Considering the fact that, in the best of circumstances, having a baby can lead to exhaustion and frustration, it should come as no surprise that having a baby in the NICU can stress a marriage immensely, sometimes seemingly irreparably.
I don't want to minimize how devastating having an ill, struggling child can be. There is no way to fully prevent it from having an impact on your relationship. Often, it feels like your marriage seems stronger for awhile- as you bond together and fight as hard as you can- only to feel like it's falling apart as the long days of struggle take their toll...
We went into our NICU experience with a strong marriage. We had been through lots of tough things before- illness, moving, loss of a parent, the birth of a full-term child... all within that past year. Still, it challenged us.
Nonetheless, we are NOT among the nearly NINETY-PERCENT of long-term NICU parents (those with a baby in the NICU for more than 60 days) who end up separated or divorced. I'd like to share with you three ways we helped avoid that pitfall:
- We ate dinner together. Every day. As a family. Our days were wild and crazy. My husband was working long hours, I was caring for an 11-month old and calling the NICU every hour or so. We sometimes didn't know if we were coming or going. But we knew we'd be eating supper together. That constancy was critical for our marriage and, I believe, in providing consistency for our other child.
- We prayed together. Have I mentioned before that my husband and I are not of the same faith? Or that he is not "as religious" as me, in his own terms? Yep, it's true. Still, we came together for our baby girl. Even when my only prayer was "Please, God!" or when the only words I could pull together were those to say the rosary... we prayed together.
- I kept him in the loop. I was the one who made most of the calls or visits to the NICU during the day. I got all the updates. I called him- each and every time, even if nothing had really changed. That was important. He was ALWAYS the first person I told any news... even if my mom or mother-in-law happened to catch me on the phone before I could reach him. I waited for him. That was critical to maintaining marital unity and making him a priority.
Even with all this, I will be honest and tell you that there are times our marriage took a beating. We never entertained thoughts of divorce or separation, but there were evenings when we barely spoke... difficult when you're all living in one small room. But that's how it was. That's the truth.
But the next day, when I got my NICU update, do you know who I'd call?
My husband. My partner. The one person who was suffering just like me.
We successfully NICU-proofed our marriage.
How about you? Did you and your spouse ever feel the strain a NICU experience can cause? What tips do you have to help keep the union strong?