I don't mean to be overly dramatic with that title. I do want to address what too many of us forget while we're getting through the early days, months, and sometimes even years of caring for our micropreemies.
I would say (with quite a lot of confidence) that my husband and I had a strong marriage when our second child, our micropreemie daughter, was born. We had been through illness, death, and the birth of our first child together. We had been through emotional upheaval and the one thing that never seemed to falter was, well, US. We always stayed committed, always communicated, always formed a united front.
And then C. was born. All of a sudden, I was trying to recover from a massive surgery and my husband was struggling to make up missed hours at a job with no benefits. We had a ten month old who didn't yet walk and a newborn fighting to live. We were two hours from home with no family in the immediate area. In order to care for our older child and still visit our new baby, we went on "shifts". My husband's commute was long and my days of entertaining a not-yet-one-year-old in the Ronald McDonald house were challenging. We were both crippled with guilt because we couldn't be everywhere all the time. We were exhausted because he took the "late shift" for visits and I was still waking twice a night to pump (and often soothe our son back to sleep). We simply no longer had time to invest in our relationship.
I remember one night when I dashed over to the hospital after some sniping verbal exchange between my husband and me. Tears burned behind my lids, but I just didn't have time to deal my problems with him; I had a little baby to see. I ran into another couple in the hall, parents of another micropreemie baby girl. And I asked them, "Do you ever feel like this experience is beating the heck out of your marriage?" And they both said, "Oh, yes."
Turns out we're not alone. An article from USA Today declares in its headline:
Chronically ill child can doom marriage
Ah hah. Well, that's not such great news for those of us parenting our preemies. But there is plenty of hope. Just like in so many other situations, the old adages really do hold true. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and "This too shall pass" were both phrases that I reflected on a lot.
We made it through, as you may have already guessed. We'll celebrate seven years of marriage in a couple months. While there's a whole lot we could have done better, here are a few things I think we did right:
1. We ate dinner together every night and touched base.
2. I called my husband immediately following any updates I received from the NICU.
3. We cherished and snuggled our older child too.
4. We visited the NICU together any time we had the opportunity, i.e. when another family member was around.
5. We shared a glass of wine and quiet conversation on Valentine's Day.
What did you do or are you doing "right" to nurture you marriage? What do you wish you would have done differently? Please share in the comments!