(Note: I have not referred to my husband by name in previous pieces, but will refer to him as Ron from this piece on to avoid confusion.)
Ron desperately wanted to be part of his soon-to-be son’s life and started looking for help to gain control over his addictions. His search landed him at the local Veterans Center. Despite the obvious fact that Ron was the one with the problem, I agreed to join him for counseling, separately and together, alone and in groups. The women in the wives group were welcoming, but I had difficulty making eye contact or casually chatting as we gathered, and left immediately after as they all ambled around chatting some more. Most had been with their partner before, during, and after their tour in Viet Nam. I had not. I met Ron years after his return. I rarely offered anything beyond a smile or a head shake, but listened to what others had to say. I was obviously not the only one on this side of the battle against the demons the men had brought home with them. But despite similar stories I felt different, felt our relationship was different. I attended several times and then found convenient reasons for not showing up. We continued couples counseling where I was more able to express my frustrations. My tears often flowed as Ron sat silently. The few private sessions with a counselor sometimes approached the anger that was deeply buried, but I never let it totally loose, afraid it would eat me alive – along with any chance for our relationship – if I allowed it to escape. I gained a deeper understanding of what drove Ron to escape through drugs and alcohol, but often felt confused as to what I could do about it. Understanding wasn’t enough to make it go away. Ron was still the one that needed to fix it, not me. The meetings became a regular part of his life and he sometimes mentioned the connections forming within this group of men, but rarely shared the things they discussed. We were living apart so it was difficult to know what was changing inside him. I know he seemed quieter, as if he was starting to listen to the noise rattling inside his head that he had been running away from for so long. We finished our individual and couples counseling and it ended there for me. Ron continued attending the group for several years and seemed to find a home for a piece of himself there. The struggle wasn’t over, but we were no longer alone. I will always be grateful for the welcome hand extended from the Vet Center, and know we would not have had a chance without them.
As the days before our son’s arrival dwindled my blood pressure rose. The doctor ordered an early end to work and bed rest. I allowed Ron, needed him, to move back into the house. I needed his care, unsure I could trust him to provide it. But he did. The bedroom and bathroom were separated from the kitchen by a long flight of stairs, so each morning before work he prepared a cooler with my daily supplies and set it next to the bed. When he was in town for work he came home for lunch to check on me. The drinking seemed to have stopped or slowed significantly – no late nights out. We both knew that it would only take once and the door would be locked again – no matter what my condition was.
Our son arrived two weeks early according to the estimated date, but his hardy eight pounds fourteen ounces suggested he was right on time! As soon as the pains began I was sent to the hospital. Ron stood by my side as they prepared to start an IV, but soon landed on the bed next to me as he became faint with the insertion of the needle – into my arm! My hopes for his support swooned with him. But as labor continued for over 30 hours, his strength surged as mine waned. In the final hour he was by my side as I pushed and pushed to no avail. I looked at him and uttered “I can’t do this any more.” He shouted to the doctor “That’s enough, she needs help.” The doctor voiced his concern and let me know a cesarean section might be necessary. I was exhausted, but also determined to deliver this baby now, without the help of a scalpel if possible. I had been directed to relax between contractions, but each time I relaxed the baby retreated from the position I had worked so hard to push him into. I stopped listening to what they told me to do and did what made sense to me: maintained a steady pressure even as the contraction eased. Two contractions later our son entered the world. I had never believed a squashed, wrinkled newborn could resemble anyone, no matter how much it came to be true as they grew. But there he was – dark haired, long torsoed, and the spitting image of his father!! A father that stayed by my side through a difficult birth. A father beaming at his new son.