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Archive for the ‘Marriage’ Category

Whose Best Interest?

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Who is the best person to raise your children?  You, right?  And what if something happens to you?  Your spouse, right?  Most people can answer these questions without hesitation.  Our involvement in the lives of our children is instinctual and our inalienable right, right?  But those questions have become murky ones for Abbie Dorn, her ex-husband, and her parents/caretakers.

In a tragic and Terri Schiavo-esque case, legal teams for both sides are trying to answer that very question.  It is one of those cases that have no right decision and no happy ending. 

In 2002 Abbie Cohen and Daniel Dorn whipped their way through a whirlwind romance and were married after six months.  After becoming pregnant with triplets via IVF in the fall of 2005 Abbie delivered their babies via C-section in the summer of 2006.  The first two babies were delivered without incident.  But while delivering the third the OB nicked Abbie’s uterine wall with a scalpel causing Abbie to bleed severely and go into cardiac arrest.  She was revived after 20 minutes, but the duration of time that her brain went without oxygen left her severely brain damaged. 

On the triplets’ first birthday Daniel Dorn submitted divorce papers to his wife (now in her parents’ care, funded by the proceeds of a malpractice lawsuit).  The divorce was granted, but now the question on the table is whether or not Abbie should be granted visitation rights with her children. 

There are conflicting reports regarding Abbie’s mental capacity and progress.  Neurologists have described her condition as permanent.  Yet her parents and nurses tell of great strides in her brain function and communication. 

But I am not here to tell the story.  I am here to ask the questions.  (The story is available here and here in much greater detail.)  I’ll tell you right now that I don’t have the answers, that is above my pay grade.  But it is not above my pay grade to weigh them out with thoughtful consideration.  And so…

What, in the name of all that is holy, is the right way out of this mess?  The damage is done.  Abbie Dorn will never parent her children in the way that she dreamed.  That is a given.  But is there a way to make this right?  Or at least more right?  Will exposure to their mother bring anything good into the lives of her children?  Will exposure to her children help the health and well-being of the mother?  And whose best interest matters more? 

For Visitation.  Abbie Dorn is not asking for any portion of physical or legal custody, only visitation.  She carried and bore these children, and lost her life as she knew it in the process.  It is her right to see her children periodically; to watch them grow, hear their voices, and see their smiles; and to understand – at whatever level she is capable – that her loss was not in vain.  There is little, if any, risk of harm to the children through time with Abbie.  And the children themselves have a right to know their mother, even if she is but a shell of her former self.  Arguably, with proper coaching and understanding, their lives could be greatly enriched by the addition of their mother’s presence.  Additionally, Abbie herself could improve significantly if inspired by the presence of her children.

Against Visitation.  Daniel Dorn is a single father doing the best that he can in an impossible situation.  The conditions his wife now suffers are tragic, but they should not interrupt his ability to parent his children in as normal a way as he can, given the circumstances.  Cross-country travel to visit a woman who cannot sit, stand, speak, or eat will be disruptive to their upbringing and will never result in a meaningful relationship.  Furthermore, it is not the responsibility of these young children to inspire progress in their mother.

Again, I do not have the answers.  I feel sympathy for Daniel Dorn who lost his spirited wife and is left to parent his children alone.  And yet I feel anger toward him for approaching this decision with so little compassion for his wife and the woman who nearly lost her life to give him his kids.  I feel incredible sympathy for Abbie Dorn, and for her parents who have become full-time caretakers in their retirement years.  And yet I wonder if they have put themselves in Daniel’s shoes and considered the difficulty of single parenting on its own, much less after introducing the complicated topic of a severely disabled parent.

There is no right answer.  There is no happy ending.  And despite the recognition that there are no good answers, I cannot stop myself from asking the questions.

Go To Bed Angry

Friday, February 26th, 2010

Hold on tight, dear readers, I may lose you with this one. 

GAP and I are coming up on our sixth wedding anniversary this spring.  And anniversaries remind me of our wedding.  And our wedding reminds me of the showers that preceded it.  And those showers remind me of the unending guidance for a successful marriage that was happily dropped in our laps by our well-wishing elders.  Of course their intentions were innocent enough, but much as we may try, marital strategy cannot (and should not!) be boiled down into anything that can be embroidered on a pillow.  As you may suspect from my not-the-least-bit-subtle title, I have a favorite offender.

Of all the trite advice that is hurled at engaged couples I think the most worthless adage is: Never go to bed angry.

