My daughter was stillborn in July, so her birthday begins each new year without her. Still, New Year’s marks the beginning of so much else. It represents a fresh start, a clean slate, a new beginning. We make “New Year’s resolutions,” hoping to reach them before the next one comes. We celebrate all the promise of a New Year with fireworks, champagne, and kissing our loved ones. For me, New Year’s marks something else, too. It means I have survived another holiday season after baby loss.
My First Holiday Season After Baby Loss
My first Christmas without her was so painful. The other holidays were hard, too, but Christmas was the worst. I visited a dear friend in early December. I was completely – and unexpectedly – undone by Christmas caroling at her tree decorating party. I’d been doing just fine, and then suddenly, I wasn’t. I locked myself in my friend’s bathroom until she found a moment to sneak me out her front door unnoticed. The holidays are like that, aren’t they? You’re going along just fine, thinking “hey, I’m doing great!” And then out of nowhere you’re a puddle of tears on the floor and crying yourself to sleep that night.
That first Christmas, there was no stocking for Zoë, no presents for her, no “oohs” and “aahs” over her cuteness, or eager arms waiting for a turn to hold her. There was a holiday remembrance gathering for bereaved parents, but I didn’t know what to do with Christmas, itself. I’d learned about the Build-A-Bear store and decided to make one for Zoë. I built it just before Christmas, the way I imagined she would like it. Never mind that she’d only have been 6 months old, and I couldn’t have let her have it with its clothes and accessories yet. I tried to keep a happy face while we opened presents, holding that bear like it was a lifeline.
By the time New Year’s came, I was ready for 2011 to be over. I didn’t have any resolutions that year; I couldn’t bring myself to make them. To be honest, I was a bit paranoid about wishing or wanting things for a long time after I lost Zoë. My only desire was to survive another year, and for it to hurt less than the one coming to a close.
Each Year, A Little Easier
I can’t say that the holidays don’t still hurt. They do. Every year, something triggers the grief. The other night, I felt overwhelmed by holiday stress and it brought on a “grief attack.” I think of all the things I wish I could do with my daughter this season. She would be 6 1/2 years old. Old enough to go to Zoo Lights, see Santa, help me pick out and wrap gifts, bake cookies. I hate that I will never get to do those things with her. I hate that I have to go to sleep without her, wake up without her, fill my day with a million things that I probably could never get done if she were here. It feels like everything would be better if she was here.
Yet, the pain does ease up. I can say that. Or that at least, it gets easier to bear because we get better at bearing it. Each Christmas, I have found new things to genuinely enjoy. I find joy in giving, and in being together with my family. Last year, my sister-in-law gave my parents a personalized ornament for the tree. It had 7 little bears in Santa hats with names written on them. One for each of us, my nephew, and Zoë. I was so touched. And this year, I was inspired by some of you to hang a stocking, and fill it with Random Acts of Kindness done in Zoë’s memory. There are so many ways to incorporate our children into holiday traditions.
One way or another, we get through it.
Which Brings Us to the New Year
I feel like I can breathe a sigh of relief when New Year’s finally gets here. It means I have survived another holiday season after baby loss. I have a whole year before I have to think about the holidays again. As the New Year approaches, I think, four and a half months until Mother’s Day, six and a half months until her birthday. Which means, I’ve got time to plan something for those. And while I’m thankful the holidays are over, I can’t help but think about the passing of time. This New Year marks the beginning of what in July will be my seventh year without Zoë. How can that be?
Most parents mourn the passing of time because their child is growing up so fast. They wish they could stop it so that baby teeth stay in, inches stop sprouting, and the time when they have to release their little one into the world stops speeding towards them.
It’s different for a bereaved parent. I’m not nostalgic about the last six and a half years. I’m glad the pain of them is over. And yet, there is still something unsettling about the passage of time. It’s been so long since the last time I held her in my arms. I have missed so much. So many milestones, birthdays, school years, holidays. Each New Year brings another year of occasions she won’t be here for. So while I’m glad the holidays are over, I can’t help but feel ambivalent about the New Year.
New Year’s Wishes
My New Year’s wish is no longer simply to survive another year without my daughter. I know that I am blessed to have this life, even with all its heartache. If I forget, I only need to turn on the news to see that I can’t take this short, precious life for granted.
I still find making resolutions difficult, though. I hesitate about wanting things too much, afraid I’ll jinx them – or lose them. So now I make a New Year’s bucket list instead. I write down everything I hope I’ll have the chance to do this year. Somehow there’s less pressure that way. Bucket lists are meant to be checked off over time, so if it doesn’t all happen this year, that’s okay. It’s my way of “celebrating” – I guess you could say – that I have survived another holiday season after baby loss, and that I still have things to look forward to.
It reminds me that while it may not always be a “happy” New Year, it is a New Year nonetheless. The holidays are behind us, and we never know what the coming year will bring. My wish is that it be gentle and kind to all of us here. May you be surrounded with love and support, comforted in your grief, and feel the presence of your precious children always in your heart.
How have you survived the holiday season after baby loss, pregnancy or child loss? How are you feeling about the New Year?
Related post: A New Year
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash
Robynne Knight is a writer, educator, and acupuncturist who lost her daughter, Zoë, to stillbirth in 2011. She is passionate about sharing her experience with grief and loss, and helping others find growth and healing through her writing, private practice, and sharing support and resources through The Zoë Project.