Married with a newborn, Part II

It’s interesting how we form a lot of our “truth.”

We like to think that we form thoughts and opinions based on facts, evidence, logic. Rather, it’s the opposite: We have a thought, and then we look for facts and evidences to reason that thought into “truth.”

I had such a thought one day. I thought, “I have a terrible husband.” And from then on, the evidences all fell swiftly and neatly into a report on why David is a terrible husband.

That is a very dangerous thought, because no spouse is perfect. We’re living with an imperfect human being, sharing so many intimate, unfiltered moments that a person’s every flaw pops out of the surface like pubescent pimples. And when you look at your spouse and decide that he is x or y or z, every incident– past and present and imagined future– reinforce that he is indeed x or y or z. Any evidence that points otherwise is ignored, dismissed, and reasoned away.

My thought– that David is a terrible husband– raked up old conflicts long resolved that date back to our dating days. They came back alive and groaning like a resurrected mummy. And once that thought clutched my mind, it held on with a death grip, killing all the joy and grace in my heart.

Obviously, there are genuinely terrible spouses out there. This is not the case here. David has always supported me and my career. He consistently provides for the family. He has never once raised his voice at me. He does all the cleaning in the house. He is a great father to Tov. He even takes better care of the cat.

But that’s how deceitful our thoughts can be. One morning, I woke up feeling grateful for my husband. I kissed him good morning and blessed him with all my heart. Then by evening, I was tallying up all the ways he had disappointed me. My eye sharpened, and my heart narrowed. All within the span of 12 hours.

What changed? Besides for being physically and mentally drained, I listened to my own thoughts, and only my own. It doesn’t mean that thinking is bad– I’m talking about the kind of self-focused, self-listening, self-advocating, self-accusing, self-reinforcing thoughts that dwell in my mind and heart and spirit, leaving no room for anyone else’s voice but my own. And I know myself. I can be selfish, mean, contradictory, exacting, ruthless, graceless, impatient, toxic– everything that the fruits of the Spirit are not.

That evening, on our usual evening walk, I lingered several steps behind my husband because I was crying, and I didn’t want him to see my tears– not out of consideration for him, but if I’m brutally frank, it was because I was content to just stew in my own thoughts. They were familiar, even comforting. Bringing him into my self-conversation would have added inconvenient and uncomfortable nuances to the picture.

It just so happened that that morning, I had begun reading a book called “Risen Motherhood” by Emily Jensen and Laura Wifler for a book club. I had recently joined this book club with other mothers from my church and just finished reading the first chapter, which ended with the book’s main point: “This book is for every mom who is asking, ‘Does the gospel matter to motherhood?’ Oh friend, the gospel changes everything.”

The gospel changes everything. I thought about that paragraph that evening. I remember thinking, as I walked behind my husband, wiping sour tears from my cheeks, “OK then. How does the gospel change this?”

Preach the gospel to yourself, the book says: “…we hope you’ll be encouraged and that you’ll gain a greater ability to see God in your own life through gospel lenses.”

All right then. Sounds good. Let’s try seeing this situation through gospel lenses. Well, let’s see…I am a sinner. Ha. I know that. I also know for certain that my husband is a sinner. We are all wretched creatures, I know, I know, OK, next.

Jesus died on the cross for my sins. Well, Jesus, thank you, that is wonderful, I am grateful, truly. But now what? How does his death more than 2,000 years ago change what I’m feeling right now?

The world is broken, but God redeems. Again. Wonderful, but what am I supposed to do about that now, as as a new mother and wife, when I can’t stop the tears from falling and it’s freaking embarrassing that I’m crying, when I feel unappreciated, ugly and old, tired as hell, and uncared for? Do I just wait around for God to magically redeem this broken situation? Do I count to three and hope for joy to magically infuse my heart?

This isn’t working. My heart is still as hard as popsicles. How? If the gospel changes everything, how does it change this specific situation in my life?

I should have read on. The second chapter of “Risen Motherhood” is titled, “What is the gospel?” And I have to admit, I rolled my eyes. I grew up in a preacher’s family. As a kid I attended church services three to four times a week. I’ve heard the gospel till I bleed in the ears. I don’t need yet another retelling of what the gospel is. I felt like I was reading a book explaining the alphabet to me.

