A few years ago, Jana Kramer didn't dare imagine being in this position. Or, she imagined it, but had little reason to think it would become a reality.
The 90210 and One Tree Hill actress turned country music artist and now ripped-from-life-experience, People's Choice Award-nominated podcaster went through ever so much leading up to the birth of her son Jace Joseph Caussin, her second child with husband Mike Caussin.
Having just celebrated Jace's first birthday, Kramer would be first to say it's all been worth it.
The struggle to stay positive on the road to conceiving a healthy baby alone could have sent anybody spiraling, and Kramer has openly admitted that she had some truly bad days after suffering miscarriages before and after having her first child, daughter Jolie Rae Caussin.
And then there was the understandable concern that she wasn't building a life with the right guy. Déjà vu all over again.
"If Jana and I can go through the pain that we have both felt from our situation, which, during the midst of it, did you ever think it was going to go away?" Chaussin asked his wife a year ago on an early episode of what was then just her podcast. "Never," Kramer replied. "Me either," he agreed.
"Ever," she said. "And it's still there from time to time, but it lessens over time."
These two, now co-hosts of Whine Down With Jenna Kramer and Mike Caussin, continue to work hard to hang onto what they've got, but, as Kramer said, they are "in it." As opposed to how she felt with the two dress rehearsals that came before.
"I wouldn't really call them marriages, I would call them glimpses of things," Kramer kicked off Whine Down's premiere episode with a nod to the two times she tied the knot before settling down with Caussin.
"One I met when I was 19 and we went to Vegas. The other one I was only married to for a week and now he's my best friend," she continued. Hubby No. 1 was Michael Gambino, and their Las Vegas-staged union was quickly annulled. Her second husband was actor Johnathon Schaech, whom she met shooting Prom Night. As she mentioned, the main issue was that she "was going right, he was going left."
Newly divorced from Christina Applegate when they started dating ("he called me Christina so many times"), Shaech was based in L.A., while Kramer was ready to decamp to Nashville to pursue her music career. After dating off and on for three years ("every time I got in a good relationship, he'd always come back"), he was finally ready to commit. They tied the knot on July 4, 2010, and, as she was walking down the aisle, Kramer realized she hadn't done the right thing. In fact, she had called off the wedding two weeks beforehand, but she put everyone else's interests (including the OK! exclusive they'd agreed to) before her own. A divorce was in the works days later.
"I wanted to have that beautiful day, I wanted to be in love with him...would we have ever worked? No. Not at all," she concluded.
Now they laugh about it, and Kramer describes both Schaech and his wife, Julie Solomon, as two of her best friends. Even their kids are close.
Still, being the "love addict at the core" that she admittedly is, Kramer kept up the search for Mr. Right.
Once settled in Music City, where she recorded her self-titled debut album, she started quietly dating country singer Brantley Gilbert, whom she met at the CMT Music Awards in June 2012. Kramer played coy about her new beau that November at the CMA Awards, but he was there for her when she ended up needing a trip to the hospital to be treated for exhaustion and dehydration the following month, right around her birthday.
A few weeks later, she said about her previously under-the-radar boyfriend, "I am really happy. He is so wonderful, I cannot stop smiling around him. He surprises me with gifts 'just because.'"
A month later, Gilbert rented out Nashville's Ryman Auditorium and proposed to her at the historic venue on Jan. 20, 2013, his 28th birthday—and, though she again apparently had reservations, she said yes.
"I was so surprised!" Kramer told People afterward. "He asked my mom for permission before he proposed, which meant a lot to me."
In April 2013, she was named Top New Female Artist at the ACM Awards, a resounding validation of the sweat and tears she'd put into achieving her country music dream. That summer she opened for Blake Shelton on his Ten Times Crazier Tour.
But her relationship with Gilbert took a turn for the worse at the same time, and by August 2013 they had called off their engagement.
"Brantley and I…I'm either writing or he's in the studio, and we block those days [out to spend together], but then we fill them with work stuff," Kramer had lamented before the breakup to Us Weekly, and sure enough, the word was that their competing schedules had gotten the better of them. (Ironically, that advice about the importance of blocking out days to be together had come from Shelton's then-wife, Miranda Lambert.)
"I love her to death. I care about her. She's going to make somebody a wonderful, wonderful wife, and a wonderful, wonderful mother. But between she and I, the situation does exist where it just didn't work. And that's the case. Some things happened and it didn't work out. But we still talk. I think the world of her. She's one of the most genuine people I know. And that's the honest to God truth. I think the world of that little girl."
