A Love Story

I got pregnant the first time when I was twenty-six years old. I’d been married for two years. My husband and I had great jobs and a condo. Everyone, including my husband, was overjoyed by the news.

But I wasn’t.

I took three home pregnancy tests, heart pounding, each time praying the one before had been a false positive. I went to Planned Parenthood hoping that a professional administering the test would tell me something different. She didn’t. She came back into the room smiling. (On paper, I certainly looked like I’d be happy about the news.) “You’re pregnant,” she said, and I broke down and cried.

I’d never wanted children. As a little girl, I never played with dolls. As a teenager, I never babysat. I never dreamed of being anyone’s mom. I harbored no maternal instincts, felt no stirrings when I grew up and my friends started having babies. I held their babies awkwardly and always felt relief when it was time to hand the little bundles of joy back to their parents.

When I found out I was pregnant, I felt only fear. I knew, absolutely, that I wasn’t cut out to be anyone’s mother. I was too selfish, too full of my own big dreams. I felt it constantly, a low-level humming inside me, the vibration of my own possibility. I was living a very traditional life, but I knew it was temporary. It was just a matter of stepping off the path, of letting the wildness outside and the wildness inside connect. I’d be whole in a way I never had been, transformed, unrecognizable.

I’d never dreamed of becoming a mother and having a baby felt like the end of everything I had dreamed of. For days I was shell-shocked, and then I was incredibly sad. I considered abortion. I considered hurling myself down the stairs. At night, I had panic attacks.

Seven months later I had Dillon.

I did not step into motherhood gracefully. I stumbled. I doubted myself. I wrestled my demons. I loved him with an intensity I’d never known before and yet I felt some part of me slipping away, a wildness I’d never been brave enough to claim. I played with him all the time. I couldn’t get enough of him. Other people had to tell me to put him down, to let him sleep. Dillon spoke early. One of the first things he ever told me, pointing to his room, pleading, “Bed,” he said, exhausted.

I often say (and anyone who’s met Dillon agrees) that Dillon has an old soul. Even as a child, he seemed to understand me more than I understood him. To me he was magical, mysterious, miraculous. He was one fantastical feat after another. I loved every new stage more than the last. I watched how he moved in the world and I learned… far more than I taught.

During the course of his childhood, I worked, then quit to be a stay-at-home mother after his brother was born. I was sad and wrote a terrible book, and then went back to school so I could learn how to write a much better book. I developed theories on parenting that did not align themselves to the prevailing wisdom. They were aligned to my soul, to the funny, chaotic rhythm of our lives. I decided I’d rather tell my boys too much than ever have them feel I lied to them, and I chased my dreams because I knew I’d rather have them see me fail then see me afraid to leap.

Three years ago, when I finished the first draft of Beautiful Lives, Dillon was more proud of me, more certain of my trajectory than I was. Not long after, all grown up, he got a tattoo on his forearm. The tattoo says Beautiful Lives. When he showed it to me, I was stunned, and giddy, and nervous. I said, “What if it never gets published?”

He said, “Writing that book is who you are. When you see Beautiful Lives on my arm, think MOM. This is just way cooler than a MOM tattoo.”

He’s right. It is… in a way I can’t quite do justice to in a blog post.


As part of the love project, I want to collect loves stories. This is the first. I’ll write more. I’m kind of hoping you will too. I’d love to have a “love stories” category, or maybe a whole ZS love story page. If you want to share in the comments section here, please do. If you’d like to email me, I’d so love to hear from you at zebrasoundsj [at] gmail [dot] com.


  1. Elizabeth Marie on March 28, 2011 at 9:22 am

    Oh, Judy, this is gorgeous. (my kid has one of those old souls, too, and I feel blessed and grateful to be her mother)

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 9:26 am

      I swear, I just exhaled. I was so nervous about how people would read this. Thank you so much for being the first. Now I can handle whatever else comes. xo

  2. Lisa Kilian on March 28, 2011 at 9:24 am

    Oh my goodness. That was just lovely. Thank you so much for sharing. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 3:58 pm

      Thank you, Lisa.

  3. Rita on March 28, 2011 at 9:26 am

    Oh my gosh. I am crying. At my desk. At work. Beautiful you. xo

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:14 pm

      Sorry! (But thank you.)

