The meaning of Christmas has changed to me over the years.
While growing up in my tropical hometown, Christmas was not much more than a nice, big family get-together, with traditional foods and few other rituals (such as exchanging gifts), but not much different than any other family party.
The first Christmas holiday my European husband spent at my home country was eye opening for him. Hosted at my grandma’s house (when she’s still alive), there were about 150 people, spread on several tables set in the garden. There was live music and the dinner was served buffet style. We were laughing and dancing and singing karaoke. There was some Christmas songs, a Christmas tree and other decoration, which would set the season’s mood, but other than that, it was just another summer evening spent among family.
Living in Northern Europe, Christmas became somewhat more special to me. I realised how much excitement it would bring to most people, and the Christmas lights and decorations had a much different meaning when illuminating ever darker days. Christmas Eve also symbolises the winter solstice, so it became a countdown to better, warmer, lighter days to come, and something special to enjoy and look forward to during those long, dark, cold nights. Not to mention the overwhelming number of traditions people here follow so joyfully.
I embraced this newfound Christmas spirit and especially enjoyed buying and decorating a ‘real’ tree (in contrast to the plastic tree or whatever-tropical-plant-one-already-has-at-home approach in my home country). We also started some of our own traditions, such as our friends dinner, which involved too much food and deserts, games and gift exchanging.
This annual reunion was very special to me, because these friends are like a second family; they are our family here, in this place we chose to live in. This party always happens several days before Christmas Eve, as most of us travel back to our home countries during the actual holidays. My husband and I try to be with one of our families each year, usually swapping between the two every time.
Everything changed in 2013 with our first loss. That year I couldn’t care for Christmas celebrations. There were no decorations in our home and our friends dinner got canceled, as they decided they didn’t want to celebrate without us.
Last year, I was pregnant for the third time when December came in. I wanted to be positive about this pregnancy, as we had seen the baby’s heartbeat on the 7 week scan in the end of November, so I decided to take Christmas back with maximum intensity. We chose and cut down our own 2 m high tree, which we placed in our living room to add to all decorations I had all around: lights by the window, snowflakes and other things. I carefully chose which dishes to prepare for our friends party, which we were hosting. We also prepared several games and even a Christmas playlist. We got confirmation of two couples coming from abroad only for this party. Everything was planned and organised and we were super excited. I had also decided to announce the pregnancy during the dinner. Only we never had the party.
On a Tuesday we had our 10 week scan, which showed there’s no more heartbeat. On the Saturday, when we’re supposed to be hosting the big dinner party, we were at home, suffering through the misoprostol induced miscarriage (tomorrow marks one year from that date, when we lost our third baby). It should have been a memorable day, celebrating life among our best friends. It was memorable, no doubt, but for different reasons. It was one of the most terrible days in my life and one I’ll never forget. The physical pain, the blood, the orange-sized clots, the contractions lasting for about 14 hours, the emotional pain of loosing our much loved baby, the loneliness of this journey, all still too engraved in my brain.
Today, only 2 months after our last loss, it’s hard to enjoy the Christmas season. Too many bad memories haunt me these days: our first loss on November 29, 2013, our second baby due date on December 8, 2014, our third loss on December 13, 2014. My husband struggling with anxiety and no end in sight to our pain are weighting too.
Although we’re attending our friends dinner tonight, I’m afraid it’s going to be difficult. Besides the three children attending, my pregnant friend will be there, a living reminder of where my own fourth pregnancy should be at. I find it very hard being around her now, when she’s obviously showing and everyone around her are openly excited and rejoicing (even though they know of everything we’ve been through).
It’s not all bad, though. Next Saturday we’re travelling to my husband’s home country in south Europe, and we will be on vacation for 3 whole weeks! I’m very much looking forward to warmer temperatures, lighter days and no work-related stress. We’re spending Christmas Eve and day with his family in the countryside, as usual. The food will be great and the atmosphere, relaxing. Being surrounded by small children, not so much. Meeting the new addition to the family, born last month, definitely not easy.
That’s why we decided to book a one week retreat by the beautiful coast, on a natural park, where we can take long strolls over the cliffs by the beach and enjoy nature and the mild temperatures. I’m very much looking forward to that, hoping it will help both my husband and I a little, just enough to recharge our batteries for the next battle round waiting for us.
In the meantime, we’ve decided not to have a tree in our house this year, but we’ve hanged the lights by the window and I’ve placed a few small decorations around the house. We don’t want to skip Christmas completely, but we’re trying to take care of ourselves as best as we can.