Our wedding(s): navigating life's milestones through chronic illness.

 snapshot: our engagement.

snapshot: our engagement.

I share the details of my journey through pelvic pain openly and frankly.  There are some dark and gnarly places in this story, but they all contributed to the severity of my pain and the triumph of my ultimate recovery.  None was so emotionally wrenching as the situations surrounding our wedding.

My husband ("D") and I met when we were young'uns, as I've told him.  I was a secretary, just two years out of college.  He was a hotel sales manager.  We met at a party, danced til 2:00am at a club, and began a romance shortly thereafter.  We took the law school entrance exam together, moved in together, attended law school together, merged our dogs and belongings and lives.  After a few years of dating and some gentle encouragement, he proposed at an overlook at Tent Rocks National Monument.  Beautiful day, landscape, romance, and ring.

We're engaged!

 snapshot: This photo was taken on our bittersweet law school graduation day, the day before we had planned to get married.

snapshot: This photo was taken on our bittersweet law school graduation day, the day before we had planned to get married.

Ok, so things weren't that rosey throughout our romance.  I mean, sex was painful and often left our bedroom looking like a crime scene (I used to bleed...a lot).  Sometimes I sat around in his baggy pajama pants and studied for law school, Valium suppository shoved securely up my hooha.  My medical treatments were driving us into debt, and they put immense stress on our already-exhausting schedule. But we were fighters and we were moving forward with LIFE.  And part of that for us meant getting married.

Wedding #1

We scheduled our wedding for the day after law school graduation.  Our family would already be in town to celebrate, and we would only be having a small ceremony. 

Wedding dress shopping was difficult.  I was in pain, both physically and emotionally.  My relationship with my mother was crumbling at the time, and the experience of dress shopping with her was the opposite of what you see on Say Yes to the Dress, which I'd been devouring on Netflix during sleepless nights spent writhing in pain.  My mother critiqued my dress choices: "that seems pretty formal for just a backyard wedding." I had to wear a strapless bra to try on the gowns, and it made me feel like I was being suffocated.  Any tightness around my ribs or mid-back was insufferable.  Strapless gowns seemed out of the question -- they were too fitted (naturally, so they wouldn't land around my ankles as I walked down the aisle).  I migrated towards more comfortable styles.  Donning my favorite one, my mother said I looked like I was wrapped in toilet paper.  I left the store empty-handed and dismayed.

 snapshot: wedding dress shopping in pain.

snapshot: wedding dress shopping in pain.

A few months later, I returned with my best friend.  She told me I was beautiful, she joined me in the dressing room and zipped me up and reassured me that I looked like a glowing bride-to-be.  She tearfully hugged me and dressed me up with different veils and jewelry pieces, and she made me feel special.  More importantly, in the midst of familial drama and a withering pain condition, she made me feel normal.  I bought the dress and veil, and I hung them in my closet at home.  We were doing this!

As the wedding approached, we sent out save-the-dates, booked a venue, and ordered invitations.  As D and I sat addressing our invitations, though, we realized I was simply too sick.  There was no way I could endure a wedding.  My illness and weekly out-of-state travel for care had worn me down.  I looked like a ghost, spent most of my time in bed, missed classes frequently, and was probably starting or withdrawing from some new horrible medication.  We realized that if we married, I would lose my insurance -- my only access to care.  And to be frank, I was a wreck.  We held hands, I cried, and we decided to indefinitely postpone our wedding.  Notifying our family and friends was heart-wrenching.

I put my dress and veil on e-Bay and sold them for pennies on the dollar.  We said we would marry when I recovered.

Wedding #2

As the year dragged on, not much changed.  D took the bar exam and started his first job as an attorney.  I was too sick to do either.  But, we talked about how we wanted to get married and could do so on a very small scale.  We would schedule it a year away, and surely I'd be doing better by then.  We sent out new save-the-dates.

 snapshot: our gorgeous wedding day at Los Poblanos lavender farm in New Mexico.

snapshot: our gorgeous wedding day at Los Poblanos lavender farm in New Mexico.

As the wedding approached, my illness roared away and ravaged my body.  I dropped more weight and spent more nights sleeping next to the toilet, sick from meds.  We had re-booked our vendors, and our families had re-booked their travel.  But our energy reserves were thin, and the invitations were emails this time.  To select my dress, I ordered one of each from BHLDN (Anthropologie's bridal line), had them shipped to my house, tried them on, and returned all but one.  I'd found my dress.  I did the same with shoes, veil, and accessories.

