How has the death of your child affected your marriage/relationship?
I was recently asked this question and it got me thinking…How has it changed? People always tell me, “Man, after going through what you guys have been through, I know that you two can survive anything!” That’s encouraging, but how much can you really take before it becomes TOO much? Since I’ve pretty much been open thus far with my blog, I figured why should I stop now? Here goes…
From the start, James and I both wanted a family. We got married knowing that we were going to try and build our family while we were still very young (early 20s). There was so much excitement and hope. We didn’t have a care in the world, and nothing else mattered. We weren’t concerned with having a huge income – what we had was sufficient. All we wanted was a happy marriage and a child or two to go along with it. Life was great, and the idea of trying for a baby was all that we talked about. Once we got to our first duty station, we immediately tried for that child, and got the great news 2 months later! This was it! Sure, there were critics out there who thought we were too young and clearly not up for the challenge, but we didn’t let that get to us. We knew what we wanted, and we knew we were ready. Unfortunately, tragedy struck, and life took a turn from the path we thought we were going to be on. All our hopes and dreams were shattered, but at least we had each other!
This is where that question about our marriage after loss begins…
After Jake’s death, we definitely grew closer. We leaned on each other, as we grieved the loss of our son. No one else could comprehend how we felt – the emptiness, the sadness, the devastation. We both knew that we could count on each other for comfort, even though we grieved in totally different ways. He never expected anything out of me on the days that I couldn’t function, and I understood when he had days of just wanting to be alone. It just worked. We made it work.
As time went by, we talked more and more about what we wanted for the future – another child. We knew that timing was not right, so we were going to enjoy life until it was. We took that time to travel Europe and create the honeymoon that we never had. It was a great year with lots of enjoyable memories – mixed with sadness and thoughts of how it would be if Jake would’ve been there. There was hope. There was excitement for things to come.
Once the time was right, we agreed that we were both ready to try for that rainbow baby – the healthy child after a loss. We were so full of excitement and love, but still a little hesitant. But even with that hesitation, deep down, we felt like this was the right thing to do, at the right time. Just like with Jake, we got pregnant after two months. I was on cloud nine, but James was much more apprehensive. He was excited, but terrified at the same time. He even went as far as to say that he wasn’t going to get his hopes up. He was going to believe it was real when we had a crying baby in the delivery room. That was hard to hear, but I understood that we needed to deal with this in our own way. While I refused to let our history affect the happiness and hope that this new pregnancy brought, James went into it with much more caution.
Unfortunately, James’ reaction to the new pregnancy was probably a smart one. A week after we got the awesome news, we miscarried that second child (which we named, Jordan Skye). The devastation was back. The horror was being repeated, but in a totally different way. We received shocking comments lacking serious compassion and empathy. We were in a different place, but yet not. How could this have happened? Once again, we leaned on each other. Once again, I was swallowed up by the depths of despair, and James was there to comfort me – at least for the week before his deployment. I was there to show him love, while he grieved in his own way – all the while, preparing for a second tour in Iraq. We needed each other more than ever. Not only did we lose our second child, but we were about to embark on another long separation. How could we get through it, if not on the same page? We held strong, and held out hope for the future once again. We told ourselves that once he returned from Iraq, we would try for that *second* rainbow baby, and that God was surely going to bless us.
Fast forward two years, after many trials, arguments, days of sadness due to missing our two babies, and changes in our lives (ETSing from the Army, moving to our hometown, finishing my degree, rejoining the Army, etc.), we decided that the time was right and we were going to try again. We still agreed on what we wanted out of life. A family was of top priority and everything else could wait. Unfortunately, God had other plans. Month after month passed (adding up to over a year!) and we continually received a BFN. What were we going to do now? All I could think about was that family that we both wanted and yearned for it.
After months of stress and frustration, we sought out a specialist. I mean, maybe I couldn’t get pregnant. Maybe something happened as a result of the miscarriage and the poor care that I received at the Army hospital that caused something to go wrong to where there was no chance of a third pregnancy. Maybe James was exposed to something downrange that would prevent us from getting pregnant. We didn’t know what to think, but we weren’t going to wait for several more years, only to be in the same place we were then. I don’t know if it really brought comfort or not, but after both being tested, we were told that there was absolutely nothing wrong with us. We were relieved to hear it, but somewhat frustrated, as we didn’t understand why we weren’t getting pregnant. We never blamed each other for our infertility issues, but that didn’t mean our stress didn’t get the best of us at times. Luckily, we were still ultimately reliant on each other in our darkest moments, so we always drew closer during those times. Sure, there were arguments and questions that would arise, but we couldn’t imagine going through this alone. We needed each other. No one else could even grasp what we were feeling. Only the two of us knew how the other felt, and knew how to comfort each other. Ultimately, there was no question as to whether or not our marriage would fail because of this. We refused, and wouldn’t allow it.
