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Saturday, July 18, 2009

KuKd and Marriage: Patching Up Cracks

Greetings, Inquisitive Guests and KuKd-ers!

I'm suddenly feeling in a girl-talky mood, like we should all be sitting in a circle in our pajamas, drinking wine and lighting candles and sharing deep stories. Let's talk about relationships, shall we?

I think it's worthwhile to talk about marriage in the context of KuKd, because there is NO WAY - I mean no serious way - that the death of a baby can occur without having some effect on the two people who made that baby. I remember reading lots of warnings in the many (ultimately not very helpful) self-help books that people sent me after Zachary died: stillbirth can have a dramatic negative effect on marital relationships.

But those parts of the books - like most parts of those books, in fact - always seemed to be about somebody else entirely, someone less stable than me, someone with a weaker relationship than mine and Kevin's, someone less psychologically grounded and wonderful and reasonable than us. We're solid! I thought. Quit putting ideas into my fragile brain that somehow this crappity-crapola is going to drive a stake through our marriage! Stop angstigating me!

For us, it's always been just go-go-go with our heads up, smiles on. It's an Irish thing, a family thing: no point in slowing down, pausing, and taking a serious analytical look at a marital relationship, especially when everything seems pretty much fine. And self-help books are, more often than not, "fucktarded" (to quote a favorite word of my linguistically brilliant friend Ben) - so why bother listening to them. But lately, these past six months or so, we've had reason to do just that: slow down, pause, and take a serious analytical look at our relationship.

Looking backward into the tunnel of life behind me, focusing specifically on the Monica-Kevin element of it , here's what I see:

First, two years of heady, earthy, happy existence. We met as sweaty Peace Corps volunteers, back when my nails were permanetly crusted with black dirt, underwear consisted entirely of high-rising Hanes bloomers, hair was a permanently tangled mess piled up on my head.

I was instantly attracted to Kevin, because he was SO not what I called a "Josh." That is, a person like Josh - the patchouli-scented, dreadlocked pot-head who I dated in college, and who characterized the general sort of guy I was attracted to in my younger days. Josh (not Kevin, to be clear) was an artsy English major, and insisted on reading his bad poetry out loud to me while I pretended to react with great interest. I didn't have sex in college, ultimately being a bit of a prude in that regard, and deep down in my subconscious growing progressivey tired of the very guys I proclaimed to "like."

So I was thrilled to meet Kevin. Unlike the "Joshes" of the world, Kevin was free-spirited and yet goal-oriented, adventurous and yet just ambitious and logical enough to take him out of the aimless-loser category. His fingernails were clean, his teeth were white, he folded his clothes neatly, he said reasonable things, and he exuded common sense. He was everything I wasn't, and I loved him instantly, feeling more insecure than I'd ever felt, melted into a puddle of goo. I knew I wanted to marry him. Not have babies or anything, just be with him forever, because he was a beacon of manly perfection in my eyes.

I worked really hard to get him, which I finally did. Those two years turned into marriage at a beer garden in Austin -and four subsequent years of traipsing around the globe, backpacking here and there, teaching kids in Kenya, not thinking or brooding or analyzing or worrying - just living. Drinking. Screwing. Traveling. Laughing. Being best friends. I was on the pill the whole time, because kids weren't a part of the picture (yet).

* * *

So, miscarriage at nearly four months gestation (all the ladies in the house who get that, lemme hear you say HOOOOH!), July 2006. This one drew us together, not apart. I repeat: TOGETHER, NOT APART. See? I was right! Self-help books were wrong! Joke's on you, Deborah Whats-Your-Name and your Self-Help Book in Garamond Font. I became the neediest person on the planet, clinging to Kevin, fearful that something heavy and large would fall on his head and kill him. I also became obsessed with getting pregnant again instantly, hoping that a second pregnancy would erase this first little "dead-fetus blip." I distinctly remember waking up wide-eyed in the middle of the night and shaking Kevin awake:

"GET UP! TIME TO SCREW!" (panicked whisper)



"Mon, it's two in the morning. Go back to sleep."

I'd even try pressing my backside against his crotch, spooning into him in hopes that it would generate some "midnight wood," but it rarely worked. I think he got a little bit tired of that part, the irriationally pining for a baby just weeks after losing a fetus, but didn't mind the clinginess so much. He's a guy. If there's another thing I've picked up on, it's that guys (even the most progressive-minded Obama-voter types) secretly like it when women eagerly fawn over them.