But as I read that chapter the next day, I realized I had left out something: I have an enemy. He is a real being, and the Bible describes him as “a murderer from the beginning” who has “no truth in him,” “a father of lies.” (John 8:44)

I don’t know how that slipped my mind, but it jolted me. The fact that I have an enemy who’s a liar and a thief became so real to me. Then it clicked: There is someone who’s actively trying to destroy my marriage. There is someone who’s whispering falsehoods in my ear, and then sitting back watching and cackling while I take his lead and continue the work of self-destruction. There is someone who viciously hates me, because I am loved by God whom he hates, because I share the glory of God that he covets. This someone tells me that the gospel is irrelevant and boring; he blasts white noise in my head: blah blah blah, I know it all already.

But do I, really? Is the gospel a continuous reality for me? Why do I always forget? Why do I go through life with the gospel as a blur in the background, like coffeeshop music? Because in my worst moments, in the deepest, darkest caves of my thoughts, if the gospel doesn’t shine there, then is it true?

If the gospel is true, then I need to wake up and protect my marriage. And if the gospel is true, then when I’m hearing the lie that my husband is a terrible spouse, I can remember exactly who planted that lie in my head, and I fight back with victory, because Christ crushed that enemy’s head on the cross. If the gospel is true, then I need to pray– really pray, not just by myself, but with my husband, for my husband, for us.

David and I are both very independent beings. We even do our own laundry– which is fine, but we carry our independence into our spiritual walk too, which is not fine. Other than meal times, we rarely pray together. I guess I think of those picture-perfect Christian influencer couples kneeling and praying while holding hands (somehow they’re always young, blonde, and beautiful), and it feels so inauthentic, cheesy, performative. But since Tov’s birth, I’m feeling the urgent need for us to practice the habit of praying together for the sake of our household, for the sake of keeping the gospel active and true in our life.

Since then, David and I have talked more about our needs and expectations. He suggested doing a devotional together every evening during dinner. We’ve been doing that (not always consistently, because such is life) for about three weeks now. At times we get distracted, especially when Tov is being extra fussy, but that’s OK. There is grace for all of that. This is a season of grace. And thank God, the grace is all His.

Married with a newborn: Part I

David and I had our first conflict as parents when Tov was about 10 days old.

We thought we were ready for conflict. While I was pregnant with Tov, we heard a lot of advice and warnings from other parents: You’re going to be exhausted and frazzled. You’re going to lose your temper with your spouse. You’re going to resent him/her. You’re going to argue. So over-communicate, prioritize your spouse, go on date nights.

David and I talked about this before Tov was born. Let’s always have grace with each other, we promised: We’re going to help one another. We’re going to communicate. It’s all about teamwork. We got this, partner!

I wish life works out exactly as our promises. I wish I have more grace than my best intentions. But even if I’m the most even-tempered, sweetest person in the world, I still won’t have enough grace during those unexpected, out-of-control, aggravating, I-hit-my-limit moments that unleash the worst parts of me.

No, the grace manufactured out of my own willpower is never enough. I need the pure, limitless, naturally-flowing grace from a source who’s perfect, someone who has so much abundant grace that He willingly sacrificed Himself for sinners who rejected Him. I need Jesus.

If you’re a long-time Christian, how familiar does that sound? I knew that. I know that. This is basic Gospel 101 that my parents and church have hammered into me since I was a young girl. And yet…why, during the times when I need this gospel truth most, why does it suddenly seem so unnatural, foreign, and irrelevant?

****

It was dinner time. David and I were having takeout for dinner: pad see ew and green curry. David, as always, needed something sweet to finish off the meal, and he remembered there was a half-eaten Milk Bar corn cookie in the fridge. The cookie was tucked way back in the fridge, so he had to wiggle his arm in…and in the process, knocked over the plastic bottle filled with breastmilk. The bottle tumbled onto the floor, hitting at just such an angle that the lid popped off, splashing its content across the kitchen.

“Argh, damn it!” David exclaimed.

“What is it?” I asked. I was still finishing my curry and hadn’t seen what had happened.

“I spilled your milk,” David said, sighing and ripping out some kitchen paper towels to wipe up the mess.

“WHAT!” I shouted. “All of it?”

He shrugged.

And then I lost it. “I HATE YOU!” I screamed.

David stared at me. “You hate me? Excuse me?”

We stared at each other for a couple seconds.

He wrung his hands. “I’m trying!”

