Rainer's Blog

Eating loquats

Emmaline named this website after the loquat tree that we planted in our back garden, about two and a half years ago. I had dug the hole for it, about a metre deep. At the bottom, well into the layer of clay that our garden rests on I had found a medallion celebrating the coronation of George VI.  

This year is the first that the tree has fruited, and today the loquats were finally ripe enough to pick and eat. So this afternoon Nelleke, Anouk and I sat in the sun in our back garden eating our delicious logan berries and loquats. I call the tree "mama's loquat tree".

We were married

The first half of 2014 was such a terrible time. Em suffered so much in the last part of her pregnancy with Anouk. She lived with intense pain, day after day, night after night, with no treatment and no let up. The only part of it that made it in any way bearable was that we understood it to be temporary - everyone said the pain would ease after the birth. Then on 6 February 2014 Anouk was born, and we had a moment of magic and beauty: the miracle of a new life in our World.  But Em's pain didn't resolve, it intensified. The hospital put her on higher and higher doses of pain medication and it seemingly didn't have any effect. Within days she had been diagnosed with a terminal cancer, and our lives were ruptured in so many ways. The following months held many new forms of suffering that we couldn't have imagined if we hadn't had to live through them. We reeled with the shock of the diagnosis - and how were we to parent through this time? Em's body was so weakened by carrying a baby to full term while her undiagnosed cancer metastasised, but now she had to launch into a course of strong chemotherapy. She spent long periods in hospital and at home in bed, barely able to speak. Other times she struggled to walk and I pushed her around in a wheel chair, which could be painful to sit in. There were trips to the emergency ward in the middle of the night, and so many other unexpected struggles. As the chemotherapy progressed she became increasingly neutropenic, and by the end of it she had to spend ten days in an isolation room in hospital, severely neutropenic and suffering from pneumonia. 

After all that it turned out that the chemotherapy had been partially successful. Her tumours had reduced in size by around twenty percent. After some weeks of recovery she was feeling a lot better and we decided to go with Christian and Anica for a holiday to Greg and Kathy's house at Portsea. On the morning of 16 August 2014 Christian and Anica took care of Nelleke and Anouk and Em and I set off for a walk to Point Nepean. What had seemed impossible just weeks before was happening - we were walking together in the bush! It had felt like Em's life had been stolen away and now we had managed to reclaim it. She was energetic and completely herself. I was so happy. When I was a child my grandparents had a house at Sorrento and we spent holidays there. Point Nepean is now a national park but back when I was a child it was a restricted military area and completely inaccessible. You could get glimpses of a mysterious coastline from the Sorrento-Queenscliff ferry, but that was about it. Now, all these years later and for the first time, I was walking through this forbidden area, with Emmaline. The day was filled with possibility.

 Point Nepean 16 August 2014

Point Nepean 16 August 2014

We talked and talked and of course we talked about what to do over the next weeks. We knew that this was only a window, that soon Em would be back in treatment, that the cancer was incurable and growing. Was there anything she had always wanted to do? Did she want to go somewhere? She said she wanted to leave rings for Nelleke and Anouk, I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. In fact, she said, getting married was what she wanted to do, more than anything else! Not just for me, but also for our girls. She had only a short time to live but she wanted to spend it consolidating and celebrating our love and the family we had created. Really, I've never been so grateful as in that moment. As we walked we started planning our wedding.

Before she died Em had started drafting the first of two blog entries about getting married. She never quite managed to post it, though she certainly intended to. And the second post was never begun. Today is our first wedding anniversary, and I don't know whether to be happy or sad - I'm in a state of foggy inertia. I think it's a good day to post Em's unfinished words:

Our Wedding (Part 1)

We got married and it was an overwhelming event of the kind that remakes your whole world.

I feel awkward writing about it because it was entirely impossible to invite all the people we wanted to. People we knew from the Pilbara were particularly unrepresented. We couldn't invite many of our relatives, even though the decisions unsettled my world a little. We didn't invite many people from uni. The wedding didn't match my childhood expectations for a wedding, most of all because I didn't know then about the realities of large events at short notice in difficult circumstances. So it wasn't the summary of a lifetime, it was a special moment in time, in a very immediate community. Not the whole story by any means.