  4. Lydia on March 28, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I have always maintained everyone in our lives is there for a reason. This does absolutely nothing to change that belief. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:16 pm

      If ever I were going to make a case for that, this would definitely be it.

  5. Tricia on March 28, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Now I want a tattoo that says Beautiful Lives. (Plus it has a nice ring to it. More than the first title of my book: Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost).

    Truly beautiful love story. I was fighting the urge to cry, but the whole Dillon tattoo thing did me in.

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm

      If I were to get a “Don’t Follow Me I’m Lost” tattoo, it would be truth in advertising! (May my butt never be big enough for all of that.) ๐Ÿ˜‰
      Thank you.

  6. mousebert on March 28, 2011 at 9:38 am

    That is so very special on so many levels I cannot begin to comment.
    (But I’m still not getting at tattoo!)

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      Thank you. (And it’s okay. I’m not your mom.) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  7. Mary on March 28, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Thank you for sharing this. We all question our lives at many points, as we should. No one can or should critisize you for that. Becoming a mother is perhaps your greatest leap yet and look how successful that turned out.

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      Thanks so much, Mary.

  8. Lisa on March 28, 2011 at 9:56 am

    My reaction? Jealousy, really.

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm

      Does it help to know that I have absolutely no fashion sense? ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Lisa on March 28, 2011 at 6:47 pm

      Do I consider fashion sense a good exchange for having a son who would tattoo something of me on his arm? Let me think. Um, no, no I don’t:). But maybe I will just sit here, and meditate on how much I love the son I do have, and the daughter too, and dream about them as babies.

  9. Phil on March 28, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Good job! Excellant post & excellant story. Who knows what the future brings!

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:28 pm

      Therapy, probably. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. Kaleigh on March 28, 2011 at 10:16 am

    This makes me think of so many love stories in my life. I might have to shoot you an e-mail with one. If there’s one thing this post, and so many other stories, have taught me, it’s that love is an act of stumbling. It isn’t graceful. It isn’t planned. It just happens, the same way we wake up each morning and begin the day.

    You are one of the most talented storytellers. Best wishes on your book. I can imagine you compiling all the love stories of a hundred strangers and putting them into a book. I would buy that. A whole book of that goodness?

    • j on March 29, 2011 at 9:38 am

      Oh, Kaleigh, please do email. I’ve gotten some beautiful responses to this, here in the comments and in email. I’m so touched by how beautiful and wide ranging our stories are.

      And yes! The love project is expanding, and part of the plan is to collect love stories, big and small, from all over the place. More on that soon!

  11. Jeffrey Bennett on March 28, 2011 at 10:18 am

    You’ve reminded me
    of the sentiment I first found

    ” A NOTE

    Life is the only way
    to get covered in leaves,
    catch your breath on the sand,
    rise on wings;

    to be a dog,
    or stroke its warm fur;

    to tell pain
    from everything it’s not;

    to squeeze inside events,
    dawdle in views,
    to seek the least of all possible mistakes.

    An extraordinary chance
    to remember for a moment
    a conversation held
    with the lamp switched off;

    and if only once
    to stumble on a stone,
    end up drenched in one downpour or another,

    mislay your keys in the grass;
    and to follow a spark on the wind with your eyes;

    and to keep on not knowing
    something important.”

    (Wislawa Szymborska)

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      Wow. That is absolutely beautiful. I’ve never read it before. I’m going to print it and hang it. Thank you!

    • LunaJune on March 28, 2011 at 8:36 pm

      what a wonderous poem
      covered in leaves
      from rolling down that hill
      dripping wet
      and laughing in the rain
      life in all it’s wonders.. awesome

  12. jb on March 28, 2011 at 10:19 am

    You & Dillon, will always be one of my very favorite love stories. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm

      Awww. <3

  13. Gina SuuperG Stark on March 28, 2011 at 10:19 am

    Thank you for sharing your Beautiful Life with us. Stunning. G

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      Ah, Gina. Thank you for reading me. xo

  14. ralphrc on March 28, 2011 at 10:23 am

    Excellent story. You certainly made the “write” decision. Now you have it all. Raising children is the most difficult, yet most rewarding, job that any person can undertake. However, I am chicken to get a tat. Maybe a henna tat?

