Marriage

A new, magical sort of love

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Photo credit: Boundless Love Photography

Today is our due date- the day I am expected to deliver our first child. I am no longer pregnant, though. Our son arrived 6.5 weeks ago, bringing an abrupt end to that chapter of our lives. I find myself contemplating this day as I sit here in my pajamas, looking down at my beautiful, healthy son; and I know how lucky I am. I have discovered the most perfect love in the tiniest package, dressed with long eyelashes and tiny fingers and toes, a belly button and button nose. I am so lucky.

And yet today feels so complicated to me. It is the intended end of a fascinating, humbling, exhausting, and empowering chapter of my life: a pregnancy that came and went, challenging me physically, emotionally, spiritually; and taking my breath away. I did not find pregnancy to be a magical experience, despite awareness of how lucky I was and despite the surprise that my little body could successfully grow a human. When it ended early, however, I found this sense of loss among the emotional debris, this sense of failure.

Medically speaking, there is nothing I could have done. Preterm rupture of membranes occurs in a small percentage of pregnancies, for which there is often no clear medical explanation after the fact. A healthy pregnancy ends in a healthy woman, and a healthy baby is born early. Modern medicine then comes in and attempts to support that baby’s final development to make up for the loss of time in the womb. All the steroids and warm isolettes, professional and compassionate neonatologists and NICU nurses, vitamin supplements and intravenous nutrition that modern medicine offers, however, still cannot do what my body was built to do. And for that, my dear child, I am so sorry.

I am sorry that I stopped protecting you, sharing my body with you in all the ways you needed to set you up for a healthy life, with strong lungs and bones, fat to keep you warm through all the cold diaper changes of life, immunity from all the nasty floating through the world, and a couple more months of peace and quiet. Our final weeks were stolen from us, leaving us to navigate the transition earlier than you were ready to, than either of us were ready to.

But here you are- perfect and strong and growing, doing all your baby things. We have never been more proud of a set of bowels, amazed by the growth of fingernails, or more in love. You’ve introduced us to a fascinating new sort of love: one that transcends fear and time, exhaustion and social niceties. I may spend my life unable to thank you for the tremendous love you’ve brought into my life, the new sense of purpose, the sweet snuggles and smiles that make me want to stop the clock from ticking, to stay with you forever in those moments. Thank you, my son. You may never know how deeply I love you, but I thank you for the opportunity to spend the rest of my life showing you.

I could write you a book already, documenting the story of you, of us, and how we all came to know each other. I’ll have to be brief, though, because your slumber is short.

If magic is real, then I witnessed it myself, watching you grow from a tiny seed into the goldfish that swam inside me, inside the body I never believed could support you. It was quite a humbling experience, watching my body transform to create life and support the development of such a perfect little being. Most of my life I have looked at my body as weak, less capable. I always imagined pregnancy would be an unlikely, and potentially dangerous endeavor for me. Discovering that, on the contrary, I was built for this miraculous enterprise was an inspiring and empowering experience. Uncomfortable, of course, but fascinating. Feeling you grow and swim around inside me, falling in love with you at each turn, is an experience for which I’ll be forever grateful.

If magic is real, I witnessed it in your dad, watching him grow from husband to father in an instant. I suppose there was more build-up to it than that, but it felt a bit like watching the sun come up one morning to reveal an entirely new world. I have loved your dad in progressive increments since the moment I saw him in his white uniform walking past me at a debate tournament in 2007. I have known that our love was special since its inception, but I never understood the depth of its power until now. That love wrote the blueprints for you, breathed life into you, and catapulted you into our lives.

Your dad was so clear from the very beginning that he was ready for you. When I was scared, worried that we couldn’t be ready yet to be good parents, he was confident. When I was feeling sick and weak, my belly growing and my bones tired, your dad cooked dinner, researched strollers, and flew fancy cake in from Palm Springs. When I fainted, your dad caught us, and assured me everything would be ok. When I couldn’t find a name that described you, your kind soul and your resilience, your dad created a list of names. When I went into labor, your dad put the car seat in the car, packed our hospital bag, and navigated our way to the hospital we’d never seen before, even though he didn’t believe any of that was yet necessary.

When the nurse informed us that we wouldn’t be leaving the hospital without you, I saw a fear in your dad’s eyes that I’d never seen before. Your dad isn’t afraid of anything. In fact, he has been trained to handle crises, to stay calm and collected, to always be prepared to land the plane safely, no matter how many engines go out. That fear stayed there until we were all ok, reunited in the hospital days later. But your dad stood by us, monitoring our vitals, holding my hand (and later yours), afraid for our safety but determined to get us through this.