We planned the day in a few weeks, everybody involved did us favours that they're probably promising themselves that they will never repeat. But the best compliments that I received were: (1) That the wedding was beautiful because it was about love of family and community, not only romance (although there was plenty of that too); and (2) people were doing things that they were good at, and that were meaningful to them. These were the greatest compliments, from my point of view, because they're my values. I really hope they both shone through. If you invite me to a big event, I'd prefer to be meeting the people in the kitchen and creating something together, than to be sitting up formally and being waited upon. So I tried to rope everyone else into that experience. I wanted the people to meet, to create, to have a little love and friendship. Sorry to anyone who got a little over-impinged upon. It really came together and I am really grateful. 

I can't reconstruct the event here, so all I'll do is give a little backstory and the "thank yous" that were meant to be in my speech. I have to be restrained with the photos, because, you know, the internet... 

It began when Rainer was asking me about priorities and mortality and such like, as we walked in the Point Nepean National Park on our first reasonably long break for about a year. I talked about wishing for rings that I could leave the girls, thinking that they would be the most tactile, embracing things, doing the work that words and photos cannot. And immediately Rainer and I wanted rings that spoke to each other, that embraced the girls and and ourselves and shore up the idea of our little family, no matter what the real narrative turns out to be. He asked me to marry him. We walked on the beach later that day. Our elder daughter gathered shells, and Rainer tucked some away. Back home, I found a ring design that I liked online, and Rainer got in touch with the jeweller, secretly taking his little bag of shells with him. But because our romance is all about connection, he invited me into the conversation, and then we found that our jeweller was not only brilliant, but open, flexible and generous with design ideas. So personable. She is Katherine Bowman, and I recommend getting in touch with her for any jewellery or sculpture type project you might have!

We decided to get precisely the rings we wanted, imprinted with the shells our daughter had collected, using the best process we could find, and Katherine's work is as beautiful, ethical and durable as things get in the world of jewellery. We're obviously on a very tight budget these days, but we decided to spend money. I'm nervous writing it, because there is love and money and hope and symbolism coiled in these tiny rings that could be lost, but it makes us feel the beauty and the vulnerability of our everyday connection. Straight after the wedding, I had three weeks of radiotherapy and I held my rings tight through every treatment. They are such immense comfort, such a reminder of being well intentioned. 

We asked Katherine for ideas for ways of extending our wedding ceremony to include our girls and my hardworking, generous brother, and she designed jewellery for each of them. From there our focus only widened, to focus on connections - particularly with our close families - rather than on romance to the exclusion of all else. 

And while our intentions were utterly whole hearted, the reality from here on in is that we asked family and friends for all sorts of things that we (I in particular) would never ordinarily ask for, and they met our requests, gallantly, unflaggingly, graciously, despite, I am sure, having a few misgivings.

My aunt and uncle hosted the event at their house in Portsea; my aunt planned and sorted like the queen of events and logistics that she is. My heroic brother underpinned everything, working for weeks before and afterwards, holding things together and gathering the people in. Tessa designed the exquisite invitations, using one of Rainer's drawings. Everyone brought what they could bring. Close family gave extra funds - more, I think, that they would have imagined was reasonable prior to the event - and so we were able to buy the food, flowers and clothes that we liked; we could hire additional furniture to try to keep people comfortable. My mother sewed and ironed, patient as ever. The flowers were by Rachel Laura and you should definitely hire her for something soon. Cath filled a borrowed Subaru to its ceiling with botanical wonders and drove into the night. Everyone did unpaid overtime. The food was partially made by the wedding guests (!) but was also ordered from SugardoughBundarra and Stringers, amongst other places, and then transported and served by wedding guests. The people, they worked. There were toys from the Collingwood Toy Library and craft activities from the creative folk who I asked at the last minute. People who donated special wool: the unused portion went to ArtPlay. My brother, and then my uncle drove a giant trailer of chiffon and glass interstate. My cousins gathered and polished and packed all the contents. Another uncle bought spectacular cheeses and copious wines - more than I'd realised anyone would need. People travelled long distances with young children. Really quite long distances, with really quite a lot of young children. 

The celebrant holding the ceremony together was my aunt, Gemma Schooneveldt. She was sensitive and flexible through the planning stages, solid as a rock through the ceremony itself. Her son played gorgeous music, virtually impromptu. 

