“As a little girl, I remember my dad always telling me, ‘Honey it’s going to take a special man to handle you.’ It was our little joke and I knew it was because I was a strong-willed little girl that gave my parents a run for their money. What I failed to realize at that age was my health problems were going to be the hardest obstacle when looking for love.
I didn’t have a good self-image growing up. My belly was always large and as I got older, the weight started piling on me. My liver was barely functioning by the time I hit my teen years. So, you can guess guys weren’t exactly lining up to date me. I watched my friends get asked out on dates, homecoming, and prom, and it hurt. It hurt so bad because I tried everything I knew to change it. Every fad diet, workout plan— you name it, I tried it. Most of them just landed me back in the hospital. I always felt like the odd girl out. No one quite understood what it was like to walk a day in my shoes and that was lonely for me.
At 15, I received my first liver transplant. I remember waking up feeling different. I felt this energy I had never had before. My eyes were white for the first time and my legs were soft, not full of fluid like normal. For the first time, I was so excited about what life could be like now. I felt like I was a normal kid that could hang out with my friends without worrying about hospital visits. It was the kind of hope I had never had before that moment. 6 months after my transplant, I had my first real date with this handsome guy I met at my new job. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I thought he was so handsome and I couldn’t believe he asked me out. That night, he came over to my house to swim. I was so nervous I tried on every bathing suit I had. He showed up at my house and as I walked him downstairs to the lower deck, we made small talk. I was trying not to freak out. I was so nervous.
We walked outside by the beautifully lit pool as I set my towel on the table. He turned his head and looked right at the scars going across my stomach. A look of disgust and judgment came over his face as he pointed at me and asked, ‘What is that from?’ I told him quickly, hoping we could just move on. 15 minutes later, his ‘mom’ called him to tell him to come home. I never saw or heard from him again. I was mortified, so as you can imagine, I didn’t date much in high school or college. Let’s be real, teenagers are shallow, and visiting your girlfriend at the hospital with tubes coming out of the way too many places wasn’t the ideal date most guys wanted. I had one-too-many guys see my scars and the next thing I knew, they ghosted me. I laugh now but then it hurt so badly I just stayed away from dating, especially in the summer.
It was a Wednesday night and I was bartending when this guy came dancing through the doors and my heart dropped. It was one of those out of the movie scenes where everything stops and all you see is him. I fell in love the moment I saw him but never thought he would love me back. After months of him coming in and us asking around about one another, we finally decided to hang out. That was the day everything changed. I fell so hard and so fast it scared me, knowing he hadn’t seen my ‘default’ yet. All the scars across my stomach and the way I looked in the hospital were something I just knew a guy like him would never love.
I remember shaking the afternoon he asked me to go to the pool with him and his friends. I knew this was it. He was going to see all of me and walk away like the other did. Instead, as I stood in front of him lifting up my shirt, he told me my scars were sexy, that they showed the strength I had. I couldn’t believe that’s how he felt about me but inside I was telling myself, ‘Just wait till he sees you in the hospital. He will definitely run.’
That time came sooner than hoped. We were 3 months into dating when Ryan had to rush me into the ER. As anyone who has ever been to the doctor, you know they don’t ask the most flattering questions. Yet he took notes, sat by my side, held my hand, and took care of me the entire time. This hospital visit was the first of hundreds he held my hand for.
My dad was so right when he told me it was going to take a special man to take care of me. We dated for 3 years before getting engaged at the age of 24. During this time, we spent hundreds of days in the hospital, countless ER trips and procedures done on me. Not a day went by I didn’t feel guilty for what he had to go through with me. We were two young kids in love with all this baggage attached to the situation but as they say, love is blind because that man loved me so much. For so long, I let my illness and lack of self-worth make me feel like I deserved less than in a man. I was willing to compromise on the kind of man I wanted because I didn’t feel like I deserved him. Meeting Ryan showed me how wrong I was to think this way. I was not less than the other girls because of my illness. In fact, it made me who I was.
At 25, I was told I needed a second liver transplant. When the doctors initially told me the news, I said, ‘No, I won’t do it again.’ I was scared I didn’t believe I could go through it another time but then I thought about Ryan and our future. We were planning a wedding at the time. After a few weeks, I realized I could do anything with him by my side, so I said yes. A year and a half later, I received the call for my second transplant.
The next 2 years were the hardest years of our lives. We were not only fighting for me to stay alive but Ryan and I were young newlyweds trying to navigate this insanely difficult time. Our relationship has never been easy. We have been through more tough situations than most couples will ever go through but we decided we would always grow through them. We made a promise to one another to never stop personally growing and to always learn from our mistakes.
The cards you’re dealt in life aren’t always easy but it is how you choose to play those cards that determine the life you will have. Nothing in life worth having is easy and that includes loving someone. I believe God sent me Ryan 10 years ago knowing I would need his strength in my weak times. He loved me when I thought I was unlovable, and he told me I was beautiful when I wanted to hide and embraced all that came with loving me. I was always scared to put myself in the position to be rejected again but I had to open myself up if I ever wanted it to happen.
I feel beyond blessed to have Ryan in my life. I’m not sure if I would have fought so hard to still be here if I didn’t have him by my side. I knew no matter what happened, he was always there to keep me going and push me when I wanted to give up. Sometimes you need that safety net of knowing there is someone you could lean on no matter what, and that was him. I knew he wouldn’t break. I could tell him anything and it would all be okay.
10 years later and we have grown so much together facing every obstacle that came our way, knowing we could handle it together. We were blessed with our little miracle baby that changed our whole world 3 years ago. Loving Ryan taught me to love myself and to be proud of all of who I am. The tough situations we have been through taught me just how strong we are. The ups and downs of our relationship have shaped our marriage into what it is today. Like I said, it’s never been easy but I wouldn’t change anything about our love story.
Don’t ever settle for less than you are truly worth. When you are faced with hard unforeseen obstacles in your life, they can make you feel like they take away from your worth in this world. That’s the opposite of the truth yet we tend to buy into this and it becomes a belief we have that then changes how we operate in life. No matter what you have been through, you are worthy of everything you want, but you have to buy into that and believe it yourself. Don’t let your past or your current circumstances dictate your future.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Rosenfelder from Houston. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more from Hannah here:
‘I called my husband to say, ‘I don’t want to live anymore. I can’t keep fighting this.’ I’d hit rock bottom, then discovered I was pregnant.’: Woman survives fatal Biliary Atresia to birth miracle baby, ‘I defied all odds’
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