We lost our daughter inside the womb the day after Thanksgiving, conceived through in vitro fertilization. Less than 24 hours earlier we were rejoicing that among our many blessings, was the pending arrival of our little girl, and we were looking forward to celebrating the upcoming holidays with our little one. Suddenly the holidays took on a whole new meaning and the commercialism of our culture magnified our loss. Our first Christmas card of the season arrived a few days later. It happened to be a sonogram photograph, our friends’ creative way to announce their pregnancy on their holiday greeting. The barrage of Christmas cards that arrived in our mailbox over the next few weeks competed with the influx of toy advertisements, commercials, and holiday activities for children offered at our church and in the community. When my best friend called me before 7:15 am on Christmas morning to tell me that her at home pregnancy test had just revealed her own little bundle of joy, I held it together until I hung up the phone. That Christmas was the first of many holidays spent waiting for God’s plan for our family to unfold, first through IVF and then through adoption. Each holiday became a painful reminder of our loss and our unfulfilled longing to be parents. Easter, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, an endless cycle of celebrations that center on children and family.
There is no magic formula to “survive the holidays” while you wait to bring a child into your home. However, you can be better prepared by recognizing that the holidays may be difficult, accept the emotions when they come, plan ahead, and pray for God to help you through. Here are some suggestions that helped me discover some ways to not only survive the holidays while we waited, but celebrate, as well.
• Remember what the holiday is all about. As I sobbed that first Christmas morning after losing my daughter and cried out to God in prayer, I recognized that the holidays point to “holy days.” Christmas is about God in the flesh who loved us so much that he came as a baby to earth to address the needs of those suffering, not just here but for eternity. I recognized that Easter was about Him conquering death and bridging the gap between man and God. Because he came and because he died, I now have a relationship with a personal God who hears my innermost cries and is sovereign over my circumstances. That alone is a reason to celebrate!
• Turn to God. “For the Word of God is living and active” (Hebrews 4:12) and “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1). His word says, “Lord you are always with me; you hold me by my right hand…My flesh and my heart may fail, but you are the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:23,26) Allow God to speak and comfort you through his holy word.
• Send a letter to close friends and family. One of the very best ideas I had while I was waiting was writing a letter before the holidays to very close friends and family members. I preemptively answered questions and addressed issues that I thought they would ask so that they would know I loved them and wanted to involve them in our journey to parenthood, but wouldn’t be ambushed during our time together over the holidays. I told them some facts, described my feelings, and lovingly informed them that if I wanted them to know more or wanted to talk about it over the holidays, I would initiate it. This boundary helped me walk into a room knowing that I wasn’t going to be ambushed, they didn’t have to feel awkward wondering what to say or if they should ask, and we could just enjoy our time together. It empowered me to talk about it when I was comfortable.
• Create new traditions. Talk with your spouse about traditions that you want to implement when your child comes home and come up with new ones. If you are adopting internationally, learn about foods and traditions from their birth culture that you can incorporate when your child arrives. If attending a Mother’s Day service at church each year is too painful, create the tradition of going out of town for the weekend or having your own devotional at home followed by a big brunch.
• Be selective about the invitations you accept. Sometimes attending a holiday gathering may prove difficult for you and exposes you to the painful reminder that you are still waiting to hold your child in your arms. Decide with your spouse which invitations you want to accept and reserve the right to change your plans if you or your spouse are having an especially difficult time.
• Script your response. Most people asking questions or making comments about your parental status or adoption plan are honestly wanting to say and do the “right” thing. Well-meaning friends and family members need a lot of grace. Prayerfully consider what you’d like others to know about how you are dealing with your adoption journey and the waiting period, and plan how you will respond to certain questions ahead of time. It not only helps your anxiety in the moment, but is an opportunity to educate others.
• Focus on Others. Shifting your focus towards others is a great way to minister to others, serve God, and take your mind off of your own pain. Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mark 10:45) Volunteer serving food to the homeless on Thanksgiving, pack boxes for the children around the world with Operation Christmas Child, spend time at a nursing home, or write cards to grieving people in your church. There are people in need all around you.