Giving birth prematurely can be a terrifying experience, and one that can place a heavy strain on your marriage. Many first-time parents have yet to grow accustomed to the demands that raising an infant will require of them, as individuals and as a couple working together for the greater good, and a premature baby only intensifies those demands. The following are a few of the affects you may feel after the birth of your preemie.
Working through loss. No one expects that their child will be premature. Though you might not have been aware of it, you undoubtedly had very specific expectations about the course your pregnancy would take, and these probably didn’t include a visit to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (or NICU). Suddenly your predictions for the way the birth would go have given way to a frightening new reality, and you’re left with confusing feelings of guilt, anxiety, and fear. This leads to grieving for the loss of what was expected (even though the baby has survived) for both partners. It is important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way. Open communication is essential, even if it hurts to talk about your feelings.
Coping strategies. Just as everyone has different ways of grieving, both partners will probably express different ways of coping with the new baby and the difficulty of caring for him or her. These differences can be an advantage, even if it seems that they are conflicting. If one parent expresses a sunny outlook while the other seems more realistic, you should work together to understand that both these attitudes are beneficial for the baby.
Different roles. It can be difficult for you if you perceive that your partner is unwilling or unable to take on all the responsibilities that come with caring for your fragile newborn. It is easy for one or both parents to become overwhelmed. Therefore, it is essential that both partners attempt to share the variety of responsibilities as equally as possible while communicating about difficulties or resentments they may be feeling. Remember that neither you nor your partner are telepathic: you have to tell each other what you’re thinking and feeling. Don’t just expect that they’ll know instinctively.
Redefinition. As you both work toward a mutual goal – caring for and understanding your new baby, with all the responsibilities inherent in that caring – you will find that your marriage has begun to change. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You will both begin to change: embrace it. Remember the “for better or for worse” part of your vows? You’ll be tested on that part. It’s important to your marriage that you not fail. Redefining your relationship will only make it stronger.
The future. Continued communication is essential in order to help you understand your partner, your child, and yourself as well. This can be difficult, and requires you to deal with your own issues while simultaneously accepting your partner’s and the health of your preemie. Practicing these strategies is how to make a relationship last despite any obstacles.