Episode 18 - Strengthening Your Marriage after Pregnancy Loss with Matt & Ashley Opliger
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In this episode, Ashley Opliger is joined with her husband, Matt, for a conversation about strengthening your marriage after pregnancy loss. Together, they discuss the struggles they faced in navigating complications in Ashley's pregnancy with Bridget and how they walked together after her death. Matt shares his perspective, as the father and husband, of what grieving has been like for him.
The loss of a baby is one of the most heartbreaking experiences a couple can face in their marriage. However, even in the pain and sadness, there are opportunities to grow closer together. Matt and Ashley's prayer for couples is that they would draw near to God and learn to love and support each other through their grief.
In this episode, Matt and Ashley discussed:
Personality differences and struggles with different perspectives
How men and women grieve differently
Supporting each other in the way we grieve
How Matt bonded with Bridget and what his grief has looked like
The importance of communication and grace in marriage
Using a Marriage Journal to make communication intentional
Questions you can ask your spouse to support them in grief
How the 5 Love Languages helped us love each other better
Why Heaven has given us so much hope
Finding meaning in your baby's life
The impact Bridget has made on our parenting with our boys
Advice for grieving couples from what they've learned
Full transcript below.
Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!
Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)
Matt and Ashley share their struggles in personality differences as well as how men and women grieve differently. What differences do you and your spouse have in the way you grieve? Write out a list of how each of you experience and express your grief.
Matt and Ashley talk about the Marriage Journal and how it's helped them open up communication in their marriage by asking intentional questions every week. Do you feel this would help you? What questions would benefit your marriage? Write them down below or consider buying the Daily Grace Co. Marriage Journal.
Matt shares that learning Ashley's Love Languages helped him better support Ashley in her grief, and vice versa. What is your love language? What is your spouse's love language? Write them below with tangible ways you could show your spouse love in their grief. If you don't know your love language, take the quiz here.
Graphics to share on social media or pin on Pinterest!
MEET OUR GUEST
Matt Opliger is married to Ashley and together they have three children: Bridget in Heaven and two sons on earth.
He is the Vice President of Bridget's Cradles and serves on its Board of Directors. He has a compassion for grieving families and strives to use his time and talents to comfort others through his role in the ministry.
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MEET OUR HOST
Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,090 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
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Episode 18: Strengthening Your Marriage after Pregnancy Loss
with Matt & Ashley Opliger
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast where we believe that the hope of Heaven, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to heal our hearts after the loss of a baby. It’s a pain no mother should have to endure and we want this podcast to be a safe place for your broken heart to land. Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to restore our joy, use our grief for good, and allow us to spend eternity with our babies in Heaven.
I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ clinging to the hope of Heaven. My daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks in my first pregnancy in 2014. In her memory, my husband and I started a nonprofit ministry called Bridget’s Cradles, and God has given us purpose in our pain and we’ve seen beauty come from ashes.
Although we wish you didn’t have a need to be listening to this podcast, we believe God has a reason for you to be here today. We pray this time would be a source of healing for you as we remember that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:01:26] Welcome, and I hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's Day. This month, we wanted to have our focus in our podcast be for couples grieving together, and strengthening your marriage through loss. So Matt and I recorded this episode to share our story and talk about the challenges of grieving differently and how we worked through that to support and love each other through our grief.
I'm so grateful that he was willing to come on and share his perspective as the husband and Bridget’s Dad. I do think this episode would be a good one to listen to with your spouse or to forward along to your spouse so that he can listen to it on his own. It hopefully will open up communication and allow you to talk through the episode and topics together.
This month, we also had a support group for couples online, and we're about to have an in-person one for couples at our headquarters in Kansas. If you're not able to find a couples’ support group where you live, or even if you do find one to attend, we do strongly recommend couples’ marital counseling to walk through grief together.
It is not a sign of weakness, but of strength to get professional Christian counseling. Matt and I have gone to counseling and have found it incredibly helpful. Our ultimate prayer for you is that walking through this pain and the sorrow of losing a child would be an opportunity for you to lean on each other and be able to strengthen your marriage. So let's jump into this conversation with my husband, Matt.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:53] Hey, welcome to the podcast.
