Stillbirth; How To Heal Over Holidays

Christmas as a parent of a stillborn can be difficult. It is a time of joy and happiness for our family. It is also one of those blatantly obvious reminders that our son, Mac, isn’t here to celebrate with us.

The reminders are everywhere.

Brian and I excitedly pick out gifts for our two living children and are filled with wonder daydreaming about what our 4 year old boy would have been into this year. It is hard seeing the gifts under the tree and knowing there will always be some “missing” because our Mac isn’t here.

Our first Christmas was just 4 short months after losing him. We felt out of place, not ourselves and unsure of what “we” were without him. The day we heard the words forever etched into our memories, “I’m sorry. There is no heartbeat” was still so fresh on our broken hearts and now no matter how badly we prayed time would stand still…

Christmas was here.

We desperately craved more time to figure out what and how to do this. The rawness of our pain was felt so deep, our bone ached. It was difficult to navigate the  experience of his absence and muster up the energy to “put on a good face” for friends, family and our two blessings here with us.

We struggled not knowing how to navigate this feeling of pain and guilt with so much joy around us at the same time. It was as if there was a cloud over us fighting hard to remind us not too long ago we lost everything that resembled a normal life.  The joy of Christmas was right in front of us yet we felt guilt for being here, celebrating while he couldn’t be. We wanted to celebrate. We just didn’t know how with so much grief in our hearts. It wasn’t intentional… is was natural. We didn’t dwell, but we did allow our feelings without shoving them away. We both felt to dismiss or ignore what we felt would be to deny our son was missing. I especially felt strongly about this. Why did I have to smile or talk about so and so’s pregnancy when it honest to God hurt in a way I had never imagined possible? Not talking about someone else’s pregnancy felt wrong. I was happy and excited for all of my friends expecting. I genuinely was. I knew how amazing and wonderful having a baby was, carrying the little life inside of me, feeling it move and grow and planning on all things in my future WITH my baby right there. I have experienced the joy in the innocence of not knowing this pain. It is blissful. What made our grief worse and what nobody knew was earlier in the month we had a miscarriage. The sadness we carried had nothing to do with anyone else’s happiness and EVERYTHING to do with our own personal pain.

How do we “be” normal? What is normal for us now?

This life, the one that was now so different, was hard for many reasons. It was something that we didn’t know how to do. How do we do this the right way? We hurt, but we didn’t want the pain to be what everyone saw when looking at us. (Although, I don’t know how anyone couldn’t possibly see it) Do we cry when we feel his absence cutting into our hearts? Do we hide it for fear of making anyone else sad or uncomfortable? Do we talk about him? Do we deny how desperately we wish someone… anyone would just say his name or ask us how we are doing instead of the silence.

The first Christmas (like all firsts without them) is the hardest. We navigated through the best we could. Looking back I am proud of how strong we were and how we chose to honor our son in the middle of the intense rawness of our heartache. We didn’t talk about our boy that Christmas. We weren’t strong enough to or to help our friends and family understand what a gift it would have been to acknowledge him instead of avoid assumed hurtful conversations. We didn’t open up to others about just how much we were hurting even in those bitter-sweet moments as we watched Mac’s brother, sister and cousins play and giggle. We didn’t. We couldn’t and that’s ok. Grace is a beautiful thing. It was a gift we were able to give to ourselves and those around us knowing none of us knew how to navigate this heartache. We all did the best we could.

