This past Thursday was my birthday and my husband decided a weekend getaway would be good for us both. He arranged a lovely weekend in Door County, WI. We stayed at a bed & breakfast, shopped at antique stores, had delicious meals and spent some much needed quality time together (with minimal breakdowns and tears). It was the perfect way to reconnect with the man I knew, almost 10 years ago, that I would marry.
For the first week or so after Olive died I would find myself laying in bed staring at a picture of my husband and I on our wedding day. Each morning I would wake to it, at that couple so in love, and wonder - if we had known then what we would be experiencing now - how would that day have been different? Obviously God does not make His plans known to us ahead of time, or that would make for one sad (much sadder than normal) world to live in.
People ask me all the time how I'm able to continually scroll through my Facebook newsfeed when there are new baby announcements and pictures of people snuggling their newborns. I am genuinely happy for those people - why wouldn't I be? Becoming a parent is a beautiful thing, I'm convinced one of the best things. Should I feel jealous or sad because their babies lived and mine did not? Sure, there is an emptiness I feel but it's not jealousy, it's not even sadness - it's just an emptiness that I can't really describe. Truth is, the pictures of newborns aren't the ones that get me, it's the newlyweds that do. I find myself looking at their happy faces and wondering what lies ahead for them. Will their roads be filled with happiness and blessings? And, as morbid as it may be, what kind of pain will they have to endure, and will they be ready for it? (Cleary my recent experience has made me view the world a little differently.)
Choosing to marry someone is, I believe, the biggest decision one will ever make - maybe the most important in a lifetime. When you choose to marry someone you are committing yourself to a lifetime journey of so much. There was a time when I didn't want to get married because I couldn't imagine burying my spouse some day. Crazy, right? Then I realized that the journey, no matter how long or short it would be, would be worth it in the end.
If you have a traditional ceremony - I suppose even if you don't - at some point you make a promise to stand by this person through whatever life brings you. I wonder how many people really understand those promises on the day of their wedding? When I would think about my wedding vows I understood there would be both blessings and challenges, happiness and heartache, sickness and health. I knew we would experience grief and death - the death of friends, most likely parents, possibly siblings, and that one of us would most likely die before the other. I never, not in the deepest part of my mind, ever would have thought we would lose a child.
I find myself replaying in my head moments in our relationship, wondering if that happy couple could ever know the depth of pain they would soon experience. You get so caught up in wedding planning that sometimes you fail to plan for the marriage - I know there were times that I did. What happens after the wedding day? What happens when one of you loses a job? What happens when one of you has a bad day at work and takes it out on the other? What happens when you bring a child into the world and have to share your time? What happens when that child dies?
The days after Olive was born were especially difficult for my husband. I was in "go-mode" as I normally am, still high off the adrenaline of just having a baby, still believing in a miracle. My husband was much more realistic than I was - he knew she was going to die and began to shut down. I knew she was going to die too, but hadn't yet come to accept it - and honestly thought we had much more time than God knew we would. The day after she was born was the hardest for him, it was difficult to have the conversations we needed to have - he was ready to make the decision I was dreading and I was still holding out for a miracle. We were truly in two different places.
I remember saying to him as he was agreeing with my way of thinking for a major decision, "Will you blame me? Is this what you want? No matter what happens with Olive, we still have to go home together. If we go home without a baby, I still need my husband." I was extremely fearful of what this would do to our marriage. I knew the statistics, I knew that people grieve differently and that this could in fact do much more damage to our marriage than help it and I wasn't prepared to lose my daughter AND my husband. I told him, "Whether or not we ever have more children, or if it's just you and me for the rest of our lives, there is NO ONE I'd rather spend my forever with. I need you."
It was actually our midwife that gave us the breakthrough we needed the day after Olive died. We sat in her office for almost an hour, openly talking about things that neither of us knew the other was thinking or feeling. I believe that day was a significant one for our marriage.
He has been the most amazing partner I could have ever imagined. I never thought I could love him more than I do now. Sure, we have had to navigate some unimaginable things in the last 3 weeks - we've learned that we grieve differently, we need certain things at different times. Sometimes one of us is really sad and the other is having a good day. Sometimes one wants to stay home and the other needs to get out. I can see how marriages fall apart if you don't communicate - and communication takes on a whole new meaning after losing a child. Through it all we have never once been angry at one another or blamed one another for anything (I guess I shouldn't speak for him...., but I haven't). There are certainly times we don't understand, or something feels like it's building up, but then we discuss it.
This weekend we had beautiful moments talking about our feelings and about Olive - we relived her short days on earth by expressing things we each felt during those 36 hours. We talked about our future, how we could continue to honor her and remember her - and with each conversation we reconnected in a new way.
While I don't wish this upon anyone I know that other couples will experience this grief someday - too many, in fact. So I ask, are you prepared? Are you prepared for whatever God gives you - good or bad (because there will be both)? What can you do now, no matter where you are at in your marriage, to build a foundation that will be able to endure both blessing and unimaginable heartache (because there will be both)? Are you the spouse your spouse needs and deserves?
I can ask these things because I wasn't, I'm not- often times I put myself first - many times unknowingly, but sometimes very knowingly. I know I'll continue to have these moments - I am human, after all, but now I find myself constantly thinking about him and his needs. Is he happy? Did he have a good day today? How can I make his day better? What does he need from me? What can I be for him that I haven't been in the past? The beautiful thing is that I know he feels the same. I feel it when he embraces me, I feel it when he looks at me, I feel it when he speaks.
What a rollercoaster of emotions the loss of a child brings, and then add the post partum hormones on top of that (no wonder I can barely function most days)! I am broken in pieces at the loss of our daughter, but put back together (to an extent) by the person God chose to be my husband. I am incredibly sad that this part of our life is missing, but amazed at what it has brought to our marriage. I cry thinking about the memories we won't get to make, but encouraged by the memories we have yet to make. None of it would be possible without God and this man.
After a nice weekend with minimal tears I found myself crying and sitting in the rain this morning - literally sitting on the deck, letting the rain wash over me - thinking about how there are two sides to everything: "good times and bad times, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health". Those promises didn't end when Olive passed away. Those promises don't just go away because there is a strain in our life or in our marriage. These are the times they shape us, mold us and make us better spouses.
"Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me." Ruth 1:16-17, reading from our wedding in 2011 - another moment where I had no idea what meaning this would take on for our life.
I continually pray for my marriage. I thank God that we created our beautiful daughter and that God honored us with being her parents. My heart is far from healed and my marriage is far from perfect, but my spouse is my perfect partner - brought into my life by God and chosen specifically for me, specifically as Olive's father, specifically for our journey.