Matt Opliger: [00:02:55] Hey, I'm glad to be here with you.
Ashley Opliger: [00:02:57] So, Matt, would you mind introducing yourself for everyone?
Matt Opliger: [00:03:01] Sure, yeah. I'm Matt, husband, father of three, and we've been married for seven years now and have three great kids; obviously Bridget, which is why we started this organization, and then Branton and Brenner.
And I won't get too much into the engineering because I know that's pretty boring probably for most of the listeners, but yeah, I'm an engineer and do a lot of nerdy stuff and research materials and testing.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:25] What kind of engineer are you?
Matt Opliger: [00:03:26] I'm an aerospace engineer, and so I work with materials that are primarily used in aerospace applications.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:33] Wonderful. So we are going to go back to when we first got married, May 3rd of 2014, and shortly after, found out we were expecting. And then shortly after that, I started having complications. And so if you wouldn't mind walking us through my pregnancy and what that was like as a husband and father of our baby and leading up to her birth, and everything that happened after that.
Matt Opliger: [00:04:07] Sure, yeah. So obviously we weren't expecting or trying to have Bridget, but she was such a surprise and a blessing. And we're just really excited at the beginning of your pregnancy. looking forward to meeting her and being with her. And 13 weeks in, you had complications with her and I was just really devastated by those complications and prognosis.
That was definitely quite a roller coaster and quite a struggle with you being on bed rest and there being hope that things would resolve and that she would be okay. And we went to doctor's appointment after doctor's appointment and it just seemed like each appointment, the news got worse, and growth was falling behind, and your complications weren't resolving.
It was definitely a struggle both for me personally, my emotions, because that was my daughter who is struggling, but then also our marriage, and working through that and seeing you struggle emotionally, and just the effect that it had on our marriage, especially there in the beginning months of our marriage.
And we certainly had to stick together, even though I tend to be more of an optimist and you tend to be more of a pessimist. We had some struggles, I think, seeing eye to eye on the prognosis and me always wanting to see the positive and think that the outcome was going to be positive, and even when there may have been some bad news, and then you feeling that the prognosis wasn't good.
And it was definitely a struggle in our marriage for that reason as well as the emotional part of it, of knowing that things weren't looking good.
So you spent many weeks on bed rest and things didn't progress as we had hoped, I think it was like 23 weeks, had some additional complications, and we went to the hospital, and we checked on her, and she was doing okay. But things were continuing to get worse.
And then 24 weeks and five days, I just remember you being in a lot of pain, which you had been in times before, and so I wasn't really sure what was going on. And your mom had come, being a nurse and being able to help because we didn't know what was going on. And I just remember going to work and then getting a call shortly after they were going to the hospital.
I met you there. And it was a pretty scary time. And that's when Bridget ended up being born. At that point, we found out that her heart wasn't beating and were hit with all the grief and the reality of her passing.
Ashley Opliger: [00:06:32] Can we go back to what you were talking about with us processing the news of her prognosis and the complications that I had in my pregnancy, which was a subchorionic hemorrhage and placental abruption?
And basically it was the large hemorrhage behind my placenta, and we were going to all of these high-risk doctor appointments. And as he had mentioned, we just had very different perspectives of what was happening and what we were being told. And that was really hard on our marriage because we would go to the same doctor's appointment and leave feeling very differently and we would leave having a different outlook.
And I remember one particular time we had this high-risk doctor's appointment and we got out to our car and I had to call my family and tell them the news. And what I told my family and then when you called your parents, explained what was happening, the way that you explained it was just so different from the way I explained it, even though we had both heard the exact same thing from the doctors.
And the best way for me to describe it is that there was a ton of bad news shared at the appointment, but they did give us a little glimmer of hope. And I feel like you took that glimmer of hope and that was what you hung onto.
And I just perseverated on all of the bad news and I couldn't even process the glimmer of hope because I was being told that she was severely growth-restricted. The hemorrhage was growing larger, all of these problems. And I felt like in some ways that made me feel really alone because I was so scared and worried for our daughter. And I think you were too, but I think you were just so much more hopeful than I was.