Rainer and I sang, he did it by choice and even wrote his own song. I sang because I thought I owed it to Rainer, but I dragged in my unsuspecting but highly harmonious cousins, for a quick cover of Simple, by kd lang and David Piltch. We held tight to each other and survived. Katrina sang more songs, with her brother accompanying, because they are so generous. We hired an accordionist and she was amazing.

My father gave a speech, as did Freya and Rainer's uncle John. Tiriel was the MC.

And then there come the documenters, the people who give up the immediate experience of the day for unflagging immersion in the making of images. Tobias Titz took the bulk of the photos. Caro Macdonald interviewed and filmed Rainer and I for an oral history project that laid the emotional groundwork for our wedding, and then filmed the wedding itself. The generosity and spark of these two brilliant people is awe inspiring, quite honestly. And love to K+t for supporting them. And huge thanks to the backup photographers, the dedicated amateurs framing with love. Especially Gabe. 

Being one year to the day since our wedding makes the pain of Emmaline's absence that much more pointed. But I'm so, so glad that we did get married. 

Scattering Em's ashes

On 27 September 2015 we held a memorial service and scattered Emmaline's ashes at Broulee Island, NSW. It was a terribly sad but beautiful day. There is so little of a person in their ashes, but in other ways so much. I agonised over how to deal with them. In the end Nina made beautiful ceramic urns which held Em's ashes in our home and on the trip from Melbourne to Broulee Island. The urns are imprinted with leaves from the she-oak tree which we had chosen as Em's final resting place. Every time we visit Broulee Island we'll pick some foliage from the same tree which we'll bring home to place in the urn. And over time the leaves will contain some of Em's cells, in living form. It will be a little ceremony of renewal that will keep Em in our lives, and that I think would make her happy. 

Tobi took beautiful photos of the memorial service:

Spring

Emmaline died on the first day of winter and yesterday was the first day of spring. The turning of the seasons feels good. It was a lovely sunny day and Christian, Nelleke, Anouk and I harvested the French salad mix that Em had sown in the garden way back in May. We made the greens into a big batch of pesto. Harvesting, cooking and eating something that Em had grown gave me such a strong sense of connection to her. 

Earlier in August we went for a road trip up to Mossy Point to plan Emmaline's memorial service. We chose a tree on Broulee Island, where we'll hold the service and spread her ashes. After Mossy Point we kept going on our road trip and visited Em's cousins Amy, Morgan and Clem, and parents, John and Donna. It felt lovely to be on the road and connecting with Emmaline's family. I took the opportunity of being away from home to start looking after both Nelleke and Anouk at night. For a long time Christian and Donna have been doing such a wonderful job of looking after Anouk at night, but I've been feeling the need to take it over, to bring the girls together and consolidate out little family unit. During Em's treatment we were in a constant "state of emergency", and one consequence of this was having many people looking after Anouk. Now it feels like we are slowly coming out of the emergency into a new mode of everyday. There were quite a few nights while we were away where I only got 2-3 hours sleep, but overall it was a success. And now that we're back home both girls are sleeping well in the same room. It's a big step for me and them.

On 11 August, Nelleke, Anouk and I went back to Caritas Christi, the hospice where Emmaline died. Christian and Nelleke had made some clay figures on the morning that Emmaline had died, and we picked these up. Caritas also has a memorial wall, where families can set a tile in  memory of their loved one. So we sat down with the art therapist and Nelleke painted a tile for the wall. Around the edge of the picture we made impressions with shells from Broulee Island (where Em's ashes will be scattered). Nelleke, Anouk and I each placed a fingerprint down the left hand side. The tile will be fired and placed up on the wall with a memorial service on 11 October. Nelleke is really keen to go back to Caritas to make more clay pieces, and again I'm really grateful for their wonderful service.

The expression "being in a fog of grief" is an apt description of my general state of mind - even if three whole months have passed since Em died. I'm putting all my non-grieving energy into parenting, and don't have much left for anything else. Often I don't get much sleep. I feel like I'm being followed by a trail of things-not-done. I'm hopelessly forgetful and scatty, and think I've done things when I haven't. It's hard to look into the future and hard to look back. Mostly people are sympathetic, and sometime's they're not. Often it feels like the best thing I can do for me is just to be still and breathe. 

