Hand to Hold's Official Blog: Written by Parents for Parents

What I Learned From Marriage Counseling

Scott and I with our oldest and youngest, three days before NICU discharge.

Counseling.  That wasn’t a word I used, or though of, often.  After all, my husband and I had a great marriage, built on faith, trust and love.  We had weathered some rocky storms – a big move to another state, graduate school, another big move, a miscarriage and the death of his father.  Surely, if we sailed through those, we could sail through anything.

Then I gave birth to our preemie and while only four weeks premature, he was growth restricted and a very petite 3lbs. 9oz. at birth.  Not ideal, but just tell the doctors to put us in the “feeder/grower section” of the NICU.  We’ll be fine.  Really.  Nine days later, our son contracted necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), stopped breathing and endured an emergency transport to the local children’s hospital and underwent immediate surgery.

Yeah, um, we might not just “sail” through that one.  In my darkest hour, the moment we stood over our son’s bed, we wondered aloud if this would be it.  Would we be planning his funeral or rejoicing in a miracle?  Because if it was the latter, we would be okay.  The world of normal would resume and we would be fine.

We were wrong.

That 44-day NICU stay, the laundry list of more bad news about other vital organs and the complete and total world shift we endured would never allow us to go back to normal.  I felt so weak.  I felt like a failure.  I felt inadequate as a mom.  I felt like a horrible wife.  I was considering counseling not because my marriage was falling apart, but because I wasn’t sure I liked what we had to face.  I wasn’t 100% sure I could handle it.  That was a tough realization.

Ultimately, I picked up the phone, set up the appointment and our hearts began to heal.  A new normal emerged.  Some patterns of behavior that could’ve led to something bad were recognized, shared and we began putting one foot in front of the other.  I came to realize that my husband missed me and I missed him, desperately.  Our lives had evolved into a laundry list of specialist reports, daily feeding updates, nightly screaming from our infant preemie who wouldn’t sleep, exhaustion and the arduous task of caring for our four other children.  We had lost the ability to connect, meaningfully, and it took a marriage counselor to help guide us through that process.  I had married a rockstar of a man and had forgotten to be his biggest fan.

We still struggle with finding the right balance, but through things we learned in counseling, our faith and a really awesome babysitter, we’ve started a new chapter of our marriage.  I found that asking for help, while it felt weak, ended up being the strongest choice we ever made.

If you’re considering counseling and need a cheerleader, you can count on me.  I invite you to see it as a step in your own personal recovery from your NICU experience.

Kathryn Whitaker About Kathryn Whitaker

Kathryn Whitaker (TX) is the mother of six (including two 36-week preemies).  Her fifth child was diagnosed with IUGR (intrauterine growth restriction), born at 3lbs. 9oz. and then developed a severe surgical case of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).  He has various medical needs as a direct, and indirect, result.  On her personal blog, Team Whitaker, she writes about what she knows: big families, carpool, kids activities, faith, her beloved Aggies, specialist appointments and sanity checks with her husband.  You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.


  1. Thank you for this post, Kathryn. We started counseling this year too, and it’s been great. The reality of the trauma of premature birth and parenting a special needs child can be rough on any marriage. It is easy to lose focus on each other and the marriage with so many competing priorities, but when the marriage is healthy, it is so much easier to face everything else. Hugs.

  2. Kathryn, Thank you for being willing to share about such a personal topic. You and Scott are a “power” couple — one that exemplifies what it means to have God at the center of your marriage. May He continue to bless your marriage and others through you! Kelli

  3. Thank you, Kathryn, for this important piece. As a NICU social worker and therapist at Stork Support (www.storksupport.com) I have worked with countless couples who have sought counseling during and after their NICU stays and found it very helpful. It is important to note that seeking counseling (whether individual or couples counseling) does not denote a sign of weakness, in fact it’s just the opposite – it’s using your own insight and power to reach out to and ask for help rather than struggle silently. Thank you for demystifying counseling and honestly sharing your own story! I just know it will help others.

  4. What an important post, Kathryn! I think your honestly will help many people. XO

  5. Laura RomeroLaura Romero says:


    What an honest look at a very private but common struggle for many couples. Thank you for sharing your journey


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