn’t pay my fine. I got caught a year later and paid that price too. I sat in jail. Talk about humiliation. After I got out, I went to the classes, got my license back, and have since stayed out of trouble. I didn’t ever want to risk being the cause of someone else losing their life because I was drunk and had no business being behind the wheel.
I also had more job interviews in Appleton. I finally landed a job on September 7th. I commuted for awhile. Then I stayed with a co-worker and new friend until I found an apartment. Just days before the 18 months was up, I signed a lease and got keys. I went to Jay. I tried to work out our schedule. He contested it then.
I sunk into a deep depression. I left behind my friends, family, boyfriend at the time, and life that I had for more time with Zach, to have a pretty much equal split and then it got ripped away from us. Zach was looking forward to it and when it didn’t happen, he struggled more. I felt like a failure again. I spent a lot of my free time either in Milwaukee or crying at home. Friends and family were calling often, even people that really aren’t phone people and messaging me because they were genuinely afraid I might hurt myself. It got bad.
In mid February of 2011, I started the process to move back home. I stayed with a friend for a few months and got a job. I stayed with another friend for the final two weeks before I got keys to my place in Waukesha in the spring of 11. I worked at my job until the summer of 2012.
In the summer of 2012, my grandma wasn’t doing well. My mom and I dealt with the Department of Aging. Grandma was hospitalized. During that time, we had the city out to inspect the house to get it locked up, as it wasn’t safe for her to return there and we couldn’t stop her any other way. I lost my job during all of that.
My grandma briefly stayed at an assisted living place and then with my uncle in MN while my mom, myself, and now and then others worked on making my grandma’s house livable again. My uncle and aunt took her in to save her money. My job became working on her house and then taking care of her once the city gave us the green light to move in.
It was three months to the day since grandma was taken from her home that she returned. On October 23rd, 2012, I started taking care of my grandma. Zach helped some when he was home. In that time, I also started dating my now husband. A lot changed so quickly.
My grandma had a stroke on November 27th, turned out it was her third, but no one knew about the other two, including her. I continued to take care of her. It got really hard. We did try to get some in home help. Grandma was very resistant to that. I worked hard to keep her at home.
In March of 2013 or so, my boyfriend was looking at houses and I started looking with him. My mom told me to have my uncle in Milwaukee move back in and to focus on my son and boyfriend. I hoped my uncle had grown and would be able to take care of her and keep up with everything, including cleaning the house. Between them, they’d destroyed the house before. That’s why I insisted he not come back when the house was deemed livable again. I said I’d take care of her on my own and so I did. Even when my hubby and I moved into our house in West Allis on May 23rd, 2013, I still went by my grandma daily. My uncle didn’t move in for months, kept making excuses. So, I made sure she had easy foods like sandwiches, made her take her meds, cleaned her house, ran her errands, scheduled and took her to appointments, paid her bills, did her laundry, etc, just as I had before. I did this until mid August. I started an office manager job later that month.
My boss was a tool. I left in late January of 2014. I started a new job in April. At this point, my son was really struggling at his dad’s and still begging me to bring him home. I tried to talk to Jay, more than once. We all gathered together at one point even. His dad wouldn’t budge, even though he claimed not to have an issue with the idea. Things were spiraling out of control.
Zach was nearly expelled from elementary school at one point and still, Jay wouldn’t give the idea a try. It didn’t help that Zach was being pulled off his meds every weekend, causing withdrawals every time. Yet, it was my fault if Zach was extra difficult on Monday, even on his weekends at his dad’s. I called my lawyer more than once. In the end, I kept trying to work with Jay.
On June 21st, 2014, Doug proposed. On May 16th, 2015, we got married. It was an incredible day! Now that we were officially a family, Zach was hoping even more for the switch. I worked on getting proof that Zach being on and off his meds is a bad thing. Right after I called his doctor for an updated letter, Zach was suddenly on his meds everyday. Well, at least that did something. Zach still was unhappy though. Will things ever change?