For some reason, that irritated me even more. I felt like David was making the spilled milk all about him, and by then I was sick of hearing him talk about how exhausted he is. What about me? I’m the one who gave birth! So I silently watched David clean up the mess in burning-cold silence, my rage frothing. Then I said, my tone prickly with irritation, “Why couldn’t you have been more careful?”

David didn’t say anything, but he made a motion of pulling his hair in frustration, which further pissed me off.

I should explain myself. Often, men accuse women of flying off the handle for no reason. But such an incident never happens in isolation. That milk David spilled? It was only about 2 measly ounces– but it was 2 ounces that I had spent the past 16 hours collecting. That included an hour’s session of power pumping at a godawful time in the morning until my nipples were swollen and sore, only to collect a thumb’s worth of measly milk. Each nursing and pumping session was discouraging and defeating. Meanwhile, we were in the midst of a terrible formula shortage, and Tov was still below his birth weight.

So I was worried about Tov’s lack of weight gain, frustrated about my slow milk supply, incredibly tired from lack of sleep, and somewhat resentful of my sudden downfall from a free, independent woman to a walking, bleeding cow– all udders and leaking fluids and foggy brain, my days and nights filled with nothing but the mundane, mind-numbing tasks of keeping a newborn child alive. I missed my freedom, just the taken-for-granted joy of being able to brew a cup of coffee and drink it hot without being interrupted by a crying baby. I missed the freedom of reading late into the night and going to bed whenever I want, the basic freedom of functioning as an independent, well-rested, well-fed human being.

Then I looked at my husband, and his life didn’t seem to have changed that much. He’s still working; he took only two days off while I was at the hospital. He’s still going on two walks a day. He’s still working out every morning. He still eats three meals and three snacks a day, and is able to sleep through the night. In my mind, my husband got to keep his routine, while mine has been shredded like confetti. And before I realized it, resentment coiled around my heart.

So that 2 ounces of milk? I wasn’t crying over spilled milk. I was mad because I knew how much toil and loss went behind collecting that milk, which my husband spilled while reaching for a damn corn cookie– and he shrugged. And in that instant, I reached for the worst interpretation of that shrug: It wasn’t so much that I didn’t think he cared about the work I’ve put in– I decided he just didn’t even care to know about it. I was suddenly struck with an indignation that he never once asked, “And how are you doing?” So at that moment, the first sentence that shot out of my mouth was an explosive “I hate you.”

Did I really hate him? No. But in the thick of the moment, with so many unprocessed thoughts and emotions swirling through my mind, the first gush out was like projectile vomit– a chunky, sour, undigested mess. I just wanted to say something that slapped my husband in the face, something shocking and sticky and rude, to make him notice me.

You can tell there’s a conflict in our house not by loud volumes, but silence. We did not speak much for the rest of the night. David ate his cookie and went on his long evening walk. I fed Tov and changed his diaper. When David returned, I silently handed Tov to him and retreated into the dark corner of our bedroom. The next morning, things returned to “normal.” We didn’t talk about what happened the previous night. I didn’t explain why I reacted the way I did, and David didn’t tell me how my outburst made him feel. I watched Tov all day. David worked all day.

Having a newborn child changes your marriage. Because of the baby’s sleep pattern, we were no longer sharing the same bed. At times, I felt like we were more roommates than married couple. Nothing was really “wrong” with our marriage– but I could feel the first tugs of strain. I was easily irritated and short with my husband, especially when I felt my expectations and needs were not being met, yet I couldn’t and didn’t articulate what those needs are, because everything was just so new and unfamiliar.

Grief also changes marriage. David lost a mother. I lost a mother-in-law. That’s not even remotely the same grief. Life remains relatively the same for me, and other events– starting a new job, the birth of my son– took precedence. But for David, his life had cracked apart, and he was still holding onto those shattered pieces, unsure of what to do with them, cutting himself every time he tries to glue them back together. For him, every event– especially the birth of his son– reminds him of his mother. For example, Mother’s Day– my first Mother’s Day as a mother, his first Mother’s Day without his mother– made him sad, so we didn’t even acknowledge it.

Grief is a lonely road– nobody really understands this grief of losing a mother until they experience it themselves. People swarm around the grieving person for a week after the tragedy with casseroles and prayers and flowers, but one week, two week, one month later, everybody moves on with their busy lives, whereas the grieving one observes life through frosted glass. But as a wife, I too sometimes felt lonely. We were experiencing the greatest experience of our life as new parents together, but I couldn’t quite feel the togetherness in it, because while I wanted to cry tears of pure joy, David cried tears of loss, and my selfish, tired heart wanted a respite from all those heavy emotions, a break from nursing both a newborn baby and a husband’s broken heart.