Things got scary for a bit- my body was ready to release you into the world no matter how hard the nurses tried to keep you inside me. Our doctor was on vacation, and the backup doctors weren’t ready for the operation. Your somersaults inside me had left you in a position too dangerous for you to arrive the normal route, so the doctors had to come get you. The operation was scary for everyone, as the various drugs they gave me sent our vitals in all directions, the anesthesia gave me an allergic reaction, and you got stuck in my belly.

That’s when I realized that if magic is real, it’s in you, in your strength and resilience, the light in your eyes. After such a traumatic entrance into the world, it took you a while to breathe on your own. As the doctors prepared to rush you to the NICU, they decided to let us meet for the first time, placing you on my chest in the operating room, wrapped up in a blanket. You were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and in the midst of all the medical chaos, I reached out to touch your face and you touched mine. You finally took a breath, and everything was suddenly okay. In those 15 seconds, time stopped and the three of us became a family.

They took you away then, but a part of me stayed behind in that moment, strapped to that table under the lights, looking at you for the first time.

The doctors decided that you needed more help than the hospital could provide, and took you in an ambulance to another hospital with a more advanced NICU. They brought you to my room in your traveling isolette just long enough to say goodbye. Dad followed the ambulance and then stayed at your side all night and the following day in the new hospital, while I worked to convince the hospital to let me go after my operation so we could be together again. It felt so unnatural to be away from you for the first time in almost eight months, but I knew you were safe and that Dad was there to protect you.

I left the hospital as soon as I could, and it was such a relief to be reunited at your bedside and finally hold you in my arms. We learned so much about you over those three weeks in the NICU. You showed us how strong you are, and how lucky we are that you chose us to be your parents. I imagine I’ll spend the rest of my life contemplating the magic in you, and trying to deserve the love you brought into our lives that day.

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Categories: Family, Marriage, Our Story, Pregnancy | Leave a comment

A Mediterranean Honeymoon, Part 1

Casey and I said our vows on a windy day in Texas two years ago. We spent the following six months apart from each other as Casey completed his flight training in California and North Carolina, and then we moved across the planet. After arriving in Okinawa, we dealt with many adjustments in the time we were able to spend together. It would be dishonest to say it was easy. With all of the changes in our lives during such a short period, we did not have much time to focus on us. All the moves and changes also left us no chance to go on a honeymoon.

Last month, we finally made that happen– two years late, but incredible nonetheless. Two of our closest friends currently live in Seville, Spain, so we could not pass up the opportunity to see them and have them show us around (probably) the coolest country in the world. As I had never been to Europe, we decided to make a honeymoon out of it via a cruise through the Mediterranean. We packed as much as we could into this almost-3-week-long trip.

Our 30+ hour flight experience took us from Okinawa to Tokyo, Doha, and finally into Barcelona. Exhausted but excited, we found our way to our adorable bed and breakfast, ANBA, which provided tasteful modern decor juxtaposed with original nineteenth- century hand-painted ceilings. We cleaned up and then went out to meet Barcelona. We walked through the streets of Las Ramblas, spending time in the Boquería, the most colorful market I have ever seen. Everything from fresh squeezed fruit juices to paella, eggs, pastries, fish, jamón serrano, truffles, and lamb heads, are fresh and on display in gorgeous array.

Barcelona is a city that is truly alive. Everything from the architecture to the food pulsates with a vibrancy that is uniquely Barcelona. It goes without saying that I did not want to leave. We went to bed early on our first night there, then spent the morning and early afternoon at La Sagrada Familia, an unfinished masterpiece of the late architectural genius Antoni Gaudí. No photo can come close to capturing his brilliance, and I remain in absolute awe of his work. La Sagrada Familia in particular is an incredible work of art, as every elemental detail is cutting edge in its design and construction. I am amazed by Gaudí’s ability to plan and begin construction in 1882 on what is seen as a modern architectural marvel in 2014. Despite ongoing construction on the building, this was a major highlight of our trip.

That afternoon, we jumped in a taxi and headed to the port to embark upon the Costa Serena, our home and transportation for the next seven days. In case you are wondering, yes: this is the sister ship to the Costa Concordia, whose recent journey ended in the deaths of 32 passengers when it ran aground outside Tuscany in 2012. As we expected, Costa had ramped up their emergency procedures in response, and we felt safe but slightly annoyed by all of the safety reminders announced daily in seven languages. The ship was massive, and filled with passengers speaking every language you can imagine. We enjoyed multilingual performances, all-inclusive food and drinks, dancing, beautiful Mediterranean sunsets from our balcony, and making friends with an awesome British family who provided companionship and entertainment throughout the trip.

