The good breakup: how her ex became family
Michaela Angela Davis

It would be fair to say that Ezra is one of the great loves of my life. After all, it was through him and our daughter, Elenni, that I learned the lesson of a lifetime--that we each have power to transform fear of the unknown into unconditional love.

I was attracted to Ezra the moment I saw him. His shoulders were broad, his chest was lean and chiseled, his skin was the delicious color of apple butter. A gifted actor with a smooth booming voice, he wore impeccably groomed locks and moved with the easy grace of a prince. The only problem was he had a girlfriend. Well, Ezra broke up with the girl, and we quickly became a couple. But his infidelities soon led to arguments and a cloud of mistrust. We had a classic on-again, off-again relationship.

In one of our "on" times, our contraception failed. I knew the exact instant I conceived Elenni. At the height of making love--whoosh!--I felt her spirit enter my body. Talk about bad timing for a perfect blessing. Ezra and I had just decided that our relationship had reached the finish line. We were already rehearsing lines like "I'll always love you"; "We'll always be friends": "We'll always stay in touch." At the time we had no idea how true those promises would turn out to be. We had no idea that in just a few months, Ezra and I would be forced to reinvent the idea of family, defying the stereotypes of single parents at war over their children, choosing instead to become equal partners in parenting Elenni.

But all that happened later. When I first realized l might be pregnant, fear came fast and furious. My career in fashion was on a glamorous trajectory, and pregnancy was definitely not in style. And what about Ezra? We'd never even talked about children. Afraid and confused, I took a pregnancy test at my mother's house, a clue to the choice I would make if it turned out to be positive. When the cross turned pink, I wailed and thrashed about on Mommy's floor as she sat wordlessly on her piano bench, sipping black coffee and waiting for me to pass through the fear. Then, holding my mother's hand, I let go of my life as I had known it and began my own journey into motherhood.

Ezra was not pleased when I told him I planned to keep the baby, but he saw that I was resolved. He went through his own gamut of emotions-anger, resentment, fear--until finally he, too, landed at acceptance. Eventually he embraced and even loved the idea of becoming a father. Like me, he was falling in love with Elenni. He thought he was falling in love with me too. As our baby grew inside me, Ezra's good-southern-man morals took hold, and he asked me to marry him. Excited about becoming parents, we were already feeling like family. Getting married would make it all neat and perfect. Still, I didn't want to do the right thing for the wrong reason. I asked Ezra to wait.

Elenni came in mid-December, and perfect she was. But after the euphoria of new birth passed, I began to remember the state of the relationship Ezra and I had had before her arrival. Going through the pregnancy had connected us in a very beautiful way, and we could probably have played house for a few years. But the fact was, we had never built a foundation of trust, and I still harbored the hurt of his past infidelities. After much soul-searching, we decided it would be best for Elenni not to have to go through the trauma of our inevitable separation. She deserved to grow up in the family we were bound to be.

But what kind of family was that? There weren't many positive examples of single parents building strong, mutually respectful relationships for the sake of their children. We'd have to come up with our own blueprint. Ezra made it clear that he had no interest in being a "weekend and every-other-Wednesday kind of dad." He was not going to be stereotyped or marginalized. True to his word, Ezra was a great father from the start, and I loved him for that. So with love we proceeded to design our family.

The first thing we had to do was clear the resentments we were holding so we wouldn't be tempted to use the past as ammunition in the future. The honest conversations this entailed were not easy, but we needed to clean house emotionally to fully commit to coparenting Elenni. We promised never to use our daughter to dig at each other and especially never to speak with disrespect about each other to or around Elenni.

We worked out our daily routines by trial and error. After several ad hoc arrangements, we decided on absolute equal time: Elenni would live with me one week and Ezra the next. We agreed to split all major expenses like after-school programs and orthodontists by each paying every other month, and for large, one-time expenses we'd write two equal checks. We also resolved to give each other the space to be the best parents we could possibly be, never micromanaging what the other did. The result was that Elenni had soymilk with granola at my house and skim milk with Cheerios at her dad's. But so what? Both were served with love and care.

Even though we have slightly different rules and rhythms, Ezra and I continue to make all major decisions, such as schools, doctors and extracurricular activities, together. Elenni has her own fully equipped room in each household, and her teachers always know how to reach us both. And with our parenting schedules clear, Ezra and I are able to plan our social lives. Friends know to ask, "Is this your week?" And because both of us travel for our work, we are the first to cover for each other, even though our "village" of friends is also there to pitch in.

Fourteen years later, we're each grateful for the work we put in up front. Elenni is proof positive that our partnership works. She is confident, independent and full of joy, with two devoted parents who love and look out for her full-time. And though Ezra and l have both moved on romantically (he's married with a new daughter, while I'm still doing "research"), we continue to have "family-fun days" when just the three of us hang out. We know that neither time nor distance nor fear of the unknown can alter the undeniable truth that the three of us are forever family.