Jana Kramer opened up to PEOPLE about her harrowing past and future with her daughter, Jolie

By peoplestaff225
Updated October 06, 2016 11:00 AM
Credit: Jana Kruder

When Jana Kramer gave birth to daughter Jolie Rae on Jan. 31, 2016, she says she found her life’s true purpose.

“She’s the reason I get up and I will do anything for her,” she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue.

“I love music, I love performing, I love acting, all those things, but I’ve never felt fulfilled,” says Kramer, 32, who found success as an actress in 2009 on the CW hit, One Tree Hill, and then as a country music star. “But when I became a mom, I 100 percent knew what my purpose in life was — to be Jolie’s mom.”

Kramer adds, “She gives me so much strength.”

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Unfortunately, Kramer’s strength has been sorely tested over the years.

As she reveals exclusively in PEOPLE, Kramer was the victim of harrowing domestic abuse at the hands of her first husband, Michael Gambino, whom she married in early 2004.

Seventeen years her senior, Gambino developed a routine that led Kramer, then 20, to sleep in her car some nights or hide in the bushes until he calmed down. Easily angered and frequently jealous, “he’d come home at 3 o’clock in the morning and pick me up out of bed, throw me onto the ground and start yelling and hitting,” says Kramer, who hid bruises with makeup and kept the abuse hidden from family and friends.

Things escalated to a breaking point on Aug. 6, 2005, when he choked her into unconsciousness and left her bleeding on the gravel outside their L.A. home. Gambino was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to six years in prison. (Released on parole in 2010, he committed suicide two years later.)

Credit: Jana Cruder

While Kramer went on to marry actor Johnathon Schaech in 2010, they split up within weeks of the wedding. She wed former NFL tight end Mike Caussin in 2015, but they separated in August when she discovered he’d been unfaithful.

But her union to Caussin gave her the greatest gift of her life: Jolie.

“I’ve never felt more beautiful than I do now because I’m Jolie’s mom,” says Kramer, who is set on making her daughter proud. “She is the love of my life.”

Most of all? She says, “I want Jolie to know what a strong woman looks like.”

For much more on Kramer’s journey and her story of surviving abuse, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now.

For more information or to seek help for domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-799-SAFE, or go to www.thehotline.org

— Elizabeth Leonard