When I was pregnant with Nora I was worried about how introducing a child into our lives would change the relationship between my husband and me. Nick and I have had a strong loving connection since our first date, after meeting through online dating. We are a perfect match in every way. His calm and cool character balances out my anxious and worried one. My spontaneity and zest for life equalizes out his need for structure and predictability.
Being a mental health therapist that works with parents and their children, my apprehensive mind kicked in and I feared that Nick and I would grow distant in a world revolving around a newborn. Little did I know this would be the least of our concerns. When Nora was born sleeping, at full term, I began to not only fear a life without my daughter, but a life without my husband as well. Right after Nora’s death, I thought that even though Nick and I are perfect parts of a whole, we would never be complete again after such a tragic loss.
As a psychotherapist I was aware of the impact that stressful events put on relationship satisfaction, and hearing the rumor that 80% of couples that experience the death of a child end up divorcing, made me think that this fate would become ours. I know that our parents where worried about the idea of Nora’s death ending our marriage as well. In the hospital, the day after her delivery, I distinctly remember my dad and mom sharing their concerns and encouraging us to “not blame each other for this tragic event,” implying that they shared my fear of the tragedy of divorce.
My fear of experiencing the second loss, a possible divorce, loomed over me, as Nick and I continued to explore our worries of separation in couple’s counseling. Nick shared with me that he was scared that he would lose our relationship and me to depression and guilt, as I have had deep bouts of depression in the past. I shared that I feared Nick would see me as a failure, a woman who could not bring life into this world, an incapable female. After much exploration into research and with the help of our therapist, I learned that the statistic I had heard about couples that lose a child is wrong. Actually according to the Compassionate Friends Survey of Bereaved Parents, only 16% of couples get divorced after a child’s death. Moreover, if your relationship is already healthy, sometimes this experience can bring you closer together. This is what happened to us.
Nick and I found that we were more drawn to each other. The love between us grew. I believe part of this was due to us needing a place to put all of our love that we had for our daughter, so we shared it with each other. In doing so our relationship has been taken to a level deeper than I could have ever imagined. Nick is my partner, husband, and best friend; but he is also my life raft. I know that not all couples in this situation are as lucky. I believe that if Nick and I can make it through such a terrible loss, then we can overcome any challenge we face in the future. But it all takes work.
Through the challenge of child loss, Nick and I have found that in order to keep our marriage healthy and strong we need to put effort into it. More than we did before Nora’s death. Nick and I are more open with our emotions and communication. We started dating again to remember that there is more to our relationship than being bereaved parents. We provide each other with space both physically and emotionally when we need time to heal and understand that we grieve differently and at our own pace. Most importantly we don’t blame each other for the loss of our daughter and find strength in one another as we work towards redefining our roles as parents and partners.
I understand the fear of experiencing a second loss, the end of your relationship, after the death of your child. This was my greatest fear after Nora’s death. However, I have learned that if you have respect for your partner’s grieving process, it is possible to weather the storm of grief under the same umbrella, resulting in being a stronger couple than you were before.