What I Didn’t Know, and the Woman I Used to Be

Back in October, I was scrolling through one of the Facebook groups I am a part of when I came across a post that I felt I needed to share with our Shadow’s Edge community. This post brought me to tears – both sad and happy ones – because I know how hard it can be to see the good things coming in our future when life throws a wrench in our plans. But this story about unexpected challenges, changed plans, and perseverance is a good one to read when we need a reminder that our current challenge isn’t the end for our dreams and goals.

It was written by a woman named April Lieberman, and I reached out to her to see if she would be okay with me sharing what she wrote with you all. I am so happy she agreed, because I know many of our audience knows the feeling of being struck by a challenge (especially a medical challenge like a diagnosis of a chronic illness or an injury that throws all our plans off course).

Thank you to April for letting us share this post with our audience!

– Lacey, Community Manager for Shadow’s Edge

Twenty-five years ago today, I couldn’t have known the twists and turns my life would bring.

What I Didn't Know

I had no idea that I was insanely fertile and when my new OB-GYN cancelled my initial appointment the week after my honeymoon, I would be stunned to find myself pregnant before the follow-up could be scheduled.

From my impressionable high school years of reading “Working Woman” magazine during Mrs. Reynolds’ typing class, I had earnestly come to believe it would probably take years of trying and likely technological marvels to have a baby.

Little did I know that I would start my career as an attorney with only six precious weeks to wear my three new size six Gianni Versace suits, or that I would never see the inside of them again.

I never anticipated having to hide a surprise pregnancy from my new law firm – before my health insurance had kicked in no less. That is, until hitting the cold air after lunch at the Greek restaurant caused me to retch loudly against the side of the building. In front of five partners. I finally had to confess when called into the managing partner’s office that afternoon.

I was one of only two female associates hired that fall out of 32 total working in my firm.

They told the other one, also a newlywed, that I hadn’t made a very good career move and that she “better not go get pregnant” on them. Ironically, part of my job as a Labor and Employment lawyer was to counsel our corporate clients on how to avoid gender and pregnancy discrimination claims.

I didn’t know my precious Tennessee would be born just a few weeks before our first anniversary, or how my heart would break into little pieces to have to return six weeks later to a full-time litigation practice.

Though we could have afforded it, and I begged, I didn’t warrant going part-time.

Unlike my husband, I had the misfortune of being born decidedly not wealthy and had “burdened” the marriage with six figures in student loan debt. He meanwhile switched from practicing law to teaching English at a private school so as to have the summers off and spend more time with the baby.

I should have known the one time we didn’t use contraception that next spring (to be fair, we were on a getaway Memorial Day weekend in the French Quarter, my soul city and favorite place in the world), I would of course get pregnant again.

So, I had to fess up to my second pregnancy in as many years with the firm, at which point they threw hands and papers in the air.

I didn’t know in three short years my legal career would end in an instant.

A steel hoist way door in the lobby of my law firm malfunctioned, striking me violently on the right side of my head as I stepped onto the elevator. I would never practice law again. I would never achieve my dream of becoming an appellate court judge.

In the nightmarish weeks of neurological exams and consults that followed, as the extent of my traumatic brain injury became clear, I didn’t know that the man who had exchanged vows with me would tell me “this isn’t going to work” because he “didn’t sign up to live a handicapped lifestyle.”

I didn’t know that I would have to teach myself how to read again, struggling through “Goodnight Moon” and other board books with my babies.

I didn’t know I would have trouble speaking and would use a cane for much of the next seven years. Or that my spasticity during the difficult recovery would make me look like I had Huntington’s disease. People would stare at me when I went out in public, and little children would point and ask their parents “What’s wrong with that lady?”

I didn’t know my father-in-law would be on a presidential ticket, the increased scrutiny it would bring to our family, or that my marriage would remain intact only because it would be “bad politics” for my husband to dump his newly brain-damaged wife.

I didn’t know how much contempt I would endure just to be with my children. What I did understand very well was that no court would have ever granted me custody if I had tried to leave.

Once my father-in-law was done running for national office, and my husband was free to file, the divorce was finalized one week shy of our 10th anniversary. That was 15 years ago last week.

What I Didn't Know
April and her younger daughter, Willie.

What I couldn’t imagine then is that I would somehow rebuild a life for myself. It would take years, and strength and perseverance I didn’t know I had. But Mama knew. She always knew because I was hers.

I didn’t know someday I would have beloved friends and be a part of an organization that does work that matters. Or that I would be happy and loved, that I would be valued. I didn’t yet know how rewarding my life could be.

But I did know to save the Versace suits in the chance I had a daughter one day who wanted them (and looks amazing in them). You’re welcome, Willie.

I woke up this morning, per my pandemic routine, having absolutely no idea what day it is.

I met a lovely lady from Facebook Marketplace in the CVS parking lot. She was thrilled to buy the engagement and wedding rings forgotten in my safe deposit box these past 15 years.

I couldn’t have known all those years ago how cathartic it would be to let go.

I only realized this afternoon when filling out a bank form what today is or would have been. I smiled and remembered not with regret, but with love, the young woman I used to be.

What I Didn't Know

About the Author

April Lieberman is Immediate Past District Governor of Rotary 6760. April is the fourth woman to serve in this role in the 106-year history of her District.

She is a Yale Law graduate and former appellate attorney. She served as a federal judicial law clerk to the Honorable Rosemary Barkett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and was admitted to practice before the District of Connecticut, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second and Eleventh Circuits, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

April’s older daughter Tennessee is majoring in Jewish Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.. Her younger daughter, Willie D, is studying European History at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. April spends her free time renovating her 1850s Gothic Revival home, which happens to be Northwest Tennessee’s most infamous haunted house.

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