* * *

Months later, all of that clinging and pining after Kevin finally did result in a sperm-meet-egg situation (enter Zachary). And when Zachary died in August 2007, guess what: still no chasm in the marriage! Quite the opposite. We were drawn together even closer, pure and simple (once again: Monica = right, self-help books = wrong). I was glued to Kevin like a magnet to a fridge. Oh, things weren't perfect by any means. He was working evenings almost every weeknight, and I resented that fact, spending many a lonely night eating cereal with my dog on the front porch, turning on Jane's Addiction and crying on the futon, wishing as hard as I could wish that things were different.

It wasn't until right around August 2008, almost exactly a year later, that things changed. I suddently felt more okay than I'd felt that entire year, as though I'd shed some kind of snakeskin of depression and emerged as a sparkly new person, revved up and ready to embrace life. I didn't mind Kevin's work schedule anymore, wasn't up waiting for him upon his return, staring at the door and drooling.

Maybe it was a timing thing; perhaps "one year" marks some sort of psychological finishline where the hurt gets buried another few feet inside, the surface less raw. Quite simply, I had adapted to this unwanted-and-yet-pretty-darned-good-life-in-its-own-way- throwing myself headfirst into writing (including, yes, this very blog), filling up my social calendar with beers and outings and dinners and late nights at the office.

And low and behold, that's right around the time when some barely perceptible cracks began to form in our relationship, like tiny branching threads on an otherwise smooth drywall surface. We sort of stopped seeing each other. I mean, physically, we saw each other. I saw him walk in the door at 10pm, five minutes before my own bedtime, and briely saw him breathing the darkness as I got up at six the next morning to go to work. But we kind of stopped being attuned to each others' needs, really paying attention to each other.

For example, he was hating his job. It was wearing him down - the job itself, the commute, everything. He was trying to write a book, and not getting very far. These things were getting him down, and I wasn't noticing and supporting as much as I should have noticed and supported. There were things I needed from him too - I won't go into all of those - and he wasn't noticing and giving as much as I wanted him to.

And how does this all fit into KuKd? Well, I'm not going to pretend that I'm clinical psychologist with all the answers to everything. What I will say is this: KuKd switched me over into serious, hardcore survival mode - which is actually a pretty solitary mode when you think about it. And when I wasn't hanging with Kevin on weeknights, I had to turn to other passions to help me make it through - things like writing, like blogging, like drinking with other friends. Which, subsequently, made me rely on Kevin less for my basic psychological needs, and just generally not be there for him as I was in the past. I got distracted with life, with surviving, with thriving in my now childless world.

Oh, we're not getting divorced or anything. It's not the end of the world. It's just that we've had to lately take out those little spackling tools for drywalling, and patch things up, catching cracks early, fixing them before they can grow into deeper chasms. This is a first for us, having to work at our relationship. It was so easy in the past, the drywall of our marriage so smooth (okay, I'm already annoying myself with overuse of that euphemism). We've had some conversations here and there, communicating not a hundred-percent but much more than we used to. Not saying everything, but saying the things that matter.

I'll end this post with an upbeat anecdote, one of those little moments that remind me that through it all, Kevin and I are still best friends; that, in spite of myself, my VAST imperfections as a wife and human being, we still know and love each other as only a husband and wife can:

Last week, I was feeling incredibly frustrated by my writing project, by my inability to weave my 3-year KuKd odessy into a coherent story with a beginning and end, by my growing tired of editing and revising and dipping back into this ultimately painful segment of my life. An agent that I really thought would accept my book project, that had sent me a really eager and hopeful letter, ultimately turned it down. It might seem like a small deal to others, but to me, it was huge -because writing a story has filled this tremendous gap in my hear these past 1.5 years, and to have it go nowhere was too much to bear. I felt like a sucker for believing she would believe in it.

So I e-mailed Kevin this long, rambling, whiney, gloomy message about it, and what I got back was the loveliest, most perfectly crafted and supportive words I could possibly get - not too long, just saying the right amout:

Wish I had more time to write. All I can say is that the whole process fucking sucks. You need to relax and put the book aside. Don't touch it, look at it, or pitch it to anyone for three months. Then let's revisit it. Gotta go - let's hit the tavern tonight for beers. I love you, and you've written a beautiful story.
heart, me

And, what's more, he showed up that night with a bouquet of lillies.

