It started when my mom called that she had found the perfect match for me. As a half-skeptical, oh-so-mature 19-year-old, I listened and wondered. Could she be right? Could he be the one? Would we get married and live happily ever after with a couple of kids and a couple of dogs?
If only I had known how right she was. That my mother’s intuition would lead me to the only person who could help me survive the unthinkable – that we would have the kind of love and intimacy that blooms from the deepest pain in life.
My mom explained that she met his mom at a Weight Watchers meeting where they realized how much they had in common. They had raised their families in Los Angeles just a few miles apart, ran in similar circles, and had friends in common, but their paths had never crossed.
These two proud Jewish mothers were also shocked to learn that each of them had children attending Sonoma State University. And that these children lived in the same apartment complex. And that their front doors faced each other – about 30 meters apart.
I listened in silence and just rolled my eyes slightly on the other end of the phone, something she seemed to sense despite our distance. However, my cynicism was no match for her infectious excitement when she raved about the perfect 21-year-old (who she had never met), who was sure to convince her overly independent daughter to move home afterwards.
Since I was the mostly good, nice Jewish girl I was, I reluctantly agreed to meet him.
There was a knock on a cool, rainy day in Northern California. I opened the front door and looked into the eyes of the prettiest guy I’d ever seen up close – my Daniel.
I could feel his eyes fix me: big and round, golden brown like roasted honey – almost hazel brown. Years later, I looked into those eyes in disbelief when the doctors gave us the devastating prognosis in the eighth month with our first child.
The day we met, I noticed his tall, athletic stature in the tiny hallway of my college apartment. I didn’t know at the time, but he would fold this body into a couch that was too small to be spent by my bedside every night. And those muscular arms with strong hands held me tight as I cried when we learned our daughter was not coming home.
Even though I was only 19, I could tell that he was special. As soon as he left my apartment, I called a friend and said, “I’m going to marry this guy.”
We were two young, naive children who fell in love at first sight.
We got married in 2017 on a supposedly hot spring day in Southern California and it was instead a torrential rainy day – a day everyone said would bring us good luck and “lots of children.” We got married at a winery in Temecula because the rain stopped short enough to let a rainbow shine through.
We had been trying to get pregnant for about a year when I needed emergency surgery. Test after test told me I wasn’t pregnant, so doctors continued with X-rays, medication for the pain, strong antibiotics, and anesthesia for a clogged kidney stone operation. But not long after that, I found out I was pregnant. And while my intuition was telling me that something was very wrong, my concerns were for the first time dismissed as those of a fearful mother.
So we started planning. We had a baby shower. We have set up a kindergarten.
We stuck to the popular 12 week rule – once a pregnancy reached this milestone, everything would be fine.
We had not yet learned that not all parents can leave the hospital with their babies.
In March 2020, days before the world began to fall apart due to COVID-19, and almost 11 years after we met in that college apartment, our personal world fell apart. What was previously referred to as a routine, unremarkable pregnancy ended in a stillbirth in the third trimester with the birth of our little girl Addison. It was a birth that also stole my fertility and almost cost my life by her side.
Immediately after the grueling 48-hour labor and delivery, I suffered massive postpartum bleeding. Before the medical team could push me into the first of two emergency surgeries – both of which I would be fully aware of – they offered Daniel and me a fleeting moment together. He kissed me on the forehead and said, “I love you”, trembling before I was driven away.
After 16 blood transfusions and a week in the hospital, I was finally released. At home we lay side by side on our queen-size bed and stared into each other’s eyes, mine seldom without tears, its golden brown like roasted honey – almost hazel brown. He shared what those eyes had seen, his fears of losing not only his child but his wife as well.
In the last 19 months our private life has continued to waver with countless excitements, losses and disappointments. We found that the operations that saved my life were causing me to have infertility problems. There has been a miscarriage, a failed round of IVF, more surgeries, and so many tears – tears for the child we lost and tears for a future that seems uncertain at best. Another round of IVF is in progress.
And on the days that are super tough – the days when I wonder if we’ll ever have a rainbow like our wedding day – I hold on to what I have. A curious but supportive family. A change in my work as a therapist that I find healing and strengthening: I now support others who experience the loss of a pregnancy or an infant, trauma and infertility.
And I have my Daniel.
Things look different than they did when we met. Ours is no longer a sweet love story. Instead, it has become the story of a love that no one dreams of needing.
But one thing stayed as true as it was on that rainy day in Northern California: our love for our daughter Addison and for each other – those 19- and 21-year-olds whose arrogant mothers they somehow knew needed each other.
The author is a psychotherapist and perinatal mental health expert based in San Diego. Her website is tgntherapy.com and she is on Instagram @TGNtherapy. She is working on her memoir.
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