Brian and I DID get a few things right that first Christmas. We were and still are proud we were able to sort through the grief enough to know we always wanted to include Mac in our holidays (we still do) and somehow take a moment to remember him with Hagen and Suzie even if it is for a small moment. Not knowing what to do, we put a gift under the tree from Mac to his brother and sister. We watched (I desperately held back the river of tears fighting hard to escape) as Hagen and Suzie opened their gift, a book (Heaven Is For Real For Kids- great book to open up conversations about Heaven and even death for your stillborn’s siblings) with a scripture and a note from their brother in Heaven telling them he is ok, loves them and knows that at times Mommy, Daddy and them will miss him, be sad and even cry. They smiled and expressed love for the gift and their brother. Well, Hagen mostly. Suzie at 2 years old (and just a newly 2 at that) really didn’t understand or grasp what was going on.  We talked openly for a brief moment about God and Heaven and how their brother is still loved. A short and simple conversation, but cherished by Brian and I. It is simply amazing to see the world from a child’s eyes. Hagen expressed how amazing it must be for Mac to be in Heaven with God and all His beauty. I brushed away the tears flowing effortlessly down my face and onto the ground. Hagen asked if I was ok. I was honest and said, “Yes, I am ok. I’m just sad and miss your little brother. I’m also happy and so proud of you and your sweet heart. I am so thankful to have your sister and you here with Daddy and I. You two are our best gifts God could have even given us.”  And that was it. It was back to Christmas toys and excitement in his eyes.

We knew in that moment we needed to have these small moments with our kids each Christmas. No matter how brief, they were important to us.

Throughout the years we have shifted our moments into a heart warming tradition done in Mac’s honor. Every year it would sadden us knowing we should be picking out gifts for our son. That I don’t think will ever go away and I don’t know that I want it too. He will always be deeply missed. But because this has been one of the hardest moments as a parent of a stillborn we decided to try and turn it into something heart warming. Each year we pick out a toy we imagine our boy would have loved and donate it to a charity. It gives us a way of turning our pain into something good and positive. It isn’t much, but it helps us and we imagine it brings a smile to a little boys face as it would have done for our Mac.

This year was different. This year has been a tough year for our country and with so much heartache and tragedy going on in the world we felt a tug on our hearts and make an exception straying from our traditional way of honoring Mac.

Social media seemed to be filled with disheartening and negativity surrounding issues in our country but even more than that…Everywhere you look on social media, newspapers and television there are pictures and stories of heart wrenching aftermaths of hate filled acts in Allepo. My children were seeing these images. They couldn’t wrap their hearts around it being real. I tried my best to explain it knowing even my best explanation fell short of the words really needed. I’d glance at my kids, fully aware in the moment of just how blessed we are and then turn back to the images on the screen. How is this a reality for these people? The fear and terror they must live with sends my heart into my stomach. My eyes filled with tears every single time I saw even a snip of the reality the children suffered through. I watched unable to turn away in disbelief. I kept thinking of Mac…My son died. My son did not suffer as these children did. These mothers held their injured bleeding babies unable to let go even after they watched them take their last breath. I can’t imaging the pain this brings. All I could think of is how much help these people needed. I’d repeat, “Please someone help them” in my head when watching or reading the latest news. Over time I had enough and decided this year we would donate to an organization that could help them. We would gift this small amount from our family and in honor of Mac. It wouldn’t be much, but it was what we could do.

(At the bottom of this blog is a link to the charity we gave money to. They are still taking donations if you feel lead to do the same.)

Honoring and remembering our stillborns during holidays is personal and something we can all do in our own way. I strongly encourage you to find a way to remember, honor and include your baby during this time. When deciding what works for you and your family remember the following:

  1. There is NO one right way to remember our babies. No-one can tell you how to do this or take away the right you have to honor your baby the way your choose.
  2. There is NO wrong way to remember them either. Lead with your heart and know that no matter what you are doing what is best for YOU and YOUR family.
  3. You do not have to spend money to honor your baby. You do not have to have an elaborate or grand gesture for it to be meaningful. Some make a tradition to honor their babies by expressing how thankful they are to have the blessings they have been given each year.
  4. “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindnesses. Kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile.” Mother Theresa. Honoring your stillborn can simply be a traditional random act of kindness each holiday season. Volunteering your time doesn’t cost but has great value. Give to a charity, help a neighbor or friend in need in a big or small way.

If you feel lead to donate to those suffering in Aleppo as we did this year please consider donating to THE COMPASSIONATE COLLECTIVE. You do not need to be donating in honor to make a donation and help those in need.