It felt like life was over for actress Steph Parry, 40, after a miscarriage and a broken marriage. But instead, it had only just begun. Here she shares her powerful story with Susanna Galton...
I was 30 when I met James. He was good-looking and understood my showbiz career. When I explained I was performing in the West End version of Mamma Mia! which ruled out dinner dates, he shrugged, ‘Well, I’ll meet you afterwards.’ I came off stage slightly sweaty but we instantly got on.
He proposed in 2014, with a beautiful ring he’d secretly asked my jewellery designer friend to make. By December 2015, we were married in a big white wedding, in my hometown church in Anglesey, north Wales. Surrounded by everyone I loved, it was one of the best days of my life.
We moved to a house in Surrey and talked of having a family. In your 30s, friends are planning babies and I assumed that was my future, too.
But I adored working on West End shows, including Wicked and Billy Elliot. In 2018, I even made the news when I ran from my dressing room at 42nd Street to play Donna in Mamma Mia! when the leading lady was injured 15 minutes into the show.
I always believed James and I were happy, though in 2019 we underwent marriage counselling. He really wanted kids, but my career was building momentum and I didn’t feel ready. But after 10 therapy sessions, we decided to go for it. The pandemic had struck, the timing felt right.
I quickly fell pregnant, though I didn’t even realise until I started bleeding heavily on a walk on New Year's Eve 2020. Miscarrying at five weeks was a surreal end to the year.
‘It’s OK,’ I hugged James. ‘At least we know we can get pregnant. We’ll try again.’
I was 38, and although I felt the loss, I was hopeful next time it would work.
Two months later, a pregnancy test was positive. ‘Let’s not get our hopes up,’ James warned, he didn’t seem excited.
At seven weeks, I started spotting. I googled ‘implantation bleeds,’ praying the pregnancy would continue.
But when I went – alone – to the Early Pregnancy Unit for a scan, the sonographer confirmed bad news, ‘I’m sorry, you’re having a miscarriage.’
I rang James in tears. I felt gutted, but at the same time strangely numb that it had happened again. James consoled me when I cried. Now I see I didn’t really check in on how he was feeling. I was too caught up in my own loss and bled for days. No one warns you about that.
The next few weeks I coped by throwing myself into the gym and insisting to James, ‘I’m fine, don’t worry.’
He seemed quiet, but I assumed that was his way of dealing with the loss. I had no inkling that just six weeks later, in April 2021, James would end our marriage out of the blue.
We’d just finished one of our regular Saturday night Zoom quizzes, with both our families.
‘I’m off to bed,’ announced James. Following him into the room to get my PJs I sensed something was up. ‘It’s just tummy ache,’ he muttered.
I knew he was lying.
‘What’s really the matter?’ I pushed. Then he started having a panic attack, struggling to breathe and get the words out. ‘I’m just not happy,’ he eventually sobbed.
It suddenly dawned on me – he really wanted out. He was leaving and wanted a divorce.
My world collapsed at that moment. My husband of eight years didn’t love me anymore.
We both cried though weirdly, we shared the same bed – I guess, what’s normal when your life is falling apart?
In the middle of the night I woke in total shock and FaceTimed a friend, crying on my bathroom floor. ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do,’ I kept repeating.
Initially, James went to stay at his sister’s. With his clothes in the wardrobe and toiletries on the shelves, it was like he’d only popped out.
On the Monday, my agent rang. She immediately knew I was a mess. But I had an audition for Casualty, playing a wife who’d just been widowed, so it wasn’t a stretch to act! I directed all my pain into that tape, somehow landing the job.
The next few weeks were a blur, grappling with the rejection. I was drinking far too much Sauvignon, and exercising manically.
During one workout my BPM rocketed to 212, I felt like my heart was exploding with anxiety.
I couldn’t have survived without my good friends caring for me. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat. I was embarrassed telling people, ashamed I’d failed.
I felt utterly derailed. Why did he let me try for a baby? Hurt and confused, I did some digging, learning he’d been unhappy and doubtful for a while, yet hadn’t told me.
I was angry, had I now missed being a mum?
‘You’ve taken that choice away from me,’ I shouted during one of our rows in those early weeks as he collected the rest of his things. ‘I’m nearly 40, there’s no time to meet someone new.’
But, I also needed to accept that he wasn’t coming back.
I started seeking out coping strategies and read the journalist Rosie Green’s powerful book How To Heal A Broken Heart. Nine weeks after splitting, I saw on Instagram that Rosie was hosting a Breakup retreat day and immediately signed up.
There, I met 40 other women who knew exactly how I felt. I was humbled by their stories. One woman had waited five years for her husband to return. I couldn’t let that be me.
Watch: How to push through heartbreak with divorce coach Sarah Davidson
Sara Davison, The Divorce Coach, ran a session encouraging us to think about the future, and things that brought us joy.
Empowered, I came home and booked a weekend rock climbing and paddleboarding – activities my ex would have hated.
I also downloaded a dating app. On my first post-marriage date I nervously went to a pub in my best blue dress. There was no chemistry, but I kissed him, just to feel what it was like!
I soon learned about ‘ghosting’, and spotting red flags, like poor communicators, but meeting new people was surprisingly fun.
The decree nisi was granted just 10 months after the split, and the decree absolute in February this year.
Recently, I discovered James has a baby with a new woman. Someone texted congratulations, assuming I was the mum! It triggered me to finally grieve the missed pregnancies. All the emotion I’d been holding in came flooding out.
But I’ve come so far today I genuinely wish him well. I realise with hindsight he did me a favour by ending our marriage, because I’ve found there are better relationships out there and I much prefer the stronger person I’ve been forced to become. I’ve discovered new joys that I’d pushed to one side when married.
I’m still determined to have children in my life – whether my own, being an auntie or godmother. And I can honestly be happy for pregnant friends.
Now I’m dating a lovely man, who shares my sense of adventure and we communicate properly. I never imagined such happiness. I feel younger, more playful and in tune with my emotions. My divorce gave me the chance of a better life, I want other heartbroken women to know it could be the making of them, too.
How to survive divorce
“Divorce is never the easy option, so my advice is always to work on the relationship,” says Sara Davison, aka The Divorce Coach. “But sometimes things do break down irretrievably and it’s time to face the fact it’s over.” Here’s her tips on handling the breakup of a long-term relationship.
1. Sort out your finances. Spreadsheet a plan of your weekly/monthly spending and take ownership of your finances. Consider getting legal advice, it doesn’t have to get bitter – an expert can offer clarity about what to expect.
2. Agree what to say to kids. Ideally sit down together, reassuring them they are loved, emphasising this isn’t their fault.
3. Look after yourself. Self-care, eating well and exercising helps keep you strong – and more in control of making decisions.
4. Be kind and respectful. Pick your battles, when tension mounts, ask, ‘Will I care about this in a few months?’ Be selective about who you talk to. Don’t moan to everyone or bad-mouth your ex, which might get back to them, making it worse.
5. Remove the rose-tinted glasses. To avoid romanticising the past, write an honest list of the problems within the marriage.
6. Spring-clean your life. Breakups are an opportunity to rediscover yourself. Try new things to bring back your sparkle. You only live once, it’s time to start feeling good about what lies ahead!