Part III ~ The Possibility of Life, Death, and Love

My cousin's beautiful favor table.  Photo credit: Jessica Garmon

My cousin's beautiful favor table.  Photo credit: Jessica Garmon

June 28, 2014 bombarded me with so many emotions I thought I might literally explode.  I cried, laughed, had butterflies, cried some more, was filled with hope and fear at the same time, felt my heart breaking and swelling. I will always remember it as a day of extreme beauty, the kind of day that impresses upon you the fragility of life, reminds you of the value of your relationships, and whispers to you to wake fully to the thrill of your journey on earth.

The story really starts on June 27, the day before my younger cousin's wedding that I was to officiate. It was a gorgeous, sunny day at the wedding rehearsal in an idyllic vineyard setting. The rehearsal was fun and everyone was in a good mood, laughing and joking and looking forward to the big day.  My husband was working but had planned to meet us after the rehearsal, for the dinner.

Driving from the vineyard to the restaurant, we were all following each other with my cousin and a couple other people in my car.  My husband called and I remember laughter and conversation as I picked up the phone.  I immediately heard the panic in his voice.  "My dad's had a brain aneurysm. I'm on my way to the hospital."

I froze.  "What??", I managed to choke out. "What?"  "A brain aneurysm.  That's, that's all I know.  I'm headed there now.  I can't talk."  When he hung up I remember feeling shock course through my veins.  In my experience, a brain aneurysm only had one outcome. I pulled the car over. No. No. No, my mind whispered.  This can't be happening.  For a few minutes, I couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do.  Was this real?  Should I go to the hospital too?  In retrospect I can't believe I actually was asking myself that question, but I think my brain simply wasn't processing the information or the seriousness of the situation properly.  "Go!!!  Go, you have to go Rachel!" My cousin jolted me back to reality. They quickly called another family member in our caravan who met us at the next convenient place to pull over and everyone got out of my car so that I could rush to the hospital to meet my husband.

Alone in my car, I started shaking and praying.  My faith journey is another story entirely, and a long and complicated one at that.  But in that moment I prayed harder than I've ever prayed for anything in my life.  Not now, God.  Not yet.  This can't be happening.  PLEASE, God, please don't take him from us.

My father-in-law is the rock of our family. Funny, loving, insightful, generous, and kind. I couldn't have gotten luckier in the in-law department. He and my husband were ten days out from their intended departure on a sailboat race to O'ahu. It was a lifelong dream they shared to sail the Pacific Cup race together and it was finally happening after months of preparation. And we were trying desperately to make a baby. So much more life to share. In a split second everything changed and all we could do was pray that somehow "brain aneurysm" wouldn't mean what we feared.

The next several hours were a blur as we congregated at the hospital, learned he had to be transported to San Francisco, and got ourselves organized and packed and found a hotel room to accompany him down there. We found a place to stay, I picked up my brother-in-law from the airport at midnight, and we finally all crashed in one hotel room by 2:00 a.m.

Ironically, we had already had an IUI scheduled at San Francisco Kaiser that morning. Preparing for an IUI isn't as simple as just making the appointment. It has to take place on just the right day in your cycle or else you lose your opportunity for the month. Leading up to that day, you take medication, pee on a stick every day, and have a couple ultrasounds to make sure everything is going according to plan. So there was a lot riding on this appointment. Under the circumstances, though, going through with it didn't seem reasonable and I told my husband we should probably just forget it and try again the next month. He refused, though, pointing out all the preparation we had done and that we were already in the city. We managed to make our hasty excuses and dash over to Kaiser, where we were ushered into an exam room, I threw my feet into the stirrups to receive the goods, and we awkwardly timed the 15 minute rest period before throwing my clothes back on and rushing back to pick up the rest of the family and head to the other hospital.

I was such a mess. Insemination day is such a clinical, weird way to try and get pregnant, even on a good day. I remember feeling like I needed there to be something...else, some kind of ceremonial recognition that this could be it, the day we conceived. Despite all our failures so far, I still remained convinced that this time it would work because how could it not work?!?!  At this point I was incredulous that anyone, ever, got pregnant by accident. If someone could get pregnant without even knowing, how could THIS, this magnanimous effort, with three growing follicles and a healthy sperm count, how could this NOT WORK?  This line of thinking had me feeling very optimistic even if I was distracted and more than a little rattled by the unceremonious, cold and rushed procedure.

My father-in-law was in a large hospital room on the top floor, with big windows and a nice view. Needless to say the view didn't make him any happier to be there. He was uncomfortable and pissed off and making sarcastic jokes with everyone. By this time, we were somewhat reassured that he was still himself and didn't appear to be suffering any brain damage, but he was in for a decent hospital stay while they figured out what had happened. Meanwhile, I was due back up north to officiate my cousin's wedding by 2:00 that afternoon. They had arranged a back-up plan depending on how things were going, but since he seemed stable I decided to go ahead and drive up in time for the wedding. Before leaving, I told my father-in-law that we were actively trying for a baby and that we expected him to hold on and be a part of our future baby's life! We squeezed hands and I was overwhelmed with emotion as I imagined the possibility of new life in my belly and how badly I wanted him to know his grandchild.

As I drove the hour north to the wedding, I had no idea how I'd hold it together to talk in front of people and conduct a meaningful wedding ceremony. Thankfully, I had a script I had prepared with my cousin and her fiancee months beforehand. I was, at that point, filled with hope thinking about the possibility of a pregnancy and the fact that my father-in-law had stabilized and things looked positive.

When I saw my cousin walk down the "isle" (really a dirt path across a gorgeous landscape at a vineyard property), to the song "A Thousand Years" by Ingrid Michaelson, everything bubbled up inside and huge, alligator tears were pouring out of my eyes. I was so happy for her and so overwhelmed by the beauty of life and the significance of sharing these big, meaningful moments with family. What had happened to my father-in-law was such a shocking reminder that each day is a precious gift and we are never promised the next. I felt overcome with gratitude for life, for my husband and his ability to bring strength and humor to our infertility journey, and for my supportive family and friends. It was easy to imagine that the seed planted inside me that morning would become our baby, because the day seemed so intensely meaningful. As I started addressing the guests, my voice cracked, but with a deep breath, I found my footing, grounded myself, and the ceremony went off without a hitch.

After an insemination, there is the infamous "two-week wait" to see if conception has taken place.  Ironically, my father-in-law's hospital stay was also two weeks. The medical staff did several procedures and tests to try and locate the source of the bleed, but they never could. At the end of the ordeal, it was labeled a subarachnoid hemorrhage, not an aneurysm, which is very rare and can often cause brain damage, paralysis or death. In his case, our prayers were answered and he walked out of the hospital two weeks later with no ill-effects other than those caused by an uncomfortable hospital stay that forced him to lose sleep and lay still for so long. He and my husband backed out of the sailing race, but my husband and I went to O'ahu anyway for a short vacation.  We needed one after the stress of the ordeal and the discovery that despite our hopes being so high, our pregnancy tests were all, again, negative. 

In the end, June 28, 2014 didn't bring us death or new life, but it did bring us love. Love at the witnessing of my cousin's marriage, love in our family as we all grappled with the possibility of loss, and love between my husband and I as we bravely and optimistically fought to create our family in spite of adversity. Through life's major mile-markers, and through the seemingly insignificant moments, we must not neglect to notice the love. Love is a constant that covers us all.