I started to write this post in my head weeks ago. Not only had I recently experienced a holiday season after pregnancy loss, but I had actually had a miscarriage during the holidays. Who better to write about surviving the holidays after loss than someone like me?
Well, if you ask my imposter syndrome, it’ll say “not me.”
I started to doubt myself. How are you supposed to write about surviving the holidays after loss when the only way to do that is to fight tooth and nail through every moment, every event, every memory to not think about the person (or people) that you just want here?
Christmas is literally centered around children. The hope, the wonder, the anticipation. The true meaning of Christmas is centered around a baby. Christmas is essentially a holiday for children, made possible by mothers. To not think of the baby you lost is near impossible.
This is why this is a survival guide.
Sometimes you don’t cherish every moment during the holidays. You don’t lean in to being “merry and bright.” You don’t watch every movie, or receive every present on your list. Sometimes you just are present. And that’s okay.
Sometimes surviving the holidays after pregnancy loss is just that; surviving.
So if that was enough, no need to go on, dear reader. But if you could use a few more suggestions for your back pocket, this survival guide is my gift to you.
When your family doesn’t acknowledge your loss:
If I’ve said it once, I’ll say it 5,000 times:
You cannot, and will not, remind a bereaved parent of their loss.
They’re well aware. Avoiding bringing up the baby’s name, absence or sheer existence deepens the misconception that pregnancy loss should be kept silent. But I don’t need to tell you that, do I?
- talk to your family in advance: I’m a big boundary-setting girl. Send a text ahead of time; “hey, I know everyone might feel uncomfortable talking about Jack, but I’m having a hard time without him and it helps me to talk about him. Please feel free to check in at dinner tomorrow.” They might need your lead on this one.
- set the stage: speaking of, you might have to be the one to spearhead this conversation. Being open and truthful when people ask you how you are can give them the signal that they need to step in or even be more present.
- give them grace: I know, not what you want to hear. If you’re close, remind yourself that they’re most likely grieving too. They might be too involved in that or simply don’t know what to say to you. I have another post on that here (maybe send it in the text in advance??).
When you see “happy families” on social media:
The quotes are there for a reason.
What you see on social is a highlight reel.
What you don’t see in McKayleigh’s “perfect” family photo is the bribery, screaming and wardrobe malfunctions between her 3 cherubic-looking children and a handful of “tiffs” (because they don’t fight, reader! They’re just so solid! He is her rock!!! I digress) with her husband in the middle of it all. Somewhere in this mass chaos, the photographer got everyone to look in the same general direction, and boom – you have a Christmas card. (Also, photoshop helps.)
Recently, a co-worker I just met told me she was pregnant with baby number 3. Since she was so lax about sharing her 4 week old pregnancy with a borderline stranger, I quickly assumed she had the luxury of going through both of her prior pregnancies without worry.
“It’s so unfair,” I said to a friend later as I scrolled my co-worker’s Facebook, “some people just get to get pregnant and know they’ll get a baby out of it. I seriously wonder what that feels like.”
I came to find out that this co-worker indeed was not only worried about this pregnancy (honestly shameful I ever assumed otherwise – everyone worries about their pregnancies), but also had suffered a miscarriage at 7 weeks with her first. I found all of this out because she started spotting at work and confided in me.
Excuse me while I eat my words.
All this to say, if you think you know what someone is going through, you don’t. These families you see online have stories behind them you would never expect.
So when you see that Christmas card with the 3 babies and that rock-solid hubby, who knows? They might be trying for another baby, going through IVF, or reeling from a loss…just like you.
When you feel guilty celebrating the holiday without them:
I want you to think about the sweet baby you’re missing. Maybe there’s one. Maybe there’s few all hanging out together.
Now, think of these babies and how they only knew your body as their home on earth. How they were comforted by your voice and your touch because that’s all they ever knew.
Think of how much they love you just because of what I said above. (Because it’s true, mama! They’re your babies!)
Now, imagine your baby watching you refuse to enjoy these moments of happiness, especially during this time of year. You are allowed to miss them, this is 100% true.
But to stifle your own joy because you think you “shouldn’t” feel happy is an unnecessary expectation to put on yourself. Your babies love you. They want you to find joy again.
Remember them AND put up the decorations.
Remember them AND go to the holiday party.
Remember them AND get together with family. Odds are they’ll want to be remembering them too.
When you just want them here:
Cry, scream, punch pillows, throw the eggnog (jk, be careful), whatever you need. Then take a breath and find a way to make it feel like they’re here:
- hang an ornament or a stocking in their honor: This is a great way for families to include angel babies in their traditions. I have an ornament with Anthony’s ultrasound picture and a wooden ornament with his name on it close to each other on the tree. Sometimes I’ll hold my daughter and show her the picture as we pass the tree and say hi to her brother.
- do some good: donate to a charity in their name, do random acts of kindness, go out of your way to compliment someone; whatever it may be, spreading kindness when you feel hurt can turn your day around and hopefully turn someone else’s day around too.
- talk to them: sounds creepy, but I promise it’s worth a shot. I talk to Anthony when I’m in the car sometimes. I fill him in on what’s going on and how much I miss him. It hurts and I usually end up crying, but I realize in the end it’s because I needed it somehow. A moment of connection with your baby and the opportunity for a little peace.
So whether you’re facing your first holiday season without your baby or your 30th, be sure to take care of yourself and give yourself space to grieve. Step out if you need to during events and know that some days will be harder than others. And if all you’re doing is surviving the last week of December, trust me when I say you are not alone.
Merry Christmas, mama.