I called one of my friends and told her, “I’m going to marry this guy.” (Lisa Kogawa / For The Times)
It started with a call from my mother proclaiming she had found the perfect match for me. As a semiskeptical, 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 bunch of kids and a couple of dogs?
If only I could have 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 life’s deepest pain.
My mother explained that she’d met his mother at a Weight Watchers meeting, where they realized how much they had in common. They’d raised their families just miles from each other in Los Angeles, ran in similar circles and had mutual friends in common, but had never crossed paths.
These two proud Jewish mothers were also shocked to learn they each had children attending Sonoma State University. And that those children lived in the same apartment complex. And that their front doors faced each other — about 100 feet apart.
I listened in silence, only slightly rolling my eyes on the other end of the phone, something she seemed to sense despite our distance. My cynicism was no match for her contagious excitement, though, as she gushed over the perfect-for-me 21-year-old (whom she’d never met), who could surely persuade her too-independent daughter to move back home after college.
Being the mostly good, nice Jewish girl that I was, I begrudgingly agreed to meet him.
On a cool rainy day in Northern California, there was a knock. I opened the front door and locked eyes with the most handsome guy I had ever seen up close — my Daniel.
I could feel his eyes fix on me: big and round, golden brown like toasted honey — almost hazel. These were the eyes I would gaze into in disbelief years later, when, at eight months pregnant with our first child, the doctors gave us the devastating prognosis.
On the day we met, in the tiny hallway of my college apartment, I noticed his tall, athletic build. I didn’t know it then, but he would fold that body into a too-small couch so he could spend each night at my hospital bedside. And those muscular arms with sturdy hands would hold me tight as I cried when we learned our daughter wouldn’t be coming home.
Even though I was only 19, I could tell he was special. As soon as he left my apartment, I called a friend and told her, “I’m going to marry this guy.”
We were two young, naive kids who fell in love at first sight.
We married in 2017 on what was supposed to be a hot spring day in Southern California and was instead a day of torrential downpour — a day that everyone claimed would bring us good luck and “lots of children.” We got married at a vineyard in Temecula as the rain stopped only briefly enough for a rainbow to shine through.
We had been trying to get pregnant for about a year when I needed emergency surgery. Test after test told me that I wasn’t pregnant, so doctors proceeded with X-rays, drugs for the pain, heavy antibiotics and anesthesia for surgery for an obstructed kidney stone. But not long after, I found out I was pregnant. And while my intuition told me that something was very wrong, my concerns were dismissed as those of an anxious first-time mom.
So we started planning. We had a baby shower. We set up a nursery.
We clung to the popular 12-week rule — that once a pregnancy reached that milestone, all would be well.
We hadn’t yet learned that not all parents get to leave the hospital with their babies.
In March 2020, days before the world began to fall apart due to COVID-19, and nearly 11 years after we met in that college apartment, our personal world shattered. What was previously referred to as a routine, unremarkable pregnancy ended in a third-trimester stillbirth with the delivery of our baby girl, Addison. It was a delivery that also stole my fertility and nearly claimed my life alongside hers.
Immediately after the grueling 48-hour labor and delivery, I suffered a massive postpartum hemorrhage. Before the medical team could rush me into the first of two emergency surgeries — both of which I would remain completely cognizant during — they offered Daniel and me a fleeting moment together. He placed a kiss on my forehead and shakily uttered, “I love you,” before I was wheeled away.
After 16 blood transfusions and a week in the hospital, I was finally discharged. Once home, we lay side by side on our queen bed, staring into each other’s eyes, mine rarely sans tears, his golden brown like toasted honey — almost hazel. He shared what those eyes had seen, his fears that he’d lose not only his child but his wife.
Over the last 19 months, our personal lives have continued to falter with countless upsets, losses and letdowns. We discovered that the surgeries that saved my life have left me with infertility issues. There has been a miscarriage, a failed IVF round, more surgery and so many tears — tears for the child we lost and tears for a future that seems uncertain at best. Another IVF round is underway.
And on the days that are super hard — the days when I wonder if we will ever have a rainbow like we did on our wedding day — I hold on to what I do have. A nosy but supportive family. A shift in my work as a therapist, one that I find healing and restorative: I now support others experiencing the loss of a pregnancy or infant, trauma and infertility.
And I have my Daniel.
Things look different than they did when we met. Ours is no longer a meet-cute love story. Instead, it has grown into the story of a love that no one ever dreams about needing.
But one thing has remained as true as it did on that rainy day in Northern California: our love, for our daughter, Addison, and for each other — that 19-year-old and 21-year-old whose overbearing mothers somehow knew they needed each other.
The author is a psychotherapist and perinatal mental health expert in San Diego. Her website is tgntherapy.com, and she is on Instagram @TGNtherapy. She is working on a memoir.
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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.