From Barcelona, the Costa Serena carried us along to Marseille, France. While our plans to hike Les Calanques did not work out, we enjoyed casually discovering the sights of this lovely old city. We visited a gorgeous old cathedral, walked through the shopping district, savored fantastic espressos and lunch at a local cafe, and relaxed in the sunlight looking down over le vieux port de Marseille. It was just the day we needed.

From France, we headed on to the shores of Savona, Italy. Our planned excursion to tour the local vineyards along the Italian countryside was unfortunately cancelled, so we took the opportunity to visit Monaco. The two-hour-long bus ride was the most beautiful drive I’ve ever experienced (sorry, Big Sur), taking us through gorgeous villages along the mountains of Liguria. As we approached Monaco, I understood why the wealthiest people in the world retire there. The entire (2.02 square kilometers) sits surrounded by stunning blue water and beautiful French countryside. In addition to its beauty, Monaco sports a very attractive tax code, explaining why it manages to be both the second smallest and the most densely populated country in the world. We visited the royal palace, the famous Monte Carlo casino, and walked around the immaculately manicured streets during our short visit. Casey geeked out a bit over the ridiculously expensive cars that frequented the streets, and especially enjoyed seeing the Formula 1 track that runs right through the city.

That night, we had a great time enjoying (more than) a few drinks with our new British friends. The following morning, we had room service before we pulled into the port of Naples, Italy. If you can imagine the world’s worst hangover, and then picture yourself on a boat in the middle of the ocean, then you might be able to understand the situation I was in as I decided that I absolutely could not miss out on our trip to Pompeii that day. Please note that if you are planning to visit Pompeii, there is nowhere where it is conceivably appropriate to leave your breakfast. However, there are some nice bushes outside the local cameo jewelry factory. Despite feeling like death, I fully enjoyed Pompeii. It is absolutely incredible how well maintained it is after so long, with intact mosaics and murals, ovens, wells, furniture, and even calcified human and animal remains. In short, there is something for everyone! 😉

Stay tuned for the second half of our trip to learn how we let ourselves get swindled in Africa, saw dead people in Palermo, and fell even deeper in love with Spain as we spend more time in Barcelona, and then visit Granada and Sevilla with our friends!

Always, Amanda

Categories: Culture, Exploring, History, Marriage, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Will You Marry Me?

Two years ago today, Casey asked me to marry him. I am sure that it is quite obvious that I said yes, but I’m going to tell you the story anyway. While there is a lot of adorable back-story to this, I am going to save that for later posts. I prefer to draw this out. 😉

As former policy debaters, my husband and I are both talkers. To be honest, there is nothing that we do not talk about. As children of divorced parents, we did not take the subject of marriage lightly, but we certainly discussed it. Less than a year into our relationship, we discussed never getting married. We agreed that we would both be happy to live out our lives together, unmarried and unafraid. Soon after that discussion, we moved to Pensacola, Florida, together. It was here that I received a fairly rough introduction to the military lifestyle, as the Marine Corps sent Casey away to California on a temporary assignment two months into living together. Fortunately, we had just adopted this guy:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHis name is Barley, and yes, he is still that cute. Thank you for asking.

During my three months living on my own in our little home in Pensacola, something changed. I certainly became stronger, as I picked myself up, found a job (or three), made friends, bought a car, and explored this new city on my own. Barley and I ran every day after work along the bayou, Barley chasing crabs while the sun set and the Blue Angels flew overhead.  While that was wonderful; the emptiness I felt with Casey on the other side of the country, the longing I felt for all the little things in our life together, coupled with the realization that I could handle all of that affected me deeply. Somehow, Casey and I independently came to realize that we wanted to marry each other from opposite sides of the US. Actually, at that point I discovered that there was nothing I wanted more. He returned to Florida and we discussed our future together.

Fast forward about 9 months, and I just knew Casey would be “popping the question” soon. In fact, through careful deduction, I was able to predict it down to the time and place. Here’s how. First of all, Casey is a grand gesture kind of guy. I’ll save the story for how he first told me he loved me for another day, but I can tell you that it was over the top. Second, Casey is terrible at keeping secrets from me. For our first Christmas together, he bought me a CHI hair straightener. About 5 minutes before we exchanged gifts, he pointed to my hair straightener and asked me how it was working for me. Similarly, before he proposed, he kept getting excited about certain details of the date we had planned for our second anniversary. My first observation gave me the idea, and the second reinforced it. That date was set to be a repeat of our first date together in Fredericksburg, VA, where we were to visit right around our anniversary to attend one of my best friend’s weddings. (I made sure to warn my friend that we would probably be getting engaged the night before her wedding to make sure that she would be okay with it). 😉

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On our date, we walked through downtown Fredericksburg, past the little cafe where we had shared a sandwich two years before. We went to see Transformers 3, since we had seen Transformers 2 on our first date together. We ate dinner at Sammy T’s, where we had shared our first dinner and Sierra Nevada. We even wore the same clothes that we had worn on our first date. I know, it’s just too much. Finally, Casey drove me by the house where I had lived during my senior year in college. We got out of the car, and in the spot where he had nervously dropped me off and asked for a kiss, our first kiss, he said something I will never forget.