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:30 pm

      Thank you, Ralph. I definitely don’t have it all, but I do have some really good stuff. (You’d look cute in a tat, darlin’.)

  15. juliemangano on March 28, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Such a lovely piece of you, Judy. Thank you so much for sharing it with us.

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Julie.

  16. echo90803 on March 28, 2011 at 10:34 am

    simply stunning, J.

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:31 pm

      Thank you!

  17. Christie on March 28, 2011 at 10:52 am

    This is beautiful j and I am so happy that you shared your love story!

    I too, feel I stumbled into motherhood. Hadn’t given much thought about being a mom, I was traveling all over the country, following hopeless boyfriends. Taken one step further, I really never wanted to be a single mom, didn’t want to carry on the tradition of the all the women in my family and yet, there I was, the torch passed to me and I felt completely helpless. I felt that my little baby boy deserved so much better than me. The first few months were so agonizing that I thought about giving him up for adoption. I felt stupid, here I was at 30 raising a child by myself and I thought I should have known better and then something started to happen. I fell totally, completely, helplessly in love with that little boy and realized that he needed me as much as I needed him and that no one could ever love him like I could. I realized that he had brought me back to myself, brought me healing and like you, taught me more than I could ever teach him. We have a deep connection, a bond like none that I have ever experienced and I could not imagine a life in which he did not exist.

    Thank you so much for opening yourself up, for putting your love out there for all of us to touch โ™ฅ

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      “I realized that he had brought me back to myself…” That is beautiful Christie. I keep thinking about all that it means. It is all that my post is about in one poetic line. Thank YOU for sharing.

  18. Michael on March 28, 2011 at 11:16 am

    #jtbc, bravo. Wow. Encore.

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:35 pm

      ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you, m.

  19. Estrella Azul on March 28, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Wow. Just wow. This is a true love story!

    I haven’t been in the position to fully comprehend all of what you must have felt, but I understand enough.
    Some days I can’t wait to have children, when I see a really cute baby intently watch his/her mother and smile – yet there are the days, 90% of them, when I wouldn’t even dream of it!
    And if it so happens that I’ll be a mother one day, I know I’ll remember your words: ” I developed theories on parenting that did not align themselves to the prevailing wisdom. They were aligned to my soul, to the funny, chaotic rhythm of our lives.”

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:37 pm

      I think maybe your ambivalence about having children is the best possible way to feel. It means you don’t have illusions – children are magical and terrifying. It’s best to go into having them, expecting more life than you’ve ever known. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  20. TLanceB on March 28, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    The thing about our children is, they get it.

    We may be more wise but they are smarter because they know us so well. My wife and I read your posts with wonder and tears. Sounds like your son learners well from mom, that love is unconditional and unexpectedly profound. Stunning blog today.

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:39 pm

      Thank you, Lance. Sometimes… lots of times… it was unclear who was the Grasshopper and who the Master. For me, it was better that way. Hopefully, when he’s my age, he’ll think so too.

  21. Brett on March 28, 2011 at 3:37 pm

    Beautiful. I’ve been following on Twitter for a while. I should have made it to to your blog way sooner! Love reading the tough and sweet bits of parents’ love for their children.

    • j on March 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm

      Hello! I’m so glad you came by so I could click over and read your sweet letter to your daughter. Thank you for commenting here, and a happy belated birthday to your 4-year-old lovely.

  22. C. Fassett on March 28, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    Wow, j! This gave me chills. It’s uncanny. Reading this post was like reading about my journey with my daughter. You aren’t alone.

    I was 27 when I got pregnant. However, I wasn’t married. I had never even changed a diaper before. Never desired kids. All of what you just shared. Saying I wasn’t prepared is an understatement.

    My daughter is the light of my life, and has been my greatest teacher. I can’t even believe I once considered abortion! My dad even made an appointment, and was going to pay for it. (makes me shudder). Now, having perspective, I consider without her I don’t think I’d even be alive. I had so much rage, and after I decided to go through with the pregnancy, I immediately got counseling to insure my anger would do her no harm. My love for her, and hers for me, her trust in me, was the thing that had me striving to be and do better. Like you, I was so scared. Most of the time I just winged it. I have also considered writing a book on my take of the whole parenting thing. My theories also didn’t go along with the prevailing wisdom.

