The Christmas after my partner and I lost our first son, we bought an ornament for him. A week before Thanksgiving, at nearly 21 weeks, we had found out that he had passed in utero. That Christmas we were still in the immediate throes of grief. The ornament we bought for our tree was subtle, just the shape of a heart with a picture of lentils printed on it. This was his pregnancy nickname and has since become his name. I recall that year thinking that this was how we would remember our baby.
At the time, I didn’t think we would need something more in our house to represent him but that at least once per year as we hung the ornament we would share with our future living children about our first baby, the baby we lost before we had them. I remember liking that the ornament was subtle. At that point, I really didn’t want something that clearly referred to the loss of a baby. It felt like the perfect representation of him, and I assumed that would be how he was represented in our home.
Little did we know then that the following year we would be grieving his brother.
Two and a half months before Christmas we found out we had lost our second son. The time that had passed and the loss of our second baby, solidified our grief. It changed our relationship with loss and with our babies. In my previous visions of sharing with our hypothetical living children about the baby we had lost, I imagined sharing about the history of our family. This vision and our relationship with our babies has changed over time. After losing Danny and by the time our daughter was born, the idea of sharing about the babies we lost felt much more like sharing about the story of our current family.
Her brothers, our sons, are a part of what makes us the family that we are. Their existence and their deaths have made us into the parents that we are.
They are not only a part of our past but are very much a part of our present.
Our second Christmas as loss parents we added a couple of ornaments to remember Danny along with Lentil. The following year, when I was pregnant with our daughter, I had decided that I would make them all stockings, and since I hadn’t found time to make them yet, last year at her first Christmas we bought matching stockings for all of them. We didn’t want to have a stocking for our daughter without having stockings for all of our babies.
As years have passed, it has become more and more important to have our babies included in our home in extra ways during the holidays.
Our baby boys are not a part of the family that lives, breathes, grows, and changes together, but they are a part of our family. They are not in the day in and day out in the way that most children are, but they are still with us. They have shaped who we are as parents and what our family looks like. To have no part of them present in our home would be painful. It would feel as though we had a secret that we had to hide. It would seem as though our baby boys were something to feel shameful or uncomfortable about.
All of our babies are a part of our family, and we do not feel uncomfortable about any of them.
In decorations that have our names, sometimes it feels like theirs are missing. Other times it does not. It is hard to explain why and when it feels okay to not have their names and when they need to be represented. Last year my parents bought Christmas initial mugs for all of us to have in our homes as they have at theirs. When I opened them, having one for my husband, my daughter, and I felt appropriate. I did not initially feel that anything was missing, but when I put them on the shelf in our home, Lentil and Danny felt very absent. This year, I added L and D mugs to the collection and now it feels complete.
Each year I think we won’t add more decorations for Danny and Lentil, but as time has gone on I have realized this isn’t true. One of the ways that we maintain their memory and their presence in our lives is to buy things for them when we see things that make us think of them. This year, my husband ordered a snowman pillow with all of our family members’ names on it, and I ordered new ornaments (recommended by another loss parent) that light up like a candle with Lentil and Danny’s names on them. I love that we will be able to turn the ornaments on when we are gathered around the tree. Their presence with us will be clear.
The family members that are missing will not just be in our minds and in our hearts, but in the room with us in a more concrete way.
If you have loved ones who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy, infant, or child, try to understand why they may need an acknowledgment of the children they don’t get to have with them during the holidays. If you aren’t sure whether they would want their baby(ies)’s names on something you are purchasing for them, ask. They will be touched that you thought to check and that you think of their babies as a part of their family.
Fellow loss parents, be gentle with yourself.
The holidays are a time of making significant memories, and we are acutely aware during these times of year of the children that are supposed to be here with us. During the holidays, do what you need in order to find comfort for yourself and your family. Be patient with yourself if you are still determining how much you want your babies present in your home or if you are still finding ways to maintain their memory at this time of year. In time you will find what is right for you. It will likely change from year to year, and that is okay.