"We met in the Dominican Republic each on vacation from 2 different continents. Although nothing physical happened while we were away, we had so much fun spending time together that when it was time to part ways,( he back to Belgium and I back to Canada) we knew we had to find a way to see each other again.
After meeting he came to Canada to visit me just 2 weeks after our vacation had ended. He stayed at my place for 2 weeks. An incredible 2 weeks followed while I showed him around on his first trip to Canada.
It all felt like a romance novel... I had to work while he visited and I would come home to a beautiful meal prepared, flowers… like a dream
For the six months that followed, we took turns visiting each other for a week at a time… I went to Europe for the first time met his family briefly and went to a couple of other cities while he travelled for work… I was 26 and life couldn’t get any better!
At that point, if we wanted it to last we had to make some choices…
Since I was in the position to quit my current job because I was starting a new business it made sense for the first while to go stay with his family in Belgium. While I was there I could work on Samples for my new jewellery line, and finish up my business plan. Then in spring I could return and start selling my work at local artisan markets.
So it was a plan… we would go at the end of October to Belgium and I would return to Canada in May to start my business.
No sooner were we on the plane on our way when I started to see a side of him I had not seen before.
I fell asleep on our overnight flight and woke up to a drunk belligerent man who yelled at a woman sitting behind him because something fell out of the overhead compartment and accidentally hit him!
I was so embarrassed and I told him so… he then didn’t speak to me for a couple of hours. Not quite the vision I had had of going to live in another country. I should have ended it right there. But I forgave him and thought it must have been a mistake.
Once we had been there a couple of weeks he started refusing to use birth control, even though we agreed that this would be his responsibility... This aggressive side I had started to see continued and he was not a man I wanted to say NO to.
I was over there relying on him, I had no income or savings. No options to leave.
Every relationship I had had prior to him was long term and ended on good terms, I thought men like this were only in the movies ( I felt stupid & I did not tell my family what was happening)
Only a month after arriving I found out I was pregnant. I pregnant 3000 km from home with none of my own resources or choices.
His behaviour became worse, he was never violent with me but he was with others and because I was compliant I wasn’t usually the subject of his anger.
I managed to get through those months and came home engaged and a huge belly due in August. For all my parents knew I was happy and as hard for them as it was to support a relationship that could land me and a future grandchild far away… they supported me.
Two weeks before the baby was due he returned from working abroad. While he was away I had moved into our apartment, so there we were in a place of our own expecting a baby in two weeks and hadn’t seen each other since May.
My parents threw a huge baby shower for us and he met all my extended family… everyone welcomed him with open arms. They had not yet seen this other side of him… and I had hoped he would change.
My first son arrived and his parents visited Canada and their new grandson. I was expected to entertain while trying to recover from having a baby and play tourist for 2 weeks. I was struggling with breastfeeding and received no support, just demands on my time to entertain and show his family around all the sights.
After they left he went with my father up north on a camping trip for a week. They had a disagreement on how they were going to split the cost of the trip and came back hating each other.
After that, all hell broke loose…
I was no longer permitted to visit my parents with the baby. Nor were they allowed to visit our home. I couldn’t talk to them on the phone without him sitting by listening and throwing insults in the background. When I retaliated against him (for the first time) it went as bad as I thought it would he was screaming full force at me while I was holding the baby and throwing things at me and breaking things. He demanded that we move back to Belgium at once.
It was at this point that I went with my new little one to meet a friend for coffee and her place. She suspected something strange was going on and had me sit down and watch an Oprah episode about domestic violence. Before we watched it she simply said be honest with yourself while you watch this. I didn’t know what it was about
When it was over I cried hard and called my mom and had her drive me and my baby to Women’s Place on Centre Street.
I felt a sense of immediate relief that I could for the first time just bond with my baby and know he couldn’t get to me here and that I could see my mom in a safe environment.
They taught me about the cycle of abuse, safety planning, and gave me access to countless resources to help me get back on my feet.
We lived there for 6 weeks until he finally left to go back to Europe.
Once he was gone we returned to our apartment and he continued to beg me to change my mind, promised he would change, promised to go to counselling … he said he would do anything to protect his family. He convinced me that in order to properly provide for us financially and to do the necessary counselling he needed to be in his own country where he could have counselling in his own language.
This was the hardest decision I ever had to make. I was a first-time mom. I knew if I decided he wasn’t for me that my son would not grow up knowing his father. I felt I owed him one last chance to do the right thing. If it went bad I would be able to move forward at peace with my decision. If I didn’t give him a chance I would carry the guilt wondering if I had made the right choice.
So I decided to brave it.
Women’s Place taught me safety planning and I actually went over my decision with them and we put a plan in place.
I had my son’s father sign a notarized letter permitting us to travel back to Canada in six months’ time. I had copies made and had the original in safekeeping.
That way I had an out. The only downfall was that if I needed to leave sooner I couldn’t because it would have been child abduction (travelling without permission)
So I knew if it went bad I was going to have to stick it out for 6 months.
Away we went… to give a father a chance..
It went bad immediately. He told me he just said all that to get me over there, that there was nothing wrong with him. He said he knew I wouldn’t come if he hadn’t made all the false promises.
He arranged to register his son as a Belgian Citizen immediately.. to prevent me from going anywhere.
What I had learned at women’s place kicked in immediately… I found an English-speaking Anglican Church in the next town and I started attending (something he had no use for) so every Sunday I took the baby on the bus to Church. I met other Canadians residing in Belgium who I confided in about the situation and gave our travel documents to for safekeeping (the letter)
I put on a brave face and pretended to be happy for 6 months, and was unable to have much contact with my family. It was horrible, he was horrible… but I didn’t fight… Slowly but surely 6 months would go by and I will never forget the day I walked with my sweet baby through the departure gate and left him behind me. The biggest feeling of relief and freedom.
After being home a few months I told him I was never going back.
Since leaving I have built a business, raised an amazing son… and am in the most loving supportive relationship with a man who fosters my independence. He brought his 2 children into my life and we have had 2 more babies of our own.
And I am opening a new boutique in Downtown St. Catharines at the beginning of April.
My former partner has had two relationships since me and both women reached out to me for help, each abused more than the last. One survived being held at gunpoint.
Thank you Gillian’s Place for giving women the support and tools they need to escape abuse and protect children from growing up witnessing abuse… I am and will always be forever grateful."