Then came time for the toughest goodbyes of all. Joe and I went upstairs with the girls. We all lay down on the big bed in my room. All six of us.
I told the girls, “Mommy has to leave.”
“When?” asked Milania.
“Tonight,” I told them.
Gabriella, who was 10 at the time, got so hysterical, she couldn’t even breathe. She usually held her feelings inside, but now she was inconsolable. When Joe’s father died, all the girls had gotten very emotional. They love their grandparents so much. We are all very close. They cried a lot. But this was 10 times worse than that. I held Gabriella and told her it was going to be okay – even though I knew it might not be. What else could I do?
• For much more from Teresa Giudice, plus an exclusive interview with her husband Joe as he prepares to serve his own prison sentence, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE Magazine, on newsstands Friday
Audriana, my baby, who was only 5 at the time, started to cry. Huge, heaving sobs. Then Milania, who was 8 at the time, started up, followed by Gia, then finally, me and Joe. We lay there, a tangled mess of arms and legs, hugging each other and crying. Me, Joe and Gia, bless her heart, tried to calm the little ones down as best we could. This was tearing my heart out, but I didn’t let them see that. I couldn’t. I had to be strong for them. They were my focus – not me. In true Milania fashion, she wiped her tears on my sleeve and we all laughed.
But as I held my girls and kissed them on their cheeks and on their foreheads, I started to get mad. Instead of having more time with my babies, I had to leave for prison in the middle of the night while they were sleeping – because of the paparazzi. This is how bad things had gotten. This whole thing was totally out of control. How had it come to this?
At that moment, I knew things had to change. That I would use my time in prison to rethink things. I was going to come out of prison a better person and try to make things right again in my life. We lay there for about an hour and a half. Then I knew it was time to start putting the girls to bed and say my goodbyes. This was going to be hardest part of all. I had dreaded this moment for months. And now it was here.