Every year, 26,000 babies are stillborn in America. In 2003, one of them was my son.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

After a Stillbirth: How Did Your Marriage Survive?

I'm working on an article on couple communication after a stillbirth for Babies Remembered magazine. It's hard to look back on the two years after Ben died and remember how ineffectively my husband and I communicated. We were both so lost in our grief and unsure how to help each other. Too tired, too worn, sometimes, to even begin to think of helping the other. I'm not proud of that time, not at all.

I stopped speaking to him, other than to say those things truly necessary. I didn't talk to him about how I felt, ask him how he felt: I simply tried to keep moving, to find the future, to stop hurting. I only wanted to stop hurting. Little did I know that by not talking to him, I was making the hurt worse for both of us.

I referenced this study a few months ago, which stated that couples who experience a miscarriage have a 22% higher risk of breaking up over a 15-year period, while those who experienced a stillbirth had a 40% higher risk of breaking up. My reaction to it was: no kidding. But when someone told us something similar 7 years ago, neither one of us believed Ben's death would harm our marriage.

We were so wrong. We've repaired the damage now, but it took a long, long time. Some days the trouble rears its ugly head, the same things we experienced then, and we are thrust back into those dark days of being unable to communicate, if only for a few hours. It's damn hard work, fixing a broken marriage, healing a broken heart.

I wish I had fully realized that men and women grieve differently, I wish I had fully acknowledged that my husband and I were going to go about mourning Ben differently. That his way was not wrong, any more than my way was right. I wish I'd known to keep talking to him, I wish I'd been able to let him break down when he needed to.

Looking back, what do you wish you had known about keeping your partnership intact?

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