This article first appeared on Doing Life Together.
Shortly after Carly, my first child, turned a year old, we discovered I was pregnant again. After the initial shock, Greg and I were delighted, looking forward to a new baby in January, and joking that we hoped he or she would come in December, so we’d have an extra tax deduction.
But after a few months, our delight turned into concern. I never felt the baby move. The doctor could never find the baby’s heartbeat.
At my 20-week checkup, the baby measured slightly smaller than the month before. My little one was dead, and my body had started reabsorbing him/her. Despite my request for a Caesarian delivery or an induction, I was advised it would be safer for me to just wait and let nature take its course.
In the meantime, I still looked pregnant. That meant that when I went grocery shopping or took Carly to the park, people commented on my coming blessed event. Not wanting to explain what had really happened to casual acquaintances and perfect strangers, I accepted their good wishes with a smile and a nod, though I was crying inside. Two weeks later I went into labor, and delivered in a hospital room. I chose not to see my baby; he or she will always be an anonymous angel to me.
When the holidays approached, all I could think about was how I’d expected to almost have a babe in arms by that time. I’d envisioned myself as a radiant madonna, creating a beautiful Christmas for my family, baking cookies with Carly, and buying and making perfect presents. Instead, I barely had the energy to get out of bed, and I felt incredibly guilty not to be genuinely in the holiday spirit for my family.
What are some tangible ways to acknowledge the Christmas season without draining your emotional resources? Here’s what I did that year:
- Read Christmas books. You don’t even have to buy them—most libraries have a large selection. Luckily, I already had started collecting Christmas books. I reread some myself, and I read Carly books about baby Jesus and about Santa Claus. (Here’s a list of some of my favorite Christmas books.)
- Bake the easiest possible Christmas cookies. Buy a roll of refrigerated sugar cookie dough. Slice it. Sprinkle it with red and green sprinkles or colored sugar. Bake as directed. Easy peasy. Your kids can help (or, if they’re old enough, completely take over). Even a one-year-old can help with the sprinkles if you don’t mind a little mess.
- Listen to Christmas music. If you subscribe to a streaming service, you can probably find a playlist you’ll like. If not, head over to Walmart. They have a bin of Christmas CDs for only $5 each. Mannheim Steamroller is the quintessential Christmas band, but this year I treated myself to Sarah McLachlan’s album. Back in the day, I’d already amassed a lot of classic albums on vinyl and cassette. (Here are some of my favorite Christmas CDs.)
What holiday traditions can you let go when you’re struggling?
- Hosting a Christmas party or dinner. You don’t have to. There’s plenty going on; it’s unlikely you’d be depriving someone of their only fun activity. And you don’t have to go to any parties either, unless you want to.
- Giving perfect presents. Don’t obsess about it. A token to those you love most will suffice. It’s really okay to give a gift card instead of a hand-knit sweater. And don’t worry about getting a present for everyone.
- Sending Christmas cards. Forget about the annual holiday letter about everything your family has done. Just sign and mail cards to your nearest and dearest, or nobody at all. Lots of people never send Christmas cards, ever. You can skip a year.
- Decorating the house. You don’t have to have a Christmas tree, door wreath, or boughs of holly. Pine-scented candles go a long way to create a festive atmosphere; so does cider simmering on the stove. If you have one or two decorations handy, like a nativity set or a Santa or a sleigh, put it out. But you don’t have to do the Christmas lights or the blow-up snowman family.
I pray these suggestions will help you get through this difficult time. My heart is with you. I give you permission to not do it all this year. And if anyone tries to pull a guilt trip on you, blame it on me—give them a link to this article. Take care of yourself, and have a peaceful holiday. Love you.
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