But before we reached our wedding day, we moved from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Chicago.  My condition had become critical, I was in a wheelchair, and I had been hospitalized twice that year.  D, sensing I needed immediate and significant medical support, quit his job and moved us across the country.  We moved just 3 weeks before our wedding.  We rented out our house, sold our belongings, packed up a UHaul, drove into a Polar Vortex, and put the finishing touches on wedding planning -- all while I was in a wheelchair, sick from medications, and in a state of constant pain flares.  

So, three weeks after our move, we flew back to Albuquerque for our wedding at a beautiful lavender farm.  We were determined to go through with it.  D arranged for a wheelchair rental from a local medical supply company in advance, and we picked it up straight from the airport.  I couldn't walk and struggled with any activity -- moving from my chair to the bed, riding in the car, going over the small barrier between the hall and the hotel room carpets.  It was hell.

 snapshot: our wedding photographer caught me slipping off my shoes mid-ceremony.

snapshot: our wedding photographer caught me slipping off my shoes mid-ceremony.

On our wedding day, my cousins and aunt pushed me around in my chair and chattered joyfully as I had my hair done, got dressed, and prepared for our ceremony.  My wedding photographer took about 700 photos that day, and not one of them included my wheelchair.  She managed to preserve my wedding day memories without allowing the shadow of my illness into the frame.

Determined to walk down the aisle on my own, I slipped on my heels and propelled myself towards D.  I was wearing my beautiful gown, I couldn't have been happier to be surrounded by my loving family or to be marrying this man.  But, I also was not wearing underwear, and I was hoping that the neon blue-dyed Valium suppository I'd stuck up my vagina didn't cause some sort of Carrie moment mid-ceremony.  As we said our vows, I slipped off my heels and transitioned to bare feet.  As we walked down the aisle as husband and wife, D held all of my body weight and I almost floated over the ground.  I'd done it.  We'd done it.

Or had we?

That day, make no mistake, was our wedding day.  But... we had again realized that if we legally formalized our marriage, I would've again lost my insurance.  So that wedding was "only" ceremonial.  We were both still legally single, I still had my maiden name, and I was still insured.  This was a hard pill to swallow, but a necessary one.  Marriage in the legal sense would need to wait a bit longer.

Wedding #3

 snapshot: our vow renewal day in Chicago.

snapshot: our vow renewal day in Chicago.

I hesitate to call this another "wedding," because our gorgeous lavender farm ceremony was our wedding.  That's the anniversary we celebrate, the day we etched our union as one of foreverness.  But, alas, there was some paperwork left undone.

Nearly two years later, after a year of geographic separation (D had to leave Chicago for a year for work), and more than a year of hard-fought physical therapy gains for me, we were living under the same roof again and I was healthy.  Our new life as we'd envisioned it for so long was finally materializing.  We decided to make our "legal" marriage a private vow renewal, in which we would celebrate our health and this new beginning.

Three days after D arrived back in Chicago, we showed up at City Hall.  I donned a dress I'd grabbed off-the-rack at Nordstrom, a jacket I found at a consignment shop, and flowers plucked off the shelf at Whole Foods en route to the courthouse.  D wore his favorite yellow pants and corduroy blazer, along with a tie and bout purchased for the occasion. I had found a photographer, who we hired for an hour to memorialize the occasion.

And, with very little pomp and circumstance but lots of joy and smiles, we were hitched. Again. 

After that final marriage, we returned to our hotel room in the city (we'd booked it for a "staycation" weekend) and traded in our formalwear for jeans.  We scrapped our fancy-dinner plans and headed over to a favorite restaurant on Michigan Avenue, where we sipped on smoothies, ate too much tofu, and smiled at each other.  We didn't look or act like honeymooners, and that's because we weren't.  We'd been through tough shit over the previous seven years, and we'd weathered some of our hardest days since our wedding on that lavender farm.  No, this dinner -- this pure normalcy -- was the start of our new life as healthy partners.  And as we approach the one-year "anniversary" of our vow renewal, I'm both proud and relieved to say that, finally, this past year has been our best yet.