What I Learned From Marriage Counseling

June 4, 2012

Scott and I with our oldest and youngest, three days before NICU discharge.

Counseling.  That wasn’t a word I used, or though of, often.  After all, my husband and I had a great marriage, built on faith, trust and love.  We had weathered some rocky storms – a big move to another state, graduate school, another big move, a miscarriage and the death of his father.  Surely, if we sailed through those, we could sail through anything.

Then I gave birth to our preemie and while only four weeks premature, he was growth restricted and a very petite 3lbs. 9oz. at birth.  Not ideal, but just tell the doctors to put us in the “feeder/grower section” of the NICU.  We’ll be fine.  Really.  Nine days later, our son contracted necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), stopped breathing and endured an emergency transport to the local children’s hospital and underwent immediate surgery.

Yeah, um, we might not just “sail” through that one.  In my darkest hour, the moment we stood over our son’s bed, we wondered aloud if this would be it.  Would we be planning his funeral or rejoicing in a miracle?  Because if it was the latter, we would be okay.  The world of normal would resume and we would be fine.

We were wrong.

That 44-day NICU stay, the laundry list of more bad news about other vital organs and the complete and total world shift we endured would never allow us to go back to normal.  I felt so weak.  I felt like a failure.  I felt inadequate as a mom.  I felt like a horrible wife.  I was considering counseling not because my marriage was falling apart, but because I wasn’t sure I liked what we had to face.  I wasn’t 100% sure I could handle it.  That was a tough realization.

Ultimately, I picked up the phone, set up the appointment and our hearts began to heal.  A new normal emerged.  Some patterns of behavior that could’ve led to something bad were recognized, shared and we began putting one foot in front of the other.  I came to realize that my husband missed me and I missed him, desperately.  Our lives had evolved into a laundry list of specialist reports, daily feeding updates, nightly screaming from our infant preemie who wouldn’t sleep, exhaustion and the arduous task of caring for our four other children.  We had lost the ability to connect, meaningfully, and it took a marriage counselor to help guide us through that process.  I had married a rockstar of a man and had forgotten to be his biggest fan.

We still struggle with finding the right balance, but through things we learned in counseling, our faith and a really awesome babysitter, we’ve started a new chapter of our marriage.  I found that asking for help, while it felt weak, ended up being the strongest choice we ever made.

If you’re considering counseling and need a cheerleader, you can count on me.  I invite you to see it as a step in your own personal recovery from your NICU experience.