Slow Motion and Acceleration

Yesterday we talked about how a life-threatening accident can change your marriage in a way that shared a profound sense of strength with all of us. Today we’re also talking about a life-altering medical emergency, but in a way that is all about hope born through struggle. Here is Emily’s story. (And yes. Their wedding is the Wordless Wedding for this afternoon. So it’s that kind of joyful, hopeful, and hard day.)

Our lives for the past few years feel like they have been all about dealing with curveballs. My husband, Matt, has dealt with them with an ease that I envy. I, as a planner and organizer, have had my bouts of sobbing and hyperventilating that come before acceptance. Matt and I had been dating about three years when the first one hit. Up until then we had been happily moving in a standard dating trajectory of two career-minded people living in New York. We had moved in together about six months before and were enjoying merging our lives. Matt had dealt with back and leg pain for as long as I had known him. It started out minor and had been slowly growing more intense to the point of almost being unbearable. He had gone to a series of doctors and none of them had been very helpful. It seems back pain is so common that doctors don’t always take it very seriously. They looked for alignment issues or a slipped disk and when they didn’t find anything major, they mostly shrugged their shoulders and told him to take some Aleve. One even treated him with steroid injections and was upset with him when the pain didn’t get better.

Then one day he came home after some tests with a new doctor, sat me down on the couch and told me that they had found a tumor on his spine. It was almost a relief. At least we had a diagnosis, but the plan from there wasn’t simple. As it turns out, doctors are reluctant to open up the spine of an otherwise healthy thirty-year-old man, but the tumor wasn’t going to go away on its own and it wasn’t going to stop growing. A few months later we walked into the hospital at 7 a.m. with his parents so that a surgeon could cut through his spinal column and remove the tumor. It was pretty much the worst day of my life. At about 4 p.m., after spending all day in the waiting room watching family members being told that everything went well, the surgeon came out and took us into the hall. The surgery had been “successful.” They had been able to remove the whole tumor, and he was awake—but he wasn’t able to move or feel either of his legs. They were taking him for tests and we would have to wait and see what happened. After a few hours of waiting and hearing nothing his father eventually tracked him down to the ICU. We spent the next few days dealing with the typical hospital frustrations and exhaustion, a lack of answers to our questions, and minimal luck finding the people who should be able to answer them.

There are too many moments from that week to recount. Calling my boss to try to “calmly” tell him I would be out another day and then completely breaking down on the phone. Getting a hospital roommate who’d had a similar surgery and was already walking the halls. Watching the first physical therapy session where they just tried to get him to sit up. Finally sitting with one of my best friends in my apartment and sobbing. At the end of the week they moved him to a rehab center across town where he spent the next two months. It was a tough couple months but he was amazing. He decided that he was going to get better and worked at it constantly. While he was unwilling to accept anything other than total recovery, I remember the moment where I realized that if he never got any better than he was that day, that we would have a good life together, a life that I wanted. I was walking through the park, talking on the phone with one of my best friends whose mom had polio as a child. I realized that his condition at that moment was what her whole life had been. Suddenly I could picture it all and it wasn’t so bad. She had a good job, two wonderful kids, and pretty great life. From then on I knew I was “in” and whatever happened I could deal with it.

A year later we had accepted the slow process of his recovery and were slowly getting our lives back to normal despite his limitations. When he was released from the hospital, he could barely get around with a walker and couldn’t really leave the house. He had slowly gone from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane to nothing, mainly through sheer force of will. He spent the spring and summer walking around the park for five hours a day, gradually getting stronger and faster. He had decided to spend a few months in Boston as part of our process of trying to decide whether to move there, I was able to get back into intense work mode, and there was talk of getting married.

Then curveball number three. There is no way of really telling this story without a little TMI. Matt had spinal damage in the middle of his back. That affected all feeling and movement from his waist down. And yes, that means everything you think it does. I went off birth control pills while he was in the hospital because it was a daily reminder of everything that was on hold in our lives. When he got out of the hospital, I tried not to think about it too much and just be patient. Then one night, about a year after he got out of the hospital, we had both had a little too much to drink and the fooling around “worked.” Wonderful. Then I woke up at about 3 a.m. in a panic, looked at a calendar, and realized our timing. When we got up in the morning we talked it through and I tried not to over-think it. People try for months or years to get pregnant, how likely could it be from one time. One time in over a year. And if it did happen, wouldn’t we be happy about it? Two weeks later I missed my period and took a pregnancy test. Then another. The two blue lines appeared immediately both times. I called Matt, who was in Boston, on video chat and made him look at the tests. I cried and hyperventilated.

