When Britney wakes up in the middle of the night to find her baby boy, Nathan, missing from his crib, she is immediately sent into a frenzy. With only Nathan’s onesie left behind in the crib, Britney fears that her worst nightmare may have come true.
Britney never thought that her life would feel so disjointed. She thought she would be planning on having a second child with her now ex-husband, Karl. But things didn’t work out for the young couple, and months of non-stop arguing eventually led to an unceremonious divorce.
Britney was a self-employed businesswoman and didn’t rely on anyone—not even Karl—for financial support.
“Just because you pay the bills doesn’t mean you can stop me from seeing my son,” Karl told her during custody proceedings.
People began to ask Britney uncomfortable questions after the divorce, but she was having none of it. In her eyes, Britney could handle the weight of raising Nathan by herself and was determined to prove everyone wrong. A truth that she didn’t want to admit was that she was actually trying to prove something to herself.
This is my son, and he’ll know he only needs his mother, Britney thought.
“There’s something you’re not telling me.”
Part of the custody agreement meant that Britney would need to hire a full-time assistant to manage the business while she took maternity leave. Britney grew anxious in the house alone with Nathan because if anything were to happen, she would be essentially helpless. Not to mention her strange sleeping patterns.
“It’s the craziest thing, Britney. You sleep like a corpse. Not a peep. When you were a child, sometimes we would worry if you were unconscious when you wouldn’t even flinch in your nap to the loudest noises, but you were just fast asleep,” Britney’s mother, Daisy, used to say.
Britney decided to invest in the highest quality baby monitor so that if Nathan began to cry, it would immediately alert her. Her worries still grew, along with her developing insomnia and even more unpredictable sleeping habits.
She would fall asleep late at night and awake just a couple of hours later, fearing that something would happen to her son. But when she checked on him, he’d be sleeping peacefully without cause for concern. When she saw her friend, Natasha, for lunch one day, she had visible bags under her eyes.
“I know what you’re going to say, but don’t worry about me. I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” Britney said.
“Yeah, well. I’m going to say it anyway. I’m worried about you, Britney. You’re clearly not sleeping, alright. I just think everything happened fast, and you should call him,” Natasha said.
“Why does everyone keep saying that?! Karl this, Karl that. Like Karl is some knight in shining armor! I’m Nathan’s mother, and I’m more than capable of taking care of him myself,” Britney replied.
Natasha sighed, not wanting to upset her friend.
“Fine, whatever helps you sleep at night. But there’s something that you’re not telling me. I won’t press any further. I just want you to know that I’m here for you,” Natasha said.
A few days later, Britney awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of a child laughing. Struggling to get out of bed, she wandered over to Nathan’s crib, and in the dark, she could clearly see him sleeping.
“You can keep acting like you don’t remember what this is really about.”
She told herself it must’ve just been a dream before heading back to sleep. She made sure not to switch on the light so as not to wake Nathan. Britney had been trying not to let paranoia get the best of her, but she couldn’t help but feel like something was happening in her house.
Certain items in Nathan’s room were slightly out of place. Toys were left in places she hadn’t left them in when she put him to bed. Britney feared that she would sound like a crazy person if she brought it up with anyone, especially because she’d been exhausted by trying to care for him alone.
It didn’t help that she needed to slowly get back to work, at least part-time, as she didn’t want to lose loyal clients.
The following night, Britney heard noises coming from Nathan’s room again. This time she couldn’t tell whether it was laughing or crying, so she needed to make sure. Half-asleep, Britney made her way to Nathan’s room again. On her way over, she couldn’t hear the noises anymore. Let me just put the light on to make sure, she thought.
She tried to quickly flicker the lights on and off so that Nathan wouldn’t be awoken by her checking on him. When she blinked the lights the first time, she could see something in the crib but wasn’t sure.
Britney quickly put the lights on again, and her eyes widened. Rather than seeing Nathan sleeping in the crib, she only saw his onesie.
Nathan wasn’t in his room. He couldn’t walk or even stand properly yet, so he couldn’t have gone anywhere alone. Britney’s heart sank as she stood frozen in place, her hand still on the light switch. Her disbelief quickly turned into frightened anguish as she searched around Nathan’s room, looking for any sign of him.
She went from barely lucid to fully alert as she went to grab her phone from her nightstand. She ran back to Nathan’s room, her eyes darting from corner to corner as she dialed 911.
“Hello, you’ve reached the police. How can I help you?” a police operator asked.
“Yes… Um… It’s my son. I can’t… I can’t,” Britney frantically blurted out before pausing. She had just noticed something in the crib from the corner of her eye.
“I warned you about what would happen next, Britney, but you didn’t listen to me.”
“Yes, ma’am, what about your son? Is he alright? How can we assist?” the operator asked.