See? Perfect combation of rational (he's right - I need to relax and put the writing aside) and friviolous-but-needed (flowers). Setting his own needs aside - his shitty-ass job - and paying attention to me when I really need it. All of those things made me feel instantly better, reminding me not only that things are okay deep down, but that it's worth making sure they stay that way. That is, it's worth patching up those cracks as they surface, even in spite of myself, ever-consumed with filling up spaces in my soul with beautiful projects and people and thoughts. I need to slow that part down and make sure I'm there for Kevin when he needs me too.

Because I'm sure not going to be one of those statistics that proves the self-help books are right.


Molly said...

Thanks for writing about this topic. It's definately a tough one. I can sometimes feel those fissures starting and it's hard to think outside ourselves and really work on fixing them.

I'm sorry about the book project. I really believe it will get published eventually but it takes a hell of a thick skin to go through that process. Hang in there.

Hope's Mama said...

AND he suggested beers - that puts him up another notch in my book, as I'm quite partial to an ale or seven.
Monica, WHEN that book hits the shelves in Australia, I'll be lining up at the door to get me a copy.
And as Molly said, thanks for writing about this topic. I see a lot of myself and my own relationship in here. I'll be damned if I become a statistic, too.
Awesome post.

Amy said...

I found much of the same experience after our Liam died. We grew closer together. Our survival through grief let us lean on each other ..... but at some point we both had moved from leaning on each other to those things that filled the void (or tried to fill it). Recently we too have noticed some hairline cracks forming and we don't like it. We have promised to try and pay more attention to each other, do thing together, begin leaning on each other. I know this will take actual focus and work on both our parts, but our relationship deserves that. We have been together for 12 years now, I am not letting the cracks break us apart!

Good luck on your writing project. I am sorry you had a dissapointment recently. I have not tried to publish anything, but I can imagine the process is a bitch.

KuKd Chick said...

Glad that I'm not the only one seeing those little hairline cracks. Reassuring.

Hope's Mama - thank you dear. I look forward to zipping over to Australia for a beer-laden book tour (they like beer down under, right mate?)

Michelle said...

He sounds like a good man!

Also this sounds a lot like us. DH worked nights for almost 9 years and for 3 of my miscarriages I would spend every night alone. I hated it! When we were home together he was sleeping and I hated that even more. I felt like he did not care about me. He could not see MY pain. I knew we had a strong relationship but after the 3rd one I started to question it.

One night I brought it up and we talked forever and discovered he was in pain too! As surprising or selfish as it may be I just never really considered it. I mean I knew he was in pain but he is a man... he did not have a baby inside him...what did he know? Anyway, that realization and our subsequent MUCH BETTER communication along with him now working early mornings has made all the difference and I do think we are much stronger now!

I am glad that you wrote this and I would love to have a pajama party. That would be so much fun!

AnnaMarie said...

I'm one of those in the shitty marriage statistic.

Yes, make supporting each other a priority because divorce following a deadbaby makes for a very lonely time (in my experience anyway).

Yeah, I'd be the one sobbing and drinking more than my share of wine at the pajama party.

Cara said...

Yes! Yes! and Yes!

I'm so sorry the agent search didn't work out. When I secured an agent I thought "well, this should be a snap now...just write a stella book proposal and - snap - some publisher will pick it up"

Turns out that doen't always happen either. We wrote 2 (yes two) winning proposals and the publishing climate for a story of stillbirth just couldn't be roused. My contract with my awesome agent expires soon. I'm sad, yet in the same place you are.

Put it aside. Come back with some perspective.


Cara said...

Oh - and I just wrote a marriage directly after loss post at BHB. Raw but real.

sharonvw said...

I loved this post Mon! Hope you don't mind if I link to it, it relates to something I've been thinking about and wanting to blog about again.
I so hear you on going into survival mode that I forgot to take care of my marriage and now my life is so chaotic that I barely have the time to take note!

Being Me said...

Ahhh SO true. In fact, I was almost hotly defiant that there WOULD NOT be cracks. I had my MIL not able to look sideways at either of us for over a year after our daughter died and when I finally pinned her down, over a coffee, and put my most gracious-looking, supportive face on so that she'd talk... her biggest worry was that we would *whispers* "get divorced." Not that, like, we'd be grieving our daughter or anything silly like that. But that we'd part ways.

Your r'ship sounds wonderful. Organic. And completely normal, given the dirth of your dear boy.

Heather said...

People are warning us about our marriage "being at risk" too...I want to tell them to go "f" themselves. Do NOT tell me I'm going to lose my husband of 14 yrs when I've just lost 2 beautiful baby girls less than 4 months ago! I've got enough on my plate right now, thank-you very much!