What was supposed to have been waiting two years to try to start a family gradually slipped into three. After MH and I got married in December of 2014 we had planned on waiting another 6 months or so to start a family of our own. However, around the time that this was supposed to happen we were dealt with several urgent and life altering challenges that had to be addressed before we could move forward. I had shoulder surgery…our home sustained a large amount of water damage from a neighbor above… MH’s parents came to visit, and we could not host them I our home, so we paid for what turned out to be a two month stay in a nearby hotel… add on an emergency room visit for my father-in-law and another shoulder surgery for me, and by the end of 2015 we were physically exhausted and in rough financial shape. My baby fund- which I had diligently nurtured over the past two years and had defended to the very end- had been depleted. We both felt defeated, and in early 2016 our conversations about starting a family were heated and emotional. MH didn’t see how it was possible for the foreseeable future, since he wasn’t willing to raid our retirement fund to provide for a family. I was heartbroken, and for the first time, I questioned whether it would actually ever happen.
Looking back, I wasn’t physically ready to have a child. I was still in weekly physical therapy sessions for both shoulders, and every morning I would have to “warm up” with exercises and stretching to prepare my body for the day. My work, which is 100% on the computer, would leave my arms tingling and numb after typing for a short amount of time. Every day was exhausting, and even as I improved physically, mentally I still felt stuck. My perception of myself was as someone who was incapable and hindered; the pain from my physical injury had tainted my attitude and outlook.
In January of 2016 we got some concerning news from the Dominican Republic about MH’s parents. His father had fallen, and due to his battle with Rheumatoid Arthritis and his heart condition, he was having potentially life-threatening complications. Soon after, MH’s sister contacted us with news about my mother-in-law, who is a breast cancer survivor. She had discovered a lump in her breast and was going in for a scan. MH and I feared and were preparing for the worst.
If you were pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or even thinking about getting pregnant, then you know that January of 2016 was the beginning of Zika hysteria- and for good reason. It was discovered that babies across South America were being born with severe birth defects from women who were infected with the Zika virus during pregnancy. Being that Dominican Republic was one of those areas effected by Zika, we were faced with an additional set of constraints. From the moment that MH returned from the Dominican Republic, we would have to wait 6 months before trying to start a family. It felt like at every turn we were given another reason why our family plans must be deferred.
At the end of February MH and I flew to Miami to meet his mother for a PET scan to determine the severity of her cancer. When we received the results, we were ecstatic to learn that she was only Stage 1, with a possibility of being early Stage 2. With the results in hand, we sat down and talked about next steps. We knew she needed help caring for MH’s father, since the Dominican Republic lacks the same medical support systems that you would find in the US. There are no official home care programs; everything is done by family. And since my mother-in-law would have radiation appointments to keep, she wouldn’t be able to spend hours navigating the gridlock traffic of Santo Domingo taking my father-in-law to doctor’s appointments or picking up medicine from the pharmacy. She asked for MH to come and help, and of course, he said he would.
Coming back to San Diego after the Miami trip was nerve wracking. We knew from experience that the severity of these types of situations weren’t communicated wholly, and that MH’s father would say “I’m fine!” when that was not the truth. I remember crying on the couch while home alone one night, wondering what the other side of this would look like… the amount of debt we would incur… the sacrifices we would make before we could take the next steps in building our future. In a stupid act of desperation I completed one of those Facebook games. You know, the ones where they analyze your profile (e.i. you give them access to your personal information) and return some revelation about what your sprit animal is, or which celebrity is your doppelganger. This particular “game” was “receive a future postcard from yourself”. The algorithm must of have had the capability to measure hopelessness, because the words that I received were the words that I most desperately wanted to believe: “The thing you are worrying about so much right now, doesn’t happen. Life is good in the future and you’re such an amazing person. Just remember to be happy!” While I wouldn’t choose those words exactly, it really did feel like an older and wiser version of me was telling my current self not to drive myself into a frenetic state of anxiety over hypotheticals built upon hypotheticals. A calm washed over me, and I still keep a screen shot of that “postcard” on my phone today.
About three weeks later MH went to see his parents in the Dominican Republic, and immediately upon arrival he called to tell me that his father’s condition is worse- much, much, worse- than what had been conveyed. Within two weeks, his father went into intensive care and we were preparing for his demise. Since MH works remotely, he was always able to work from the DR during his visits. However, his company recently adopted a new policy and it was no longer allowed. The only option was for him to take unpaid family leave.
This time of our married life was terrifying. My project was winding down, and there wasn’t additional work in the pipeline. We were prepared to lose one income, but not two. After MH had been away for four weeks, we decided that the only option we had was to rent out our home in San Diego and for me to come join him in the DR for several months. He was in the process of losing one, and potentially two, of his parents. I felt like I was losing my dream of a family and our future. We both wondered to one another whether our marriage would survive this.
I had three weeks to move our personal belongings out of our condo, fix various cosmetic issues in preparation for getting our place ready for rent, wrap up my doctor’s appointments- all while working full time. I wasn’t sleeping, nor was I eating. The non-stop activity, along with the pressure to rent our condo to cover our monthly expenses, left me enervated and fragile. Just two hours before I left for the airport I finished cleaning, putting our belongings in storage, and packing the 5 months worth of clothes and personal effects that I would need while out of the country. When my husband picked me up at the airport in Santo Domingo he immediately acknowledged my drawn face and the weight I had lost. He filled me in on everything that had transpired that he couldn’t discuss on the phone on the drive to his favorite bakery, where he ordered me the largest slice of chocolate cake I have ever seen. Despite all of the worrying over the last six weeks I felt with certainty that now that we were together, everything would be fine. And in terms of our union, thankfully I was right.