Kristin & Laura

This week, we wanted to explore a topic that’s near and dear to my heart: how we navigate weddings, and our relationships, when our health interferes. I think this topic is profoundly important, not just because loving our partners in “illness and health” is such a huge part of our lives together. I think this topic is important because there are so many ways that life can deliver hard and unexpected blows, and catching each other when we fall is what marriage is all about. So for me, this topic is hard, but hopeful. We’re starting this week with Kristin & Laura, whose wedding night ended in an emergency hospitalization, and who have so much to teach us. (And, an update, these days Kristin & Laura have landed on their feet and are doing ok.)

We had a two year long engagement. While this seemed a bit crazy to many of those around us, it made sense to us because A) I was finishing my graduate degree during the first year, B) I was converting to Judaism prior to the wedding and wanted to give that process the deep thought it deserved, and C) we were planning a Maryland wedding from New Orleans.

We are both from Maryland, so every trip home for the holidays became a wedding planning weekend. In late August of 2010, I turned in my final paper for my MBA, and Laura and I flew to a friend’s wedding. On the way, I got sick. So sick, I missed the wedding. So sick, we called an ambulance. So sick, I was admitted to another hospital once I got out of that one.

We now know this was the first episode of a rare disorder called Cyclical Vomiting Syndrome. It struck again in October, leaving me in the hospital for eight days. Then again on Christmas day on a family trip to France sealing the fate of my diagnosis. Despite the team of doctors I put together, all of my research, and the new medications I tried, I continued to have episodes of CVS, and the breaks between getting sick got shorter. I already had Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so it felt like when I wasn’t sick with one, I was sick with the other.

I had felt so zen about wedding planning in large part thanks to APW. I was reading APW before getting engaged, and it was like Meg had warned me about and taught me how to deal with any wedding dilemma headed my way. But the last month was hard. First, our photographer bailed on us… then city hall changed our civil ceremony day… then they changed it again… Meanwhile, all the normal problems were also happening. Friends we were counting on to fill roles bailed at the last minute. Guests made all of the RSVP mistakes that drive sane brides crazy. And I was so sick… and now so stressed… and then sick some more.

One day Laura came home during her lunch break and I dictated what wedding stuff had to happen that day while I laid in bed and she called vendors. I wished I hadn’t taken everything on myself because now it was nearly impossible to pass on to anyone else to do. If I planned the wedding again while being chronically ill, I would have done it in such a way that someone else could pick up where I left off seamlessly—even if that meant more notes and more work. Mostly though, I tried not to worry that I would be sick at our wedding or on our honeymoon despite two of my triggers being “positive anxiety” and traveling.

Our wedding day was the most joyous day I’ve had in a long time… followed by the sickest I have been since being diagnosed with CVS. Kelly Prizel, our amazing photographer and APW sponsor, saved the day by swooping in at the last minute of planning. We loved spending the weekend with her and her wife. One of my favorite moments was when we were waiting for the judge for our civil ceremony, and Kelly strongly suggested that everyone give us a few minutes alone together. We were so thankful for Kelly in that moment.

One of my favorite details from the wedding were the balls of paper flowers hanging from the ceiling over the dance floor crafted by me, my dad, and mostly my amazing mother. The idea for this was inspired by stories of my mom’s fabric wedding flowers, handmade by her and my late grandfather.

The handpicked dessert, beer and paper stuff were nice, but it wasn’t what mattered. What mattered, what I recommend highly to the wedding undergrads, is this: built in alone time together. The morning of our wedding was just the two of us, and I’m so glad I insisted on wedding sex just in case we were too drunk or too tired later. After group pictures and couple shots but before guests arrived, we took time to reconnect and recenter ourselves alone together. And, after the ceremony we followed the Jewish practice of yiccud (fifteen minutes alone as newlyweds). These breaks ended up being some of my favorite, most emotional moments of the day.

The morning of our wedding, time seemed to slip quickly through my fingers. I felt a bit rushed and a little crazed. Then, guests started to arrive and finally I got my wedding zen back. I was beaming and nothing could touch my happiness and joy. Not even when I went to take my first bite of our carefully selected food and felt the sudden rush of symptoms that meant only one thing—CVS! Now! Bathroom! I missed the rest of the cocktail hour and all of dinner, while my mother and wife held my hair back and sat with me while I waited for my meds to kick in.