Two months

I'm no longer holding back tears the whole time. But it feels as though I've gone through a process of complete dissolution and I'm having to put myself back together from scratch. I've got high blood pressure, and apparently this can be induced by grief. So I've been trying to reconnect with my body: exercising (running, swimming), stretching, breathing. Singing is really grounding. I see a great bereavement counsellor. Above all I'm trying 24/7 to be a good father. Parenting in grief is both exhausting and nourishing.

I've recently been feeling the burden of the 16 months leading up to Em's death. It's as though I've finally had a chance to take a breath and look back, and I can see that it's been such a traumatic journey. It's not that there haven't been good things that have happened in this time (our wedding was wonderful), just so many overwhelming, bad ones. Emmaline's confusion and pain during her pregnancy with Anouk was huge. The shock of terminal diagnosis, coming at the same time as Anouk's birth, lifted us completely out of our previous lives into a parallel, terrible universe, where it felt like the laws of nature had been ruptured. Then came chemotherapy, radiotherapy, so many drugs, trips to the hospital in the middle of the night, cancer symptoms, sleeplessness, loss of control, so much pain and grief, and death. Up until now I haven't been able to look back, everything's been day by day, problem solving, logistics. Now I can see the last year and a half has been punctuated by a series of traumas. At the moment they're open wounds - over time I suppose they'll become scars.

There's a lot of admin following someone's death, and I've been very slowly working my way through it. But every administrative step is another stage of closure on Emmaline's life and is so painful. I went to the bank to ask them to close Emmaline's accounts, but it took me all day to steady myself for it. I made it in, with Anouk, five minutes before the bank closed. Another day I cancelled Emmaline's phone account. I just felt so grief stricken turning off her phone, and the idea that she'll never receive another call just hurts and hurts. Centrelink is really hard to deal with. I'm still reeling from their decision not to grant me carer's payment or carer's allowance a couple of weeks before Emmaline died, on the basis that she wasn't sufficiently in need of care from me. We were in such a desperate situation, and in that context the rejection was disproportionately affecting. Now when I speak to them I get short of breath and my heart pounds. And I am particularly angry at Bankwest, our mortgagee, for their insensitivity and lack of empathy over the last year. There's many formalities I haven't yet attended to since Emmaline passed away. Telling a random person in a call centre that your wife, the mother of your children, has died is so much harder than what I would have thought. And invariably the phone call has to be followed up with paperwork - forms that demand personal information, certified copies of the death certificate, debts to be settled etc. Official correspondence relating to Emmaline's death always seems to start with a one sentence expression of condolence, which always feels so insincere. I much prefer to keep everything at emotional arms length, or better, to talk to a real person who is actually empathetic. I'm still so deeply grateful to the anonymous man in the Australian Taxation Office call centre who spent twenty minutes sharing with me his experience of losing his wife to cancer ten years ago. It's a really, really hard process, he told me, but things get slowly better over several years.

I'm amazed at how many children's films revolve around the death of parents. It's a central theme in so many of the films I've watched with Nelleke over recent weeks: Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz has lost her parents; Captain von Trapp in The Sound of Music has lost his wife, the mother of his children; Anna and Elsa in Frozen lose their parents; Cinderella (Nelleke watched the Disney film) has lost her parents; Snow White in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (again the Disney film) loses her mother; Lilo in Lilo and Stitch has lost her parents; Margo, Edith and Agnes in Despicable Me have lost their parents; Nemo in Finding Nemo loses his mother at the start of the film; Brendan and Aisling in The Secret of Kells have both lost their parents; and the Studio Ghibli films My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away revolve around the threat of parental death. This is no comprehensive survey, just films that we've happened to watch in recent weeks. In one way I think it's wonderful for Nelleke to see all these films - they really normalise the death of a parent and if you believe Hollywood then more than half of all kids have lost at least one parent. But in another way the recurring theme doesn't feel very authentic. The dead parent is a cultural motif, not a lived reality. It's as though all these stories are the imaginings of people who haven't suffered such loss. There is little of the burden or complexity of grief in these films. Grief for a lost spouse/parent is huge and chaotic, and there is none of that messiness in the Hollywood version. The one film that we have seen recently that is an absolute standout, that does authentically capture the enormity and complexity of grief is Song of the Sea. I just LOVE this film. Nelleke, Christian and I watched it a couple of weeks ago without knowing anything about it and from the first scene I was riveted. A mother dies leaving her two young children and her husband, a lighthouse keeper. The children struggle to understand what has happened and the father is completely bereft. But their story is intertwined with a parallel story in the fairy world. In fact the entire fairy world is being destroyed by the failure of a fairy family to properly grieve a husband's loss of his wife. In the end it is only by everybody feeling, living and accepting their loss and grief that the balance of the fairy world, and the real world, can be restored. This film resonates so much for me, and gave me a great sense of validation. My grief is so personal, but it feels that big that it should disrupt the balance of the whole universe. Of course in reality the wider world goes on completely unaffected, and its disinterest just sharpens my pain. The only path to healing that I can see is to think and act as though the whole world is in a state of existential crisis following Emmaline's death. The magnitude of my grief has to be lived and felt. Song of the Sea really captures and validates these feelings. 