Kramer took some time off to recharge in 2014. "For the first time in my life, I was happy being alone," she told Us Weekly about that post-split period. She hit the studio and appeared here and there, such as on an episode of Dance Moms, but it wasn't until the CMA Awards that November that she spoke out about the split.
"I was in a very unhealthy place and I picked a very unhealthy relationship," she shared with 94.3/97.3 The Wolf. "And I'm now in a healthy place and I'm very happy, and [Gilbert] clearly is happy as well, so... It all worked out in the end."
"We're all in better places," she added, "and I've moved on. I have an amazing boyfriend."
Gilbert, who has recently opened up about past struggles with addiction, ended up reconnecting with an old sweetheart (whom he'd met at church 10 years prior and was "mostly on" with for five years), teacher Amber Cochran, and they got married in 2015.
The "amazing boyfriend" Kramer spoke of, was NFL player Mike Caussin, who eventually retired after joining but never playing for the Washington Redskins in the summer of 2014, the injuries having piled up on the tight end out of Virginia's James Madison University.
Kramer and Caussin first met on Twitter in June 2014, easily the highlight of social media to date for the "I Got the Boy" singer, who is well-versed in the ways of Internet trolls and other critical online commentary.
"It's the new Match.com, I guess," she quipped to Billboard in April 2015. (More importantly, she was smitten the instant she met him in person.)
But though she described Caussin as "amazing" in November 2014, they had already weathered one rough patch.
"Never trust anyone," she had tweeted that August, two days after he had tweeted about being excited to see his wonderful girlfriend. "Here's to being SINGLE again," Kramer added.
They quickly reconciled, and Caussin proposed on Dec. 2, 2014, Kramer's 31st birthday.
"I was in such a good, healthy place that everything just fell into place—it was easy," Kramer told Us Weekly 11 days before their wedding. "He's a great listener, we communicate really well together and we have so much fun. It just works." Furthermore, "I always said my greatest job will be being a mom and he's going to be the best dad. It's going to be a great chapter for us."
The couple dove right in, marrying in a small ceremony in Charlottesville, Va., on May 22, 2015. Wanting to start a family right away, they decided to do IVF after initially not being able to conceive.
"We only had three embryos and we implanted the two embryos. I ended up getting pregnant but we had a very, very early chemical loss," Kramer shared in July in a video reflecting on her circuitous journey to becoming a mother of two.
Eventually she and Caussin ended up conceiving naturally and their daughter Jolie was born on Jan. 31, 2016.
Four or five months later, Kramer got pregnant again. "It was a lot sooner than I wanted to but I was still really, really happy," she said in her July video. "But I ended up losing that baby around seven and a half weeks."
Soon after that, unfortunately, the ghosts of their first days of dating would come back to haunt Kramer.
In August 2016 she revealed that she and Caussin had separated—after, it turned out, she had been informed that he had cheated on her multiple times, with multiple women. Caussin sought treatment for sex addiction, but Kramer decided to pull the plug.
So Kramer had apparently once again walked down the aisle with a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, but she was in love and hoping for the best.
"She told friends she really believed the cheating would never happen again," a source told Us after the split.
In the wake of her personal tribulations, Kramer put some pep in her step that fall with a run on Dancing With the Stars, where she finished in fourth place. Behind the already emotional BTS footage that reflected the tough times she was going through, combined with the delight of finally being a mom, Kramer and Caussin were co-parenting and trying to patch things up.
Their efforts included couples therapy and, in early 2017, a counseling retreat (like Marriage Boot Camp, only without a million strangers watching), though a reconciliation mainly required a real effort on Caussin's part to change.
"The thing is, until someone wants to change themselves, there's no amount of therapy, no amount of talking you can do about it until you make that decision for yourself," he said on Whine Down in May 2018.
"She said, 'Look, I'm giving you every opportunity. I am here. I am willing to work on this. I want this family to work.' Basically, step up or get out," Caussin recalled. "And it got to a point of an ultimatum and that's where I hit my breaking point. She hit her breaking point. I hit mine."
Ultimately, he realized, "I don't want to lose her. I don't want to lose Jana. I don't want to lose our family. I don't want to lose what we're trying to build."
Kramer, who as the child of divorced parents never wanted to be in a situation where she was getting divorced after having kids, also threw herself into making it work.
After deciding that they would, in fact, stay together, they wanted to expand their family as soon as possible, and she got pregnant in October 2017. But then she suffered another miscarriage, her third overall.