Soon, our closest friends and family surrounded us for the Ketubah signing. And, magically I was beaming again, like nothing ever happened. Our Rabbi helped us slash our long ceremony down to about twenty minutes. Someone ran and told the caterer we needed two chairs under the huppah. My closest and oldest friends helped me out of my heels and into my converse sneakers (intended for dancing), and my new sister in law tied her shawl around me to cover the back of my dress which was completely unbuttoned.

And, then I went outside and saw the glowing huppah in the garden and heard Led Zepplin’s Thank You start and held my bouquet, arm and arm with my parents… and I was a bride and CVS felt so far away. When we walked in, our guests spontaneously cheered us. The words that were said were the heart of our ceremony, and the readings and extra words weren’t missed.

Laura cried as she felt the gritty emotion of the wedding. I, on the other hand, shed a little happy tear but mostly felt a kind of inexpressible joy that seemed so normal and so extraordinary at the same time.

The party was everything I hoped for and I was just so happy I got to show up for it.

I sucked in the moment for as long as I could, and about 15 minutes before it ended, I knew I couldn’t stay any longer. The respite from CVS was over.

I told Laura to stay and enjoy it, and drink a beer for me at the after party. Then, I hurried back to my hotel room to try to stop the episode. At 2 am, I knew I was in a fight I couldn’t win, and told my parents to call an ambulance. Laura was told, and rushed to the room, ripped off her wedding dress, and got ready to jump in the ambulance with me. My last memory of our wedding night was getting an IV while my wife told the EMTs it was our wedding day and pointed at her updo as proof. A couple days later and I was still in the hospital and we cancelled our honeymoon. That should have been as bad as it got. Then, it became clear I was still sick—too sick to travel back home… or anywhere… indefinitely.

During our first week of marriage, we should have been lying on a beach in Maui. Instead, we decided at the hospital that we couldn’t follow through on our plans to move to the Rockies, our great big out west adventure. We had to move home immediately until this illness was under control. I couldn’t even return to New Orleans to say goodbye to the life we made there. After a week of nearly daily CVS episodes and many tears, she left to pack up our lives alone. We whispered through our tears about the APW couples who had lost a child, or had a partner leave for war, and tried to count our blessings. Again, I credited my sanity in part to APW.

At the end of that hard first week of marriage where our life plans were turned upside down by my illness, we both realized that while we thought we wanted a wedding, really, we needed a wedding. If we had to be apart for a while, if I had to be so sick, if we had to give up some of our hopes and plans, at least we were married and a whole support system of friends and family was waiting here to catch us. I knew Laura was going to be my rock and thoughts of whether I could or should drag her through this didn’t apply anymore. Promises were made on May 21, 2011 to sustain us through just such a challenge, and I believe we are stronger for it.

Photos by: Kelly Prizel (APW Sponsor)

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  • This is beautifully written and heartbreaking and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story… I am sure this will be a reminder to many other people who need the support of “someone else has experienced something like this.” I hope that you are feeling better, that your anniversary (soon! hooray!) is all you hope for, and I’m sending good thoughts your way!

  • Such a beautiful, honest post. If I had just seen the pictures, I would have thought this was just the most beautiful, perfect wedding ever. (That first picture of Kristen and Laura? Gorgeous!) I think it’s a good example of how even the most love-filled wedding or loving couple can run into problems that aren’t easily fixed. Medical issues like CVS can and do happen to a lot of people–we just don’t tend to know about what everyone is dealing with behind the scenes. But posts like these give me great hope that couples can face these challenges together. Best wishes to Laura and Kristin!

  • What a wonderful post. I think that you will be an amazing inspiration to other couples dealing with chronic illness. I think also you are absolutely right about needing a wedding. I think for many of us, our weddings come before deeply stressful times in our lives, and you are so right, they shift from being something we wanted to something we needed.

    Also, as a Marylander, I’m so excited to see the VAM in a grad post!