At first, I felt guilty for feeling and thinking that way. I should be more understanding, more empathetic, more self-giving, I preached to myself. But then a voice interjected, “But why? You’ve done enough! Isn’t marriage a two-way covenant? What about your needs? Shouldn’t your needs be met, too? Who takes care of you?” So I cast the guilt aside, and instead took on the cross of a justified martyr. I swung between guilt and self-justification. Neither felt nice, but both felt right.

It was reasonable and natural to feel the way I did. I was “right” that a wife needs care, attention, and appreciation from her husband. I was also “right” to recognize that during some seasons, one partner might need more tender care than the other, and this was a season for me to practice self-sacrifice and selflessness. Everything I felt and thought were logical, understandable. But the problem was, it was too logical. My mind was a courtroom, and I was the defendant, the attorney, the prosecutor, the judge, and the jury. There is no room for grace in the courtroom.

I accused my husband of making things all about him. But I too made it all about me– and that much focus on self does not leave room for the Spirit to grow fruits– love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control– all the qualities I desperately need for a thriving marriage.

I needed grace. I needed the gospel, a gospel not just stuck in my head as concepts but living and breathing truths in my daily life.

Continued in Part II

Happy birthday, David the Dad

It’s David’s 37th birthday today.

How did my husband turn so old so fast? Haha! Which reminds me, I’m not much of a spring chicken myself, either– I’m only two years behind him. Yikes.

Life has moved so fast for us this year. To think that earlier this year, we were planning our honeymoon to the UK in April. That got canceled (God doesn’t seem to want us to go on our honeymoon, because this is the third cancellation due to unforeseen circumstances) because by then I was too far along in pregnancy. To think that just about a month ago, we were talking about how this would be David’s last birthday before he becomes a father, and what would we do if our son is born the same day as his dad’s birthday? But then, of course, Tov came five weeks early, and this became David’s first birthday as a Dad.

One of the greatest gifts Tov gave me is watching David become a father. In the five and a half years since I’ve known him, I’ve only known David as a friend, then as a boyfriend, and then a husband/ best friend. Now I’m meeting yet another dimension to David as a Dad, and it’s one of those life experiences that is indescribable and transformative and tender, yet also simple and elusive and ordinary.

The first time David held Tov in his arms at the hospital, I was dazed from the unexpected precipitous labor, exhausted from lack of sleep, and still aching from an unmedicated birth. But I remember looking at him sitting across the room in the delivery room, with Tov slumbering on his chest, the little babe bundled tightly in the pink-and-blue-striped hospital blanket, and feeling a glow in my heart.

I didn’t know Tov as a person then, but I knew David, and the picture of him holding his son– our son– felt both strange and disorienting and intimate and wondrous all at once. Those are the moments when I had no thoughts, just unformed, unlabeled feelings– a snapshot my mind took without much forethought but will later cherish in my memory box.

Since then, there have been many such mental snapshots gathering in my memory box, sometimes tossed in there for future keepsake, sometimes turned over in my fingers many, many times: David nuzzling his nose into Tov’s. David cackling as Tov farts in his arms. David lumbering sleepily into Tov’s room in the middle of the night to check on his breathing. David learning to bottle-feed him on his lap. David holding Tov late at night in front of the TV, both with heads slumped to the side, one passed out from exhaustion, the other from food coma. David standing over Tov’s crib, wordlessly gazing at Tov deep in sleep. David flustered and amused as Tov wails and flails in his arms, hungry and frustrated after attempting to suck on David’s useless man-nipple.

Those moments are so mundane that they don’t always immediately capture my attention, especially when I’m sleep-deprived, rushing to get things done, and honestly, sometimes a little annoyed that my life seems to have changed more drastically than his. But when I open my memory box, these memories are more precious to me than the memories we made on our trips to Tokyo and Munich, because this time, they’re not about us, or about our own pleasure and enjoyment, but about our shared pleasure and enjoyment in someone else. I can go travel the world by myself having lots of fun and great memories (and would love to do it again– just because I became a mother doesn’t mean I lost myself), but cleaning up a poopy blowout with the father of my child can be double the fun and delight because we are tending to a life we created together, that we chose to love together. There’s just something so rich and enlivening and exciting about it– that is, when I take the time and space to be mindfully present in those moments.

