Since our termination, I’ve joined a number of grief and loss-focused groups on Facebook, and it seems one of the top questions that gets asked in those groups centers on how the members manage to maintain their relationships with their spouses or significant others post-loss. The posts tend to go a little something like this:
Please help, I don’t know where to turn. Since our loss, my husband/boyfriend (*note: it’s typically women that are in these groups) has been very distant. It seems like he doesn’t care about the child that we lost or the fact that I’m hurting. I don’t feel like I can talk to him about how sad I am, how I don’t want to even be here anymore without our child. I go to therapy, but he won’t go with me because he says he does’t need to talk about our child. I don’t know what to do. I feel like we’re losing each other at a time when we need each other most. I think we’re on the brink of a divorce; it’s like we’ve just stopped loving each other since our loss. How can we get back to how we were? How do you all do it?
Not all are that extreme, but some are. These women (not all are women, but most are) are desperate. They’re devastated over the loss of their child, and just when life has them at possibly their lowest, the universe kicks them again by driving their lover away, too.
These posts always get me thinking about our marriage and how much it has changed throughout our infertility battle and since terminating Cate.
Peter and I got married in September of 2013. We tried to start a family for two years before we finally found success with donor eggs in the Czech Republic. The year we were going through fertility treatments was a stressful one filled with highs and lows. That summer, after we found out that I likely would never have genetic children, I started seeing a therapist (something I still do today every other week). She has taught me so much about how I communicate with the world, which has informed my communication with Peter.
The day we got the news about Cate’s initial diagnoses, I texted my therapist asking to see her first thing the following week after our follow-up appointment. I told her something was very wrong with one of our babies, that the option of termination was on the table, and that we needed to see her. It was probably only the second time Peter had seen her with me. He now goes with me once a month, and we are constantly working on how to communicate with each other.
We’ve learned, through our infertility and loss, that our communication styles and needs are different. I’m vocal. I need to talk things out, get it out of my brain (obviously…). Peter needs to fix things, and if he can’t fix them, he needs to move on from it. He needs me to tell him when I need him to just listen without trying to fix it. I need him to tell me when I’m being too intense or spiraling too much and he needs me to be more present. We both are such imperfect people, we have so much we need to work on. But through everything, we’ve learned to communicate the things we need the other to work on, and to do that in a way that doesn’t blame the other.
I have seen infertility and loss tear apart some very strong couples, but I have also seen it bring couples closer together in their grief and in their love. I like to think that we’re in the latter group.
Our time spent together has changed, and not just because we have a baby now. Even before Olivia came along, our grief changed the way we related to each other. “Intimacy” for us often consists of simply holding hands in the car, or me propping my feet up on him while we lay on the couch watching a movie.
I’m not in a good headspace for much more most of the time. My grief is too great still, and I apologize to him regularly for just not having it in me to be the romantic wife that he deserves. He doesn’t grieve the way I do, but he knows my process is different, so he accepts that I still need time. How could my love for him not grow as he continually supports me in my grief journey?
Like I said, we’re not perfect people. Far from it. We’re damaged; we’re hurting; we struggle regularly to keep ourselves and our marriage running smoothly. But we do it together, and with a bit of hard work, that’s how we’ll keep doing it for a long time to come.