Right off the top: Never.  Any piece of advice beginning in never or always could probably stand to have a bit of reality injected into it.  We are complex people.  We have moods and temperaments.  We have schedules and logistics.  We find pleasant surprises and harsh realizations scattered throughout our days.  Our lives are not filled with absolutes; with blacks or whites.  We make our way through this world subsisting on greys and nuance.  I question any piece of advice that has the audacity to come at me with never.

And then there’s the rest of it; the part about going to bed angry.  That’s the part of the saying that I believe makes a critical miscalculation about anger.  The miscalculation is that anger only grows and festers with time.  This little saying presupposes that if we go to bed angry 1) we are not communicating in the first place, 2) this “not communicating” will result in bottled-up feelings, and 3) those bottled-up feelings will swell with neglect and eat away at our insides until nothing but pure resentment is left in their place.  But in my experience only sometimes is this potent cocktail of interpersonal missteps the case.

I’ve found that more frequently anger, like anything else, benefits from rest, from down time, and from the cooling of emotions that a break provides.  And it is for these reasons that when GAP and I have a disagreement that springs up in the evening, any issues that remain unresolved at bedtime stay that way until morning.  We are both self-aware, verbal, and articulate.  We are also both stubborn.  When arguments linger it is not because things are left unsaid.  It is because they have already been said multiple times in multiple ways and with nearly countless variations in tone, slant, and interpretation.  Continuing to hash it out, as energy fades and emotions wear thin, accomplishes nothing.  Sometimes sleep, and the silence that comes with it, is the only productive course of action.        

I will concede that I don’t particularly like going to bed with anger or frustration hanging in the air.  It feels lonely and isolating.  I much prefer for issues to be sorted out into tidy conclusions before we tuck in for the night.  But that isn’t always realistic.  I have learned over time to accept that going to bed angry can be the lesser, and more prudent, of two evils.

In the morning we are rested and fresh.  We are more inclined to forgive or to compromise.  We think more clearly and speak more rationally.  And if the aborted argument is resumed when the sun comes up, all of those things bode well for the outcome.  However, we also have a baby to wake up, feed, and get dressed.  We have jobs to go to.  We have a day in front of us.  So the previous night’s conflict usually goes unaddressed, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes for the day, and sometimes forever. 

Usually there is an apology – at least for the disagreement in general, if not for the positions we took within it – and usually that is enough.  We’ve each said our piece (isn’t being heard half the battle anyway?) and there’s frequently no need to resurrect what could just as easily be buried.  We love each other deeply for many reasons.  Two of those reasons are sharpness of intellect and strength of spirit.  Juxtaposing those traits with a difference of opinion could spell frequent and unmitigated disaster if we didn’t know when to walk away. 

This isn’t easy to do.  It takes trust in your partner and faith in your relationship.  It takes the knowledge that this partnership can weather an overnight storm.  No, going to bed angry isn’t for the faint of heart.  It is, however, for the tired, the bull headed, and the road-tested survivors of confident marriages.

Observance, Forgiveness, and Redemption

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

I’ll go ahead and say it:  I’m religious. 

Now don’t go painting me with your Pat Robertson brush.  I’m not that kind of religious.  Just because I’m religious doesn’t mean I think you should be too. 

But my faith is something that matters a great deal to me.  It always has.  I have attended church weekly (for the most part) during every stage of my life – childhood, college, 20-something singleton, newlywed, and today.  (Also, in case you were wondering, no, I don’t believe that regular church attendance is the only way to have an active faith life.  But that’s a topic for another day.)  I frequently fail at my faith.  I sin every day.  I drift from God periodically.  There are times when my faith is more at the periphery than the center of my life.  But it is always there.

I say all this because today is Ash Wednesday.  Today begins the 40-day journey of Lent that marks Jesus’ period of wandering in the wilderness and leading up to His crucifixion.  Within some Christian denominations (Catholic, particularly) it is common practice to give up something for Lent.  As a nod to Christ’s suffering, we forego something that provides us pleasure or comfort so that we may be reminded of said suffering on a daily basis. 

As a child I was Presbyterian (to some extent I still am) and Lenten sacrifice was not a part of my upbringing.  When I began attending Catholic prep school in junior high I became more familiar with the practice.  And having had many Catholic friends over the years I’ve become well acquainted with the tradition of Lenten sacrifice. 

Here’s my problem with it.  At least as I have seen it practiced, it tends to be more about the technicalities and not so much about Christ.  People give up chocolate candy but still eat chocolate chip cookies because when hidden inside the cookie the chips “don’t count” as candy.  Or they give up cheese except on Sundays because technically Sundays are God’s day and aren’t part of Lent.  Or they give up meat on Fridays (a tradition derived from Middle Eastern fishing cultures where meat was considered a luxury) and instead (ironically) go out for lobster tail or Alaskan halibut topped with a port wine demi glace.  Or, they stick with their chosen sacrifice for a few days, fall off the wagon, and then blow off the rest of the season altogether.

