by Kathleen O’Beirne
The twinkling lights in the neighborhood, the ringing bells outside every grocery store, and the plethora of peppermint-flavored foods point to one thing: the most wonderful time of year is fast approaching. I’ve always loved that sense of cheerful bustle during this season, but over the past couple of years, a more subtle but equally palpable feeling accompanies my joy: the pang of loss.
I don’t think I’m alone in experiencing a mix of emotions during the holidays. This is the time of year to cherish loved ones and celebrate; when someone is missing from this otherwise happy scene, you can’t help but feel some sadness. It may be a dear friend, a sweet grandma, a beloved sibling or parent that has passed away. Sometimes it’s the devastating first Christmas without a spouse or child. And sometimes, it’s the loss of a baby that should have been.
Last December, my husband and I were expecting. Although we have three healthy children, we had suffered two consecutive miscarriages prior to this pregnancy — so this time around, my doctor had prescribed some medicine to help, and I felt very sick and pregnant. Every time my stomach reeled with nausea, my excitement grew. After all the pain of our two previous losses, I thought we’d finally turned a corner. We knew our other children would be beside themselves with joy, and we started planning how we would break this awesome news.
I’ll never forget holding my husband’s hand and staring helplessly at that dark, blurry screen as the kind technician whispered softly, “I’m so, so sorry.” I couldn’t believe we’d lost another child. Miscarriage is a different kind of loss; it’s the loss of what could have been. I have family and friends who have babies about the age our child would have been, and it’s hard not to think, “Oh, this is what he’d be doing about now.” And I’ll admit it: Sometimes it’s hard to hold those other little babies.
Ten to twenty percent of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, which means many women carry this unique kind of grief. Often, miscarriages happen before the couple has told family and friends, and they often occur at home without the support of medical professionals. In addition to the emotional toll, there is the physical element: Miscarriage can feel like a mini labor, and the recovery can be almost as slow-going as a full-term pregnancy — minus the cute baby and the extra help, gifts, and meals. This last miscarriage was medically complicated and left me so drained that I ended up reaching out to friends and family to help with carpools and meals. The extra support really made an emotional difference for me.
Over the past week, I’ve thought more about the three little souls we’ve lost to miscarriage, and I can honestly thank God for the wisdom their losses have taught me. I am far more in awe of the mystery and miracle of life than I ever used to be, and I think (or, at least, I hope) that I’m more sympathetic to those who suffer from infertility, miscarriage, or any type of loss for that matter.
Whether it’s a call to a friend who’s missing her departed brother’s Christmas cheer, or bringing over a batch of cookies to the widow across the street: I want to be more mindful of those experiencing feelings of loss at this time of year. The holidays are about spreading joy and dispelling darkness with light, and I find the more I reach out to others in need, the better I cope with my own feelings of loss.
I’m curious to hear how others cope with loss during this season. Do you share it with others or deal with it on your own? Would you appreciate having others reach out to you, or would you find it intrusive?
Image: Kathleen O’Beirne