World Prematurity Day is this week and it hits home for us. This year I thought that instead of giving you our own personal view I would call in clinical psychologist David B. Younger, Ph.D to share his expertise on an aspect of pre-term birth that isn’t often talked about. Sometimes having a sick baby can be so stressful that the parents break up. Today David gives some advice on how to have Love After Kids.
World Prematurity Day is November 17. Here are some sobering facts about premature births from the March of Dimes*:
- Pre-term birth complications outranked all other causes as the number one killer of young children.
- More than 15 million babies a year are born pre-term and more than a million die as a result.
It is good to see that individuals and organizations are working on awareness and prevention, but what tends to get lost or to be seen as secondary is the impact on a couple’s relationship when they go through the immense stress of pre-term births and pre-term birth complications.
Having a baby is often tremendously stressful for couples. Yes, it’s magical and life-changing, but it is also a vast unknown that no number of books can prepare us for. No single experience is as existence-altering as bringing another being into the world.
Pre-term births are often unplanned and result from complications in the pregnancy. That means that the last trimester, which is when we are really digging in and getting ready practically and emotionally, is cut short and the entire process becomes under threat.
For expecting parents, this shock is loaded with fears, anxieties, unknowns and projections. Suddenly, the rug has been pulled out from under us, exposing a fragile foundation that we always took for granted as being solid and stable.
Stress hormones increase. It becomes harder to sleep, concentrate and make clear decisions. Time slows down in the worst way. It’s just utter helplessness and vulnerability.
People handle situations like this in all sorts of ways. Some people just switch off emotionally and focus on problem-solving. Some turn to prayer and religion. Others become overwhelmed.
It’s common under extreme stress, especially when both members of the couple are experiencing the stress, to go into survival mode, which makes it much more difficult to have the energy or space to comfort each other.
The intensity of the situation can create distance between people. It can create more irritability, which leads to more arguing. It’s like a bomb being dropped on the relationship. You regain consciousness from the explosion and so many things have changed.
Here are some things that I would encourage any couple to do in this situation:
1. This is a time to ask for help and support from loved ones for things like meals, babysitting (if you already have a child) and other daily activities.
2. As challenging as it is, try to stay present and deal with what is happening today versus projecting into the future. Our minds will take us there if not kept in check.
3. You need each other now more than ever. Check in with each other multiple times a day to see what’s going on and how you’re feeling.
4. Make it a priority to take care of each other and give each other breaks and not let anyone else impose things on you.
5. You need to make sure you get rest and sleep at night. If that means going to your doctor to get a temporary prescription to help you sleep, so be it. The same goes for basic nutritional needs. If you neglect these things, it will make it that much harder to weather the storm.
6. There’s only so much that is in our control. If you find yourself thinking or focusing on something that is completely out of your control, try to bring yourself back to what you can change.
7. Meeting with a therapist with experience dealing with pre-term births would be helpful.
9. Don’t be complacent or assume you can do it on your own, or that you should do it on your own.
The bottom line is that there are certain things that we can do to put a support system in place and take better care of ourselves and each other, but there is no magic bullet here. Most pre-term births are traumatic experiences. It is crucial to acknowledge that.
No matter how much you love each other, it will have an impact on your relationship. Different issues will arise throughout the process that will need to be addressed. Impulsive, irrational responses will be more likely to get expressed. Your skin will be thinner and your heart more exposed.
When we embark on the voyage of parenthood, it is impossible to prepare and plan for everything that can happen. Becoming a parent puts us in touch with the tenuousness of existence in such a unique and profound way.
As lonely as it can feel, clearly by looking at the statistics, you’re not alone. The more support you can get, the better. For anyone reading this that has been impacted by a pre-term birth, I wish you peace, acceptance, forgiveness, healing and to be surrounded by lots of love.
David B. Younger, Ph.D is the creator of Love After Kids, helping couples with their relationships since having children. He is a clinical psychologist and couple’s therapist with a web-based private practice and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. David lives in Austin, Texas with his wife, two kids and toy poodle. You can also follow David on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and G+.