O’ Childless Mother This Christmas,
– whether you, like me, have endured the tragic grief of stillbirth, or miscarriage, or child loss; or perhaps in spite of the pangs of your longing heart you have never seen a positive sign on that pregnancy test; or perhaps as a birth mother you made the courageous choice to place your child in another woman’s arms to raise; or maybe you still have not found a partner to help you complete your family; or maybe this Christmas you are separated from your children due to estrangement, or divorce, or distance… –
I see you.
I see how you flinch when you think of how you must joyously celebrate a holiday that is entirely centered around the story of a pregnant woman and the birth of her baby. I notice how you smile through gritted teeth at the Christmas pageant, as all the little children dressed as cherubs announce Mary’s Good News, and I can sense when you sing with a little less gusto at all of those songs and hymns dedicated to the birth of this newborn babe. Or maybe you, like me, just avoid church altogether for the entirety of the holiday season, since it all just feels like a little too much to bear.
I see how you strategically place yourself at the holiday party as far away from the babies, and the children, and the families, and the overly happy pregnant women as possible, guiltily trying not to feel too pained or too jealous of their joy. And I know that as soon as you leave, as you hurriedly make your exit and escape the overwhelming confines of their happiness, you burst into tears and secretly cry in your car.
I see how quickly you “Unfollow” those Facebook friends as soon as their excited announcements scroll across your Newsfeed, or how you throw away any Christmas cards with those staged happy portraits of happy families on display inside.
I see your sadness in a season of joy…
I see your loneliness in a season of celebration…
I see your pain in the midst of merriment…
O’ Childless Mother, as you face this Christmas season, I see you.
And despite how it may feel, please know that you are not alone. I too know all too well how the merriment of this “most wonderful time of the year” can be tainted by pain, and grief, and loneliness.
Two years ago today, on December 19, 2015, our first baby was due.
A Christmas baby – perhaps the worst possible due date for the child of two ministers. I remember the initial dread and fearful anticipation that Patrick, my husband, and I felt as we tried to envision the logistics of having a baby so close to Christmas. At the time, it felt impossible. And yet, the excitement of that pregnancy quickly overcame us. Excitedly, we dreamed how, depending on when that baby would choose to make its magical arrival to the world, I would either play Mary, waddling and impossibly pregnant on the stage, or that our own newborn babe would be swaddled as Jesus in the church’s annual Christmas pageant.
When that baby died, though it was only a few weeks into our pregnancy, all of those hopes and dreams of that beautifully impossible Christmas seemed to die too. Ultimately, we lost two pregnancies, and with them the hopes and the dreams and the expectations of two unborn babies, that year.
It was the darkest Christmas of my life.
As ministers, there was no escape. That Christmas, I was assigned to organize our church’s annual “Baby Shower for Jesus,” a collection of baby items for children in need. I remember the pain that overcame me as I placed the few baby clothes that I had purchased for those babies who would never be, including a reindeer onesie that proudly proclaimed My 1st Christmas on its bib, in a gift bag under the tree for some other Christmas baby. As the grief threatened to boil over, I ran to my office and burst into uncontrollable tears.
One year later, that next Christmas was filled with new hope. It was immediately after the Christmas pageant one Sunday in early December that I rushed home to take a test and learned that I was pregnant again. And on the day before Christmas Eve, we learned during an early ultrasound that it might be twins. After now four miscarriages, we were filled with all of the hope and the anticipation and the excitement that this celebratory season has to offer. Again we dared to dream, this time of having both a Baby Jesus and a Baby John the Baptist in the upcoming year’s Christmas pageant.
And yet, perhaps fittingly, it was on Palm Sunday – during the Holy Week before Easter that marks the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection – when our twin sons were born and died.
So hear me, o’ Childless Mother This Christmas, when I say from one childless mother to another, I see you.
This Christmas, when our first baby should have been two and our two babies should have had their first Christmas, I have decided that it is okay not to force myself to celebrate when I just do not feel ready for celebration.
Wisely, my husband has concluded that there is a difference between celebrating a holiday and observing one.
This year, we will be observing Christmas. Meaning, we will be recognizing the hope of the holiday without denying the truth of where we are in this moment. Our Christmas tree is up, but its decorations are a bit more subtle and sedate. Angels have replaced Santa statues on our mantel. Instead of gifts, we have asked others to help donate to our adoption fund, as we look ahead to a new and daunting path to parenthood. And for our gifts to one another, Patrick and I have both decided to give each other meaningful gifts for a our future child, symbols of our ever-enduring hope for the future Christmases to come.
And rather than force myself to worship God in a way that feels inauthentic to where my spirit is in this current moment, I only intend to attend one Christmas service at my church this year – the Longest Night Service.
In acknowledgment of the pain and grief and loneliness that so many experience at this time of year, many faith communities now offer a “Longest Night Service” – or sometimes also known as a “Blue Christmas Service” – held on or around the eve of the winter solstice, the longest night of the year (December 21st). These services acknowledge both the darkness of loss and a light of hope during this time of year. It is a time to recognize, in the midst of all the celebration of the holidays, that many are experiencing loss, darkness, and doubt. The hope, though, is that in every succeeding day there will be a little more light.
O’ Childless Mother This Christmas, may you too find ways that will help you as you face the merriment and expectations of this season head-on. Whether you decide to observe, or celebrate, or just skip it altogether, I wish you a Merry Christmas – or, at least, as much merriment as possible…
As we start the next step in the journey to create our family, we are facing new challenges. We anticipate that the adoption process will cost somewhere around $40,000. Though our adoption agency is a nonprofit organization, these costs go to pay for the legal expenses, the counseling that the agency provides for the birth mother and her family, some of the birth mother’s medical bills and living expenses, etc.
In lieu of Christmas gifts, if you would like to help us offset some of the costs, you can support our adoption journey here –