    If ever there was a major crossroads in choice, it was right then with keeping my baby. Omg, the joy that child is to me! But what first told me I had made the right choice, was the morning after I brought her home. I awoke to hawks screeching, and when I got up to look, there were 6 or 7 of them sitting around the house. They stayed there for a while. I thought, well, okay, let’s do this thing…and the rest is history.

    I am so glad you shared this, j. Rest easy. You done good :).

    • j on March 29, 2011 at 7:11 am

      I’d never changed a diaper either. THAT was a comical moment in the hospital, when he peed up a nurses front and down mine. If I’d had any delusions that I was prepared, they disappeared in that moment.

      I love your story. The hawks! Have you ever seen anything like that before. It’s kind of amazing.

    • C. Fassett on March 30, 2011 at 9:15 am

      I had never seen anything like it, (the hawks), and haven’t ever since. I wrote a poem about it soon after, and have yet to find where I placed it. ๐Ÿ™

  23. Tracie on March 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    This is so very beautiful.

    • j on March 29, 2011 at 7:11 am

      Thank you, Tracie.

  24. Amy on March 28, 2011 at 6:42 pm

    I never wanted kids either. Never had that ache, desire. That need. I would have been fine not breeding. But then I met Paul…I could have gone either way. But he wanted a family, so what the hell.

    When Haley was born, I couldn’t believe how perfect she was. I would stand over her crib while she slept (for 3 hours) and watch her. Looking at every perfect nook and cranny. I couldn’t believe how much you could love someone instantly, without knowing them. Then, while I was pregnant with Trevor I thought there was no way I could be that fascinated and crazy about the second one. But sure enough….:D

    I’m so glad I have them. Granted, if I had to do it all over again, I might not choose to be a SAHM for more than 2 years, but would could shoulda. My kids are wicked smart and funny and I’d like to take partial credit for being around them so god damn much.

    I do hope Trevor does not come home with a tattoo on his arm. However, I will take that over him getting someone pregnant.

    This was a really nice post. Really nice. (p.s. sorry for blathering on. Gah.)

    • j on March 29, 2011 at 7:14 am

      I felt that too. Positive that I’d never feel about The Boy the deep, in my bones sort of love I did for Dillon. And then… Funny what we find we are capable of. (And, for the record, I love when you blather on.)

  25. LunaJune on March 28, 2011 at 8:41 pm

    Wow j I would never have guessed
    but always amazing to find out that some relationships were just meant to be
    Love the tattoo… he’s right.. ‘mom’… too over done.. Beautiful Lives :~)

    my nephew… another old soul… I got to help raise him for almost a whole year… the bond that we have…. priceless

    • j on March 29, 2011 at 7:15 am

      Which part wouldn’t you have guessed? (And thank you, Juney.)

  26. KjM on March 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    You are a classy lady, Ms. J. And that son of yours, Dillon, spectacular.

    In a reply to my answering your most recent poll, you seemed to suggest that 17 years was a long time ago for something wild in my life. Ah but, I’m still living in the joy of that wildness.

    Perhaps, one day, I’ll post the the story of that evening, night and entire weekend. ๐Ÿ˜€

    • j on March 29, 2011 at 7:17 am

      Why thank you, sir. When you post about that, make sure I know. I do NOT want to miss a tale of KjM wildness. (You don’t think 17 years is a long time? No inner itch to tap into that unpredictable man again?)

  27. rose casanova on March 29, 2011 at 7:26 am

    Wow. That’s an intense story. I feel, felt the same way about having kids and never had any. If I think about it I feel regret that I didn’t, but I don’t really think about it that much. Life has/had other plans for me, like being that wild child that you wanted to be. Well, I was that and I don’t have any regrets about it…well, a few very small ones, because nothing comes without a price.

    • j on March 29, 2011 at 9:21 am

      I get that. I feel a very whimsical (and sometimes sharp) regret about the wild child I never quite was. I’ve been trying to capture her, to the degree that I can all these years later, but there will always be that path I didn’t take. I’m actually happy to wonder about it, to feel a little sadness about it. If I didn’t, I’d be less of a writer, I think, and certainly less of who I want to be.

  28. Beth Olsson on March 29, 2011 at 8:06 am

    My husband (with whom I believe you are Twitter friends) shared this with me and I’m so glad he did. It’s so honest and heartfelt and truly captures the ambiguity that can come with parenthood – even for some of us who did always imagine being a parent. I’ve also shared this with a friend who is an author.

