"...suffering is one of the universal conditions of being alive. We all suffer. We have become terribly vulnerable, not because we suffer, but because we have separated ourselves from each other." -- Rachel Naoimi Remen

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Parternship

It was as close to love at first sight as any story I've ever heard.  About ten years ago now, a fourth year medical student and a medical intern ventured separately on medical mission trip to Costa Rica.  One short week later, they were together, and have been ever since. 

Yes, I'd fallen fast before, but it was different this time.  And it's been different ever since. 

Our love, at the beginning, was all the fun things that young love is "supposed" to be... what young people all over America expect it to be. 

We got engaged pretty quickly by today's standards, and then had a bit of a long engagement.  Married just before I started my first real job. 

Ours had been a long distance relationship up until about two months after we were married.  Two independent stubborn physicians cohabiting made for a tumultuous first year of marriage.  We fought often; although I can't remember the content of even one argument.  Of course there were frequent misunderstandings over money - I'll tell you the funniest of stories.  We had combined accounts and his type A personality puts mine to shame.  We were just learning how to navigate shared finances, and like I said, I had just started my first job with an Attending's salary.  So we had an agreement, that if we planned to spend more than $200, we would run it by each other first.  At the time, I worked a "7 on, 7 off" hospitalist schedule, which means you work a week straight of 12 hour days followed by a week off, continuously throughout the year.  Let's just say that the bank account always knew when I was on my seven days off stretch.  I'd do long runs and shop - what else was there to do back then!?  So the story goes, my hubby comes home from work one day and asks, "What the heck did you do today!"  He reminds me of our "$200" agreement, and I confirm that yes, I remember that plan.  He looks at me like I must have lost it... and I explain, I didn't spend $200 today.  I spent $100 at target, $75 at the grocery store, $200 at the bulk food store... and I don't recall for sure but probably another $50 at Michaels and Pier I.  I thought I had followed our rule; he thought otherwise.  Once I understood, I was happy to comply ;)

There have been not so funny misunderstandings along the way too, but that's the nature of  a relationship, and thankfully we've only had a few really hard times. 

One challenging time came after my miscarriages.  I needed him to know how desperately I wanted to mend our family with adoption.  He kept talking in hypotheticals, while I was ready to actually move forward.  I was thankful that we were talking - we'd been talking about adoption since before we even married - but it had always been a distant, far off possibility.  In the anxiety and depression that followed five miscarriages, I knew deep within me that I needed and wanted to explore adoption for our family - really dig in and explore it.  I was ready before him.  My hurt had been deeper than his.  Fortunately for both of us, he was able to understand relatively quickly and started with me on the journey that brought us to now.  

This time reminds me of one of our wedding scriptures, Ecclesiastes 4:12, "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."  When we embarked on the journey of marriage, I knew that our commitment to each other and God would be our strength.  But just like there's a difference between when you carry your first pregnancy to term, and you think you know that a miscarriage would hurt, versus when you're on your seventh pregnancy and you know in a much more profound way how big that hurt would really be; there's a difference between knowing your bond will be tested, and actually having it tested.

Through our secondary infertility, I could have been wrecked... but I wasn't, because I had my partner, my husband, my best friend (yes, that's all the same guy).  And my God.  We were a strong cord of three strands that withstood the storm, and I know I couldn't have made it on my own. 

It honestly never crossed my mind at the time, but I guess it's possible too that we could have been wrecked.  Just like money and sex, I imagine infertility can tear some couples apart.  We were made stronger though.

Why?  Because we met each other where we were.  It did not come naturally.  It was hard at first to admit that our hurt was different.  Not because he loved those babies less.  Not because I wasn't as strong as him.  But because our experiences were different.  Men experience the loss of miscarriage differently than women, not necessary less, but it is just not the same.  When a tiny human grows and dies inside you, its a unique experience for women.

Fortunately, my partner and I, we reconciled that reality relatively quickly.  It was okay to respond differently.  It was hard to meet each other where we were, but because we wanted to, and because we knew we needed to, we found a way.

This is one of the many reasons I prefer the term "partner" when talking about marriage and spouses.  I guess it's my feminist streak, but I've never really liked the word "wife."  In my mind it just carries so much connotation that doesn't resonate with me, who I think I am, or who my husband expects me to be. 
I'm not the kind of wife that needs push presents or valentines. (Although if you're buying, I'll happily take a plant or some jewelry ;))
However, I am big on cooking dinner and having it on the table at 6:30pm, not because it's my duty as his wife, but because it's important to me that my family be healthy.  We also believe that the dinner table is one of the most important places for a family to regularly gather. 
He is the kind of husband who gets up for middle of the night baby feedings and crying.  Because he wants to; because we both expect it.   
We are both providers.  We are both nurturers.  Our responsibilities are shared.   
I could go on... but, the point is, I'm not a big fan of that romanticized idea of love and marriage, or that traditional idea of what a wife ought to be. 

I was fortunate to learn about marriage as a partnership even as a child.  That's the kind of marriage my parents had.  They argued regularly about money, their work or hobbies, and where we'd spend the next holiday.  But they laughed even more often.  They worked hard in the fields making sure they could finance our education.  They stayed up late talking about how to guide us through adolescence.  We sat around the dinner table every single night having deep discussions about what was on our minds, and what was happening in our family or the world.  My parents taught me that commitment can be both hard work and lots of fun.  Our family adventures put that lesson into practice over and over again throughout my life. 

Unfortunately, I've learned as an adult that not everyone has the advantage of such an example.  It saddens me that there are some kids who've never been part of, or even really witnessed, a nuclear family.  What blessings I took for granted for so very long.

So, I'm thankful today and always, that my partner and I, we both seem to have what it takes to be loyal and committed. 

Love, it's necessary, but not sufficient, for a long and strong marriage. 

In the context of marriage, love is a verb, it requires action; it's not just a feeling or an adjective, describing something pretty you've placed on the mantle.  I think I knew that ten years ago, but now I really know it. 

Our love, this kind of marriage bond - it's deeply resilient.  Maybe it's not as pretty as the movies.  Maybe this is the closest our eight year anniversary is going to come to PDA, an anniversary card, or present (and even this is four days late).  But, it's the kind of woven partnership that I longed for; and I believe it can truly stand the test of time.  I think it can last a lifetime.

I don't look forward to much of anything about growing old, except about how I'll look back on now... like I look back on us eight or ten years ago.  Will I see us in 2016 as still so na├»ve and restless?  In love, but not coming close to knowing what it really means to love, the way we will in 2026 or 2046?  I definitely look forward to that kind of wisdom!

Right now I smile as we laugh, more than we cry or fight; knowing that we can always count on each other.  Truly respecting our differences, while also celebrating our collaboration as we face this very difficult world together. 

What hard times will come?  In a decade, or two or three or four, what will I be reflecting on then?  Unsurprised and proud, but also humble and thankful that we made it through that, too...?   

As we agreed the other night in bed, there is no one else on earth I could even fathom going through this with.

Partner, I look forward to taking this walk with you. 

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