I get why God made it so that it takes two to make a child. Raising a new life is meant to be shared with someone– and not just anyone, but someone who has already shared one of the most physically and emotionally intimate moments with you. There is so much meaning in the knowledge that no one else in this world will love Tov as much as I do other than David. The bond between David and I is no longer two-way, emotionally binded by love, legally binded by a marriage certificate. Even in death or divorce, our bond now flows three ways. It shows how much worth God considers a life, how much wisdom He tucked into parenthood, allowing us to discover new insights, lessons, and challenges in the right season and timing.

I know not every parent gets to share these experiences with a significant other. I think of this often, especially when I’m delirious from lack of sleep, or need to get a chore done, and I know I can always rely on David for help. My heart and respect go to all the single parents out there– that has to be an incredibly challenging, draining, and lonely experience, because we humans were not wired to do it alone. God, just as He exists in three persons, created life to be shared.

Tov will be four weeks old tomorrow, and David is 37 today. Just as I’m getting to know my son, I’m also getting to know the father of my son, and there is no one else with whom I want to share this journey. Happy birthday, David– my husband, my best friend, and Tov’s abba.

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Help, the father of my child is gonna be a real softie!

We probably should have done this sooner, but for the first time, David and I had a more serious conversation about what we want to be like as parents.

A few nights ago, I caught my first glimpse of how our parenting styles might differ when Shalom, my worthless cat, peed on the couch– again. She had had a pee spree when she first moved into David’s house with me, anxious about the sudden new environment and resentful towards David who shook her entire life. The peeing mercifully ceased after several months, but the collateral damage was hell: pee stains and stenches on the couch, on David’s pillow (twice!), several new bedsheets, and a door that’s always, always closed to the master bedroom.

We had some peace for a bliss moment. And then, a couple months before I found out I was pregnant, Shalom started peeing outside her litter box again, randomly and sporadically. She peed on the bottom of the steps. Then upstairs by the couch. Then on the corner wall of my office. She was anxious again, sensing something off about me before I even knew myself. We know it’s not due to some medical problem because when I was gone in Mexico City and Poland, she abruptly stopped the peeing spree. Clearly, I was the trigger.

Anyway, all this to say, I’m ready to toss this cat out the window. Quite literally. Anyone want this cat? I’ll give her away for free, plus a dozen grateful hugs as bonus.

One evening, Shalom peed again on the couch while David was sitting RIGHT THERE, watching baseball. She slunked to the edge of the couch, squatted, trembled her little butt, and released her foul-smelling liquids, all the while staring STRAIGHT into David’s horrified eyes. What. A. Little. B—-.

“SOPHIA!” David called out, like a toddler tattling on his brother. “Look what your cat did!”

“How dare you, Shalom!” I yelled at my cat, while she nonchalantly plopped on the carpet and stretched out as though she hasn’t just committed a disgusting act. “No shame! Bad!”

We decided she really needed to be taught a lesson, so we picked her up and banished her to the balcony outside our living room. Two years ago we had set up a cat house for her there that she never used, because she refused to be outdoors. She meowed piteously then, staring mournfully at us through the glass doors. This cat is really the devil.

“No!” I told her through the glass door. “You need to feel the weight of what you’ve done!”

I didn’t care that cats can’t be “taught” like a human child, or a dog. Shalom is acting out from anxiety, sure, but she’s caused us an immense inconvenience– not once, not twice, but at least about three times a day for months! And for months, we had cleaned up after her, while continuing to feed her, clean her litter box, pet her, love on her. The equilibrium of justice was off! Whether she understood it or not, it was time for her to suffer some inconvenience and discomfort for once. It was only fair. It was only just.

“Leave her out for the night,” I told David. “She needs to be punished.”

He didn’t answer. He sat back on the couch, but couldn’t concentrate on the baseball game. He kept turning to the side to look at Shalom, making guilty eye contact with her large sad eyes, while she meowed and meowed.

The next thing I knew, she was back in the house.

“WHAT!” I exclaimed. “Did you let her in?”

“Yeah…” David replied. “I felt bad.”

Oh my God. This guy. Couldn’t even last a full 10 minutes. Heart softer and wobblier than Jell-O.

“Is this how you’re going to be as a father?” I said. “Our son is going to manipulate the hell out of you. I’m going to be that awful Tiger Mom, and you’re going to be the one he runs to to twist your heartstrings.”