  • Feeling very honored to share my wedding date with you! I will be sending good vibes your way this May 21st.

    ps – Amazing photos. Amazing smiles.

  • Karen

    This was an incredibly well written testament to the power of commitment and love. It also shows the power of those traditional words “in sickness and in health.” Knowing that in a partnership what matters most is being together, regardless of where, is truly what makes all this talk of weddings and marriage universal. We all need that deep down knowing that our partner will be there for us, no matter what, and that our community will stand by our sides as we struggle together.

    Your willingness to share this deeply personal story with the APW community is greatly appreciated. May you and your partner continue to grow in strength and love.

  • Lethe

    Kristin – my wife and I were also married on your exact same wedding date! And our engagement was also marked by the emergence of a scary and difficult to understand health problem, mine a food allergy that no one could figure out. So please believe me when I say I admire the strength it takes to embrace this happy time of life while accepting the realities of chronic illness. I am glad to hear you’re doing better and wish you both happiness in your marriage and continued success in gaining control of your health.

  • Chronically Ill Bride

    I can’t tell you how much this post touched me. I wrote one of the other APW posts on chronic illness and planning, and one of my biggest fears (totally stupidly, I realize) is not being able to stand up through my wedding ceremony. That picture of you two holding hands in chairs under the chuppah is probably the most beautiful picture of this entire gorgeous bunch to me. The love, commitment, and epicness of that moment isn’t diminished by you guys sitting – it might be enhanced.

    On a practical note, your point about making sure the planning can be handed off is a really, really important one, and one I’m going to take to heart.

    I think the most hopeful thing of all of this, for me, was: “mostly felt a kind of inexpressible joy that seemed so normal and so extraordinary at the same time.” Even when our lives and our bodies get in the way, that this kind of joy and love is possible, is everything I hope for.

    So glad you’re feeling better these days, and congrats.

    • Josephine

      Oh honey, please don’t worry. I am sure that on the day people won’t even notice if you sit down, they will just be looking at the love between you and your partner. And as long as you get married, it doesn’t matter if you’re on a chair or upside down!

      It’s a good idea actually, my knees shake when I’m doing public speaking… lol

      I don’t of course know why it is one of your biggest fears. I immediately assumed it was because you’re worried about what other people will think, but that is because that is what it would be for me. Perhaps you have many other reasons, but please be kind to yourself and don’t worry about it. Don’t take yourself out of the moment by worrying about whether you sit or stand. Maybe have some chairs ready and decorated in the prettiest way you can, and make the decision on the day?

  • MAN did you EARN that wedding! Healing thoughts to both of you, and glad to hear you’re on your feet. The Visionary Arts Museum is just so gorgeous (I’m from DC, lurve it) and they were truly lucky to have a couple like you ladies. Thanks for sharing your story, raising awareness and being tough, awesome APWers. Keep bringin’ the inspiration!

  • carrie

    Much love and healing vibes headed your way – they won’t have to travel too far from this fellow Marylander. Your wedding day was beautiful and the JOY is even more beautiful!

  • What struck me about this post was how different the story is from the pictures- the photos are absolute perfection, pure and simple joy and incredible beauty, and the story is so much more nuanced and complicated than that. A good reminder that although it’s easy to get wedding envy over what you think you see in someone’s photos, everyone has a story that is far deeper, and that is where the marriage part of all this wedding stuff really sits, which Kristin said so eloquently.

    Beautiful story and beautiful photos- I’m so glad you shared, and glad to hear that things are looking up for both of you!

  • This is beautiful. Thank you so, so much for sharing– and I wish the both of you the best of luck with everything. <3

  • Class of 1980

    Having just spent yesterday at the hospital with a married couple, I’m nodding my head. They’ve been married for 25 years and the last 5 have been full of hospitals on and off. It’s exhausting, but it sure does make you think of those wedding vows.

    Kristin and Laura, I’m so glad you are having better times and that you have each other. You were both beautiful at your wedding.

    And Kristin’s (redhead?) dress brings back memories! Aside from not having transparent sleeves, a transparent sash and being floor length, that’s what my wedding dress looked like!