I got pregnant with my daughter in July of 2015 and found out on August 27th. Now we would need to find a bigger home. Also, if we’re going to try to bring Zach home, we need to live in a better area. During my pregnancy, I got really sick and left my job. We decided I’d stay home with our baby.
In January of 2016, we put our house up for sale. On April 19th, my baby girl was born!!!! She was born at 5:34am and was 7lbs, 2.5ozs. Her birth story is for another day. In May, we got an accepted offer and then we stepped up our own search. We found a home in West Bend and closed on July 8th. (Jay’s birthday!) We moved the bulk of our stuff on the 9th. There were so many changes and we weren’t done yet.
In August, on the 27th, I did my first photo shoot and started my photography business. It was a cash only and not a serious thing at first. I wanted to see if I had a future in this. By May of 2017, I turned it into an official business. It became an LLC on May 8th. During this, Zach was still pushing heavily to move by us primarily.
In the fall of 2017, right after Zach turned 14, I told my lawyer I wanted to push forward and so, we did. We were supposed to have court in January of 2018. A week before court, Jay’s lawyer asked to reschedule. In that time, Zach tried to run away, even though Jay claims otherwise. Zach developed a history of lying and stealing over the years and Jay claimed Zach was trying to avoid going to his dad’s and was mad about stupid stuff. We did find out Zach was really trying to run away. Still, Jay wouldn’t listen.
We had court in February. A GAL was appointed. We each met her within a week or so. When I met her, she told me she’d meet with my son within two weeks. We met on March 8th. She didn’t meet him until late June. She wasn’t returning my calls or my lawyer’s calls even. In May, my son ended up staying two weeks at a mental/behavioral place. He had an incident with his step-mom. Things were getting bad, but the GAL couldn’t be bothered to listen.
Court was to reconvene on July 3rd. Due to Jay’s lawyer asking to reschedule, again, a week before court and the GAL meeting with Zach so late, it got pushed to July 31st. When we met, the commissioner tentatively went with the GAL’s recommendation to leave things as is for next school year and then give me primary placement over the summer. (The GAL still had one of Zach’s doctors to talk to. She’d had months to do this!) I definitely was challenging that. Court was scheduled for November 27th.
The judge said she’d go with the GAL’s recommendation, but also stated that if things go well, that when we meet in August, primary placement could stay with us. That sounded good. I figured Zach should finish the school year in Appleton by that point anyway.
In January of 2019, Zach really struggled with some mental health stuff and on February 7th, he and his step-mom had another incident involving the cops. I think that was at least the fourth, but the second where it got this bad. Zach felt threatened and went overboard. Apparently he’d been getting abused and it had been going on for years. He’d finally fully snapped. He was taken to shelter care. I picked him up instead of leaving him there, after clearing it with them, as it was my weekend with Zach starting that next day anyway. He’s been here ever since.
I was told on the 9th that he’d remain here at least for a bit. I then decided to take Zach to school in Appleton so he’d still get an education. We’ve been getting up really early to get him there in time. Dealing with a toddler that wasn’t napping much due to that has made it harder. Since though, he’s been working on getting caught up with a lot he’d blown off before. We played the waiting game until the 26th. Then, answers arrived.
Our lawyers spoke and decided to flip the placement schedule now instead of waiting for the school year to end. Jay and his wife don’t want him back at this point and Zach doesn’t wish to return either. So, that being said, I confirmed it with Jay. I got the go ahead to start Zach in school here next week. After many years of headaches, heartaches, and fighting, here we are.
Along the way, I’ve grown. I’ve struggled, made progress, made dumb decisions, learned, kept growing, and this is where I am today: A wife to Doug of almost four years, a mom to two beautiful kids, a business owner, home owner, and one who continues to learn and grow. It’s been a slow and sometimes steady process for me. I’m proud of who I’ve become though and of who I am becoming.