Rehab Addict star Nicole Curtis has been embroiled in a vicious two-year custody battle for her 30-month-old son, Harper, and says the entire process has been “heart-wrenching.”
The DIY star stunned fans when she revealed she was pregnant for the second time in 2015, a fact she had first decided to keep secret.
“I was worried about being judged,” Curtis, 41, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “It was a very difficult time for me. There I was, almost 40, having another child on my own.”
Already a single mom to son Ethan, 19, Curtis had every intention of raising Harper, 2 1/2, without help. But after her ex, Minnesota-based businessman Shane Maguire, 54, found out he was the father, he asserted his parental rights and was awarded visitation. Suddenly, Curtis found herself having to turn over her then-6-month-old son twice a week.
“Harper had never, ever been away from me before,” she says. “That was the most horrific moment. It was heart-wrenching.”
As an advocate for attachment parenting, a philosophy that promotes the bond of the primary caregiver and infant through extreme responsiveness and physical closeness, being separated from Harper was difficult enough. But as an exclusively breastfed baby, the situation was worsened as Curtis struggled with how to feed Harper while they were apart.
“He had never had a bottle before, and then all of a sudden that was his only option while he was with his dad,” says Curtis, who adds that she was physically unable to follow a court instruction to pump enough breast milk in advance for the baby’s time away from her. “I’ve always been a fighter. If something’s not right, I’m the first person to stand up. And I don’t believe that my child should have to wean because of our situation,” she says.
This has since become a point of contention in the exes’ vicious two-year custody battle. Maguire initially accused the HGTV star of continuing to breastfeed their toddler as a way to prevent him from getting time with his son. Curtis, however, denies that she ever wanted it to become a problem. (She practices babyled weaning where Harper eats at his own pace.)
“It’s so important that children have both of their parents. But [preventing] me from breastfeeding my child just so he can see the dad is not right,” she says.
To read more about Curtis’ story, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
After legally proving that “my body did not produce enough,” she was granted access to Harper, who she continues to breast feed at 30 months, once a day during Maguire’s visitations. Curtis says the order wasn’t made official until Harper was already 11 months old and ended when he turned 1. Curtis continues to have guilt, though, about the impact the situation has had on Harper.
“He has attachment issues with all this hustling back and forth,” she says. “And whether it’s the mother or the father, when you take that person away for [a period of time], it does have a traumatic effect.”
Maguire has filed several motions over the course of a year to enforce his parenting time (one of which resulted in Curtis being held in contempt of court), but Curtis says things are slowly getting to a more secure place. Maguire’s attorney, Jerry Cavellier, says his client has “recently purchased his own home in the Detroit area,” where Curtis is based, adding, “He would do anything for his son, including relocating to another state. He is a wonderful father.”
“We’re working on it,” Curtis says of the situation. “It’s still not perfect or even close, but it’s a lot better.”