Monday, March 03, 2008

One Family Beats the Divorce Odds

While I was doing research for my Disaboom article on marriage, I came across Tina Calabro's story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Authors Counsel Parents with Special Needs Children.

The author, Tina Calabro shared her own journey of handling the bumps in marriage after son was born. She also highlighted an excellent book: Married with Special Needs Children written by Laura E. Marshak and Fran P. Prezant.

Tina and her husband were married six years when their son Mark was born. Her uterus ruptured during the birth and Mark had APGAR scores of 0,2 and 4 and was put on a breathing machine. Mark had an injury to the basal ganglia of his brain and was diagnosed with athetoid cerebral palsy.

"My husband and I were very much in sync around the time of Mark's birth," said Tina. "We were stunned and overwhelmed by what had happened. We cried together and even found ways to laugh together from time to time, even though our situation was unbelievably serious."

Tina shared more:
But we started to have conflict when Mark's situation had stabilized and I began to shift into gear to get him every early intervention support possible. I was driven to do as much as I can to mitigate Mark's serious developmental delays. My husband had a more wait-and-see attitude. "Maybe he won't need all this," he used to tell me. I would just think "are you crazy?" and keep rounding up services. It was so obvious to me that Mark was going to have serious impairment. I felt that I was doing the right thing by plunging ahead, even though my drive to do so was creating a rift between me and Dave.

After about two or three years, the rift had become bigger. Over time, I had become the "expert" on Mark's condition. Dave was a loving father to Mark, but I had assumed this managerial role in regard to the condition. So I guess you could say that I placed myself as a sort of supervisor of my husband's care of our son. Not that I enjoyed that position. I used to wish that Dave could be as driven as I about Mark's therapies. etc.

Tina began to fear that her marriage was headed for divorce. Frustration was escalating between them and they couldn't see eye-to-eye on Mark's care. She sought out counseling with Dr. Laura Marshak and began to explore the reasons why the marriage was unraveling.

"At the time, I felt that Dave and I were headed for divorce because we couldn't get on the same page," Tina recalled. "I was frustrated with him, and I'm sure he was frustrated with me. That's when Laura (Dr. Marshak) said something that turned me completely around. She said, instead of essentially getting rid of Dave (not really 'Dave,' but really the frustration), how about trying to teach him WHY I do the things I do. Teach him the reasoning behind it, etc. Laura told me that from what she was hearing about Dave that he could be trained, so to speak."

At first, Tina recoiled at the suggestion. "I had enough to do without also teaching my husband on the intricacies of our son's condition," she said. "But, upon further thought, I realized that Laura was right. If Dave learned the 'why' of what I was doing, he might come on board."

Counseling helped Tina to communicate with Dave and the two of them began to shift their perspectives and division of care for their son. Dave became fully involved with his son's care and began to specialize in taking care of Mark's technological needs.

Today, Mark is an honor roll student who attends his local elementary school powering along in his wheelchair and using a communication device to connect with the students and teachers.

As for Tina and Dave, they're still together.

Says Tina, "We're celebrating our 20th anniversary this year!"


Juliet said...

Great story! The whole trajectory between this mom and dad mirrors what Joel and I went through. I was the one pushing for therapies, Dad was hoping it would all go away. It was really hard for a while, but fortunately we came to see eye-to-eye without a major rift forming between us.
Thanks for telling the story!

Jodi Cutler Del Dottore said...

Karen...amazing post and important. Thanks for sharing it. Jodi

Kara said...

great post-the odds against the survival of marriages are daunting enough for parents of typical children....I'm glad Jodi shared her honest account with others.