And in some ways, I think that's a good thing, in some ways maybe a bad thing. Would you share more about what that was like for you and for our marriage and how we worked through that?
Matt Opliger: [00:08:26] Sure. As I’d mentioned, it was a struggle because we were literally being presented the same information and then obviously the growth numbers, and a lot of that was not looking very hopeful. But the doctors would always give some hope and say that they've seen babies in this condition or mothers with these complications, these things resolved, but that they didn't know if that would happen or not.
It's just naturally what I clung on to, and I don't know if it's because that's what I wanted to hear or because I didn't want to think of the bad or what it was exactly, but it certainly is a personality trait of both you and me.
And so that dynamic, working through it, I think now that we know that, I think if we went back we would probably handle that differently and probably respect each other’s feelings more and just know that, “Hey, I feel this particular way, but she feels this way and that's okay, that's her personality, but we just need to make sure that whatever we're doing, we're understanding each other and that we're making sure that we're still working together as a team and respecting each other's feelings.”
Ashley Opliger: [00:09:30] Yeah. I think we did recognize it at the time. I think we were aware of how we were processing things differently, but I do think there was just a disconnect in some regards because of how we were choosing to look at it. But I will say that your optimism and your hope, and I had hope too, I was obviously praying for a miracle and trying to look past what the doctors were saying and look past the medical side of things, because obviously we both believe in a God that is capable of miracles. And we both were praying for that and our families were praying for that.
And so I don't want to say that I didn't have hope but I also feel, like you said, that my personality is more of a realist and I was just going off of what they were telling me. But where your personality came in and really helped me was after we found out Bridget’'s gender. It was around 19 weeks when we found out that she was a girl.
And prior to us finding out, we had set up a gender reveal party with our family and our friends. And we had planned it all. We had sent out invitations, people were going to come to our house and the appointment that we went to and found out her gender was also, I think, one of the worst appointments.
It was at 19 weeks, and that was when they were basically telling us that, “We don't know how much longer you're going to be able to stay pregnant. And if she's born too early, we may not be able to save her. And she may not be born alive because of the hemorrhaging,” and all of these issues.
And I left that appointment just absolutely devastated and anxious and worried. And there was just such a mix of joy and grief at the same time, because on one hand, I've just found out that my daughter is a girl and I'm so excited about that, but then on the other hand, finding out all this bad news and wondering, “Am I even going to be able to bring this little girl home?”
And so I was just so depressed and initially wasn't sure that I wanted to do the gender reveal party, but you encouraged us to do it.
Matt Opliger: [00:11:50] I knew either way, even if she didn't survive and she went to Heaven, I knew that. It was still important to celebrate her and her life. And I just thought we would look back on it and really regret not celebrating her in that way.
And so, I mean, I agree it was a good decision to continue with it. And all those memories and photos that we have, memories that we share with our friends and family, I don't know what it would be like if we didn't have those. Those were an important part of our time that we had with her.
Ashley Opliger: [00:12:20] Yeah. I agree.
I feel like that gender reveal party was the only time I can remember having so much joy and really celebrating her, because that was when we knew that she was Bridget. And that was a bonding experience for me to bond with her and connect, and then also celebrate her life.
And being pro-life Christians, we both felt that regardless, whether she was going to go to Heaven or she was going to stay here on earth, she has an eternal soul that will live forever and we wanted to celebrate her. And so I'm really glad that we did that.
I love looking back on those pictures and we have a scrapbook and a Shutterfly album full of those pictures. And I just think that those are a really important part of her life story. And it was bittersweet, I do feel like I did have feelings, even though the predominant feeling that day was joy. I do remember feeling like, “I'm so happy right now. But will I actually get to bring her home,” all those questions in the back of my mind.
And so that was at 19 weeks, and I stayed on bed rest up until 24 weeks, five days. And then, like you mentioned, I went into labor and she was born on October 22, 2014.
And we got to hold her in her little cradle that my mom had made, and we won't go too much into the story of the cradle, but would you share more about what that day looked like for you and what it was like holding her in the cradle and the 24 hours that we got to spend with her?
Matt Opliger: [00:14:00] Yeah. So we left off with the story of your pregnancy at the hospital, w