The same day we found out we were pregnant with our first child, my husband and I learned that he needed his large intestine removed. This I know is not funny. My husband suffered from ulcerative colitis for many years and was pretty much resistant to all the typical treatment protocols. He tried every medication and diet out there to save that colon but it was no use. Nothing he or we did could save it. We were devastated, but I in particular was also secretly pissed off at the shitty timing of it all. Uh, hello… I was PREGNANT!?!?!?!? Didn’t anyone realize that I was supposed to get ALL of the attention? That I was the delicate glowy ripe flower who was to be catered to and fawned over while I was quietly gestating? But noooo, my hunky husband always having to be the center of attention, had to go and do this and so BOOM! Colon removal trumped first pregnancy by more than just a nose.
The surgery was supposed to be done in one step; the surgeon promised us that my husband would be healed and healthy way before my late November due date. So on April 14, 2003, I sat there in that waiting room at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City for hours, nervous, nauseous, and anxious for the news that it was all over, that my husband was okay. The surgeon came out to meet me and to report that the surgery was complete, that it went well (just like they do it on TV), but that my husband was sicker than they originally thought. Which meant they felt they needed to take a more conservative approach and instead of finishing the procedure in one step, they outfitted him with a temporary ileostomy (yup, a bag) thus requiring a second procedure sometime during the summer. The thought that my husband was going to wake up and his expectations were not going to be met was overwhelming, horrifying, and heartbreaking. I did not know how to tell him. And of course there was that selfish bitch part of me who was secretly cursing the fact that yet again my fantasy of a pregnancy filled with flowers, rainbows, back rubs, unicorns and a doting husband was dashed.
The road to recovery was rough on him and on me. I was working full-time, schlepping my ever-growing belly into the city, battling terrible waves of nausea and worried all the time about my husband. I got really really good at suppressing my gag reflex and acting nonplussed when I had to help him deal with changing the ileostomy bag, something that at first I must admit was truly beyond gross and compounded infinitely by the fact that I suffered from morning sickness all day long for about 16 weeks. But I had to be strong for my man and for that baby growing inside of me, and after a while it actually got easier.
So… now it’s summer and the second surgery comes and goes without a hitch. My hubby’s plumbing was put back together and we figured we had four months to heal, to get over the horror of it all, to spend time together, to prep the nursery, to shop for the layette and to finally, get some well deserved doting in, for me.
Except for it was not meant to be. I think I was truly being tested, by whom I don’t know, but I vow that when I find him or her that I will not be kind. For during my pregnancy I had to endure my husband’s illness, subsequent surgeries and ileostomy bags (which in hindsight were actually good training exercises for the volumes of poop my little baby would eventually be producing), the blackout in Manhattan, where I literally walked all over the fucking city in a desperate and ultimately futile attempt to get home to New Jersey while five months’ pregnant, hormonal and sweaty, and then with about two weeks to go till my due date, I had to deal with (i) a surprise SEC audit at work and (ii) the discovery that my husband needed yet another surgery–this time an emergency procedure required to save him from a life threatening adhesion which had wrapped itself around his small intestine and was strangling it.
The adrenalin kicked in and I tackled all of it with military-like precision. I compartmentalized all the things I had to deal with just to get by and it totally sucked that I could not even drown my sorrows with a much-needed cocktail. Instead I threw myself into a cheeseburger bender at every opportunity. Everyone attributed it to pregnancy cravings, but I knew better. Cheeseburgers to me were proof of life. Tear into a cheeseburger, as opposed to say, grazing on a wimpy salad or nibbling a sleeve of saltines, and you were living, you were strong, like bull. Or grass-fed Angus steer. Or the expensive Japanese black cattle they make Kobe burgers out of. I found that I could get through the long awful stressful days knowing that the promise of cheeseburgers was waiting for me at the end of them. Today with distance from that year of hell, the mere thought of a cheeseburger sends me back to that terrible time.
As my due date loomed, I was terrified that I would go into labor and end up in one hospital while my husband was across town in another hospital. I worried that I would end up giving birth alone and that the doctors and nurses would think that I was just another one of those selfish single-in-the-city women who wanted a child without a husband and that there would be no time to explain or even whip out a picture of my husband as proof he really did exist. I feared that there would be no one at my side to kindly feed me ice chips, sweetly pat my sweaty head with a cool cloth, energetically cheer me on with every push, or dutifully stand there and take it as I shouted “you motherfucker” at him through every painful contraction.
I remember rubbing my belly and telling that baby, “Hey, please stay in there a little while longer, just till after Daddy is out of the hospital and he is okay. Believe me, it’s better if you do…” And thanks to the fact that first pregnancies tend to be late and predicting due dates is not an exact science, my beautiful son was born two weeks’ late, with my husband (and my mother) by my side. So big deal I didn’t get to experience a dreamy pregnancy where I could put my feet up and my husband would give me back rubs and serve me cups of green tea or fetch me pints of chocolate chip mint ice cream at three in the morning. And so big deal I didn’t have a baby shower or get the chance to really prepare for my son’s arrival the way I would have liked to because in the end after that year of hell, my husband is much healthier today than he was before, and most importantly he is here with me, as is our beautiful healthy son. Plus, I got an awesome watch for all of my troubles…