My polyamory has taken the form of a multi-parent family for the past six years. We’ve made it through some rough stuff as a unit, but the other night we had a serious medical emergency that made me realize how good we are together. In the day-to-day it’s easy for me to see our challenges as a poly family, but it took a crisis to make it clear that the sacrifices we make to be together have a clear pay-off.
Polyamory can look lots of different ways, as every relationship is different. Our family consists of two legally married couples: me and Joel, and Harold and Melanie. Harold and I also consider ourselves married. Our ceremony was performed by Melanie and Joel, and witnessed by around 70 of our friends and relatives. The four of us came together as a family when we decided to have a child together. Over time, we have come to all parent the five children I gave birth to. The oldest is now launched in out in the world, largely thanks to Melanie’s support of her.
A few nights ago something happened that made me scared of losing everything. The night started well. Harold and I fell asleep talking about how he is starting to show his age physically. I am fascinated to see the body I know better than my own begin to transform. I want to reassure him that I desire spending time with him in his body, no matter what kind of condition that body is in. We were also discussing estate planning and our fears that the other one will die first. I fell asleep with my head on his chest. We were feeling blessed in our intimacy.
Four hours later, Harold got up and went into the bathroom, suddenly feeling intensely dizzy and nauseous. I knew immediately that something was not right. A few minutes later he was lying on the floor, unable to move, sweating so profusely that a puddle formed in his belly button. His breathing was so labored that each rapid exhale ended in a moan. I called 911 and tried to get Melanie. Although I was unable to get her (her phone’s ringer was off), it still felt reassuring knowing that she was right around the corner.
I mobilized the older children to help guide the first-responders upstairs. Thankfully, I managed to keep any of the children from seeing Harold when he was so ill. No need to worry them more. It wasn’t until I had two ambulances full of paramedics in the house that I realized how ill suited we are for this sort of thing. With the crystal clarity of crisis management I saw how long it’s been since I cleaned the master bathroom and how Christopher Lowell lied and you really need more than 18 inches of walking space. Also, with two long flights of stairs, a gurney is not an option.
All this came to me in a place of total calm. I answered questions. I put my hand on Harold’s feet (the only part of him I could reach) to reassure him that I was there. He was still responding to questions, but he felt far away. I ran logistics in my head. I tried to call Melanie again. I asked questions about his status. I ignored my fear. I reassured the children and explained what was happening.
The medics moved Harold down to the bottom stairs, carrying him on a piece of canvas with handles. I’m not sure how. I watched them pass by me, Harold’s head and arm bouncing over the side. He was pale and didn’t know I was there. A sliver of fear made its icy way through my calm.
I left the children in capable hands of my teen, stopping to snuggle the little one for a moment. She slept through many men tromping through the room with all kinds of equipment. For a split second I wondered if she would ever see her daddy again. Forcing those thoughts away, I went down to the ambulance. Harold had passed the heart evaluation, which was a huge relief. A paramedic joked with me, skillfully relieving a bit of my tension. I went into the ambulance to let Harold know that I would go get Melanie and we would meet them at the hospital. He showed no signs of hearing me.
Once in the car, I called Joel. He was out of town, two hours away. I knew that he would drive to my side in a heartbeat, but right then all I needed was his strength and understanding. I shed a few tears in the safety of the dark, feeling his voice like a hug. He loves Harold too.
I went and woke up Melanie. It felt very surreal to have to explain to her. Harold and I have done many adventurous sexual things where I was afraid I would have to call 911 (and Melanie) and explain what happened: the coffee enema, the needle through his balls, ejaculating blood, and possible drowning by golden shower – to name a few. This was like my worst nightmares coming true, but I hadn’t even done anything this time! I didn’t express this to Melanie, but her presence was very reassuring. I had an ally, someone who had as much to lose as I did.
The whole drive to the emergency room, in the dark stormy rain, I felt exceptionally close to Harold. I talked out loud to him, telling him that we would be there soon, that he wasn’t alone, that he needed to stay on this plane. I could feel him as though he was in the car with me. I was both glad for his presence and alarmed that he wasn’t more with his body. I worried that he might die before I got there. Then I got lost on the way to the hospital.
Again, Melanie was very sweet and helped me get my bearings. As it was, we arrived just after Harold did. We swept into the reception area, empty except for a woman behind the desk. We announced our desire to see Harold. The woman brightened, “Is one of you his wife?” Melanie and I both paused and looked at each other. We’ve never rehearsed this situation. “I’m his wife and Evoë is another family member,” Melanie said smoothly. This meant that Melanie got to sign all of the paperwork and hand over the insurance card. I have one in my wallet too. We had to wait while they got Harold settled into a room. I was ready to kick down doors to get to him.
After a couple of minutes (that felt more like an eternity), they led us to his side. We naturally flanked him, petting him and speaking to him. It was hard to see him with his skin ashen, covered with tubes and wires. He opened his eyes a little and saw us both there. “I am so lucky,” he murmured. I bent down to his ear so he could hear me, “You are lucky. I know that it isn’t comfortable in your body right now, but you need to come back. Your body needs you. We need you.”
His system was in shock. They treated him for possible inner ear disturbances, dehydration, and hypothermia. At first the nurse seemed concerned, but after a while he started breathing better and his body temperature rose. Melanie and I comforted each other and talked to Harold about each step the medical staff wanted to take. The doctor was great. Actually, everyone we saw treated us with respect, even after Melanie explained that we were both Harold’s partners. We each had important information to contribute about Harold’s medical history.
At some point Melanie quietly apologized for calling me Harold’s partner because she didn’t thnk they would understand him having two wives. Partner is my preferred relationship designation because I’m not wild about being anyone’s wife, but I was deeply touched at her thoughtfulness. I know that she considers my connection to Harold to be as intimate and as valid as her own. This is such a gift to me. In that moment of crisis, her recognition made me feel seen and supported. I know that she will never try to shut me out of Harold’s life, even when she has a right to legally.
Harold bounced back remarkably swiftly. He went from unable to move to getting up to walk to the bathroom in about 90 minutes. I left to get our children off to school, leaning on Joel some more over the phone as I drove home. Harold and Melanie were home 45 minutes after I was. We still don’t really know what happened. He suspects it was some sort of poisoning. He says it’s the worst he’s ever felt in his life. He spent the day sleeping mostly and woke up this morning like always and went to work.
I am so thankful. I’m grateful that this is likely an anomaly. Now that the emergency is over, life has lost that keen edge and the surreal quality, my fears are bubbling up. I’m processing like crazy. What has distilled for me, is how much I value our family system. While I am incredibly good at handling a crisis, I don’t have to do it by myself any more. These bonds that we’ve formed, our shared values and commitments, how much we care about each other, how we’ve chosen to share our lives – this is real.
With the standard monogamous family, it tends to be more clear what will happen if someone is seriously ill or dies. For us, it’s not so obvious. Melanie and I have worked together to support a relationship where we share a husband and children, but would we take care of each other without those ties? I feel like we’ve somehow transformed from a chain of couples to a fierce cluster. We’ve got each other’s backs. These are people I trust down to the ground.
How we live seems normal for us. We’ve chosen a relationship model that is often very challenging. We invest a lot of time in communication with each other. Even so, at times each of us feels that our needs are not being met. We have our ups and downs, but we have thoughtfully and deliberately formed our lives together. We are polyamorous on purpose. We are an intentional family.