One month on...

Emmaline died at lunchtime on the 1 June 2015 at Caritas Christi. We put in place a plan for funeral director Libby Moloney to come and pick up her body and then we had five hours to sit with her before she was taken away. The staff at Caritas were very respectful and made a lot of space for us both in her room and throughout the building. It was an incredibly important time. We drifted in and out of the room. Anouk and Christian spent time with her. Nelleke sat on her bed. Sometimes we were in silence other times we talked to her. We walked in the garden and prepared and ate food. I spent a lot of time on my own in her room, cleaning her face and body, dressing and arranging her clothes, holding her hand, saying goodbye, and crying bigger tears than I knew were possible. She was so peaceful, in contrast to the previous couple of days of struggle. It took hours for the warmth to leave her body.

 Shelf in Emmaline's room at Caritas Christi, 1 June 2015.

Shelf in Emmaline's room at Caritas Christi, 1 June 2015.

The week after Emmaline died was so hectic. We had to let people know what had happened. And there was so much to organise. On the other hand the flurry of organisation was totally absorbing and distracting - a good diversion from the reality of what had just happened.

Emmaline had told me that when she died she wanted me to arrange a home vigil. She wanted her body brought back to our house so that close friends and family could be given an opportunity to come and say goodbye. She wanted it to be creative, healing and connecting, especially for our girls. The prospect was daunting, and I'd talked about my hesitation with her before she died. But she said that getting the vigil right was what was most important to her. She didn't mind what happened with her funeral.

So on the Saturday following Emmaline’s death we started to prepare the house for her return. We completely cleared out the front room and rearranged the furniture throughout the whole house. This in itself was therapeutic, an acknowledgement that everything in our lives was now to be different. We bought a single bed from the op shop which was to be her bed for the day. We decorated her room with garden flowers and foliage, and Nelleke's paintings and drawings. Nelleke selected objects from around the house, that were special to Em in different ways, to place in the room. In the lounge we set up a shrine with photos and other special objects. I selected Brian Eno’s Music for Airports to play on repeat, an album that was special to us as a couple. In the garden we put up signs with photos and quotes from Emmaline about her love of gardening. 

When Emmaline’s body arrived on the Sunday we wheeled her in on a trolley and laid her in her bed. Libby put a little make up on her face to give her some colour. Nelleke painted her nails – not a bright colour just a subtle sparkle. We lit a single candle. Then through the day we had a selection of close friends and family come and pay their respects. It was an imperfect list and we didn’t manage to invite all the people that I wanted to invite, but it worked. People brought flowers and foliage from their gardens and laid them around her bed. Libby and celebrant Sally Cant met people at the door, told them what to do and expect, and helped manage the flow through the room. They gave the event an air of graceful formality. Em had said she wanted to be buried in a shroud rather than a coffin. Cremating a coffin seemed wasteful, and the idea of hiding her body, hiding death, seemed repressive. So we chose a shroud and laid it out in the living room and as people came through the house we invited them to draw or write messages on the material. Nelleke helped with the decoration.

So many people helped with the event. Em's cousin Trina Power stayed with us after Em died and did so much. Our friend Nina Roberts helped Nelleke to make beautiful artworks to decorate Em's room. Tessa Fluence and Emma Kowal worked on the garden signs. Caro Macdonald filmed the vigil. Gabrielle Sullivan took photos. Donna, John, Christian, Anica and Freya were all pivotal. So many other people gave so much. 

