Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Past, Christmas Present, Christmas Future

Since being married, the closest we've had to a "normal" Christmas was our first. We'd only just started Clomid IUIs in October/November, and had no real high hopes for that to bring us our baby. There was no expectation of a pregnant Christmas, or a baby to share in our joy. We were able to have our tree, our Christmas Day by ourselves, our Christmas Eve with my family in town, and make ourselves some kind of gorgeous dinner. I wish I could remember what it was, but I don't. It was a good Christmas, and our card was pictures from our wedding that October. Nothing but joy.

The following year we had Clomid IUIs and injectible IUIs behind us, and had completed one wildly unsuccessful IVF. It was a sadder Christmas, but we still felt that this next year was OUR YEAR, so much so that we did the dreaded Holiday Cycle and had a transfer in early January. Our card was still joyful, less Christmas-themed but pictures from our trip to Downeast Maine in a light blue background, lots of hiking and dinghies in the harbor and joy in being surrounded by so much natural beauty. No baby, though, and that year started the cards with other peoples' babies that began to sting a bit. We had 2010 Christmas at home, with a tree and red candles that seemed festive but were baby voodoo and owl ornaments blanketing our house. 

2011 was rough. We were home, broken from our third IVF that resulted in a pregnancy but an ectopic one, and I had spent the fall recuperating physically and emotionally from that cruel twist of fate combined with starting a new job split between two buildings and two grade levels (8th and 9th, not an easy time for the young peoples). That was a sad Christmas for sure, and we struggled through it, but made sure that we had presents beneath the tree and cards on display of babies and second babies and third babies and older children. Our card featured pictures from a photo shoot we did ourselves in November near the Erie Canal, really self-indulgent photos but they made us feel better about the distinct lack of baby on our card. 

2012 marked a turning point. I love Christmas, and we were starting to feel incredibly sad every Christmas, because each year we had no one tiny to put on the cards was a crushing squeeze to our hearts. Each year it was the same made it hurt worse. And this year we had more IVF failures, but then a beautiful positive test and a uterine pregnancy that seemed so promising but ended in a cruel bleed and loss of that baby before school started. I felt like summer was meant for grieving. Bryce took matters into his own hands and booked us a trip to Grafton, Vermont for Christmas. We would have a beautiful Christmas tradition all our own, we would stay for nearly a week and enjoy romantic time together and not be surrounded by sameness and reminders that our life had stood still while everyone else's moved on down the trajectory. We needed it. Our families understood. That was the Christmas of the Buddha statue meant for the garden to memorialize our little baby who didn't stay, but who has lived in our dining room because we want to be able to see it every day and we don't want anything to happen to it. It was the year we put the cats on the Christmas card, in bowties, and we wore 1950s style clothing and had cheeky photos of us under silver mistletoe. Sense of humor, saved by vacation. 

2013 we went to Vermont for Christmas again, but it was a little tinged with the sadness. We stayed in the suite we loved, and played board games and read and sat by the fire and snow-tubed and snow-shoed and hiked and ate really, really good food. And drank really, really good wine. But we had that feeling of same-ness...of families we'd seen the year before, of children another year older, of "here we are again and STILL no baby" that had followed us from home. Don't get me wrong, it was a magical, beautiful holiday--but it didn't quite erase the pain of our continued loss the way we'd hoped it would. This year I refused to send out Christmas cards. Instead, I made up New Year's cards, filled with pictures from the year--pictures of our house, our gardens, our fun times together, and a silly of each of us (Bryce sniffing a lilac like a fine wine, me wearing my shamrock deelie-boppers from St. Patrick's Day). It was different. Different is good. 

This year... this year is hard for its own reasons. 

We didn't book a trip to Vermont, because the fall was busy and we weren't sure it was the right thing, and our plans were to do Christmas in Maine with Bryce's mom and stepfather, since we have yet to do that. We were going to go to Vermont after, on our way home, but it just got away from us for a variety of reasons. It is the third Christmas without a tree--I didn't mind so much the past two years because we were traveling, and we're STILL traveling now so it doesn't make sense to have one, but to be home and have no tree is kind of depressing. The trip to Maine got cancelled when my grandmother passed away, because last weekend was a huge family trip to Chillicothe, Ohio where my grandmother's funeral service, calling hours, reception, and family dinner was. My school vacation started a day early, since we had to leave Friday morning, but it honestly didn't feel like vacation until Monday after we'd returned. There's a shadow over Christmas, because I don't have a grandmother to visit anymore. I don't have a reason to go to the Episcopal Church Home anymore, I don't have someone to bring lemon cake to, I don't have anyone to read to about the women journalists of WWII. While some think that my grandmother somewhat planned her time so that it would be before Christmas and we would be able to spend some time as a whole family together (nearly everyone was able to make it to the funeral), I can't help but be sad. I'm sad I don't get another Christmas with my grandma. I'm sad she's missed the opportunity to meet my children. I'm just sad, period. 

