pregnancy

Annabel is due on Christmas Day. She still grieves for the baby she lost last December.

Content warning: This article discusses stillbirth and infant loss and may be triggering for some readers.

I’m feeling pretty nervous about Christmas and the lead up to it this year. You see I’ve always loved December, it’s usually such a fun time of year – my birthday comes first, then Christmas – followed by my husband’s birthday on the 28th – but this year will be very different as December now holds another significant date, the birthday/anniversary of our baby boy Miles, who was born still on December 29 last year.

For many of us, Christmas can be an emotional time. Mia Freedman discusses how to best navigate it in this video. Post continues below.

Video by Mamamia

We first received news that he was really unwell during a routine scan which happened to be on my birthday. Terrified yet hopeful, we crawled through the lead up to Christmas, shunning the usual whirlwind of parties and catchups whilst we met with doctors to determine our little boy’s fate. After many scans, tests and MRI’s we discovered that he had suffered a brain haemorrhage in utero, the damage from which was irreversible.

So I guess it’s not all that surprising that I’m a little apprehensive about the festive season, and I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way.

For those who are recently separated, away from close friends and family, or have lost a loved one, Christmas may bring with it more sorrow than seasonal cheer. For me, there’s a piece missing, a hollowness which can’t be filled. I’m conscious that December will be full of reminders of our heartache and trigger an endless series of should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve’s.

For many, Christmas may highlight something or someone they are missing. I remember vividly the first Christmas after my first marriage broke down almost eight years ago; it felt so sad, so lonely; completely devoid of the feelings of family togetherness I’d always dreamed of for this day.

The sense that something was missing overwhelmed me. I felt disconnected and robbed of my usual festive enthusiasm. I put on a brave and happy face for my little boys who were thankfully oblivious to my feelings and tried as hard as I could to soak up their innocent joy and wonder.

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This year I fear that this will be a little harder to do. I don’t want to be a Christmas grinch, but I fear that what will stand out most to me will be the littlest boy missing in the kid’s picture with Santa, the gifts which are not sitting under the tree and the chubby little legs sticking out of the gloriously kitsch ‘my first Christmas’ or baby elf outfit I would have dressed Miles in.

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"I fear that what will stand out most to me will be the littlest boy missing in the kid’s picture with Santa." Image: supplied.

And yet I know I have so much to celebrate and be grateful for, so I feel quite guilty that I’m feeling so apprehensive about it. I mean, it’s supposed to be the most wonderful time of the year, right?

I’m incredibly fortunate to have Miles’ older siblings to celebrate with, and we’re over the moon that his younger brother or sister is due to be born on or around Christmas Day.

It’s hard to rationalise how grief and joy can constantly sit side by side, vying for equal attention, simultaneously occupying your thoughts; but they do. I worry that with the happy arrival of our ‘rainbow baby’, people may assume that our period of mourning for Miles has ended, but just as grief doesn’t switch off for the festive season our love for him will always remain; he will always be the missing part of our family.

I have decided that in order to survive the festive season I will need to be very mindful of what I take on, and most importantly, approach it at my own pace.

For me, that means ignoring any obligations to join in with festivities that feel forced, and only doing the things that feel right. We live in such a ‘yes’ culture that sometimes it’s important to give yourself permission to step back and say ‘no’ to anything which causes you to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or quite simply, sad.

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When you’re grieving, having to face something head-on which reminds you of what you’re missing can be a near-impossible task.

Listen to this episode of No Filter, where Mia Freedman speaks to grief counsellor Petrea King about navigating Christmas after loss. Post continues after audio.

A BBQ full of couples when you’re recently divorced, Christmas traditions which now feel empty after the death of a loved one you always shared them with... Life after loss can seem like a never-ending obstacle course which throws debilitating challenges your way as you try to navigate what is already such a difficult path.

Those around you may not realise just how hard certain events, dates and places may be for you, but to protect your heart it’s vital that you don’t feel pressured to do or be anything which is too painful for you, and only you can decide what this looks like.

It’s easy for others to forget that healing is a long process which doesn’t necessarily have an endpoint; it ebbs and flows and what you felt capable of one week may seem utterly unachievable the next.

At times managing the expectations of others and justifying your decisions can add to the heaviness you’re already feeling. Some people won’t understand why you’re still grieving or might hope, with the best of intentions, that you’ve moved on. The sadness may have eased overall but certain events and dates can cause it to return with its original intensity.

So this Christmas, don’t force yourself to do things just to appease others. It’s not being self-indulgent, its self-preservation.

It can feel very lonely to be the odd one out, the only one not swept up in the excitement of the festive season, but rest assured you’re not alone.

If you or a loved one had experienced stillbirth, newborn loss or pregnancy loss and would like some support, you can contact SANDS Australia on 1300 072 637 or visit the website.

You can download Never Forgotten: Stories of love, loss and healing after miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death for free here.

Annabel Bower is a food stylist and recipe writer @foodbyannabel and author @miles__apart. After the loss of her fourth child Miles she decided to write an honest and heartfelt book to help other parents navigate the grief and heartache that the loss of a baby at any stage of pregnancy brings. The book Miles Apart will be published in early 2020.

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