If you’re like me, then from about the time you’ve been pregnant for, oh, say a minute….you’ve started dreaming of a future with that baby. This years pregnancy was no different, in the short few weeks of pregnancy I’d imagined many times over what it would be like to have a new born next Christmas (we would have had a 6.5 week old if we hadn’t miscarried). So from when we found out this pregnancy was no more, I had started dreading this years Christmas. I’d found the last couple of years hard enough, the joy of the season stolen by years of infertility treatment and loss. The thought of pasting a smile on my face to make it through a day of family, where the kids would be doted on by loving grandparents (and a loving aunt & uncle, cos I wouldn’t deny those kids my love), where the family themselves are almost ‘picture perfect’ (such a loving, functional family I’ve decided they must be abnormal!). Not helped by the fact my family has had more trials this year, resulting in more separateness in those relationships. Christmas is a tough time when your family is difficult, and you don’t have the children you desperately want.
I read various blogs on tips for surviving the season, looking for the magic solution and my desire to just run away got stronger and stronger. Unfortunately, Christmas is yet another area where my husband and I aren’t on the same page so a lot of the tips I read aren’t quite so helpful because they rely on you both wanting to avoid/manage the season. He loves his family, he loves spending time with them, doesn’t seem to be affected by the same bittersweet pain I get from being with the kids and the others. To him they’re his niece & nephew, they’re not a reminder of the cousins our kids should be growing up with. Me playing with them seems to just be me being an Aunt, whereas for me watching him play with the kids reminds me of the great father he would be, and how much I wish I could have provided him with a child. For him the only way to have a Christmas, is to spend the day with his family. And due to the tension in my family, and the nature of his work meaning at best he’s home for about 12hours on Christmas Day, all the past Christmases have been spent with his family.
So when I admitted to myself that what I really needed to do this year, was have a year away, just the 2 of us, making some new, non-traditional memories, in the hope of having a clean slate next year…..it was a struggle to get him on board with using his annual leave to do something other than spend time with his family. In a time filled with other marital stress it was a tricky situation to navigate, lots of tears were shed, and we even had to communicate via written letter. Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote (with a few changes to keep it anonymous), trying to get him to understand why I needed a year away from family Christmas.
For years I’ve loved Christmas – after the Christmas when I had appendicitis and could barely even open presents because I was in so much pain, Christmas became about family for me. That was when my favourite Aunts and Uncles might visit, our house would actually be filled with laughter for a change, there’d be people chatting round the table at meal times, unlike the silence we often had when it was just the immediate family. I could actually have conversations with people, rather than just listening to my dad or brothers talk at me. It was probably then when I really learnt to love cooking and baking for people, the family that visited always appreciated what I made – and even said so. And I loved the camaraderie of preparing meals with my relatives. There was more fun in our house then. So Christmas became even more important, because that’s when I got a taste of the sense of family I’d always wanted. When I joined your family Christmas’s, it took a bit to adjust to because you had different traditions, and different ways of doing things – but that sense of family was there from the beginning. I was overwhelmed that first Christmas with your families generosity and inclusion – well I have been all the time not just at Christmas. From really early on I knew I wanted a future with you, and I started to imagine how wonderful and amazing it would be when we had children, for them to grow up in that environment, with such generosity and love and fun and laughter and attention. As your sister’s had their kids, I imagined even more how wonderful that would be for our children, how they’d get to have a lovely relationship with their aunts and uncles and cousins. I could picture it. And I did picture it, every Christmas. And then we started trying to have a baby. I remember us being unsure about how we’d managed Christmas and going to Queenstown for my brother’s wedding (when it was first planned for the end of Dec) because we thought we’d have a new born. But we didn’t because by then we’d found out we needed IVF. And then we got pregnant, and I imagined being pregnant at Christmas, and then we weren’t. A little of the shine of Christmas wore off, but not much. And then we had the Christmas with the chemical pregnancy