Children are a beautiful gift from God. From the day a woman stops seeing her monthly flower to the confirmation that her incessant nausea and hormonal changes mean pregnancy, and then the first cry when the baby is born, the process of making a child can take a life of its own. When they come, they add beauty and colour to a union.

According to a child’s rights advocate, Mrs Mercy Chepaka, children are a two-fold blessing from nature.

By ‘two-fold’ she said they could strengthen a marital union or widen the gap already created by the couples before their arrival.

Mr Michael and Mrs Grace Okonkwo had to wait for 25 years to hold their kids in their hands.

As a Christian couple, Michael said his faith in God was never shaken, as he believed that his children would come.

Although it became difficult when the union clocked 10, he said he still held a firm resolve that God would fulfil his promise to them by blessing them with children.

“It was difficult for us as a family but our faith in God and our love for each other held us together.

“I heard a lot of things from people who claimed they wanted to help but I kept my hope alive that it is only in God that we can have the best out of life,” Michael told Sunday PUNCH in an interview.

Even when his wife, Grace, stopped seeing her menses as she approached menopause and after many miscarriages and a failed IVF procedure, Michael said he still believed that there was nothing too hard for God to do.

When news came that Grace was pregnant again, and this time, with triplets, the joy of the family knew no bounds.

Michael said it made him love his wife more and trusted God for a stronger union, even as he planned to welcome his kids.

The kids finally came and Michael said it had been all joy for him and his wife to jointly take care of them.

“It has strengthened our union even more in Christ as one big family,” he added.

For other families, this may not be the case, as children have been seen to melt the very bridge that connects a husband to his wife.

Most times, either party abandons the other and clings to the kids, causing the union to suffer.

There have been cases where children have caused families to fall apart.

That was the case of a 34-year-old teacher, whom this reporter spoke to anonymously because of the sensitivity of the matter.

She said when she gave birth to her first child, now seven years old, she felt her husband’s attention ‘drifting’ towards the girl.

Thinking it was post-partum depression, she gave herself to therapy but, according to her, nothing changed.

“At a point, it felt like my daughter was rivalling my husband with me. My husband would put her in the middle of our bed even though she had a cot. He would wake up every hour to check on her and even change her diaper.

“If the baby cried, he would be restless. I can’t count the number of times he had to wake me to join him to stay awake and care for the baby. I began to feel unloved.

“I even had to discuss with a friend who said I should meet our pastor’s wife. She (pastor’s wife) called for a meeting, and during the discussion, it became clear that my husband cherished my daughter more than me,” the source said.

She also noted that her husband stopped making love to her after the baby came.

When he eventually did, according to her, she felt no affection. She felt the walls of the marriage falling apart but, for her, she was too helpless to do much.

When she gave birth to another child, she claimed it became worse as her husband would even spend nights in the children’s room and not theirs.

She claimed to have confronted him but he dismissed it, saying she was being ‘overly dramatic and sensitive’.

In a post she made on an anonymous thread on Facebook, she begged for advice, as she said she had made up her mind to leave the marriage so her husband would ‘marry the kids’.

Chepaka, speaking on the matter, said it is normal for women to feel ‘abandoned and alone’ when they give birth to children.

For her, it is worse when the child is a girl, as, according to her, fathers are more attached to their female children and mothers to their male children.

“This is a psychological principle and, over time, we have seen it play out in many homes. If not curtailed, it can lead to serious issues, as the wife can feel neglected and uncared for. The husband, on the other hand, can also feel that the wife has left all wifely responsibilities and is now only concerned with the children.

“The sex drive of the woman drops, as her attention is now divided between caring for herself, her kids and her husband, in that order,” she added.

However, Chepaka noted that effective communication and concerted efforts from the party that noticed the breakdown could draw the attention of the other.

But, according to her, this must be done cautiously so the guilty party would not take it as a pre-planned attack on their person and parenting style.

“New parents always have these issues. They get so engrossed in caring for their children that they forget that they are married.

“Both parties need to come to an agreement to put their union first before their children. It may be difficult when the children are younger, but it is achievable.

“The children can have their own room, or a crb by the side of the couple’s bed till they turn age two and can now sleep in a room of their own.

“Children should not sleep on the same bed as the parents if they are not sick or require any special care,” she stated.

When children are kept away at night during bedtime, Chepaka said couples can have the time to discuss, bond and make ‘sweet love’ thereby rekindling lost time.

She, however, mentioned that most couples begin to ‘lose themselves’ when children begin to come.

“They would no longer call themselves the pet names they used to. Their dress sense changes and becomes more archaic. They become too relaxed, forgetting that they are still in a marriage.

“Sometimes, if the woman is a housewife, she will not brush her teeth, make her hair and change her clothes all day till her husband returns from work to see her with a wrapper around her chest. When he confronts her, she will say she has been very busy taking care of the home. How will that marriage still work?” she queried.

Chepaka urged women to make sure they continually ‘show up’ for themselves, adding that it can take extra effort to do so.

Another life coach, Mr Noah Etiaba, said couples should invest in games that do not just celebrate family ties but bring both husband and wife together as one.

For home, a family picnic can be held once or twice a year but couples should learn to go out alone without the children as the marriage grows.

This, according to him, will bring back the lost spark of the marriage and make them see what they first saw in each other before they said ‘I do’.

He said, “Children are a blessing, so they must not be allowed to choke the union that birthed them. If you need to explain to an over-indulging father how your eight-year-old daughter’s presence in your matrimonial bed makes you uncomfortable, do so in love.

“He may not know it is not right. He may think it is him bonding with his kids. Women are the most hit when it comes to marital neglect after kids. Most men, if they had a poor perception about marriage, would go outside and meet other women, which is wrong and should be discouraged if the marriage has to grow.”

Etiaba noted that regular exercises for the woman to burn accumulated fat and health checks for the man to work on libido and stamina should also be encouraged.

Spacing the children, the life coach noted, could also be a good way to build a lost family spark.

However, he said this should be according to pre-discussed plans between both parties.

He also advised parents not to take sides when a child does wrong, as it may begin to breed contempt.

“The children belong to both parties so when they do wrong, they should be corrected by both parents in love. This way, when the couple retires to bed at night, they will not look at each other as enemies,” he said.

Etiaba also advised that love-making and shows of affection should not be a night thing.

He urged couples to be ‘adventurous and break the rules’ if they wanted to spark up their unions.

“Couples can decide to spend days off work to go on a short trip while the kids are shipped off to grandma or grandpa’s place. If they need to invite a distant aunt for those days, they can do so. If the first child is grown up enough to take care of the home, then he/she should.

“Teach your children not to barge in on you in your room, as it is always advised to keep the door locked. Don’t leave one party to do all the chores. Contributing to the chores can make the other party feel loved. Sometimes, it is okay for the man to cook and surprise the family. It can build beautiful memories in the minds of the wife, making her open up more during lovemaking,” he said.