To Have and To Hold

My lady’s blood pressure measured 148/100. That couldn’t be right. She was a healthy antenatal woman, expecting her first child at 40 years old after several miscarriages and a long struggle to fall pregnant. She would be with us on the ward until her induction of labour as close to term (37 weeks and over) as possible, or sooner if she developed complications due to her waters having broken most inconsiderately the week before.

“I’m just going to try that again,” I told her, taking out the manual cuff out that I should have used the first time. Best practice is to measure a pregnant woman’s blood pressure (BP) manually rather than with the “obs machine”, which is very convenient but less accurate than the trusty ol’ sphygmomanometer. I couldn’t help a little dig at myself, silently, for forgetting things so quickly after a few days off.

I checked her BP again. This time it was 130/100. Not great at all. I must have frowned because she asked me, smiling almost apologetically, if it was high. “A little,” I answered. “130/100”. She looked slightly abashed. “I am a little bit stressed to be honest. The husband’s not behaving well and I’m not very happy with him.”

An hour later her BP was still high, at 132/98. I had notified the appropriate colleagues but as there were no other concerning vitals or symptoms, and as we knew stress was the most likely cause, we were simply giving her body a chance to calm down and rechecking her blood pressure periodically. I lightheartedly suggest she make a call to him and sort things out. She wasn’t sure he’d answer. Oh dear.

Another half hour later her BP was back to its normal range, around 120/80. I was greatly relieved that this was indeed most likely to be stress-related rather than a new sign of gestational hypertension or PET (pre-eclamptic toxaemia) . I was sad that she was obviously having such a hard time of it though. We had a bit of a chat and it came out that hubby was “not getting” what it was like for her, alone and isolated in her tiny room, anxious mind questioning every little thing; Is the baby alright? Is my liquor still clear? Is that another Braxton Hicks or is that labour starting early? Is that an infection brewing or am I just tired and pregnant? Is the baby moving normally?

“A call wouldn’t go astray,” she said. “Text me. Bring me flowers now and then. Stay more than 20 minutes.” Her loneliness and disappointment in her husband’s behaviour was palpable.

My heart broke for her. But also for him. This woman was strong. Super strong. Not afraid to be vulnerable. Smart, educated, well versed on emotional intelligence and coping skills. She was open, she communicated well. She was articulate. She was laying her heart open for him to know her pain and fears, inviting him to join her and walk this path together. But who was this man? I had never met him, I didn’t know him. It was obvious, however, that he could not meet her at her level. I strongly suspected he was struggling to cope with his own anxiety, stress and fear. He too, was alone (presumably) at home without his wife, no doubt fearful for her and their baby she was carrying. He was withdrawing. He was avoiding. You only had to listen to what he was not saying, and observe what he was not doing to see that he was not doing so well himself.

Men are so different to women. My own man is exceptionally kind, patient, warm and open hearted. He doesn’t always have the vocabulary close at hand to describe what he’s thinking and feeling but English is his fourth language, and I feel he still does better than a lot of men I’ve come across in communicating authentically.

Yet..

I wrote my blog about losing our third pregnancy over a week ago now. To my great surprise, he has still not been able to read it. “I know it will upset me, and I’m not… ready. But I will, don’t worry.” I was so touched by his simultaneous display of vulnerability and strength, tears instantly sprang to my eyes. “It’s okay,” he assured me, knowing I was upset for him, not me. “I’m okay, really.” I read somewhere that courage is grace under pressure. That is my man.

We said goodbye to our third child who was never meant to be 10 months ago today. Since then, we have shed tears, held each other ever closer, and given thanks for our two gorgeous girls. Together we chose to let go of our desire, or at least, any plans, for another child. Whenever we bring it up, there seems to be no lingering grief or pain for him. Yet I have come to understand that he is still processing the loss not only of that child but of any third child. I had no idea. No one would ever know.

I shared this story with my lady, as I share it now with you. Anxiety, stress, pain and grief…I wear it on my sleeve, as I know many do, but my beloved certainly does not. And I sort of thought he did. I mistook his courage for an absence of pain. I was wrong. Almost 10 years since we met and I am still getting to know my husband who I solemnly vowed to have and to hold. What does that even mean? It speaks of intimacy and means to fulfil his emotional and physical needs. Well I can’t do that for him, alone, and he can’t do that for me, alone. But damn, doing it for each other, together, as best we can at any given time, as we grow and build this home, this marriage, this family… it only gets better.

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