Share's Program Director, Rose Carlson, writes about her Healing Moments During the Holidays.
Several years ago, I was sorting through a box of old photographs that I had never put into an album. I was casually flipping through a stack when I came across a photo that took my breath away for a moment. It was of my son Brandon and I on his second Christmas when he was 19 months old. However, rather than smiling at the memory, I was overcome with emotion seeing the haunted look of myself in the picture. My eyes spilled over with tears as memories of that day, that whole Christmas season, overcame me, as vivid as if it had only been a few months ago rather than many years.
It was 1992. I had looked so forward to this Christmas with Brandon as the previous year, he had only been seven months old and was not really much into Christmas yet; he was more interested in the wrappings and bows than the actual gifts. I was so looking forward to his wide-eyed excitement as he tore into his stack of gifts that year. Christmas 1992 was special for another reason as well. It would be our last Christmas with only one child…by the next year, Brandon’s little brother or sister would be joining our family. I was 12 weeks pregnant, and I had happily announced in our Christmas card that we had a new baby on the way. The pregnancy was not trouble free though. I had been sick, and in the previous month, I had experienced several light bleeding episodes. I had two losses before I became pregnant with Brandon, but I had passed the time they had both happened. I was trying to stay positive and my doctor had assured me that all was well, that some spotting in early pregnancy was normal. By the time Christmas Day came, I had gone nearly a week with no bleeding, so I was starting to feel reassured that since I was almost at that magical end of the first trimester that everything would be fine.
My family wasn’t arriving until the next day, and our friends, Jim and Diedre, had invited us to spend Christmas with their family. Diedre kept patting my belly, telling everyone “can you believe she is three months pregnant? Look how great she looks!” I smiled, but inside, I had that nagging worry. That afternoon, I began bleeding again, much heavier this time, and my heart sank…we left, and I spent the rest of the day in bed. By the next morning, the bleeding had slowed, but hadn’t stopped. My family arrived and I tried to not think about what this could mean. My mom took the picture of Brandon and I that brought so many memories flooding back. I didn’t notice it when I had the film developed the next day, but looking at it all those years later…the look on my face says it all. The worry that is obvious in my eyes…the half-hearted smile that was obviously plastered on my pale face just for the picture. I don’t look well in that photograph, certainly not like a glowing pregnant mom happily celebrating Christmas with her son. By the next day the bleeding had stopped, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe everything WAS going to be okay. My relief was short lived, however…the day before New Years Eve, the bleeding was back, heavier than ever. I called my doctor, and he sent me to the hospital for an ultrasound to reassure me that everything was okay, he said. The ultrasound technician turned the screen so I could see our baby, curled up on its back at the bottom of the sac. I could see the tiny arms and legs, the spine…and where the tiny flicker of a heartbeat should be, nothing. My baby had died. I couldn’ t bel ieve this was really happening. I went home in a state of shock and spent New Year’s Eve in the hospital having a D & C. That night, my hugely pregnant best friend and her husband stopped by on their way to a party and I pretended to fall asleep so they would leave. As I recovered from my ordeal over the following days, I decided that I would forever hate the Christmas season.
By the following Christmas, I had experienced yet another loss and we had nearly given up our dream of having another child. However, I was once again pregnant…13 weeks. It too was a pregnancy filled with many scary moments, practically from the day I had the positive test. In the days leading up to Christmas, I had been put on bed rest and my husband Tony had done almost all of the shopping, cooking and decorating. The night before Christmas Eve, after everyone was in bed, I lay on the couch, the only lights in my house were those from the Christmas tree. With tears streaming down my face, I prayed for everything to be okay with this baby I was now carrying and wanted so desperately.
Thankfully, in spite of the rocky start, pre-term labor and 8 weeks of bed rest, everything turned out okay. The next Christmas, as I took pictures of 3 year old Brandon and 6 month old Justin, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness along with my joy remembering the previous Christmases when I was feeling so heartbroken and hopeless. I kept those feelings in my heart, not sharing them with anyone, knowing that no one would understand them, not even Tony. I didn’t even understand them myself. By the next Christmas, I had another new baby, 3 month old Lauren, and again, while taking pictures of my beautiful, healthy children in front of the tree, I remembered those two difficult Christmases. Over the years, caught up in the excitement and business of Christmas with four children, those sad memories slowly faded. Until, I came across that photo from 1992. I was volunteering at Share by then, and had finally come to the realization that there is nothing wrong with honoring babies who died while celebrating your living children. I came across that picture at the perfect time…I had never done anything tangible to honor the babies I lost, and after reading at Share about what others had done, I felt I wanted to do something too, but I didn’t know what. After finding that photograph, I began collecting angel ornaments. No one knows that I do this, not even my husband. We decorate our tree as a family of six, but I always save my angel ornaments for a time when everyone is in bed. I turn off all the lights except the Christmas tree, put the angels on the tree, and take a few moments to reflect on, and embrace those two difficult holiday seasons and the four babies that I never knew but will never forget. Last year, I pulled out the album that now holds the picture of Brandon and I from Christmas 1992. It was the first time I had looked at it since discovering it and placing it in the album. Even though many Christmases have passed since that photo was taken, my eyes again spilled over with tears. But this time, along with the tears there was smile and a feeling of peace. I stared at it for a moment, remembering, then, I turned off the lights and went to bed feeling grateful for ALL of my children, the ones who are with me and the ones who are not, next to the tree in our brand new home.