"1-3," Kramer wrote on Instagram. "Today I am 1-3. I debated posting this for the exact reason why it's a silent struggle. I don't want I'm sorry or sympathy. I just don't want to feel alone. And I know I'm not. This unfortunately isn't my first loss. When I first found out I was pregnant I wanted to shout it from the rooftop but I know for reasons like this we have to wait. So because we don't tell many, we have to suffer silently...and suffering silently was my thing in the past, but it's not now."
Ultimately in it for the long haul, Kramer and Caussin symbolically hit the restart button by renewing their vows in December 2017 in Hawaii.
"2017……..you broke my heart, you broke me down, you made me question everything, but damn did you make me strong," Kramer wrote on Instagram alongside photos of the beach-side ceremony. "You taught me patience, you taught me family was everything. You made me believe not only in myself but the power of forgiveness. You turned me into the women I always wanted to be."
She continued, "I have NO clue what 2018 has in store for me but I've never been more ready to live day by day and enjoy each day as it comes at me. Here's to always believing in love and fighting for it....2018, I'm ready for you!"
On that first episode of Whine Down With Jana Kramer, which she recorded some weeks ahead of its May 7 premiere, Kramer said cheerily, "Now I'm married and we've been married for—it'll be three years in May. Happily, a couple months."
Caussin, meanwhile, suggested that they try to implant the third embryo they had remaining from 2015, a boy, and that resulted in another chemical loss.
But in June 2018, Kramer revealed that, after yet another tortuous journey, they were expecting a baby boy.
"It's just such a scary process because it's a true miracle," the singer acknowledged. "I mean, it seems so easy, when you look at some people, but other time's it's like, it's a miracle...We lost our last two pregnancies, so it's been really tough."
Finally, Kramer felt as if everything had fallen into place.
"It's just been almost like our second chance where we've been able to, and [Mike has] been able to, do it the right way, where the first one maybe he wasn't in the right place or maybe wasn't as present," she told E! News that August. "Now I know I have a very present husband so that makes this pregnancy feel more connected and more like a team."
Kramer admitted it wasn't easy dealing with people who couldn't understand why she chose to stay with her husband after he so publicly screwed up, but at the end of the day it was her choice—and she feels she made the right one.
"In the first couple of years, it's not going to look like you'll ever get there, but there's always a silver lining and that's what we're trying to tell people," she continued. "I think people want to see relationships give it a chance and not just throw it away."
Kramer added, "We still have our days, but we're able to verbalize now, like when triggers come up and things like that."
"Ten out of 10 women would have probably left in Jana's shoes and situation," Chaussin also told E! News. "But over time, she was able to see that she wanted to work on it. She wanted to fight and against all family members, friends, everyone around her in her circle, against all their advice, she chose to stay. And that still blows my mind to this day."
Meanwhile, they continued to go to therapy, both together and individually, and the former CW starlet said that, sometimes, since couples counseling is so close by, she would walk home alone a session to clear her head.
Awaiting the birth of her second child, Kramer couldn't deal with idle hands, they don't suit her anxiety, so the Christmas decorations went up early as she envisioned what life would be like as a mother of two. At the time, she couldn't wait to pursue certain activities—tennis and teaching Jolie to ice skate, to name a couple—after her son was born.
"...everyone says oh baby is coming soon so enjoy the downtime. A little insight to me....I don't do well with downtime!" she noted on Instagram.
On Nov 29, 2018, they shared that Jace had arrived. "Our hearts are so full," Kramer wrote. "Thank you to all of our friends and family..and all of you who have supported Mike and I, and our growing family."
Caussin recorded the whole thing, including Kramer being prepped to have a C-section, for the podcast.
Asked why Whine Down had found such a devoted audience, Kramer told E! News in September at iHeartRadio's SoCalCountry festival, "Because we don't hold back and we talk about real stuff and we don't sugarcoat anything and we're not like, 'Our marriage is perfect.' No, we actually got into a fight on the way here and we're going to talk about it. We are very open and honest about our struggles, which then opens the door for our listeners to have that same experience and be able to relate."
In the meantime, Kramer and Caussin continued to, in no uncertain terms, work on their marriage.
"I wish it was a complete fairy tale and perfect, but it's not," she said on the premiere of Whine Down. "At the end of the day, it could be—if you really, truly work on it, and both partners are willing to work on it, then you can have a beautiful relationship."
(Originally published Nov. 30, 2018, at 3 a.m. PT)