For those who may be unaware, The Amethyst Network, a nonprofit organization that supports and advocates for those who have lost a child through miscarriage, pregnancy loss, stillbirth, and neonatal death, is hosting monthly Blog Circles. This post is written as a contribution to the December Blog Circle, with the topic of Holidays After Loss.
I remember Christmas 2007 really well. I was pregnant with Nicholas and Sophia. A friend of mine bought be a "Baby's First Christmas 2007" ornament because she was so excited, and the gifts under the tree were all baby focused: maternity clothes, onesies, you get the idea. We were so excited as we talked about it being our last Christmas without little ones in the house. We knew we were having twins and our family guessed at genders and how we would do the nursery. My in-laws splurged and bought us the crib of our dreams, and we debated the best month for a baby shower.
By Easter, it had all fallen apart and I lay across the floor of my church with tears in my eyes at the Pieta, the Blessed Virgin Mary cradling the lifeless body of her beaten and rejected son. How I felt like I was there with her... How I knew what it felt like to hold not one, but two, beloved and dear children in my arms as the breath of their lives drifted away. Nicholas and Sophia, born in the middle of the second trimester due to my unknown incompetent cervix, had lived an hour and five minutes, respectively. At that Paschal celebration, my life as I knew it was over; a week later, we held their Memorial Mass and although the cycle of life and death felt complete, I knew that my life would always be empty... always be missing.
By the time Christmas 2008 rolled around, I had delivered three children, miscarried another (on top of a miscarriage very early in my marriage), and felt as though my world was falling apart. Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander, had each been born alive, only to die a few minutes later, their little bodies simply unable to cope with a world that wasnt yet ready for them to be born. First the twins in February, then Alexander just before Thanksgiving in November. Putting up the tree the day after Thanksgiving was a much-needed distraction that ended with exhausted tears and wondering why the hell this was the turn our life was taking. Why were we planning a second funeral, instead of snuggling all three of our children in our arms? Why was I sitting in an empty nursery watching the snow fall instead of nursing my babies to sleep?
We had the same tree but with three new ornaments. They were clear glass hearts, each etched with a baby bottle and the name of our children. Peter Nicholas IV... Gaea Sophia... Nathaniel Alexander. The names of the three most precious people who wouldn't be crawling towards the tree in our library, who wouldnt keep us awake at night longing to hear sleighbells, who wouldnt be sleeping soundly through the carols of Midnight Mass. The names of the three most precious people in our world who wouldnt do those things because they werent here... Instead of hearing the wind whistle around Santa's sleigh, they had become the wind.
Christmas morning was filled with attending Mass and seeing all the happy families, the new babies, the smiles and the joy. My heart was breaking. As I watched the nativity unfold, baby Jesus resting in the arms of Mary, my arms ached to hold the babies that had only been held for so short a time. It was a crushing grief, made complete the following spring at Easter, when Mary's arms now held her dead child, a feeling I knew all too well.
But, like Mary, I had a ray of hope, too. She knew her Son would be reborn; I knew that I was carrying two new lives within, news that had been revealed to me on Holy Thursday. There was hope in the grief, light in the darkness.
I carried those children until I was just shy of the third trimester, when even bedrest and a transvaginal cerclage couldn't hold back the beast that is an incompetent cervix. While we spent Halloween in the NICU, both Bobby and Maya were home in time for Thanksgiving and we'd had the ups and downs of 6 weeks by the time Christmas rolled around.
On that tree, we saw a bevy of ornament for our children. Bobby and Maya now had a few, but each year, we added one for Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander. This is something that has continued over the years. As I have had 4 miscarriages in addition to 3 children who passed away and Bobby & Maya, for whom I have the greatest gift of raising, we have a lot of ornaments! Last year, my mother made red balls with the names of each child, and the initial of each miscarried baby. A local bereavement group made stockings, one each for Nicholas, Sophia, and Alexander, and one carrying the names of our four miscarried babies: Peter, Dimitri, Zoe, and Grace. I contact a Greek Orthodox monastery each winter and spring, asking that the souls of our 7 departed children and of our 2 living children be remembered in the Christmas and Easter (Pascha) prayers. Our holiday traditions... Not the same as everyone else's, but sacred to us just the same.
We also celebrate and honor our children, those here and those in the Other World, on their "name days", the days of their special saints for whom they share a name. Nicholas (Dec. 6), Sophia (6/4), Alexander (3/18), Bobby (9/17), and Maya (7/28). These are special days where we honor those special saints that we ask special blessings from for our children: St. Nicholas, St. Sophia of Ainos, St. Alexander of Jerusalem, St. Robert Bellarmine, and St. Eirene of Chrysovalantou (Eirene is Maya's middle name). We light a candle to the saint and celebrate the evening with each child's special/favorite meal.
This year, we have a new blessing to celebrate. After a suprise, miracle pregancy just after Halloween (now my favorite holiday for yet another reason :) ), we had the pleasure of being pregnant on Thanksgiving (the real pleasure was in not being able to eat all of the delicious food I would have made myself sick on by eating too much...morning sickness and nausea held that at bay!). Fingers crossed, I'll be just shy of 10 weeks pregnant when we celebrate Christmas this year (and 11 and a half weeks when the 3 Kings visit our house!).
Each holiday, especially each Halloween (when I was pregnant was Nicholas and Sophia, and then with Alexander, and later had Bobby and Maya in the NICU) and Christmas (when I remember that first "pregnant" Christmas and all the hope and joy), the memories, both happy and sad, come to light. Keeping the memory of our children who have gone on before us alive, while also embracing the lives of our children on earth, is a balm on the scars of my heart.
May your special traditions and holy days be sunshine for your darkness and hope for your despair.