Experiencing a pregnancy loss can feel devastating no matter what time of year it occurs. Having the date of this sad anniversary tends to be something that few others will remember outside of you or your closest friends and family. What about if your loss corresponds with a more national (or religious) celebration? In addition to the specific date of your loss, there is another marker of the time of year that gets tied into loss.
I rarely speak from my own direct loss experience, but this is a topic that I hold very close. The mother of three babies I never raised, one of my losses occurred around the American holiday of Thanksgiving. It was a time of year to be grateful and thankful. All I knew was that I was carrying a baby that would never breathe and live outside my womb and who would be born still the day after the holiday. Having the holiday interfered with my ability to come up with a plan more expediently, and rather I had to wait. That year, I “opted out” of Thanksgiving. I went through the motions of being with family, but no one talked about my swollen belly or the son that we would never raise. I felt bitter, not grateful. This baby was supposed to help me get through the following month, when I was due around Christmas with a previous pregnancy that I miscarried.
Every year since my loss, Thanksgiving has a mixed meaning for me. In the beginning, the meaning was more painful and bitter, than any tinge of sweetness it might have previously held. As time has passed, I notice other aspects of the holiday. I use it as a time to reflect and remember, but also a time to look forward and take stock. I use it as a touch point to monitor the growth I hope to achieve during a given year.
Learning how to opt out
Loss doesn’t have to occur around a holiday for holidays to be charged. There is a discordance between what you are experiencing internally with what you might be seeing other’s emotional experience being simultaneously. For example, seeing others act more carefree around a holiday celebration when you feel like a part of you has died. Holding the both/and of grief, especially when it directly touches something that had a different meaning, can be challenging (on a good day!) Being able to speak to your needs can be important in navigating through the holidays, and noticing how your needs might change. “Opting out” might not be an option, but you won’t know if you don’t speak that is what you might need. Planning how you want the day (or part of the day) to look is another strategy to manage feelings that holidays can bring up. Feeling like you can exercise some control on a day when you felt that you didn’t have control can be really empowering, and start to create additional meanings to your experience of loss.
Rethinking the holiday and what it is you are celebrating can also help navigate through the complex emotions that might come up.
For example, paying attention to International Bereaved Mother’s Day as a way to bring awareness to the very common state of pregnancy loss (unfortunately) while serving as a gentle reminder of your specific loss or losses. Can you point your energies outwards as a way to mark a holiday rather than have a more central celebration?