“…yeah…” David said, hanging his head.

Oh dear. I saw our future in a flash. I’m going to tell our child no, and he’s going to run straight to David and somehow convince him to say yes. I’m going to enforce some discipline, and he’s going to sob as pitifully and dramatically as he can, and David’s going to take him out for ice-cream and cotton candy– and they’re going to do it all behind my back. “Don’t tell Mom,” David will whisper to our son while the little sinful child giggles, learning that mischief shall always go unpunished so long as Daddy’s around. I just KNOW it. The thought gave me heartburn.

So one night, on our walk after dinner, I asked David what kind of father he wants to be. How is he going to discipline our kid? Will we spank him? Ground him? Talk to him? How do we want to raise him in faith? What if he refuses to go to church one day? What kind of conversations are we going to have with him, when he asks us questions about something in school, or something his friends said or did, that don’t align with our values?

David, unsurprisingly, said he doesn’t think he wants to spank our kid. “I was never spanked,” he said. “So I think I’ll just tell him, ‘I’m disappointed in you. I’m not mad at you, but I’m disappointed in you.'”

I inwardly rolled my eyes. David was a golden child. He never disobeyed, never broke the rules, was a darling in every way. No wonder his parents never spanked him– there was no need to. His mother called him her “best friend” and talked to him like a friend every day. I, on the other hand, developed a temper that needed to be restrained, a stubborn streak that needed to be tamed, and lots of sinful impulses that needed to be bitten in the bud. If our child turns out to be anything like me, merely telling him “I’m disappointed” is not going to work, I told David.

We ultimately decided we’ll take things one step at a time. We have to get to know our kid better, to know what kind of disciplinary method works best for him. But for me, spanking is an option. David might differ, but that’s a conversation for another day. Who knows, maybe our kid will turn out like David, and we won’t ever need to have that conversation.

Please God, don’t let our child be like me. But if God operates like I operate with Shalom, He’ll recognize the sufferings I’ve inflicted on my own parents, and given how tilted that scale of justice is, he’ll dip it so I get a taste of my own parents’ misery.

Oh dear.

p.s. Still on offer, a pussy cat named Shalom! Will give her away for FREE!

Reflecting on Our Two-Year Anniversary

It was our two-year wedding anniversary last Sunday. We didn’t do much, didn’t exchange cards or gifts. Instead, we went out for dinner two days earlier at a Japanese restaurant that serves the prettiest set meals. Our anniversary just felt like another regular day, until I took some time to reflect on our last two years as man and wife, and everything we went through together.

I remember being at a work retreat several years ago. My colleagues gathered at a hotel conference room, and we each took turns introducing ourselves, since we all worked remotely and rarely got the chance to get together in person. One colleague introduced herself, then turned to us younger staff members and said, “I don’t think you younger ones know this, but marriage is hard. It’s really, really hard. You have to really fight to make it work. Nobody told me this.”

At the time, I was in my late 20s and single. But I remember thinking, “What are you talking about? All I hear is how hard and awful marriage is.” My generation is a product of divorce and broken marriages. So many people of my age group have been scarred by their parents’ dysfunctional marriages, and they carry that emotional baggage and psychological trauma into their relationships. My own parents have a long, healthy marriage, but they model a very traditional marriage that made me assume marriage is not for me. At least within my social circles, everyone knows marriage requires hard work and sacrifice. That’s why so many of us delay marriage for so long, or pay so much for therapy. I don’t know of any of my friends who walked into their marriage starry-eyed and giddy, but I know too many who became insomniac with anxiety leading up to their wedding, terrified of making the wrong choice, of wrecking things, of unforeseen changes and hardships.

And then I got married. Sure, marriage is not a breeze, but neither was being single. As someone who had been single for 32 years, I think being married is way better and easier than being single, especially when you’re past your mid-20s. In trying to set us up for realistic expectations about marriage, I wonder if some people went to the other extreme.

David and I got married at the start of the pandemic, when all church services and schools went online, grocery stores made you wait in line outside with masks on, and all wedding venues shut down. We spoke our vows in our backyard, our pastor marrying us from six feet away, and our friends and family watching us in their bedrooms via Zoom.

Year one of marriage was a bit of a blur. The pandemic froze time into one surreal era. It felt weird and impossible to celebrate typical big milestone events such as weddings, honeymoons, birthdays. We woke up the next day on our stay-at-home “honeymoon” with nothing to do. That year David and I spent a lot of time stuck at home, our marriage beginning and continuing in a long stream of mundane, sheltered activities. We worked from home, I read, he watched TV, we went on our daily evening walks, and repeat.

