Staying married after your baby dies is a challenge. It can be a struggle to just keep yourself together–keeping a relationship intact can feel impossible. Some people say it’s luck. Some people say it’s hard work.
In the case of my own marriage, I’m not sure if it was luck or work. I don’t think you can pin down one reason why some couples stay together after their child dies and others drift apart. The truth is not that simple.
All I know is my own experience and the truths we have had to accept along our journey as a grieving couple.
Here are 5 truths about my own marriage after the stillbirth of our child.
Let’s start with the really personal stuff. The ordeal of losing Dorothy made me very vulnerable and dependent on my husband for my personal care. He helped me arrange ice packs in my sports bras to suppress my milk flow. I relied on him to help me get out of the shower. He helped me administer my blood thinner injections once we got home from the hospital. This is intimacy on another level. It changes the way you see yourself and the way he sees you. For me, it actually made sex more meaningful because I completely trusted his love for me.
We experienced deep codependency.
We did everything together after losing Dorothy because the idea of being apart was so terrifying. If we had to be apart, we checked in with each other constantly. I am not embarrassed by how connected we became. The two of us experienced an extremely traumatic event together and that was how we came out of it: clinging tightly to one another for stability. Over time, we have become less entwined but we are still learning to cope with being apart.
Counseling helped to save our marriage.
We initially went to counseling as grieving parents, but we continued through counseling as partners in a marriage. It’s not that therapy has kept us married, it’s that therapy has allowed our marriage to thrive. The hours we have spent in counseling have translated to moments of honesty and trust that we had never before experienced with each other. There were some days I left therapy feeling like I was meeting my husband all over again and it was not a terrifying feeling. It felt hopeful.
We’ve accepted that our marriage is not a guarantee.
Dorothy’s death revealed to us that there are timestamps on everything. What we once held with certainty could be a breath away from ending. Our marriage is no exception to this rule. There is no guarantee that we will be married forever, but we’re married now and that’s worth celebrating.
The person we married is not the person we are married to.
When I look at pictures of our wedding day, I see a different man than the one I now know. The man I married was laid back and easy-going, the man I’m married to now is anxious and fiercely protective. He used to be subtle in his affection, but I’m now married to a man who is not afraid of grand gestures. The man that I now share my life with is not devoid of who he used to be, but he has undergone a transformation. He has changed and so has the woman that he married.