Our lives went from slowly easing back into normality to kicking into high gear. We announced the news to our families. We planned a wedding for when I was about six months along (I wanted to be far along enough to look pregnant and not just chubby—but not huge and exhausted) and a move to Boston a couple weeks later. It wasn’t the wedding that I pictured but it was everything I could have wanted. Yes, there were things we had to give up. Matt would have liked to surprise me with a proposal. I struggled more that I expected with looking pregnant in my wedding dress and not feeling pretty. There were friends and family from far away that just couldn’t plan a trip to the wedding on the shorter notice we were giving them. The financial pressure of planning a wedding, a move, and a baby all at once was a little overwhelming. But mostly it was wonderful. As painful as his surgery and recovery had been, it brought us and our families together in a way that normal life couldn’t have done. Even before the wedding and baby I felt more like a unit than I could have imagined a year before. There is also something about a child/grandchild on the way that puts everything wedding planning related into perspective.

Now I sit on the couch, with my huge belly and swollen feet, waiting for the arrival of our daughter within the next month. (That whole due date thing is a crock. As far as I can tell it is basically a due month.) I have no idea what happens from here, in a way that overwhelms me if I think about it too much. Matt is still doing physical therapy and working on his stride. His sensation is still very limited and we just have to hope it will keep coming back. I know he hopes that he will be able to run after our daughter once she is on the move. Life in Boston hasn’t been easy. I miss my friends terribly and I have no idea what is going to happen with my work. Moving when you are six months pregnant isn’t very conducive to finding a new job, though I do appreciate that I’ll have some flexibility to see how I feel after she is born. With all that, I mainly feel incredibly lucky. We are surrounded by beautiful wedding and baby gifts that constantly remind me of all the love and support we have in our lives. I guess we just keep moving forward and hope the good surprises outnumber the bad.

Photo by: Emily Anderson 

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  • This is beautiful and inspiring and I can’t wait to see this afternoon’s post, too. Thank you for sharing all of this. And, not sure if you’ve been to a Boston book club meeting yet, or if we’ve had once since you’ve been here, but we’re all really nice and welcoming!!

    • The start to the last paragraph made me weep- what an amazing (hard) story! And Queer Bird said EXACTLY what I was going to- please tell us who you are so we can stock your freezer full of lentil soup and snuggle your new baby. It’s one of my favorite things to do!

      • Caroline

        I’m in Boston too! How do I find out about these Boston book club meetings?

        • Meredith

          Are you on Facebook? We have an APW Boston FB Group (aptly called APW- Boston) where we organize meet-ups, drinks, book clubs, post links to articles, ask questions, etc etc.

          • Not Sarah

            Does anyone know if there is a similar group for Seattle? I would love to meet some people outside of my industry!

          • Lauren

            This is great! I’m moving to Boston in the fall for grad school and I don’t really know anyone. I just signed up to join the group :)

          • Caroline

            I just requested to join the group (I think, fb isn’t something I excel at). Thanks! I’m excited to meet other APW folks in boston.

          • Liz


            We don’t have a Seattle FB group but there have definitely been Seattle book groups when APW has hosted them! Perhaps we should start one. I’m also on twitter @lizfaw if that’s a thing you’re into.

          • Not Sarah


            Yes, let’s! I don’t really use Twitter, but you can reach me by email at notsarah at comcast dot net and that’ll go to my normal email :)

          • Vancouver? Anybody?

        • Lauren

          I would love to join a Seattle book group if we have another one!

        • Ok, I actually work in the internets, but when I search on Facebook for “APW – Boston” nothing comes up! Do you have a link? I’d love to sign up.

    • The APW group in Boston is pretty great. I miss it!

  • Beaula

    Thank you. I needed this more than you know today. My boyfriend and I keep saying “things cant get much worse, only better” and than something awful happens. We’ve spent the past 3 years not knowing where life will take us, and today we face the same thing. Thank you for sharing, no matter what we are going through there is always something to be grateful about and always a reason to hope.

  • Wow, talk about miracles. I wish you all the best in your life together. And thanks for sharing this brave and powerful story.

    Also this “I remember the moment where I realized that if he never got any better than he was that day, that we would have a good life together, a life that I wanted”

  • Rachel

    First of all, very beautiful and moving post! Second of all, welcome to Boston! If you need any help, advice on the city, a drink, whatever, feel free to reach out at anytime: rachel1824 at gmail dot com

  • carrie

    Thank you so much for sharing your amazing story. So many congrats to you and Matt on his continuing recovery, the wedding, and the baby!


    Emily, what a moving and wonderful post. The strength that you both display is mind-boggling. Congrats too on all that you’ve got going on.

    I too know what it’s like to feel uprooted in Boston (but in a very different way probably) so if you ever want to spend some time with a fellow pregnant APW’er (probably after your delivery!) or just take the babies to the park together for a breather when they arrive, just let me know. New cities can be daunting. Pregnancy can be daunting. Newborns ARE daunting. Would love to do whatever I can to ease all this transition.

    And by the way, don’t you just wish there was or!

    • Totally! I find offbeatmama keeps me sane…I’m not really all that “offbeat”, just sane and practical when it comes to kidlets, which seems to equal offbeat in our culture.

  • Fermi

    You look gorgeous in your photo above, can’t wait to see the wordless wedding pictures. Also I love APW, and how in the comments people from Boston are reaching out to you so quickly! Love it!