I'd never spent much time with a dead body before and was quite apprehensive about the day. But from the moment Emmaline arrived at our house I felt so proud. Emmaline was as beautiful to me in death as in life. She was really cold, there was none of the fading warmth that I had felt in the hours after death. But her body was still her's. I'd been so deeply distressed when she'd left our house for Caritas Christi. I'd really wanted her to die at home, but in the event it had seemed too hard. It was such a huge, huge relief to bring her home. I'd worried that our girls seeing her dead body might lead to them having nightmares or that seeing her body might give me nightmares – but as it turned out it seems that precisely the opposite is true. Now I think it is the hiding of death, and the imagined dead body, that causes nightmares.

Many of our rituals around death are about hiding the fact. The dead body is taken away, often as quickly as possible. We imagine the morgue as a place of horror. The coffin hides the form of the body. Sometimes the funeral director will arrange a “viewing” but only in a highly controlled and unfamiliar environment divorced from our everyday lives. The body can be subjected to invasive treatments, embalmed and filled with toxic chemicals. Connecting in a meaningful way with Emmaline's body was just so deeply therapeutic. I'm so grateful to her for insisting that we hold a home vigil.

The funeral was three days later on the Tuesday. For the venue we'd settled on Duneira at Mount Macedon (at Libby's suggestion). It was the first time they'd held a funeral but it was a perfect setting, with an amazing house (full of beautiful art and craft) and an old, rambling garden. We had a 300 person marquee set up on the tennis court, where Emmaline’s body was laid out. Nelleke’s music teacher Katie Hull-Brown arranged for her choir to sing. When everyone stood at the beginning of the service and the choir began singing "Let it Shine on Me" I just dissolved. I've honestly never been so moved by a piece of music: the song that opens your wife's funeral is inscribed permanently on your soul and becomes part of your DNA. People brought flowers from their gardens which were laid around Em’s body. Emmaline's aunt Gemma Schooneveldt was the celebrant. She gave a beautiful and moving service. Tessa Fluence designed and had printed out a beautiful memorial book, with wonderful photos from Tobias Titz. Lucy Mora coordinated amazing food. John, Donna, Christian, Amy and Trina all contributed to the service. Following the lunch, Anna Pulford, Nina Roberts, Emma Kowal, Juleiaah Koren, and Gabrielle Sullivan gave eulogies. Talya Mathews coordinated cakes for afternoon tea - and more than 30 friends and family baked them. Many other people helped in diverse ways.

The funeral was beautiful, and I'm enormously grateful for that.

I had spent a huge amount of time thinking, and talking with Emmaline, about how Nelleke and Anouk would deal with their grief. As much as possible I wanted to make a safe space for them to process their feelings and find ways to live without Em. But I hadn’t thought much about my grief. After the funeral it has hit me: violent, visceral, deep, raw pain. 

Probably to the outside world I look like any normal functioning person, but inside I feel completely destroyed. I'm on the edge of tears the whole time. When I get a moment to myself I sob and sob. 

Following Em's death (and particularly following the funeral) all the objects in our house seemed to differentiate and rear forward at me. Every part of our inanimate world carries layers of memory and grief. Every item in our lives has a complex shared story. There is no escaping my grief because everywhere I look is infused with Emmaline's presence.

And it's not just objects but all the places where we've lived out our life together. Everywhere I go is overlaid with memory and association. When I can I drive and walk around the city to places of particular significance to us - houses where we'd lived, parks where we'd spent time together, cafes, restaurants, shops, libraries... I just stand in these places and cry. Strangely, the supermarket is a place of particular pain. It's like it's an extension of our private, domestic space. For so many years we've shopped with or for each other and every decision to buy or not buy something now just highlights Emmaline's absence. 

I'm also filled with regret about our relationship. Over the years Em and I were together we loved each other deeply, but often we didn’t care for each other very well day to day. Our issues, pre-cancer, were as Em put it, "so commonplace as to not be worth mentioning". But my regret now, my wishing that I'd been more present and caring for Em during the time we were together, is in some ways the hardest and sharpest part of my grief. It really hurts. It'd always felt like there'd be so much time to sort out our issues. Things didn't need to be perfect on any given day because there were decades to get things right. We both wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. And starting a family is so demanding: it felt like nurturing our love for each other was something that could wait. I was wrong.