Recently, a friend of mine got in a car accident, as he was backing out of his driveway. Thankfully no one was hurt, and only the car was permanently damaged. But he was definitely shaken up.
He re-entered the house, where his spouse was watching TV, and told the crazy story and how he was waiting for the police to arrive. The spouse, barely looked away from the program, once it was established that my friend was OK.
How people act in a crisis depends on lots of different factors, including personality, how they were raised and emotional intelligence. This spouse might have a hard time taking on stress, and tend to shut down rather than deal with taking on highly emotional situations.
We never know how we will react in a crisis, until we are actually in one. I tend to go into auto pilot and emotionally check out.
In high school I was in a pretty bad car accident where the car was totaled. My best friend was driving, and although I don’t think of her as completely cool and collected, she certainly has a solid headspace.
But after the crash, she tumbled out of the car and directly into a fetal position. The firemen came, and after establishing that no one was injured or drunk, were joking around with us to alleviate the nerves. My friend was still shaking hours later when we back home. She definitely had an uncontrollable physical reaction to a traumatic situation.
In movies and novels, a hero always knows how to act in a crisis. We want to believe that when the balls are to the walls, each one of has a mask and cape in our back pocket. I would like to state for the record, that this sets up for serious disappointment, not only with our spouses but also with our parents and others that we depend on.
Esther Perel has a super successful TED Talk called The Secret To Desire In A Long Term Relationship which has been seen over 5 million times. She reveals many mysteries of the modern day romance, but one point that she makes has been rattling around in my brain.
In today’s marriages we look to our partner as lover, confidante, friend and business cohort, and where historically these roles used to be filled by separate people in a community, we now expect our partner to be everything to us -- including being our personal action hero in time of great crisis.
We expect miracles from our partners, and are frustrated when they can’t meet our overwhelming needs.
Life is full of times when drama and crises happen, and we need to just do the best we can with the limited knowledge and experience we possess. I would be hard pressed to win a fistfight, when I’ve never thrown a punch in my life. Most of us have unresolved issues surrounding stress and challenges, and we may not be able to choose the right responses under duress. We might get scared, we may cry, we may freeze, and all of these are appropriate responses.
When I gave birth to my son, over 5 years ago, I had an emergency c-section. The emphasis in that sentence is on “emergency.” I woke up one morning, almost 6 weeks before my due date, and watched my husband leave for work for an early meeting.
About 10 minutes after he left, I felt what I thought must feel like your water breaking. A geyser of liquid bubbled from up in my uterus and erupted gushing all down my legs into the bed. I jumped up and pulled the sheets from my bed, but instead of clear liquid, the bed was filled with blood.
Running to the bathroom, I left a trail up and down the hallway and realized that this was an emergency and I needed my cell phone. I tried to take deep breaths and like a robot, I called my midwife who explained that this was a true emergency, as I had placenta previa that we had hoped would move, but instead was rupturing.
The baby and I were in danger and I needed to get to the nearest emergency room with a maternity ward. She urged me to call an ambulance. My next call was to my car service company, but because it was rush hour on a Friday, the line was consistently busy. I called an ambulance.
Instead of lying on the floor or bed like they told me to do, I realized I needed to get dressed, and couldn’t figure out the best thing to wear when I was bleeding so much. (Would these pants be more or less absorbent?) Eventually, I was clothed, and because I was so worried about ridiculous things (if they got me on a gurney, would I be able to lock the door when I left? who will clean up all this blood?) I locked up, and walked outside to wait for the emergency vehicle. I called my husband to meet me at the hospital closes to me.
I could still feel my baby moving, and I think I was alternating between talking like a robot and sobbing uncontrollably, but I just thought I’d get to the hospital and everything would be fine.
My husband arrived at the same time we did, his face pale and drawn. I was filling out insurance paperwork while a doctor was telling me the dangers of the blood transfusion I would most likely need, and the hysterectomy I would probably get, and the long-term issues our baby would surely have.
My strong, virile husband had his grimace face on and looked about to faint. I was unfairly expecting him to be part of a solution, but he had never been in this situation before and could not have known the right decisions to make, or words to say, or actions to speak.
We often see “happily ever after” as meaning that another human meets all of our emotional and physical needs. But faced with this kind of life and death situation, I came to see the happy ending as the baby and I both surviving with our health intact. After an immediate surgery, at a random hospital without our doctor, our sweet-natured, miracle of a healthy son was yanked out into the world and into our weary arms.
An hour later, our doula arrived. She earned her paycheck, not by delivering a baby, but by sharing her expertise. She was not superwoman swooping in and saving the day, but she knew our hospital rights, she knew what needed to be done, and who to speak to about finding a breast pump. She helped us feel more comfortable about what had happened, and she told us the words we needed to hear.
We never know how our partner will react in a crisis, and we’d like to think he or she would save our family from any emergency, but in actuality we don’t need him or her to be a hero -- they just need to be there for us (along with the others in our community) for better or worse.