just days before, that really spoiled the festive season, and the same year there was all the drama with trying to do Christmas with my parents separately. And then we were pregnant again, and I imagined next Christmas being pregnant, and how the one after that we’d have a baby, and how that would be with your family, and how spoilt and loved our child would be by everyone. And then we weren’t pregnant any more. And I wanted to avoid Christmas completely, but it was important for you to be with your family, so I tried. I did less Christmassy things than I normally would leading up to Christmas because I wasn’t feeling it, and I wanted to conserve my energy, so at Christmas I could keep a smile on my face, and ignore the pain in my heart so as not to ruin everyones day. And then last Christmas we had a tiny bit of hope again so I didn’t feel I could ask for a Christmas off, I wasn’t keen on Christmas, and well, nothing with my family felt Christmassy, but we did it, we had Christmas with your family the way they wanted it, but I could still see in everything we did that Christmas all the ‘what ifs’ – that was the Christmas we should have had BabyX with us after all. And then this year, for as long as our BabyY was with us, I had imagined the rest of this year, and into next year. I had imagined having Christmas with a newborn, finally we’d have that Christmas we’d talked about, that I’d dreamed about for years. And then that was stolen from us too. And on top of that every year at Christmas someone in your family says ‘Christmas is all about the kids’…..which as we haven’t managed to produce kids for Christmas to be about (and remembering I often feel like its my fault we don’t have kids) leaves me feeling even more pain about Christmas. You talk about how emotionally drained you are from all the years of treatment and loss. That is how I feel about having to go through another Christmas, trying to smile and pretend my heart isn’t broken, and not wanting to ruin the day for everyone else, but also seeing our BabyY & BabyX & other losses in every element of the day. That’s why I want to just do something different this year, just with you. So we can make some new and different memories. So that at the next Christmas I can actually participate in it, and find the joy again, & be fully part of a family Christmas again.
Our counsellor got it straight away, but of course she’s never going to tell us what to do. Eventually he agreed, reluctantly. We booked accomodation at a place we’d never been to together, so we could do different things and make new memories together, and where we knew no one so there’d be no expectations to socialise. Apparently when he told his family we wouldn’t be around for Christmas, his sister was upset “because the kid’s wouldn’t get to see us for Christmas”…….it probably had a more to do with the reasons he told her for us going away, than her specifically, but to me, the fact that that was her first thought rather than “oh shit, my SIL is really struggling, how can we make things easier for her” says a lot about this whole f’in pronatal world we live in. I was concerned they would try to recreate Christmas on another day – which I didn’t want to do…it’s not about the calendar date, it’s about the activities that make up the day. So we arranged to have a casual BBQ with a small secret Santa gift exchange the night before we left – control what you can right.
Of course, I was fully expecting our trip away to be amazing, full of fun and laughter, easy – and putting pressure on myself to make it this way. To prove to my husband we could have a good time together, and that it was a good choice to go away. I should have seen it coming, but I’d been so busy and exhausted that week I didn’t have time for self awareness. Our first morning away I was woken by the yelling, laughing and crying sounds of kids having the quintessential Kiwi summer holiday. Followed a few hours later by the lovely arrival of period cramps. Hormones & heart ache, such a lovely combo. It’s hard to be good company when you’re feeling dizzy, nauseous and crampy. Which of course made me feel even worse, that he wouldn’t have a good time & would regret agreeing to going away. That it wouldn’t be a good trip for us to reconnect with each other. That it wouldn’t be the solution to Christmas I was looking for.
I got even shittier with the situation and myself as we wandered around the township we were staying, and it was filled with happy families and pregnant bellies.
The grip the hormone gremlins had on my brain and body eased somewhat, and we did have good times, did things we hadn’t done before (like horse riding on the beach) and made some nice memories. I also realised it was better than a family Christmas – despite all the reminders, it was just the usual reminders I’d get on any summer holiday, rather than specific Christmas reminders to our family. I allowed myself to accept that while it was easier than dealing with a family Christmas it was by no means easy, and nor should I expect it to be.
Because after all there is no escaping the pain of heart break.