If there is one word I would use to describe the last year or so of my life it would be this - Helpless. I lost a daughter-to-be, I lost my way to an extent, but most of all I lost my wife. She's still here, she's still my wife, but she's so damaged, so hurt, broken in so many ways and honestly, I have absolutely no idea how to fix her.
Like any husband, all I want to do is make it better, take it all away. I would run through brick walls to make that happen. I would work night and day. I would go through torture of your choosing (as long as it's not Nickelback, please not Nickelback). But none of that will help. We are fighting an enemy that doesn't respond to force. Worse, I'm not even allowed to engage the enemy. I'm restricted to support crew, back from the front lines. I know I wouldn't like the front, that it's a horrible place, but the woman I love is up there, fighting, hurting. And all I can do to help is bring her dry toast.
When Annamarie first started feeling sick, during both pregnancies, I was all over it. Stroking her back, holding her hair while she vomited, emptying her vomit bowl, waiting on her hand and foot. But the thing nobody tells you, and that the movie montages of pregnancy and "morning" sickness (can we lose that stupid fucking name already? Does anyone actually get sick only in the morning?) is that it's not just one day or one week of this shit - it goes on. And on. And on. Every. Single. Day.
I'm can't complain. Well OK, I can. I guess I have a whole blog to do so. But I know Annamarie had it worse. She had to suffer through it every day, not being able to eat, feeling weak, feeling useless and ultimately just feeling like crap-ola. I get that. And I truly wanted to help. I still do. But there comes a point where it just becomes part of your daily routine. Get up, brush your teeth, watch the wife vomit her guts out. You accept that you have to do all the dishes, and the washing, and keep the house relatively clean, and feed and clean your child while he asks you why Mum can't do it (yes, I know single parents do all of this without any help. If that's you, you're awesome. I am genuinely in awe of you). So, you accept that have to wait on your wife/patient hand and foot, and bring her what little food she can eat and make sure she's drinking enough water and change the sheets when they get too whiffy - not that she smells, but when you're living your entire life in bed and you're a vomiting mess, things can get dirty awfully quickly. You accept all this, and you do what needs to be done.
But sometimes you miss the other part. The unseen part, that can't be solved by getting the specific food she wants right now, or cleaning the toilet so she doesn't feel icky about it. You're doing so much practical stuff, you forget that this constant need, your 24/7 patient, is also a person. And not only that, they're supposed to be the person you love, deeply, passionately, romantically. And they can't stand the smell of you. After a few weeks you've stopped holding her hair back while she vomits - she's doing it every couple of hours, so it's just not sustainable, especially when you've got a pileup of vomit containers to wash from her last few efforts. After a month or so maybe you start to drift a bit when she complains (perfectly reasonably) about how she feels like a big sack of crap and doesn't think she can do this any more. You care, but what can you do about it? It's just a shit period of our lives we need to get through.
And that's what it becomes, really. An endurance event. A marathon on your last legs. You can't communicate, not really, you're too tired for that. All you can do is put one foot in front of the other. And the person you're dragging along is upset and you get that but if you stop to talk about it, you're not sure you'll be able to get going again. And you can't help anyway - they're going to vomit again whether or not you sit down for half an hour and nod while they tell you how awful it is.
So now you are essentially alone. Fighting your own war, battling your own pain. But you've forgotten - now they are alone too. And then something happens, maybe big, maybe small, and you have a little fight or maybe a big fight, and you realise you've walled yourself off from each other, out of self-protection or selfishness or whatever - but it's happened. There's a distance there, and now that you see it, it hurts. So you start trying to close the gap. You try to listen more. You make a point of stopping, of sitting down, of not rushing everything. Sometimes you still fuck it up, and sometimes you fight about that. But you keep trying. You summon all the sympathy you can, and you fake the rest. She'll never notice (until you write a blog about it - oops. Sorry hon). You make marriage part of your day again. You still feel helpless sometimes, but you focus on the things you can do, the actions that are within your control. It's not perfect, but it's better than the alternative.
Supporting your spouse is different from anyone else. With your child, you're supposed to be the bigger person, you're supposed to know more (you are, quite literally, "the adult"). With a friend, or sibling, you can have a certainly level of impartiality. You don't want to damage your relationship, but you can probably afford to be blunt in some ways that a little bit of distance allows. When it's your wife - well, at least when it's my wife - you live with them, they are part of every single bit of your life. You've grown together, changed together. The two of you are intertwined in ways neither of you fully understand. You love them deeply, but you also rely on them - and when they're out of the game, that's tough. You see other people helping them, and that makes you happy, but it also makes you feel guilty - why couldn't you do that? Why aren't you able to be everything they need?
We are not "done" with our journey yet. I'm not sure you can ever really be "finished" or fully "recovered". Recovery suggests getting back to some state that you were in before - but there is no going back. Annamarie is still suffering, both physically and mentally. And I am still on the sidelines, trying to help but never doing enough, because there is no game plan for this. But I keep showing up, and I keep learning, and every day we get a little better, a little wiser, things get a little easier. Sometimes they get harder too, because getting better isn't a linear thing. Some days I feel worse than I did the day we lost our baby, and I have to remind myself of all the good days we had before and after that one.
Annamarie has this thing when she's sick or relying on others where she apologises and feels super-guilty about it. I'm forever telling her that it's crazy, that the kindest thing she could do for everyone (including me) would be to focus on looking after herself - put your own oxygen mask on first. But then of course, like most humans, I'm blind to my own advice. I beat myself up about the things I mess up, the times I don't think before acting, the times I'm unnecessarily grumpy about something stupid. I know I'm not a perfect husband. I don't always listen as well as I could, or read situations correctly, and sometimes when I'm away from home I can forget what's going on there and that my stress at work is not the only important thing in the world. But I can claim one thing - I show up. Whatever happens, whatever I've screwed up lately, I come back and try again. And I think that's what support (and marriage) is about in the end - you're not going to have the perfect thing to say, the words that will take the pain away for that person you love, because there are no perfect words. We know this better than most. But what you can do is show up. Just be there, acknowledge the other person's pain, their being, and show that you care enough to be there too.
We are a family of 3. This blog is the story of how we almost became 4, why we didn’t, and what we are doing to recover from that experience.