Dear Past Katy, 2016,
It’s going to be a hard Holiday this year, and you’ll find yourself a bit confused by the emotions because, on the surface, good things are happening.
You’re pregnant, and everyone knows it.
Your doctor found a problem in July that very likely caused your miscarriages. He fixed it and told you to wait 6 weeks to try again, and 10 weeks later, you were pregnant with the baby that would become Jack. By 2016 Christmas, you’ve seen a heartbeat and you’re nearing the end of your first trimester. You should be happy, right? Over the moon, even?
Because you’re about 13 weeks along, and because your doctor found and corrected a major problem, everyone else is believes you’re safe. They all believe that this is finally the baby you’re going to carry to term, birth, bring home, and raise. Naturally, they expect you to be happy about your coming bundle of joy, and about how different next Christmas will be when he’s in your arms.
They don’t mean you any harm. They love you, and they’re excited for you. They know how hard the last few holidays have been. They just want to bring you joy.
Here’s the thing, though. You’re in no way confident that this pregnancy will be the one. You’re in no way confident that any pregnancy will ever be the one. That’s normal for people in your situation. But those who haven’t been in this place can’t quite understand it. You need to give them grace.
This isn’t just you being a pessimist
Your cousin will give you the sweetest gift this year. I wish you could read this letter so that you could prepare for it. It’s a Christmas ornament, and it’s so thoughtful. It’s a little snow-family: a mom, a dad, and a baby bump. It’s baby’s first Christmas, and she’s acknowledging that. In so many ways, she’s doing what you’ve wanted people to do for years–acknowledge that your experiences are real and that you’re a mother, even if you lost your pregnancies far too early.
But no matter how well intended, and no matter how validating, this gift will break you. You’ll smile, say thank you, and know that someday you’ll mean it. Someday, you’ll be really glad you have this gift. It will either be the first representation of your first living child, or a concrete way to love and remember a child you lost. No matter how this pregnancy turns out, you know you’ll be thankful for this ornament one day because it’s a true momento of your experience, which is important.
But not today. Not yet.
After thanking her, you’ll excuse yourself. You’ll need a minute. You’ll wish you could take anxiety medication to calm yourself before going to rejoin your family, but, well, you’re 13 weeks pregnant. So instead, you’ll shut yourself in your closet, sit on the floor, rock back and forth, and breathe as deeply as your chest will allow. Then you’ll rejoin the group and pretend everything is fine.
When everyone leaves, you’ll let yourself cry
But you will say no, and that’s okay too. You want to make sure it’s being kept someplace safe because you know it will be special someday. That’s all you can do right now.
You also need to give yourself grace.
The weird thing about pregnancy after miscarriage is that it’s such limbo. No matter what happens in this pregnancy, you know this ornament will be special in future years. But this year, it’s just too much.
The Beginning of Something New
Your actual Christmas will look different this year. You’ll go to your brother’s house for Christmas Eve, as will become the new tradition, but you won’t do Santa with your niece like you have in the past. Instead, you’ll spend Christmas morning at your own home–8 years of living in this house, and you’ve never done that before. That will be new and special.
You’ll find it calming. You’ll have all your usual Christmas morning food–monkey bread, sausage pinwheels, fresh squeezed orange juice–all the things you love and that make you feel almost instantly nauseous. Not because of pregnancy, but because whoa sugar and carbs.
But you love them anyway. They’re the only constants you’ve had as you’ve shifted from childhood to adult Christmases. You’ve moved houses, company, trees, and who you celebrate with. Nothing about Christmas looks like it used to. Except for monkey bread, sausage pinwheels, fresh squeezed orange juice, and a stomach ache.
You’ll open gifts with Husband and your parents. Then, your parents will leave, and you’ll have hours to fill before you have to go to Husband’s parents’ house for a large family gathering.
Moments of Calm
These hours will be bliss. For years, you’ve desperately wanted some down time on this day to just sit alone and wallow in self-pity. But this year is different. You’re not ready to be excited, but you can’t exactly wallow either. So instead, you’ll convince Husband to watch Christmas movies you DVRd on Turner Classic, just like you’ve been convincing him to do regularly all month.
Today, it will be Christmas in Connecticut and It Happened on Fifth Avenue. You won’t know whether Husband actually enjoys watching or whether he just kindly indulges you. You won’t ask because it might hurt your comfort levels asking in future years. But the hours spent on your couch, together, watching these movies on Christmas Day will be your favorite holiday memory of your adult life so far.
This is huge, huge progress.
Grief is not your center right now, and for just a few hours, neither is anxiety.
You won’t take the time to realize what a huge deal this is, but let me tell you, dear one, this is BIG.
You’ll make it through the gathering at your in-laws’ house without much grief. You will have to explain to your 3-year-old niece what it means to have a baby in your belly, and you’ll have to deal with congratulations that you’re in no way ready to accept. But again, everyone means well, and maybe because of the cathartic downtime earlier in the day, none of it will sting as much as you might expect.
After Christmas, you’ll do what you do every year: rapidly pack up your decorations, leave detailed instructions for the dog/house sitter, and leave. This has become a tradition. For Christmas, it seems, we must be home, but after Christmas, it’s just Husband and you. (I wish you could hear me when I tell you that next year, it’ll also be Jack).
This year, you’re going to California. You’re desperate for the getaway. The holidays have been hard for far too long, and you just want to your downtime with Husband.
You’ll enjoy your trip tremendously, but be warned, darling: it is going to bring some of the scariest moments you’ll experience during your pregnancy. But everything will be okay. I’ll tell you more about that next week.
Until then, love,
Present Katy, 2018
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.