    • Kristin

      Yes! I’m Kristin, the redhead. Thanks Class of 1980! Ha, love your dress description- bet it was awesome

      • Just to be shallow for a minute: I love your shoes. They look so good with your hair. You and your wife are totally gorgeous.

        Sending strong healing thoughts your way :)

  • Erika

    Thank you for sharing. While no one should have to start their marriage this way, your post is a powerful reminder that health challenges are part of being human, and thus part of our marriages. All my best wishes for both of you.

  • Cass

    I feel you. My husband and I have had to change many of our life plans due to my chronic health problems. I think it’s especially painful for me personally because it’s not due to some external, “act of God”-type force – it’s due to my broken body. I know I didn’t choose have chronic pain, but I still take our altered path as personal failure on my part sometimes. But my husband reminds me that we all struggle in different ways and our relationship is so much more than my health issues.

    I hope you find some relief soon.

    • Kristin

      Hi Cass! I so get how you feel. Hoping the best for both of you!

      • Cass

        Also you and your wife are lovely. Especially your smiles.

        Oh and the dresses. Whoa.

  • I have to interrupt all the thoughtful comments with OMG PRETTY DRESSES!!! Both of the dresses (and brides) are absolutely gorgeous!

    Congratulations on your marriage, and good luck!

    • My thoughts exactly! The first thought that entered my head was ohh my beautiful dresses!!! It is so striking, though, the contrast between the photos and the story. Both of you must be incredibly strong. It’s so heartbreaking to see illness interfere with love but somehow this is an incredibly uplifting story.

  • PA

    Your post was so lovely, both in pictures and in words – I am leaking tears at my desk, and while I have nothing half so eloquent to say as you did, I just want you to know how much it meant to read it.

    I am wishing you both the best as you move through this together!

  • Kate

    That was a beautiful story, and gorgeous pictures as well. I’m so glad you’re doing better!

    I don’t suppose you want to share where you got your dress from, Kristin?

    • Kristin

      Sure, My dress is Stephanie James Couture
      And Laura’s is Amy Kuschel. Loved wearing my wedding dress, and I’m constantly scheming about wearing it again.

      • Sherri

        That dress is too beautiful to not wear again!

        Your story is so moving, and although things are tough, the best thing about marriage is being a team that works through things together. I have a feeling you guys are pretty awesome at that.

  • Ariel

    First off- the Visionary Arts Museum is one of my favorite places ever! What An awesome place to have a wedding.

    Also, thank you so much for sharing your story. Today happens to be the 3 year anniversary of the day that my partner was diagnosed with bone tumors, and (as always, APW!) this post struck home in a big way! Supporting each other through his illness has brought us closer as a couple. I wish that same blessing for you.

    Sending healing thoughts your way.

  • Laura Mc

    I just wanted to say thank you for writing such a beautiful post and for sharing your story. I suffer from IBD and had 3 surgeries in 2010 to try and alleviate symptoms, but they are unfortunately raging back. I am petrified that I will be symptomatic on my wedding day and my fiance and I have already starting talking about whether or not our planned honeymoon to Hawaii is a good idea (travel seems to make it worse).

    Thank you so, so much for helping me realize that even if I am symptomatic on my wedding day that it will all be okay and that it won’t take away from the joy and love of the day. I can’t tell you how much it means to read your story. You give me hope.

    • Kristin

      Wow, Laura MC, I’m so glad my story could help! We are planning to celebrate our one year anniversary by finally taking that Honeymoon to Maui. Wish you all the best!

      • Laura Mc

        Congrats, and well deserved to finally take your honeymoon! I’ll be thinking of you guys :)

  • Definitely one of the most powerful APW posts I’ve ever read. Thank you, and best wishes!

  • I am so sorry that all of this happened and glad to hear that you’ve recovered. Chronic illness seems so generally unfair with the randomness and the severity of the attacks. You’re completely right, this is exactly what a marriage is for. Best of luck!

  • Marie

    Thank you for sharing your story! What a beautiful wedding and clearly so much love. Congratulations on your wedding and I hope the upcoming years hold nothing but the best for you both!

