By Heather Barrow
I married the man of my dreams in 2005. Bennett was kind, intelligent, funny, generous and handsome. I knew he would be a great husband and incredible father to our future children. Our wedding day was filled with joy and I did not envision anything but happy, easy times ahead. The first major trial to our marriage was in 2009 when I was pregnant with my second child. I was placed on complete hospital bed rest for 8 weeks, followed by a 2-week stay for my son Hill in the neonatal intensive care unit. When you are in the middle of a health crisis, it doesn’t occur to you that your marriage could also be at risk. During this time of extreme stress and anxiety for my husband Bennett and I, our three-year marriage was put to the test on a daily basis.
I was admitted to the hospital because my water had broken at 24 weeks and I was unable to get out of bed to do anything, which meant everything I did during the day would now happen in a hospital bed. When I struggled to digest the reality that I would not be getting out of bed for several months, Bennett when right to work. He showed me I could depend on him for anything, from bringing me my toothbrush to changing my bedpans. Bennett did everything in his power to ensure my needs were met so I could focus on our unborn baby, and it worked. Our five-year-old son is now healthy and strong and so is our marriage. Bennett and I emerged from a health crisis with a rock solid marriage and this is how we did it:
1. Put our marriage first. If you are the one who is sick, you may be tempted to pour all of your energy into your health crisis, neglecting your spouse and marriage. While in the hospital, the dynamics of our marriage changed. People constantly surround us, and my prognosis meant that I couldn’t even stand up to hug or kiss Bennett for two months. We both needed to be comforted so we found ways to stay close. We held hands when the doctors gave negative reports and watched TV at night squeezed into my hospital bed. Sustained distance can be devastating to a marriage, so find new ways to stay connected.
2. Be thankful. Bennett could have justifiably used one of many excuses not to spend each night with me in the hospital. We had a two-year-old daughter at home, the hospital was noisy, he had to work, he was exhausted, nurses came in throughout the night and the couch was small and uncomfortable. He stayed every single night and never complained once, because he knew I needed him there and that was enough. I was thankful then for the daily benefit of actually being able to get some sleep with him there, knowing he would be there if we had a 3 a.m. emergency delivery. I am thankful now for the long-term gift of a healthy baby boy. I am grateful for all he did for our family, and he knows it.
3. Recognize the caretaker is in crisis too. Bennett was not the one in the hospital bed but experienced all of the fears, stress and anxiety I did with one exception. He had to juggle everything going on at the hospital with caring for our daughter at home and still show up at 9 a.m. to work. Bennett couldn’t be two places at once and whether he was at the hospital or home, he knew that the person at the other place really needed him. I tried to emotionally support him and ask him how he was doing, even on my bad days, knowing that he may need to talk to someone without being labeled a complainer.
4. Seek counseling. Bennett and I had a difficult time coming to terms with our ordeal after Hill was discharged from the hospital. Some days we still do. Life gets busy and we never saw a marriage counselor, or talked to our pastor. I often regret not seeking help because I think it could have helped with the post-traumatic stress we both experienced from our stay. We dealt with it in other ways on our own, most notably forming High Risk Hope. A professional would have told us the lingering health anxiety was normal and given us ways to cope.
Bennett and I look back on that time now and remember it as a blessing for our family. Not everyone is lucky enough to be put in a situation that forces you to be thankful for every person in your life. Not every new marriage is put to through the ringer. We don’t take each other or our children for granted and have a family mission to help others through our work at HRH. I have a close friend who constantly describes Bennett as a Saint. I couldn’t agree more and know I am blessed to have him. I do not know what bumps are in the cards for our family, but I know what we have already overcome will help us face what lies ahead. If our roles are ever reversed, I hope I can be half the caretaker he was.