So, because driving 8 hours to Chillicothe and back and then driving the 9-12 hours to Maine shortly after was a bit OVERWHELMING, the trip to Maine was cancelled. Which is unfortunate. What's good is that we're meeting Bryce's mom and stepfather in Vermont, not far from Grafton, for a few days after Christmas, so we get both a family visit and the chance to be somewhere different for the holiday. I get to go to the Northshire Bookstore, which always makes my heart happy. We get to have Christmas several times -- by ourselves tomorrow, with my family on Friday, and then after with my Maine family. It's a beautiful thing. 

Due to all the craziness, this year's Christmas feels...not so much. The cards never got made, let alone sent out. We don't have a tree, but we have evergreens on the mantel, lit by battery-powered fairy lights intertwined. We'll put our presents for each other on either side of the fireplace and try not to set them on fire. I get really, really excited for Christmas--not for my own presents (although getting prizes is always lovely), but to watch people open the ones I've chosen for them. I'm really excited for Bryce's Christmas. Everything is wrapped and hidden in the downstairs room closet, and I am thrilled to put it all out tonight. 

A tradition that I've stolen from my childhood is the one present on Christmas Eve rule. You get to open one small present before bed on the Night Before Christmas... chosen by the other person. Then the rest are for the morning, opened slowly, one at a time, and alternating. Our kids are going to be so frustrated with us, because we can stretch presents out for HOURS. It's important to feel the gratitude for each present, and to slow it down because once the presents are gone, the moment's over. Stretching it out is like a magic slowing of time. Joy is hard to come by lately, so we have to make it last while we can. 

Tonight we're having roast duck and some accompaniments that Bryce has finagled...he's newly into cooking and I welcome it with open arms. He makes really, really delicious stuff. Good wine will be part of the evening, because there's no reason NOT to be drinking and enjoying the merriment of the season. Gather ye rosebuds while we may, I guess. Tomorrow, tradition pops up again. They have to start somewhere, right? We have citrus salad (ruby grapefruit, cara cara navels, and clementines) and coffee, then a full breakfast after presents are opened. Actually, I can't remember if we open one present after citrus salad and then the rest after the full breakfast, or maybe it's stockings with citrus salad and then presents after full breakfast? Pardon me, we haven't been home for years and I have my traditions all wonky. I think it's citrus salad, stockings, full breakfast, presents. That sounds about right. I think pancakes are in our future. 

Then, family phone calls, enjoying of gifts, and a delicious dinner of Chicken Marbella, which I hope is as delicious as it sounds (I read about it in a book recently, and looked it up on Pinterest, so it is a mystery...). Christmas carols. Christmas movies. Snuggling with cats. Trying to enjoy the love we have for each other and the joys we can bring each other instead of dwelling on what's not there, snuggled up with us. 

We feel both a sense of sadness and a sense of excitement for this coming year. We have our FET in February, and we are going to start up the paperwork for our adoption agency in January. I didn't want to do both at once, but a wise friend clinched it for me... paperwork is paperwork, and to have it done is a tremendous load off. It can make another failure, should things come to that, less sharp and pointy. It can give us hope in the midst of our sense of loss and failure and exhaustion that we're still at this over five years later. I find myself getting more and more excited at the prospect of all that's involved in getting things together for domestic infant adoption, instead of feeling weighted beneath piles of paper, which is how I've seen it in my head. The holidays mark the end of this year, which has been difficult (but any more difficult than previous years? Hard to say...), but which also spur off a new focus for 2015, a changing of the guard, a transformation of despair into hope. However things turn out, it will be better than the stagnancy we've been sitting in.

I can almost see what Christmas will look like in the future (I can't bring myself to say next year, because I always say next year and am always denied that reality)... our baby/babies joining us in opening presents and sitting around the fire and the incredible happiness that we will feel. We will feel so full, so bursting with joy, so incredibly grateful for the life we've wanted so badly that has been eluding us for so long. I wonder how our traditions will change and morph as we add new little personalities into the mix. I welcome the chaos. I welcome the change. I can't wait for us to be mom and dad, to move forward in our lives to this next great adventure.

Happy holidays to you -- may the holidays be kind to you wherever you are in this journey. May your families be understanding if you need time to yourselves to soothe your wounds. May you find traditions for yourself that help you to bring joy to a season that can seem so happy and yet also so desperately sad. May there be hope and light to guide you through into a new year. 


  1. Merry Christmas! Thinking of you today and always!

  2. Merry Christmas, Jess. I love you now and forever. And the order of Christmas morning events in your childhood was:
    1. Lighting the Christmas candle
    2. Citrus and Stollen
    3. Stockings
    4. Breakfast
    5. Presents!

    1. Thanks, Mom! This year's order was:
      1. Feed cats
      2. Make citrus salad and gf pancake batter
      3. Wake Bryce up
      4. Eat citrus salad
      5. Begin stockings
      6. Stop to take pictures, phone security features lock me out and erase everything
      7. Disaster, crying, why must my phone sabotage Christmas?
      8. Bryce fixes phone after factory reset, resets morning with breakfast and coffee
      9. Presents and joy restored