  • Mari

    This is one of the most moving, beautiful, and inspiring post I’ve read on APW. It’s definitely the only one to make me tear up (and I’m not a crier!). The love, support, and devotion you have for each other is so amazing that it’s nearly palpable. I think I can even see it right there in your (gorgeous) wedding photos. Your loving and accepting relationship is something so many of us can aspire to replicate in our own lives. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    And a virtual fist-bump to you both as a previous Kelly Prizel bride. Isn’t she amazing? I can’t imagine anyone else we’d want to spend 12+ hours of our wedding day with.

    • I’ll add myself to the virtual Kelly Prizel fist bumps. She’s so amazing.

      • Kristin

        Definitely! Kelly and Natalie were awesome! I can’t say enough good things about them.

  • Wow, that was amazing, and beautifully written. (AND pretty pictures and gorgeous dresses, oooh!!)
    So glad to hear that ya’ll landed on your feet, and, from the comments, that ya’ll will be taking your Maui honeymoon.

    And your wedding date was my parents’ 28th anniversary, so extra Yay wedding from me. :-)

  • Stephanie

    Thank you for sharing….your story touched me so much!!

  • I absolutely love this post. So well written and inspiring. But really – I can’t stop ooing & ahhhing over the photos! You two are gorgeous and holy man did Kelly do an amazing job! Swoon!

  • What an amazing post, thank you so much for sharing. What a wonderful testament to the power of weddings, of being married, of supporting our partners, of the rocks in our lives. This is just beautiful. Sending you good thoughts for a healthy and happy anniversary honeymoon!

  • Josephine

    Your wife just radiates with love for you in those photos.

    I wish you many years of happiness.

    (Also, thanks for all the tips on wedding day alone-ness! I think my sanity might require me to have some of those)

  • The photos just don’t seem to echo your story – you both are obviously so happy and in love. Thanks so much for sharing your story and so glad things are looking up. Best wishes to you both for your anniversary.

  • MJ

    First, beautiful pictures and beautiful story! Thanks for sharing. I’ve never commented on APW before, but I just had to contact you. My sister has adult CVS, and I’ve never run into anyone else. I’m desperate for any resources you could point me toward that have helped you. Thanks again for being so public with your struggle!

  • Erin H

    I really love that this post was pretty much not about this being a gay marriage, but struggling with chronic illness and life. Go APW for making a place online to talk about marriages where the sexuality of the partners really is not the salient point, because it’s just NORMAL.

    Also, seriously. Those dresses and you two are insanely gorgeous.

  • Cary

    Oh god this made me cry and I never cry!

    I don’t know about CVS but I do have IBS. If your looking for some help try . Truly this saved my life and their are a few people on their with other digestive issues apart from IBS.

  • sushi

    This is probably the first time that I’ve ever teared up while reading a wedding blog post – I have IBS too and I’m getting married this coming May, so I’m currently trying to psych myself out of worrying about getting an attack on the day (don’t know if *that* will work, but here’s hoping. also the eating for IBS website mentioned above is an excellent resource, I can second that). The one thing your experience has made me realise is that even if I do, I can still enjoy the day and I’ll be just as married at the end of it. Plus, you would never have known from the photos that you were ill, you both look so radiantly happy.

  • Beth

    I stumbled across this and im sooo glad i did.

    Kristin and Laura are the most beautiful inspirational couple i have ever seen!!

    I saw the pictures and i was like wow! the perfect couple.

    I read the story and my heart broke!

    Im 19 and can only hope i can only hope i will have the love and connection they obviously have.

    I mean that first photo! wow. haha

    I wish Kirstin and Laura all the best and a most magnificent life together :)

  • This just about made me cry. Your story is beautiful and so encouraging to me. My fiance has Crohn’s and was just admitted to the hospital this morning with complication and is now possibly awaiting surgery. I’m currently working two states away and I’ve booked the first ticket I can to get out there. Everything seems very up in the air at the moment. Chronic illnesses are unpredictable, hard, and often terrifying. But you two are so gorgeous, and your story gives me so much hope. I wish you good health and continued joy.

  • Kelly

    Beautiful wedding, beautiful people. Girls like you are what’s right in the world. Congrats!

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