And I’m not quite sure what any of that accomplishes.  For me to go 40 days without sweets would make me cranky, unpleasant, and more focused on planning an Easter menu geared toward saying “stick it!” to Lent than on really observing Christ.  This prospect leaves me cold.  Today, as an Episcopalian (the halfway point between my Presbyterian upbringing and my husband’s Catholic one), I am inclined to bring the observance of Lent into my daily life, but uninspired by the mere eradication of vices.     

[Sidebar: If you are an observer of Lenten sacrifice and feel that 40 days without alcohol or red meat really does bring you closer to God, then more power to you.  I certainly don’t mean to insult.  And I’ll be the first to admit that what doesn’t work for one person may be quite successful for someone else.]

There is an alternative, though.  That alternative is to do the opposite.  Rather than take something out of your life to mimic suffering, you add something to your life.  Perhaps you might carve out more prayer time.  Or volunteer at a homeless shelter.  Or become involved with a charity.  It is this path which I will travel for Lent this year.

Taking a page from my sister’s play book, I am going to adopt the practice of recording my gratitude and my prayers in a daily journal.  Through this practice I hope to become more aware of the many blessings in my life, and more mindful of those in need of my prayers.  I think on these topics frequently, but not regularly.  And I hope that ritualizing the acknowledgement of them will make me more aware of both.  (And if I’m being truly honest, I was very excited to shop for the perfect journal.)

The second Lenten observance does not relate so much to my faith as to my family; and I struggle with this one a bit for that reason.  I will tell you why I’m moving forward with it in spite of these concerns in a moment.  This is a step that GAP and I have decided to take together.  For the season of Lent we will eat dinner at our dining room table.  We eat dinner together every night; and almost every night it is something I have cooked from scratch.  But we almost always eat on trays in front of the television.  Now while we are a couple that communicates well and often, I can’t help but believe there are aspects of our lives getting lost in the shuffle for want of dinnertime conversation.  As for my aforementioned concerns?  It is my hope that through these dinners spent facing each other, instead of the cast of Entourage, we will spend some time discussing our journey through Lent, as well as the ups and downs of our days.    

To be sure, like so many aspects of my faith, I will fail at these too.  There will be nights when I’m dog tired and cannot bring myself to journal before my head hits the pillow.  There will be nights when we say, “But March Madness is in full swing.  Let’s just order carry-out and watch the game.”  But one thing I will commit to is bouncing back from those failures, rather than allowing them to sabotage my Lenten observance altogether.  Because if there’s one thing that the Christian faith offers, it’s forgiveness.  And if there’s a second thing, it’s redemption.

Multiple Valentines

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Like most people, during my childhood I didn’t fully appreciate the wisdom my mother had to offer.  I was quite confident that the thirty years that transpired between her childhood and mine had seen the world change in sizeable enough ways that she could not possibly relate to my tortured adolescent soul.  In retrospect I realize that… I was wrong.

This is a week ripe with advice from my mother.  On Wednesday I told you about her philosophies on trying new foods (which I conveniently extrapolated out to an application to life in general).  Today I bring you her philosophy on relationships.  That philosophy is:

We have different people in our lives for different reasons.  No single person can fulfill all your needs.

She went on to explain to teen-aged me that we are multi-faceted.  We are complex.  We are nuanced.  And we change over time.  It is unrealistic and unfair to expect that any single person would fulfill all of our emotional and companionship needs.

Most of us live this philosophy out on a daily basis without thinking about it.  If I need career advice I go to GAP or my girlfriends from business school.  If I need recipe recommendations I go to my mother, sister, or Aunt B.  If I have parenting questions I go to my group of mommy friends (coincidentally also the MBA friends – we are smart mommies).  If I’m feeling overwhelmed and need perspective and objectivity, I go to my father.  If I need a laugh, or affirmation, or to be challenged I go to GAP.  And if I need to see an unapologetically overcast romantic comedy on opening night, I have someone for that too.

Tonight, which is for much of the world behaving as Valentine’s Day, I have a date.  But it is not with GAP.  GAP has a date with IEP wherein they will stay at home, babble loudly at each other, wrestle on the bed, make big splashes in the bath, and read Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? for the 478th time.  They are both quite jazzed about the whole affair.

