What attracted me initially to Al was his guyness. His scruffy faced, beer drinking, football watching, bodily function loving guyness. I loved that he put on Carhartt jeans and a sweatshirt to go to work, and that he came home smelling of wood, covered in dust.
It fit perfectly with this guyness, his proclamation that he would never, under any circumstances be purchasing me pads or tampons. Ever. No matter what. Because, surely, were he to purchase such things, the cashier would ignore his thick beard and deep voice and loudly demand to know if he was also in posession of a vagina. Surely.
Procurement of sanitary products not being a relationship deal breaker, we ended up married and having a baby.
I'd obtained several weeks' worth of products prior to my son's birth. With much respect to his guyness, I'd planned ahead.
I hadn't planned on our son spending his first two months barely alive in an ICU hundreds of miles away from the home we'd made for him.
During those months, Al and I lived with his brother Don and his wife Penny only a half hour from Children's Hospital. They graciously opened up their home to us and our dog Olive. They fed us, kept us in beer and wine, and tended to the dog when we couldn't.
Owen was born on a Monday. My milk came in on Thursday.
I'd dreaded it happening. I'd hoped that my body would somehow know that no baby would be coming anywhere near my breast, spare me that reminder, and stay dry.
But that Thursday morning, as I showered, I felt the tingle, and looked down in horror at the milk flowing down my body.
I started crying. The screaming choking kind. The cartoon geyser spurts which led to the irrational thought that my tears would deplete the liquid life that I knew I'd have to pump and deliver to the hospital.
I left the bathroom and called for Al. I hated the thought of pumping instead of nursing, and there was no way in hell I was doing it alone.
He was still that guy, but he'd seen me birth a human, and then witnessed the emotional disembowelment that followed. He could watch me do this.
And for the next several weeks he did. Each morning before I left for the hospital, each night before bed.
Every two hours, I'd leave Owen's bedside to pump. I filled the freezer in the ICU, and the one in Don and Penny's kitchen, with the little bottles of milk, as for many of those weeks, Owen was too sick even to recieve it.
I couldn't hold him or touch him or change him or soothe him. My sole purpose, my reason for existence, was to collect and save this nourishment in hopes that he would one day benefit from it.
One Friday night, Al and I happened to be feeling up to going out to dinner with Don and Penny. It was nice to do a normal thing in the midst of the surreal turn our lives had taken.
I'd gone hours without pumping by the time we got home and headed upstairs to do my business. As soon as I walked into our room I saw the carnage;
The Dog Ate The Breast Pump.
All the cups and shields and tubing were completely chewed to shreds. Not a thing could be salvaged. I didn't have any extras.
I lost it. Snapped. Hysterical crying, screaming at the dog. I could not go all night without pumping. Still carrying my free pass for irrational thoughts, I worried that my milk supply would suffer irrevocably if I had to wait until the next day to pump.
Don and Penny just so happened to live across the street from a hospital. The second this realization hit Al, he dashed out the door and ran over to see if he could find me some supplies.
There went my guy, on a mission to ask a bunch of strangers for breast pump supplies.
A minute after he left, Penny gasped, and told Don and me;
"That hospital doesn't have a maternity department."
As we waited, we imagined poor Al, explaining our situation to who knows how many people, and likely people who wouldn't be able to help.
He returned after an hour or so, head hanging in defeat. The people whom he met at the hospital were brought to tears, touched by our story. They tried very hard to locate the supplies, phone calls were made, Al was sent to different floors, to tell the tale to more tender hearts who would have to disappoint him.
Poor Al felt so helpless, he just wanted to make it all better for me. As I tried to reassure him that I'd be ok until the morning, Don shook his head, and giving his brother a proud pat on the back said;
"You took one for the team dude, you took one for the team."