Britney slowly reached into the crib and picked up a shirt button.
“Um… I’m really sorry, it’s nothing. I’m—I’m sorry I called,” Britney replied before hanging up the phone.
She recognized the shirt button. It had a custom inscription from a local tailor. The same tailor where Britney had bought Karl a dress shirt for his birthday a few years prior. What started as confusion quickly turned to rage, as Britney called Karl. He didn’t pick up on the first dial, and Britney left an angry voicemail.
“Karl! You better pick up this call. I know you have Nathan! I told you already. You are not to see him. Bring him back now!” She yelled.
She began to text him furiously as she didn’t know where Karl lived at the time.
“WHERE ARE YOU?”
“THIS ISN’T FUNNY, KARL!”
“SERIOUSLY, PICK UP THE PHONE OR CALL ME BACK.”
“DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW WORRIED I WAS? I ALMOST FILED A MISSED CHILD REPORT!”
After numerous unsuccessful tries, Karl finally picked up the phone. Immediately, Karl began to apologize profusely.
“Listen, Britney. Listen. I’m sorry, Britney. Okay? I just wanted to see Nathan. I have every right. The courts didn’t give you full custody, remember that? And now you’ve shut me out of my boy’s life, and for what? Your ego?” Karl said.
“Screw you, Karl. What do you mean, my ego?” Britney replied.
“Oh, sure. You can keep acting like you don’t remember what this is really about. Nathan and I are a block away. It’s time we spoke about this. Because now it’s gone too far,” Karl responded.
Britney waited on the front lawn and saw Karl pushing Nathan in his stroller, walking towards the house. Britney put Nathan to bed and walked back outside to talk to Karl, who was pacing up and down the driveway.
“You seem to have a lot to say, Karl. So how about you get it off your chest?” Britney said as she took deep breaths.
“Fine. You can keep treating me like I’m some sort of villain, but we both know what this is really about. I always supported you with your dreams. I left my job so that I could play house-husband and take care of Nathan. I was more than happy to do that for us…” Karl started.
Britney looked around the yard nervously before replying, “Okay, and?”
Karl took one step closer before continuing, “You got so tied up in work that you started to forget about us. You came home later and later and spent less and less time with your son. I warned you about what would happen next, Britney, but you didn’t listen to me.”
Impatiently, but almost like she was trying to avoid the conversation, Britney replied, “Just get to the point, Karl.”
“Nathan forgot you, Britney. He didn’t recognize you. He couldn’t recall your face anymore or your smell. You would pick him up, and he would cry. Suddenly, you started treating me like I was to blame. I could see in your eyes that it hurt you deeply. But I still loved you, Britney. That’s why I didn’t make it ugly in divorce court or drag out custody proceedings, but you’ve stopped letting me see my son. It’s almost like you don’t want him to recognize me anymore,” Karl exclaimed.
Britney tried to maintain her angry facade but began to break down and sob. She had been suppressing her feelings for so long that she had forgotten how much Karl cared about his family.
Britney remembered how she jabbed at Karl by saying she was in a better financial position than him and was, therefore, better suited to be Nathan’s primary caregiver. She finally understood how much that must’ve hurt Karl. Britney began to bawl as she confronted the truth of the situation.
Karl took another step closer before he continued, “So I picked myself up and got my old job back, but after work, all I could think about was Nathan. I came by after work, and the lights were off, but I realized that you hadn’t changed the locks. I know it’s crazy, but I just wanted to spend time with him, so I started taking him on nighttime walks. Just quick ones to the park and back. That’s all. Look, if you really want me to, I’ll leave and never come back, but I—”
Before Karl could continue, Britney hugged him and began crying hysterically. She could hardly get a breath in, and Karl did his best to soothe her.
“It just felt like I wasn’t his mom anymore… It was like I was a ghost!” She exclaimed as she gasped for air between sobs. “Don’t go. I need your help. I’ve been going crazy here without you. I—I made a mistake. I’m sorry,” she continued.
“It’s… It’s okay. We’re gonna figure this out together. If not for us, then for Nathan. I’m here. I never wanted to leave,” Karl replied.
Over the next few months, Britney and Karl began attending couples therapy to resolve their issues. They asked for help from Britney’s mother, Daisy, and their friends to babysit Nathan on occasion so that both Britney and Karl could work. Together, they managed to find a balanced relationship as co-parents, and not long after that, their romance rekindled.
What can we learn from this story?
The child shouldn’t be a toy in parents’ affairs. Both Britney and Karl love their son, but let their marital issues get in the way of a their responsibilities as co-parents.
Always ask for help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Britney tried to juggle being a single other and businesswoman all by herself when she didn’t need to. She had her mother, her friend Natasha and more importantly, Nathan’s father, Karl, to help.
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