The last two Christmases have not been fantastic.
Last year, I finished work on Friday, 23 December, and sat at the kitchen table ready for the holidays. I remember saying ‘I am so excited!’ about an hour before I went to the bathroom and saw blood in my underwear.
For most women, that’s called a menstrual cycle. But I was 23 weeks, 6 days pregnant. I had had an ultrasound earlier that day and it had been positive – it was a high-risk pregnancy but things were generally stable and I left feeling lighter than I had in the past. I was on the cusp of viability! This was HAPPENING!
I was at the hospital less than half an hour later.
The same doctor who had scanned me earlier that day came in, and confirmed that I’d had a bleed but that both girls were still moving. It looked like it might just be a one-off, and then it happened again. And again. And faster and faster.
I chugged water from paper cups in the triage area, running laps between the bathroom and our curtained-off area. A couple hours later, I was transferred to Labour & Delivery – not a positive sign – where I thankfully had a private room with ensuite bath (not all rooms do) and could schlep between the bed and the toilet. I noticed a tiny new stretch mark, running north from my bellybutton, and stared at the blue screensaver on the computer kiosk in a corner of the room, only realising the next morning that I could have turned off the monitor. But by midnight, the bleeding had just…trailed off. The same doctor – bless you, Catherine Aiken – came in to discuss delivery and steroid shots (I got one) and the NICU team came to prep me for the worst. Daphne was 400 grams at that point, and would not have been expected to survive; Fiona, at about 540, stood a fighting chance. Ian went home at about one in the morning and I spent the rest of the night the same way – staring numbly into space, trying to sleep, punctuated with trips to the toilet that confirmed I was mostly not bleeding anymore.
The next morning, a midwife’s assistant brought me tea and toast. I sat on the inclined bed with a Styrofoam cup of tea in my lap and sobbed and sobbed, while my daughters – now an even 24 weeks, and officially Viable as far as the medical establishment was concerned – wiggled and thumped inside me.
I was retrospectively diagnosed with a partial placenta previa, a complication that can be fatal to mum and baby – or can be so minor as to barely register as a complication at all. I left the hospital on Boxing Day, and we had family Christmas two days late. A week later, I had another bleed – a much more minor one – and spent New Year’s in the hospital. And that was last year’s holiday season. Yippee!
That would be enough to feel like I had to bring the Christmas Magic this year, but it turns out there is a theme. Two years ago, I had a miscarriage at 11 weeks pregnant (later diagnosed as having been caused by Graves’ Disease – basically an overactive thyroid), on the 17th of December. It had been an easy, breezy pregnancy to that point – things had gone 100% according to plan with minimal morning sickness, and once we crossed the 9 week mark I thought, ‘well this is fantastic; my chances of miscarriage now are like 2%’
Well, someone has to be in that 2%.
My memories of the miscarriage mostly involve crying: at the ultrasound, when they confirmed there was no heartbeat; in the shower, on the toilet, in my mother’s arms when I found the ‘big brother’ shirt I’d ordered to my parents’ house. Eventually I found a grief anthem: I would sing a chorus from a Ben Folds song and allow myself to feel All the Feels – sometimes I sang it twice – and then I’d pull myself together. All the same, it was a rough few weeks that stretched into months, when we learned that I had to wait until my thyroid was managed to try again.
This year – and every year from now on – I am free from reproductive stress. Our family is complete; this uterus has closed up shop. But as the 23rd of December approached, and I realised that last year would cast a longer shadow than I had anticipated, I felt a lot of self-inflicted pressure to make this holiday special. To start new traditions that would drown out the stress and disappointment of previous Decembers. To celebrate that we had come out of a difficult couple of years with three healthy children. Basically, to create Christmas memories that would drown out the crumminess of the last two years.
Here is the problem: my baby daughters don’t care; my husband doesn’t care (at least not nearly as much as I do); and my son just wants to eat treats and open presents, and will have only the haziest memories of this year if he has any at all. All five of us have colds, except for Theo, who is stuck at home because nursery is closed for the week and is going stir crazy. Holiday perfection has taken a backseat to sleeping and trying not to succumb to our desire to just plop our three year old in front of Paw Patrol and call it a damn day.
Where there has been magic, it has been incidental, which I guess is a good lesson to take from the festive season. Daphne waved at her grandparents and aunts during a Skype call on Christmas, a development that is way ahead of schedule and for which there were many witnesses. In the last four days, Fiona has become an indisputably mobile baby. She doesn’t go fast or far, but she doesn’t stay where you put her, either. Theo’s math skills have taken a step forward – when counting pound coins he received with a piggybank, he got to 8 and said ‘I think I have ten!’ And all three children started playing together for the first time when their new toy, Wobble Bear, was placed between the three of them, which felt like a freaking Christmas Miracle. Some of this stuff was facilitated by Christmas, but its mostly every day stuff that we noticed because we’re all sitting around driving each other a little nuts.
It will take more than one week of bad weather and sick children to erase the scary sadness of the last two Christmases, and an insistence on a CHRISTMAS FAMILY BRUNCH, DAMMIT are probably not going to help. But that’s a lesson in and of itself, and I will take it.