It is that time of year – when the nights grow longer and darker, the days grow shorter, and our bodies crave hibernation. It’s also the time of year when the outside world tells us to Go out! Have fun! Celebrate! For the countless mamas who are grieving the loss of a baby, or trying to conceive their precious one, the combination of the two can be messy to navigate. Please, dear ones, know that all your feelings and thoughts are real, valid, and deserving. There is no one way you are supposed to feel or act. Know you are deserving of the utmost care, self-love, softness, and nurturing. You are so loved – please, please, please, treat yourself with deep compassion.
You are loved. You deserve to treat yourself with love and compassion.
The holidays arrive with a load of expectations, from gatherings with family and friends to the societal pressure to be joyful. This time of year can be stressful for anyone – but for someone walking through the forest of grief, it can be downright painful.
Having been there myself, and having spent years along side of other bereaved mamas, I hope to offer some guidance that may allow you to make your way to the other side of this time more intact, and a little less broken than you might be expecting.
Before the chaos of festivities begin, please, find some quiet space for yourself. Allow your being to settle into itself, to block out the world around you, and get still enough to find your inner voice. And then, listen. Listen for that inner knowing that tells you what is right for you, and what is not. This is your intuition – please, loves, honor it when you hear it. It will not steer you wrong.
You may want to ask for an intention, or perhaps see if a prayer or a mantra comes to you. I always found solace in the Sanskrit mantra, om shanti shanti shanti om (peace peace peace), and there are many. Allow me the peace to stay present in this moment. Get comfortable with the question “Does this nourish me?” These words need to become part of your inner self’s dialogue. I urge you to only say yes to that which nourishes you – in body, mind, and spirit.
Give yourself permission to say no to that which does not nourish you.
After you have taken time to find your inner quiet, and you’ve contacted the voice of your intuition, and you’ve given yourself permission to listen to her, you may want to try the following exercise. Find a piece of paper and a pen – or, if you are like me and need a lot of color – get out your best markers. Start making a list of everything that inspires you. I mean it. Everything – from poems to songs to places in nature to that cute shop downtown that sells bright colored hand towels to the people in your life who lift you up to prayer to massage…anything and everything. When you have finished, post your list somewhere in your home that you can see it daily. Over the next several weeks, if you feel lost, or unsure, or alone, check in with this list and choose one. I want you to come back to this list as many times as you need to – these are the things that nourish you – and they will help to keep you aligned with your self during what can feel like chaos.
Create a tangible list of all that inspires you – and then use it.
So often, this time of year can feel overwhelming, with commitments with family and friends, and perhaps more so, the societal pressure to feel joy. Joy is everywhere you look. But to the mama who just miscarried at twelve weeks or said hello and goodbye to her baby in the same moment or to the mama who is in year five of fertility treatments, joy might be hiding. And that is ok.
No one feels joy at all times – it is unnatural. After diving headfirst into my sea of grief and learning to swim my way back to the surface, I discovered a beautiful secret no one had told me – that life is filled with sacred beauty when I invited all of it into my heart. I found that my heart could hold two extremes at once – agony and hope, despair and joy, anger and gratitude – and that holding both together would allow me to thrive. “The both and the and” as my friend calls it, allowed me to love myself, others, and our world, with more vulnerability, authenticity, and depth. You may be dancing wildly with your sister in one moment running outside to scream at the stars in the next – embrace both moments, for both are sacred.
Make space for any emotions to arise – and tend to each as sacred.
Some grieving mamas may want to spend more time alone or with their partner instead of being out and about. That’s ok. Some may crave the party circuit. That’s ok too. There is no one way to grieve. Either way, if you are planning to be out among others who might not know your situation, you may want to consider having a few prepared answers to common questions, so as not to be caught off guard. Someone who has never been in your shoes has no idea how painful the “Do you have children?” or “How many kids do you have?” questions can be. Be ready to answer as truthfully as you wish. Practicing your answer ahead of time may be helpful. And know you may respond with a clear and confident voice one time, and collapse into tears the next. Both are entirely normal – be true to you.
You also may want to have a pre-planned exit strategy. You may walk into a social gathering feeling calm, cool, and collected, ready for a glass of bubbly or two, and then when conversation turns to your cousin’s five year old’s tantrums and how she can’t stand them anymore, you may feel a deep desire to suddenly leave (or maybe just to punch her). If you have a planned exit strategy with your partner or a friend, or a prepared statement to excuse yourself, it may feel easier to extend your well wishes and goodbyes to head home and scream, cry, or have a temper tantrum of your own. Do not feel guilty for leaving early, do not feel guilty for feeling angry at your cousin for complaining about a child you wish you could have, do not feel guilty for skipping out of your best friend’s party. Do what you need to do – there is no room for guilt here. Take care of you.
Be prepared for potentially hurtful questions and have a plan to leave when it all becomes too much.
Whether in quiet solitude or in the presence of others, it might feel sacred and healing to honor your baby in some way. Lighting a special candle at the dinner table may offer you comfort as you share your meal. Offering a particular prayer or quote with your family may allow you to acknowledge the life you cherish in a meaningful way. Displaying flowers or planting a tree or having a photograph in the living room or stating his or her name aloud each day might help you feel as though your baby has been included in the holiday season. Decide what feels best for you and your family, and allow it to become part of your ritual and your remembrance of your precious one.
Honor your baby’s life in a way most meaningful to you.
Dear ones, it isn’t easy. Life isn’t easy, death isn’t easy, learning to live again after your baby has died most certainly isn’t easy. I urge you to be gentle with yourself over the next several weeks – even more gentle than you already are while grieving. Memories of holidays past added to expectations of holidays to come and our society’s frequent disregard of the not-joyful make for a particularly challenging assortment of muck to wade through.
You need to take care of you. Nurture yourself. Honor yourself. Honor your baby. Set boundaries for what you say yes to, for the people to choose to spend time with. Do not feel guilty for saying no. Take long luxurious baths. Cry when you need to. Light candles. Burn intentions in a fire. Drink too much wine and eat too much cake. Call your friend right before you are meant to be at her house and tell her, “I’m so sorry I can’t make it tonight, but I’m not up for drinking too much wine and eating too much cake.” Buy yourself gorgeous flowers. Cuddle your partner under a soft warm blanket. Let yourself wail. Allow yourself to laugh.
Be true to you, to your inner voice, no matter what that truth may look like. Erase the should and the have to from your life. There are no rules for this. You get to create your own.
Know you are loved. You are cherished. You are a sacred being. Treat yourself as such.