“Amanda, two years ago in this spot I asked you a very important question, and today I have another one. I love you very much, and I want to spend the rest of my life with you.” And then, from one knee: “Amanda, will you marry me?” Crying, I said, “Of course! I would love to marry you!” As much as I had known when and where he would ask me this, nothing in the world could have prepared me for that moment.

Categories: Marriage, Our Story | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Our First Year of Marriage

One year ago today, I married my best friend. He is busy flying planes in a land far away from here right now, but that gives me the opportunity to reminisce when I would otherwise be snuggling with him in front of our wedding video. In the year that we have been married, much has changed. It has been by far the most difficult year of my life, and I am lucky that I can say it has also been the best. This was our year:

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On February 18, 2012, we got married in a beautiful outdoor ceremony near Corpus Christi, Texas. Our wedding went by in a whirlwind, but the important part is that I woke up the next morning beside my husband and we began our adventure together. At the time, we were living in Corpus Christi while Casey went through the multi-engine portion of flight school, and I worked for a local staffing firm.

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Several weeks after our wedding, Casey received the lovely golden wings he had worked so hard for, and then he went off to California for two weeks of survival training. Shortly after that, he moved to New Bern, North Carolina, for the final stage of flight training (this time in a simulated C-130).  I did not accompany Casey to North Carolina because the military would not pay for us to move there, I wanted to continue working at my job, and we had recently learned we would be moving to Okinawa. While the Marine Corps had separated Casey and I before, the pain of saying goodbye to him and remaining behind was something I was somehow unprepared for. I was lucky to have kind and generous co-workers; but being only recently married, I was mostly isolated from the military community. It was a trying time for both of us, and I was forced to learn many new things I would have avoided had I had the choice. I did not enjoy caring for the lawn, repairing my car when it broke down, running Barley and Hops to the emergency vet when they consumed poison or got stung by scorpions, or dealing with our neglectful landlord when our AC and appliances broke. I’d like to think that all of that and the sushi dates I had with myself made me a stronger person; but I would be entirely dishonest if I said that I enjoyed the overall experience.

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I was able to visit Casey once in the lovely little town of New Bern, where they have these adorable bears all over town. In August, Casey and I began our Farewell America tour. We had already said goodbye to my friends and family in Virginia; so this time we met in Vermont, where we spent some wonderful time with my family. Saying goodbye to my father and baby sisters was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

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From there, we flew down to New Bern and packed Casey’s things into Brandy (his precious Mazda Speed 3), and headed home to Corpus Christi. We stopped in Meridian, Mississippi, to visit some of our awesome jet pilot friends before we made it back to Corpus. We spent a week or so there, moved out of our home, and packed our fluffy children into the car. You’ve already heard of our road trip to San Diego to say goodbye to Casey’s family, followed by our trip to Seattle and then epic plane ride to Okinawa. Long story short: we moved across the planet. Nbd.

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Once in Okinawa, we lived in a hotel for a week (separated from Barley and Catbeast), then moved into our concrete palace in a tower on Camp Kinser, in the southern part of Okinawa. It took awhile for our belongings to arrive, (most of which will remain in storage in Texas until we return to the US) but we have done our best to make Okinawa home. I’ve been adjusting to life here and trying to figure out in which direction to take my career. Casey has enjoyed flying the C-130, and has already had the opportunity to travel to Hawaii, mainland Japan, Thailand, Korea, the Philippines, and the Marshall Islands. I miss him while he is gone, but I am so proud of all his hard work and am so happy to see him finally reaping its rewards. In between those trips, we’ve tried to take advantage of his free time to explore the wonderful food and beautiful sites Okinawa has to offer. I promise that more on that will come in the next few weeks.

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Spending holidays, birthdays, and an anniversary apart has been difficult, but I never take our time for granted. The little moments that we share cooking dinner together, watching him wrestle with Barley and Hops, exploring this wonderful island together: all of these I have an acute appreciation for, knowing the feeling of a cold bed and an (almost) empty home. Marriage is not easy, and we have much to learn about how to deal with such important issues as cold feet in the bed and where exactly we should place our wet towels. I’m just lucky that I have Casey to share this amazing, at times chaotic, life with. I am sure we will continue to face obstacles in the years ahead, but I know that together (or not), we will make it through this adventure and come out stronger and more prepared for the next one. Happy anniversary, babe.

Always, Amanda

Categories: Marriage, Military Life, Our Story | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

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