Well, it's official.
According to today's "Motherlode" blog at the NYT titled "Breaking Up After Miscarriage" (sign-in may be required), a Michigan Study (discussed here and) published in Pediatrics (Abstract) claims that couples who experience a miscarriage are 22% more likely to break up.
More pertinent to those who read here: Those who experience stillbirth (they say nothing of neonatal death or late-term termination as causalities, but I imagine the same applies) "had a 40 percent higher risk of their relationship ending."
Impressively, the study ran for 15 years, and contains information for 7,700 couples. It concludes that "for a miscarriage, the risk persists up to three years after the loss. For stillbirths, it persists up to nine years after the loss, according to research data."
My husband and I are one of those crazy couples that met the first week of college. We dated (at times long distance) for eight years until we moved in together, and another five until we got married. This summer we'll celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary, and our 23rd year as a couple.
Our miscarriage way back in '02 didn't threaten our marriage. At least not in the immediate "holy shit" sense. The almost two years of infertility that encompassed the miscarriage was a bit . . . well, let's say it wasn't all rosepetals. We remained quite candid with each other about what was going on, and I guess we always thought "If we can pregnant once, certainly . . . " That is to say: there was hope. Even when the timed sex and timed vacations and the constant onslaught of pregnancy announcements filling our mailbox got old, we felt we were in it together and eventually, with enough time or money or pharmacology, it would happen.
And it did.
So even though Maddy's pregnancy rather sucked, as a couple I felt at the time of her birth that we were fine. Sure, he had been overworked for months, and I was at the end of my rope with exhaustion and longed for him to be home for a few hours, but that would come now with the baby, right?
We went through Maddy's week on earth with the same simpatico used to renovate our kitchen or purchase art together: an occasional opinion might sail slightly adrift, but eventually the other person followed. There were no raised voices, no conflicts, no epithets -- at least at each other. More often than not, we were exactly on the same page, if not the same sentence. In fact, when the doctors said they wanted to take a tissue sample of Maddy while she was alive, I wanted to ask a question and couldn't get a word out of my mouth I was choking so hard on vomit/tears. My husband simply turned to the doctor and asked, "Is there a risk she could die while she's under?" which is exactly what I was going to ask. I have no idea to this day how he knew what I was going to say. Deciding whether and when to take her off life support was less a decision than a shared feeling. Not just the same sentence, the same words. It was time.
I thought we were strong going into this, we had never had problems, and I wouldn't have described our marriage as anything other than strong and happy. And yet about ten days after Maddy's death, I made a phone call to a therapist for the both of us. I could no longer speak. I could no longer get off the couch. And given everything I had ever read in popular literature or seen in a movie or a bad Lifetime tv special, we were doomed to fail. Hell if I was going to lose my husband along with my baby.
In retrospect I don't think therapy saved our marriage. Was it good for our marriage? Absolutely -- it's always good to have an hour set aside to discuss what's eating you with a neutral sounding board in the room so you don't end up throwing the piles of poo at each other. I think we're just one of those couples that came in with fairly good communication skills and a rather solid marriage and needed some reminding and nudging and support. Not to mention four walls, an uninterrupted hour, and a sense of safety and security discussing the worst thing that had ever happened to either of us, as individuals let alone as a couple.
I guess I'm one of those people that looks at this study and on the one hand, I'm thinking I should probably not be so naive as to not check my husband's email or text messaging some time; and on the other I'm not wholly surprised nor am I afraid. I think I feel that your mutual experience of a trauma as a couple is only as stable as what you bring into it. That is, I'd like to see if these stats are much different for couples who experience financial ruin, for example. And that if you're not communicating horribly well, it probably takes far less than a miscarriage to start to fray at the edges.
Sadly though, according to this study, there's still time. Six more years, in fact, of an increased risk for hubby and I. So I can either wring my hands, or fling myself into it. We can continue to talk -- or not. We often find ourselves -- humorously -- asking each other how we "feel" about certain things, in our best therapist voices. But even though it's brought up with a smile, we are asking the question, aren't we? I feel as though we've been tried by fire, and made it through.
At least, so far.
How would you describe your marriage before and after the death of your child(ren)? Are you a couple that's finding it difficult to work through this particular tragedy, or is it one of those things that you feel will make you stronger? Did you do anything as a couple after babyloss that you feel helped you (or in retrospect, do you wish you had done something)? How far out are you, and does the above study's extended timeline of risk worry you? Please reply anonymously if you need to.