    • j on March 29, 2011 at 9:24 am

      Yes. You must be Lars’s wife. Hello! Thank you so much for leaving a comment. I always feel a little nervous when I write something this close to my heart and life. It is so reassuring to find words like yours waiting for me after.

  29. Milli on March 29, 2011 at 10:04 am

    Beautiful. (that comes with a flower of your choice)

    I was relieved to see that some of the other comments were short, too. I feel quite speechless with how beautiful this story is and I don’t know what else to say. Seems I’m not the only one.

    • j on March 30, 2011 at 7:51 am

      Thank you for saying something anyway. xo

  30. Pam on March 29, 2011 at 11:47 am

    Yes, beautiful.

    Our hearts can do things we don’t dream are possible.

    Thank you for the lovely feeling in this post.

    • j on March 30, 2011 at 7:57 am

      Yes, they are remarkable, our hearts – figuratively and literally. Thank you for the lovely feeling of your comment.

  31. Kellie J. Walker (@YourLifeInGear) on March 29, 2011 at 3:47 pm


    It’s taken me longer than usual to process this post. Once again, your honesty & courageous sharing have touched me in a way that I cannot quite articulate.

    Thank you for sharing a beautiful love story in an unadulterated way.

    Hugs, love & sparkles to you.


    Dillon is one lucky young man.

    • j on March 30, 2011 at 8:00 am

      Thank you, Kellie. I hope he is. I keep wondering what he’ll, later in life, wish I had or hadn’t done during this time. I guess all parents wonder that, though. Hugs and all manner of sparkly to you!

  32. Tall Pajama Man on March 29, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    I wrote this elaborate response then deleted it all, purposely. I am touched deeply enough that I can’t rush a response. More later…

    • j on March 30, 2011 at 8:00 am

      That’s okay. I’m enormously moved by the comment I’m imagining. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  33. Meg Sweeney on March 29, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    What a loving open honest post. You touched me…deeply. I love your writing and I love you.

    • j on March 30, 2011 at 8:00 am

      That means a lot to me, Meg. Thank you. xo

  34. Joanne Ludlow Firth on March 30, 2011 at 12:34 am

    Beautiful j! I’m with the speechless folks up there. xo

    • j on March 30, 2011 at 8:01 am

      Proof that ZS has the best community ever. Even when you don’t know what to say you still talk to me. I <3 you!

  35. Joshua Jones on March 30, 2011 at 11:20 am

    That was a lovely post. Honest. Well crafted. Beautiful. I’m impressed by your courage to share such an intimate part of your character. It just goes to show how we can overcome those seemingly insurmountable fears that come with the major choices. Life changes us and in turn we change the lives around us. You rock. Cheers! From @JLAJones

    • j on March 30, 2011 at 8:49 pm

      Thank you! On this one, I don’t know that I overcame my fear as much as I learned to live with it… for better and worse. In the end, we often do what we need to do… miraculously. Thanks for stopping by, JLAJones.

  36. Teresa on April 4, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Sending this post on to my dear friend who is at that beginning point in your story. She’s going to be an awesome mom and she’s dealing with all those same constant fears.

    Myself, I have poured my mom-love into fur-kids: dogs and cats that have taught me much, filled me with wonder and awe and compassion…and touched me with laughter and loss, love and pain. And my steadfast on-going 28 year love affair with my soul-mate-best-friend-husband. Perhaps there is a story there….

    Hugs and butterflies,

    (thanks to SuuperG Gina for bringing me to your site)

  37. Becky on October 31, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Oh my Gosh. Oh my Gosh.
    This is beautiful. I can’t believe this slipped through the cracks of my knowledge — I’m so sad thinking about what was going on in my world that I missed such a beautiful story about yours.
    Don’t even ask what I’m doing back here in the archives (secret mission).
    When I got pregnant with Noah, I was scared I didn’t have any love left for him. Bailey was only 18 months when I got pregnant, I gave her everything I had and would weep all the time because I just knew I could never love another person the way I loved her — but I was wrong. Noah opened up a whole new side of me that I needed unlocked. He is this amazing kid, unique, special.
    Thank you for sharing this and your Beautiful Life <~~~ see what I did there? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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