My date, on the other hand, is with our friend Robert (not his real name).  Robert loves a good romantic comedy.  Robert loves seeing movies on opening night.  And Robert LOVES anything featuring Jessica Biel.  Tonight’s date was meant to be. 

I am excited for this date for a number of reasons.  I am excited that I don’t have to drag GAP to a movie that does not interest him whatsoever (and then listen to him chortle sarcastically at what I’m certain will be a silly plot with even sillier dialogue).  I am excited for a big fountain Coke and box of Milk Duds.  I am excited to hang out with Robert, who is fun and funny and one of my favorite buddies.  I am excited that I don’t have to go alone.  (Going to movies alone is a wonderful experience.  But seeing “Valentine’s Day” alone is too much, even for me.)  I am excited to be doing something fun and festive on a Friday night.  And perhaps most importantly, I am excited that GAP and I are confident enough in each other and comfortable enough in our marriage that we are happy to see each other’s needs met fully, even when we are not the ones to meet them.

On Saturday night GAP and I will have our own Valentine’s Day celebration.  The tentative plan is to dust off the fondue pot that we purchased years ago and have used roughly twice.  We will sip red wine.  We will talk about books and politics and upcoming travel plans.  We will pop in a movie.  And we will curl up on the couch and feel happy to be at home together on a cold winter night.

I am not typically a big fan of Valentine’s Day.  But this year I’m quite looking forward to it.  I have two dates with two people who serve completely different purposes in my life.  It is a blessing and relief to have multiple Valentines.

Reluctant Inspiration

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Some people aspire to inspire – Olympic athletes, motivational speakers, the odd politician, etc.  But I’ve always believed that the most inspirational figures are those who never intended to set an example; the ones who, due to adversity or tragedy, reluctantly took up this mantle, for lack of a better alternative. 

In my life I’ve been inspired by many people; both public figures and people I’ve known personally.  But lately I’ve found myself inspired by two people who don’t fit either description. 

A little over two years ago Mike and Heather Spohr welcomed their premature and tiny new daughter, Madeline, into the world.  After two-plus months in the NICU she went home and, despite a few hospital stays here and there, lived a vibrant and healthy life.  Like any smiling, joyful baby, Maddie was the sun around which her parents orbited.

It was last April when the game changed.  After a sudden and critical respiratory infection, Maddie passed away quite unexpectedly.  And it was at that time that Mike and Heather’s incredible blog, The Spohrs are Multiplying, went from a happy record of their normal life to a gut-wrenching account of the grief of losing a 17-month-old. 

Most marriages end in divorce after the loss of a child.  Not Heather and Mike.  They have stood together every day since Maddie passed away.  They founded the Friends of Maddie organization that provides support to other NICU families.  And when their blog won a $1,000 prize in December they donated all of the prize money to their foundation – enough to provide 40 families with NICU support packs.   They raised more than $100,000 for the March of Dimes through donations that were made in honor of Maddie.  And in October they traveled to Washington, DC on behalf of the March of Dimes where Heather spoke to members of Congress to help raise awareness about the perils of prematurity.

However.  In spite of all that they’ve done to honor their daughter and fight for other preemies, it is the intimate account of their journey through grief that has most touched me.  They have told their story, in all its dark shadows and glimmers of light, for nearly ten months now.  They have told of being broken.  They have unveiled the facades they wear when they brave the world outside their home.  They have confessed anger and envy and its gruesome supporting role in the grieving process.  But most of all, in the face of sadness and emptiness that I can’t summon the will to imagine, they decided to live! 

One week ago Heather and Mike welcomed their second daughter, Annabel.  Through a grueling and high risk pregnancy that included blood thinning injections, anti-contraction medications, gestational diabetes, and bed rest Heather bravely carried Annie until she was just a few days shy of full term.  She is healthy.  And she is home. 

As has been eloquently explained on their blog, grief is not a process with an end point.  They will never stop mourning Maddie.  But we muddle through heartbreak to find our way to redemption.    I hope for Heather and Mike that Annie’s birth is the light at the end of this tunnel.

It isn’t my pain.  I cannot fathom a loss of this magnitude.  But tiny slivers of Heather and Mike’s pain traveled through cyberspace and into my heart.  I am overwhelmingly inspired by the Spohrs.  I wish I weren’t.  I wish their story were ordinary and uninteresting.  But it isn’t.  And while inspiring is nothing they ever aspired to be, I am grateful that they are.

Heather and Mike, thank you for sharing your story.  I pray that I never know this breed of pain.  But in the event that I do, it is the example of your strength that I will follow.  Congratulations on the birth of your daughter. 

Very sincerely,

Gale