Ellen Nordberg, mother of twin boys with husband Paul, learned about love while rock climbing. Always protect your partner.
My husband Paul told me a story the first time I met him; we were sitting with a group around a campfire:
Two climbers were on a wall in Yosemite when a boulder the size of a storage shed broke free above them. The lead climber edged into a crack. His partner on the ground had no shelter, so he clamped down on their rope and braced himself. The leader survived because of this choice. His partner did not.
We were all climbers at that campsite, and we nodded appreciatively. Always protect your partner.
I’d been divorced in my twenties, and later dumped by a longtime boyfriend. I was 37, living in a “boy-free zone,” and doubtful I had any more chances at love. I joined a mountaineering club to get back into climbing, a sport I’d loved as a teenager. Paul and I ended up in an anchor setting class together. He made me laugh by imitating an instructor puffing his chest to model ideal breathing. We both cracked up at my attempt to remove a fleece pullover which Velcro-ed itself to my beanie and jerked my arms and head around like a crazed marionette. An aerospace engineer, he taught me how to improve on my anchor placements which our instructor with his European accent had deemed, “less than optimal.”
To impress Paul, I grabbed the end of the rope and wrestled my way up a pitch he had called “too tricky.” I ended up at his feet, on my ass with a ripped shirt, and a sprained ankle. Not the impression I’d been trying to make. But the way he caught my fall spared me from a broken leg or worse.
We started dating soon after. He said he was determined to be a dad. I was skittish. I had two failed relationships, plus I was old. Who knew if I could even get pregnant?
But after a year of putting my life in his hands, I had come to trust Paul. His climbing anchors could lower a hippopotamus to safety. Plus, he was charming and he looked hot in shorts. After a year together, we started trying to get pregnant.
Within two months, he was dancing proudly around a pink pee stick. I hid my head in the toilet, questioning what I’d done. Had I ruined my life? Did I really know this guy? He had a temper, often shouting creative strings of offensive curses when falling off a challenging route. I had a history of cheating on partners when things got rough. What if abandoning my corporate career had been the wrong choice? Or, what if I were meant to be a climbing bum forever? Now there’d be a baby.
Paul made me grilled cheese sandwiches at 3am to comfort me and keep up my protein during months of ceaseless nausea. He rebuilt our leaky dishwasher in preparation for the baby. At three months, I felt less sick and began to have faith we were on the right path.
At 18 weeks, after our small wedding, the obstetrician found a second heartbeat. Identical twin boys! But we didn’t have time to celebrate or freak out because a specialist then discovered Twin to Twin Transfusion Syndrome, an often fatal placental disorder.
Paul made sure I never heard anyone say the babies’ odds for survival were maybe one in ten. He asked his mother and sisters to pray and researched doctors known for surgical miracles. I buried my own anxieties and talked to the babies: Work together! Be a team! Share the food!
Paul rushed from work to join me each week at the specialist’s. He towered over the doctor and grilled him endlessly. How were the percentages of fluids? What were the odds we’d need surgery? Would this guy be doing the delivery? The doctor and his assistants recoiled at this aggressive questioning, but I knew what my husband was up to. Always protect your partner.
Paul couldn’t leave work for the 32 week appointment, but the doctor said the boys were improving. We were edging out of the danger zone. “You really don’t need to come back for two weeks,” he said. “But if I don’t schedule you, I’m pretty sure I’ll get a call from your husband. And I’m afraid of him.” He smiled. “So, we’ll see you next week.”
Miraculously, the boys were born safely at 37 weeks, but I required an emergency hysterectomy. I spent five days in the ICU while Paul alternated between running to the nursery and sleeping in a chair next to me. Despite the morphine, I knew he was there. I trusted the babies were safe. He had it covered. The entire hospital staff knew our story, and when a nurse stopped Paul to ask how he was doing, he just shook his head and cried.
Paul took six weeks family leave, and my parents and his sisters came to help, alternating shifts so I could rest. One morning I asked my mom about the neatly stacked burp cloths, the bottle drying rack, and the feeding charts. She looked at me, surprised. “Paul designed the whole system,” she said.
The boys grew into hilarious toddlers who perfected the parade wave from the Costco cart, announced their presence in the third person at 5am, (“Mom! Aidan’s awake!”) and refused to be potty-trained until they were nearly four years old.
The twins are now twelve. Paul still loses his temper, although now it’s more likely to be about remote control drones stuck on the roof. We’ve had other dark times in our marriage–febrile seizures, extended business travel, concussions–but cheating has been the furthest thing from my mind.
I never thought I’d get a second chance at love or being a wife, let alone becoming a mom. Back then on high routes, risking my life so casually, I hadn’t known how much gratitude I’d come to feel for my life and my children’s, or for choosing a husband willing to face the boulders head on.
Photo Credit: Getty Images