  • Carolyn

    I wrote yesterday’s post and reading yours today I found myself nodding, knowing at times the same exact feelings you were feeling. One never wants anyone to struggle what we’re struggling through, and yet, when you find there are others who are enduring, you don’t feel quite so alone. It’s almost like finding yourself in a sisterhood you’d never expected.

    Take care and I hope the rest of your pregnancy goes smoothly, and your husband continues his recovery!

  • Jashshea

    OMDG. You (and Matt) are such total badasses. Your baby is so lucky!

    As a native Bostonian no longer in New England – it can be a rough, chilly place and it always seems like everyone has known everyone else since birth. Just given the comments that have popped up already, there’s also some wonderful, supportive, friendly people up there. Yah for friendly Bostonians!

  • Thank you so much for sharing your strength and your story. I wish you both (and your little one on the way!) all the best.

  • I’m not much of a crier, but this brought tears to my eyes. What a beautiful story! And I’m so so glad you shared. This really puts things in perspective…. best of luck and super big congrats to you guys. If I was there I’d be making you pot pie and soup and bringing one-hand-to-eat-with-while-you-nurse snacks!.

    …and YAY shotgun weddings!! =D

  • Vmed

    First, you are seriously stunning.

    Second, my heart swells for your family. For the uncertainty and the hard work and the rolling with the punches, plus the excitement and planning and celebration of your bond, and your little one.

    What an amazing story you have, and what an amazing journey you’re on together- thank you for sharing! Your strength is inspiring.

    I wish you a safe and quick delivery, and joy in everything.

  • Class of 1980

    Emily, if that’s your wedding photo, you look wonderful.

    I just want to give a shout out to Matt for his attitude about rehab. You’d think anyone in his position would work hard at it, but that’s not always the case. No one affects the outcome of rehab as much as the patient. It’s so hard to keep working through the pain and some just settle.

    You’ve got a winner there.

  • “I guess we just keep moving forward and hope the good surprises outnumber the bad.”

    That’s a philosophy to live by, right there.

  • this post gave me the good shivers, but the comments did even more. thank the lord for sweet, welcoming women and this community that allows us all to find each other.

  • Such a beautiful, inspiring post. Thankyou for sharing your story and congratulations on your wedding and baby!

  • I don’t know why, because my own story is pretty different, but I really connected with your post. Thank you for sharing! It’s reassuring, and comforting and moving and yeah, inspiring to know that we are not alone in our struggles. And you are not alone in yours. From miles away, I’m sending you three all the good energy and luck that I can! Love & be loved!

  • Brave post!
    Who says Bostonians are frosty, cold people??!! No, we are warm and wonderful as all the cheery posts indicate! Welcome to Boston and blessings on your marriage, baby and unbelievable courage in the face of all odds.

  • Another Kate

    Wonderful, wonderful post. Best of luck to you and your growing family!

  • Claire

    Much respect to you for the strength and grace with which you have weathered the tribulations of the past year. Inspiring!

  • What a brave, strong couple. I have oodles of respect for you and wish you well in your brand new lives and baby family.

  • Lauren

    Wow, what an amazing story. Congrats to the three of you!

  • Congratulations . . . on your marriage, on the pregnancy, and on Matt’s recovery. And — as having just seen your Wordless Wedding — hopefully this will be your year!

  • Amy March

    Wow. Every now and then it’s great to have a reminder about miracles. Congratulations and good luck with the little one. (are there “team practical” onsies?)

  • Emily

    Thank you all for the kind comments and especially the Boston welcomes. I’m not up for much at the moment (my due date is this Saturday) but I would love to meet all of you soon. It was a little daunting to submit something so personal but it was really good for me to write it and wonderful to get such positive feedback.

  • Christy

    Simply awe-inspiring.

  • April

    Blessings to you, your hubby and tiny little baby! Your story and wordless wedding made me cry but also feel so hopeful. I’ve been churning this past week over silly, petty things and have realized there are other couples going through some very difficult life challenges. It’s put things into perspective for me.

    But this isn’t about me – so again, I want to say congrats on the baby, your marriage, and best wishes to you all and to your hubby for his continued recovery!

  • as a planner/organizer/sobber, i salute you! congratulations on the wedding and baby, hope you have that you finally get the rest you deserve!!

  • lacy

    some friends of my parents’ had a similar situation–they were engaged, and he was in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down only a month before the wedding. they’ve been married 30+ years and have two (now adult) children. anyway, they were a lovely example of graceful, loving acceptance of the curveballs life can throw at you.
    good luck to you and your family! sending you good vibes from the midwest. :)

  • Shiri

    Simply, you guys are amazing. I wish you many years of joy and health.

  • Apples

    I know it’s been a lohg time since this was posted, but thank you, this post was wonderful. I’m engaged to “M” and hitting a lot of sudden thoughts about health and mortality. Also, with the difficulty of separation while (mostly) I am renovating a house and planning a wedding, which is obviously not comparable to this, my majorly planner self does not handle problem solving well. ive I’ve been worrying that being so prone to panic and cry is not a good sign for the future, but you guys made it, which fills me w/ hope and reassurance that we can make it. Thank you.