I suppose that’s just what married life is– doing mundane things together– but there was also a sense of being robbed not just of our actual honeymoon, but the honeymoon phase. I realized how important it is to celebrate life milestones with community. It is other people– their smiles, their cheers, their scent, their mere physical presence– that help mark those milestones, not just the milestone itself.

David began feeling somewhat depressed, and though I sometimes lectured him for letting the pandemic bring him down, when we’re both privileged to work from home, not suffer financially, and remain healthy (ever the preacher’s daughter), I too felt a loss– a loss that seems trivial in the grand scope of what was happening around the world and in our country, but still, on a personal level, a tiny loss that deserves some recognition and a formal burial.

Year two of marriage felt like a continuation of that frozen surreal era of the pandemic– until Sep 18, when David’s mother died. And then time, instead of feeling frozen, melted and roiled into storm and waves. We entered into a new era then, from pandemic surrealism to nightmare surrealism. Even now, David sometimes shakes himself, wondering, Is this for real? My mom’s really gone? Meanwhile, I resigned from my job, not knowing if I’ll ever find a journalism job again, spent three months unemployed, and then one month before starting my new job, found out I’m not only pregnant, but already in late second-trimester.

Yet we survived, and continue to survive– not barely hanging on, slogging through each day hacking and groaning, but strong and steady. Our married life is as boring as our second-year anniversary. We’re not cute, or romantic, or dramatic. We haven’t had any fights, nor is our love life hot and passionate, but it’s the small trivial things that formed the linchpins to our marriage– holding hands when we go for walks, tucking David into bed every night (he’s a baby), cleaning up after our cat Shalom’s pee spree, all with this lingering cloud over us that something is not quite right with the world, but at least we’re in it together, side by side.

Death shook us. Grief is an intensely lonely and personal journey. As much as I love David and want to be there for him, I found myself restrained by the very fact that it was not I who lost my mother. There were things that David had to face alone, things he had to hear from God and God alone. My words, my presence, my touch sometimes helped, often didn’t, and at times actually hurt, especially when it turned into preaching, when I try to rub in Scripture like ointment when David’s wounds still need washing. There’s never the “right” things to say to comfort and console someone in grief, because what David needs to hear changes by day, by moment, by mood, and more often than not, I learned that the fewer words uttered, the better. Time heals, but never brings back what’s lost, never turns back, never makes what’s broken whole. David is changed. I am changed. Our marriage is changed.

And just as David’s walk in grief is sometimes lonely, so too is my walk as a soon-to-be mother, when the father of my child can’t feel pure excitement for a new baby without the puncture of loss of his mother. Those two events are tightly coiled, impossible for David to untangle and separate. I can’t feel David’s happiness without also feeling his sadness, and that makes me sad, too. So like our wedding, which as joyous as it was, also had a tinge of loss and sadness to it, so too does my pregnancy feel like a tie-dye blend of contradictory emotions– joy and sorrow, excitement and fear, gain and loss, life and death.

Now, as we enter year three of our marriage, we also have less than eight weeks left till the baby’s due date. This is yet another era of surrealism. And just like so many people warned me about how hard and bloody marriage is, everywhere we turn, we get a lot of “just waits” about the coming baby. “Just wait till you hit third trimester, and the back aches and cramps begin!” “Just wait till the baby’s born, and you get no sleep!” “Just wait till the baby’s a toddler, and the terrible twos come!” I don’t need these unasked for advice and warnings– I’ve already convinced myself, long before I got pregnant, that having kids is terrible, horrible, no good, very bad. From the first time I involuntarily caught sight of my friend’s engorged postpartum boobs, to noticing the dark eye circles of new parents, to hearing babies screech and wail on the airplane, I had told myself and David, over and over, “We are not having kids, ever.”

But then, I thought the same about marriage, and as much as our marriage will never make it to a Hallmark movie, I enjoy being married, even its inconveniences and sacrifices and aloneness and irritations. Because at the end of the day, I have someone I can and want and will love– sometimes not all together, but there’s something simplistically wonderful about having someone to call yours to love, someone you daily strive to love better and wiser, someone whom you know God placed in your life to be loved specifically by you.

Happy two-year anniversary, David. I love you.