Our wedding began with an ending, a painful, unexplainable loss. It was also the impetus for changing how I perceived myself as a woman, a wife, and a bride.
Our conversations about wedding planning were, at first, casual. We got engaged over margavezas in June 2013, at the Bed Stuy dive bar where we’d first made out three years ago. It was perfectly lowbrow, silly, and us. We decided to make our wedding small, cheap, and modest: a long engagement, an afternoon at City Hall, and a luncheon of close friends and fluorescent bodega daisies. I’d never envisioned a wedding, big or small; I wasn’t comfortable with being the center of attention, asking for help, or spending other people’s money. I love rituals, weddings, running my fingers over a letterpressed Save the Date, but not mine. Was I positive, he asked with a raised eyebrow? If there was ever a time to unite my favorite things (Edison bulbs, The Pointer Sisters, doughnuts, and sequins), now was it. I assured him it was fine, it’s fine, as the anxiety of wedding planning and the guilt of wedding having unsettled me. I, like so many women, instinctively apologized for desiring frivolous, expensive, or, uh, enjoyable things. I did not know what charger plates were actually called, and I considered myself healthier for it. We set no date and forgot about it for the summer.
Especially when, in late July, I felt weird. More accurately, I felt pregnant.
We’d been careless recently, my boobs looked unrealistically (but appreciably) huge, and my Lyme disease symptoms were acting up more than usual. It felt identical to the year before when I miscarried at eight weeks, just after the ambivalence and horror had passed and we’d decided it was a good thing. I couldn’t let the uncertainty and déjà vu continue. Pregnancy tests—nine of them—confirmed it. I sat on the toilet, completely destabilized and wishing to just be normal. I didn’t want to be a mother, nor did I want to go through the ugly randomness of another miscarriage.
But it happened again a week later. As if the embryo and I had been playing hide and seek and it got pissed off I won, deciding to just go home. I began bleeding profusely. A male reproductive endocrinologist told me, “Sorry, there’s nothing in there,” and sent us home, empty and resigned. We acknowledged these things happen, possibly for the best. Bad times make for the greatest marriages, right? Right?
But a month later, September, I was still bleeding. The same RE insisted over the phone it was normal for some women to bleed that long, but I went for a second opinion. The free clinic’s female gynecologist took one look at me, handed me $15 for a cab and sent me to the ER.
Freakier than a miscarriage, it was an ectopic pregnancy, a rare enough condition in which the embryo can’t get its shit together to surf to the uterus. Instead, it implants itself in the Fallopian, snuggling in to eventually grow and explode inside a woman. It was not a miscarriage; rather, this mercenary was growing inside me, ready to rupture my tube and kill me.
I could only imagine what Jared thought, hearing me leave for a checkup at 8am and call at noon, saying I had a pregnancy that needed to be terminated with drugs or surgery within hours. We like surprises, us. What’s a long engagement without a life-threatening emergency?
That day is a blur, still: of waiting, of blood, of bizarre terms, the threat of tubal destruction, and a stream of social workers handing me pamphlets about grief counseling. An ultrasound technician sounded baffled and pitying when I told her I was now on junk pregnancy number two. “No children… at all?” she gasped unhelpfully. At 11:15 that night, the embryo was deemed small enough that it could be treated with a methotrexate injection, a creepy chemo drug that would make this tissue disappear back into my body, instead of surgery.
I had to lie down for a week to wait for the shot to work and my hormones to go back to unpregnant; too much activity might make the tube rupture and cause internal bleeding. The disappointment and sense of futility were real, but the ache of loss was nothing compared to the fury at the absence of agency. Where was my choice in any of this?
I threw up from the chemo drug, cried. I felt septic and like I’d failed at being a functional woman, a wife, failed at becoming the mother of Jared’s child. I went on Pinterest.
Because suddenly, I wanted a fucking wedding.
I can say now, three months later, the impulse to plan something happy was probably fulfilling a teeny-weeny bit of psychological and emotional pain. I was sad and bored and vomiting that week, so I looked at affordable wedding venues. If I start crying about the theft of my fertility while in the waiting room getting my sixth blood test, I looked at sequin dresses on my iPhone. I wanted a party, and soon. I wanted to feel pretty. I wanted to hear Jared talk about how much he loved me. I no longer felt like apologizing for it.
(I also reasoned that a set wedding date in the next year would be practical for language purposes, in case I almost died again. Because if internal bleeding had ended the engagement in August, Jared wouldn’t have had the vernacular clarity of “widowed.” He’d have to use the more emotionally diluted “my fiancé died.” Now, if we were married and something horrible happened to me, he’d be a young, gorgeous, and haunted widower, instead of a messed up guy who’s basically-what-amounted-to-a-live-in-girlfriend died. That was my generosity of thought in a very dark week.)
A season and venue deposit later I’m calmer, more recovered, and have used APW to calculate reasonable booze costs. And it turns out, planning my wedding is wonderful. It’s fun and healing. Losing a pregnancy didn’t make me less of a woman, nor does having a huge bridal party make me less of a reasonable person. My wedding isn’t a symbol of frivolity, or consolation prize for not being a mother right now; it’s just a community gathering in the name of love, creativity, and disco. I’m energized to get married because I get to see his perfect, skinny ass everyday for as long as I’m alive. I want everyone there to hear me say it.
Vows at a courthouse wouldn’t encompass all the terrible things we’ve seen together, even before that day in the ER—death, illness, poverty, loss. Neither can they convey the gratitude and passion we have for each other and everyone around us. I’m getting married and serving it up real, because life is literally, incredibly short. What is there to be sorry about, having a party? How terrible is a party for yourself, in the grand scheme?
So a party it is, the drunkest, loudest dance party to celebrate the start of my life with my best friend. I’m getting married in sequins and will either look like a liquid, Bowie demi-goddess or a ninth grader in a school play flapper costume. Who cares. Endings create beginnings in painful, meaningful ways. And I’m going to dance my ass off with this one.
Photo by Liz West, edited and reproduced under Creative Commons 2.0