Marriage and the NICU

More than alone time, more than work, more than girls nights out, more than “normalcy”, more than anything – what I missed in the first year of Owen’s life was my husband. Not just being in the same place as each other.  I missed time that didn’t include logistics planning – who is going to make dinner, who is going to take Kellen to school, who is going to stay up to feed Owen, who is going to get up in the morning, who is going to be at the hospital when, which appointments Kyle should try to attend.  I missed our Friday nights after the kids are in bed, each of us having a few drinks and just talking – talking about work, talking about personal and joint goals, talking about taking vacations and the good times on the past vacations.

I don’t say all of this to scare anyone that Kyle and I aren’t doing well.  We both work very hard to make sure that at least once a month we get a date and we’ve gotten much better at reinstating our Friday night ritual of putting the boys to bed and focusing on each other.  We have gotten to know each other and respect each other and love each other on a very different level than we would have, have we not had the challenges of a chronically ill child.  Instead, I want to talk about what we’ve been through, and still work on, because I don’t think enough people do talk about it.

The fact of the matter is, each person handles the stress differently, grieves differently and processes information differently.  Another factor for us is we were always similar – we both worked demanding marketing jobs and were parents.  Now, we no longer understand each other’s lives as well.  Kyle’s career is at a higher level than mine reached.  I no longer understand the day to day demands of his job.  My career became running our house, he no longer understands the day to day demands of my job.  In the past, we intrinsically understood what each other needed.  Today, we have to be explicit and talk through what we need.

I’ve seen statistics that say as many of 90% of marriages that have a child with an extended NICU stay end in divorce.  That number seems too high for me to believe, but I do believe that it’s significantly greater than the national average.   There were times when Kyle and I were merely co-parents and we forgot to be spouses.  Fortunately we had families and friends that recognized we needed to get out together and made sure that we had it happen.  We had Chuck, the chaplain at the hospital that asked the tough questions and had this uncanny ability to ask you a question in such a way that you gave yourself the answers.  Most importantly we saw it in ourselves and called ourselves out on it.  Whether it was a late night chat on the couch or date at a restaurant, we always came back to each other to talk.

Now that we are through, what we hope, is the most logistically demanding time, we aren’t through having to really focus on our marriage – actually, the work is just starting.  We clung on in that first year, now we have the rebuilding.  Our lives have changed, our needs have changed – we now have to build a relationship that will fit our life today.

Fortunately, I still recognize the friend I slowly fell in love with more than seven years ago.  Fortunately, I can’t imagine having gone through the year without him and I know he feels the same.  Fortunately, we have the same dreams and hopes for our families.  Our roles aren’t the same as they used to, but we know that we’re each doing heavy lifting.  We are starting to fall into sync in this new life, but it does require a lot more communication than we needed in the past.

Tonight we’re going out for a lobster dinner using the gift card Sandy gave us two Christmas ago.  I’m sure logistics will come up, but we will also talk about work, personal and joint goals, vacations of the past and start planning that first mom and dad vacation in much too long.

© Copyright Tatum, All rights Reserved. Written For: Ain't No Roller Coaster

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