I didn’t realize how much I loved my husband until he walked straight into the grief with me.
I was 16 when I met the man I would marry only a few years later. This was around the time I felt certain I would be a lifelong vegetarian and thought that dying my hair an unflattering shade of burgundy and cutting my own bangs were good ideas. The concerns of people who would tell me I was too young to get married were met with disdain. I knew our relationship. I knew we were ready. I felt prepared for the monumental commitment of marriage, and thought I knew what that meant. As a teenager, I thought I knew a lot of things.
So of course I felt certain as I walked down the aisle at a tender 20 years old. We had shared values. We came from similar families. We were madly and deeply in love. What more could I possibly need? More to the point: At that age, what more could I possibly have to offer other than love and similarities?
We hadn’t weathered any storms together. We had no life experience. We had a foundation built on high school romance and big dreams. I remember those early moments that had made me so certain my husband was “the one.” They happened on romantic photography dates and picnics at the lake, or on long hikes where we talked about joining the Peace Corps. They were moments, in retrospect, I could have had with anyone. I was crafting a story in which we were soulmates, because that is what you do when you’re young. I always loved bringing up the fact that I was put in the same P.E. class as him by accident, otherwise we would have never met. Coincidence just doesn’t have the same romantic ring to it.
I did these things because I loved him, of course. I wanted to marry him. I was as ready as any 20-year-old could possibly be, and our relationship, despite its lack of hardship, was strong. We ventured into adulthood together, and our love shifted and moved along with us.
We survived the roller coaster experience of buying our first home. We stuck through years of dancing on the poverty line. We had one baby, then another. We stumbled through to the other side of my yearlong battle with postpartum depression. We were learning, slowly but surely, how to live out our vows. These trials made us stronger. We were dealing with the sort of experiences we couldn’t grasp as we stood at the altar with nothing but sunshine ahead and good times behind us.
But the hardships we had weathered thus far didn’t hold a candle to grief. I thought we had experienced grief with the deaths of far-off grandparents. These deaths were painful, yes, but they were not grief. I didn’t know grief until I had two back-to-back miscarriages.
We had conceived so easily with our first two children that the thought of something going wrong seemed unfathomable. So when I started bleeding only days after telling close friends and family of my third pregnancy, I was beside myself with sorrow. The speed at which my hopes and dreams for our unborn child climbed was astounding, and the rate at which it all came crashing down even more so. Part of me felt silly for feeling so much pain over such an early miscarriage—I was only six weeks along. But the connection I had felt was immediate, from the moment I first suspected my pregnancy.
I stuffed down my emotions as best I could as we tried to conceive again. I didn’t want to talk about it, I just wanted another baby. I thought another pregnancy would act as a salve for the pain. Luckily it was easy and I soon got pregnant again. I worried for the first few weeks, but calmed down after we were able to see our baby at our first ultrasound at eight weeks. Everything was good. I convinced myself the early miscarriage had been a fluke. I told friends and family about our pregnancy on my birthday, which just happened to be the 12-week mark. The next day, at our 12-week sonogram, I found out our baby was dead.
As we drove home in silence after the appointment, I could feel our marriage shifting. I knew it would never be the same, but I didn’t know how. We were in uncharted waters. The grief was bigger than I ever imagined, quieter than I ever expected. It wove its way through all of my thoughts and feelings, tainting everything I once knew about myself.
We spent the next day preparing for my dilation and curettage procedure: picking up medications, trying and failing to rest. The D&C was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced, both physically and emotionally. I held my husband’s hand as I lay screaming in the operating room, our baby and all the hopes that went with it being forcefully extracted from my womb. I knew this was the moment that would make or break us. This was the moment when I finally knew he was the one.
The days and weeks following our second miscarriage were wrought with sorrow. But while I suffered night terrors and flashbacks, I would also remember my husband’s face, his unwavering eye contact, and the comfort of his steady hand holding mine. I remember him refusing to look away from my pain, even when he surely wanted to. He walked into the heart of that grief with me, and shared the burden.
It is not an experience I would wish on myself again, but it will forever stand out in my mind as the moment that solidified my marriage in a way that nothing else ever has. I have always loved my husband, but I don’t think I knew the true depth of that love until we found ourselves facing death. Now our fights don’t seem as frightening. Our disagreements and small incompatibilities seem unimportant. Because I know we can find love in the darkest places, small shadows don’t scare me anymore.