Since we still weren’t getting pregnant and had no answers, but desperately wanted that family, we decided that maybe adoption was the direction we should take. After talking it through and praying about it, we went ahead and contacted a few adoption agencies -- as well as the state foster-to-adopt program. We figured that maybe this was where God wanted us to be. We were slowly getting excited about the idea and imagining where our lives would be if we took this path. We went as far as to meet with the WA state social worker who deals with the foster program and filled out paperwork. I was getting excited. Even though James was soon going to deploy again , I could at least prepare for the home study and finish up the process. It was becoming real that maybe we would soon be able to bring a child into our home and have that family that we always dreamed of…even if it wasn’t going to happen in exactly the way in which we thought it would.
Well, much to our surprise, after going through all of that, we shockingly received a BFP! What the heck?! After all of the stress, the worry, the prayers, etc…we were pregnant again! Neither of us could believe it. We were so excited. Unlike with our short pregnancy with Jordan, James didn’t have any hesitation this time around. We felt like God had answered our prayers, and we were going to soak up every moment that we had with this new child. With preparing for a tour in Afghanistan, we agreed that we were going to do as much as we could to involve James before he left. We started the baby registries early, even though we knew that was risky. I wanted James to experience as much as he could with this new pregnancy! There was so much happiness and excitement in the air. The depression subsided, and we were totally in love with this new baby. The hope that surrounded the situation helped ease the stress of the goodbyes that we had to do when James left for his year overseas. We could do it. We could handle another year away from each other – at least we had this new pregnancy to keep us going!
The next 8 months flew by. James was busy overseas, while I was busy keeping this baby safe in my belly. I laid low, took every possible precaution that I could so as not to risk ANYTHING with the pregnancy, and had the doctor on speed dial. With each week came more excitement for both of us. Every time James called, the conversations were joyful, as I was able to tell him more and more about his daughter. He was so incredibly excited, as was I. Once we past the 36 week mark, we knew it was just a matter of time before we were going to be holding our baby girl in our arms – restoring that hope that we had been holding out for, for so long.
It was just a couple days later when our world came crashing down AGAIN. I couldn’t believe it. I was in utter shock when our doctor told me those awful, terrible words, “ I’m sorry, but there is no heartbeat” What was I going to do? James was half a world away, and here I was about to deliver ANOTHER stillborn baby. How could this happen? All I wanted to do was cry, but ultimately, I wanted to be in James’ arms. Throughout our losses, and ultimately our marriage, he has always been there to comfort me and I needed that now more than ever.
In those early days after Livy’s death, we were stressed. We were depressed. We were near-suicidal. But in the midst of all of those emotions, we were together. We had each other. James said before Livy’s funeral that things could’ve been worse – he could’ve lost me, too. To know that he needed me, and I needed him…I think that helped us in the grieving process. I wanted to hold on to him and not let go. Knowing that he had to leave again to go back overseas was the worst feeling I could bear at that moment.
With every loss, we have relied on each other for strength. The only problem is that during the first two losses, our goals and dreams remained the same. Unfortunately, Livy’s death changed us a little more. My goals and dreams didn’t change, but James’ did. He always said he didn’t think if we lost a third child, he would be able to handle another pregnancy. I always agreed with him, but now that we’re in those shoes, I feel differently. I still go back and forth (obviously, if you read my blog, you’d see that), but ultimately, I still want to try again. I still have that burning desire to have a family of our own – a healthy one, not one in the grave. James, on the other hand, would prefer if we just called it a day and were done. He would rather make lots of money, and just enjoy life as just the two of us at this point. That sounds great, but I still feel a severe emptiness that just having the two of us will not fill. Because of that, more tension has risen among us. We’re still not on the verge of divorce, but there is definitely more disagreements and distance than there ever was after the deaths of Jake and Jordan. I guess it’s no surprise how high the divorce rates are relating to families that endure the death of a child. The stress, the sadness, the emptiness…it can easily pull people apart in totally different directions!
I am saddened when I read of another angel family losing out to the big D, but I’m almost not surprised. It’s just so hard, and unless you’ve been through it, you can’t comprehend the effects of it. The only thing James and I can do is still hold on to our open communication, and listen when the other talks. I know that will get us through all of this, and ultimately bring us out ahead. As long as we still lean on each other, we will survive this awful nightmare. We just have to find that compromise, as our wishes and hopes change after each loss…