In Sickness and In Health
7 years ago today, I lost my first pregnancy. Jason and I had a day off together, and we drove to Tacoma to do some shopping. I even made an early investment in a couple of cute maternity tops.
On the drive home I felt a little crampy, and figured it was something I ate. But as soon as I stepped out of the car in the driveway, I felt a Gush.
I made it to the bathroom, half jogged, half waddled, and stood in the tub. Shell shocked. I felt like if I could just hold everything in with my hands, I could reverse what was happening. What had, in reality, already happened. It seemed somehow unceremonial to allow the blood to slip down the drain, and with it whatever might have existed of our first go at parenthood.
In the ER, an ultrasound confirmed there was no living fetus. We learned there never had been. The pregnancy wasn't complete, there was a placenta, an amniotic sac, but no embryo. A blighted ovum, it's called. My body was stabilized...though it would be months before my emotions would be.
We left for home.
I wish I could say it ended there. That we lit a fire, made some tea, watched a silly movie. That we woke the next morning in one another's arms...ready to face a world containing just a little more grief in it.
But late that night, I began bleeding heavily. So heavily I couldn't support my own body weight. I remember everything going black, the light slowly pulsing in an out. I remember laying on the bathroom floor, and calling for Jason. Him carrying me to the car. The trash bag I instructed him to lay on the seat to keep it clean (always practical).
In the hospital, my blood pressure dropped and then dropped again. I lost track of how many warm blankets were heaped on top of me. Four? Five maybe? I kept asking for more. As if that simple, bodily comfort might protect me from the terror of that night.
At one point a nurse suggested to Jason that he ought to leave the room. They really didn't need to be scraping him up off the floor if he passed out.
The nurse couldn't know exactly a year before, Jason was a first responder when one of his shipmates, a brother from his own division, severed his femoral artery. That this young submariner bled to death. That Jason was tasked with cleaning the accident site.
My husband stood firm. My rock.
There was talk of a transfusion, but I managed to evade that. I was sent to emergency surgery that night, a dilation and curettage. The look on Jason's face as I left him behind and went into the operating area...it still breaks my heart. My young husband...in this one night he had to set aside his grief for our unborn baby and make space for the fear of losing his wife.
The surgeon wore a brightly patterned bandana on his head. It was at odds with the sanitary operating room, the scrubs and gloves and florescent lights. His voice was warm and confident, and I knew in that moment I was going to be ok.
The funny thing about being in surgery is that during those moments, whether one hour or ten, you're blissfully unaware. You get to sleep through the weight of worries that your loved ones are carrying.
My recovery was slow. Iron supplements, gentle walks, lots of tears and tissues.
I fought through some tough stuff after my miscarriage. I felt a dream had been snatched from me. I felt as though my body betrayed me. I mean, come on uterus, you have one job. I encapsulated myself with anger, insecurities and depression...with Jason on the outside, trying to scream through the wall.
In time I let him into that space and showed him the ugliness of it. And then brick by brick we took down most of that wall together.
A woman I worked with once told me that in order to keep the romance alive in your marriage, it was critical that your husband never see you do these two things: urinate, or put on your pantyhose.
Since that night that I miscarried our first pregnancy, my husband has also...
Helped me into maternity tights when I was so pregnant with twins I couldn't bend over.
Dressed me when I was discharged the day after my mastectomy.
Stripped my surgical drains and emptied the fluids.
Learned to do drainage massage to relieve my lymphedema.
And a million other things large and small and gross and beautiful. But these were the most....err...romantic ones that came to mind.
In my breast cancer support groups, I have witnessed plenty of marriages fall apart. The severity of diagnosis...the effects of treatment...the way your life and your body and your heart are forever altered even in remission.
I think that in order for a marriage to outlive breast cancer, requires a partner who is equal parts fierce tenacity and tender empath.
It also requires openness and a generous portion of vulnerability on behalf of the patient/survivor. In the months following my miscarriage, I learned I can't shut my husband out.
I realize I must openly admit that, once again, I feel betrayed by my body. Disappointed by my limitations. Sad about what has been taken from us.
I sometimes feel guilty when I look at my husband. I think, this is not what you signed up for.
In sickness and in health, he reminds me. That he would choose me, again and again, despite the breast cancer.
Jason advocates for my health when I try too hard to be the perfect wife/house keeper/mother/advocate/friend/daughter. He forces me to dial it back. To limit the space I allow stress to have in my life.
When I don't listen to him as tender empath, he employs that ferocious tenacity.
He reminds me it is better to be present than to be perfect.
And I think that's something we could all remember.