We are entering a new season again. The holidays are here. Everywhere. I’m trying to wrap my mind around the next couple months. Trying to figure out what survival tactics are needed, how to calm the anxiety, how to reconcile the longing feeling, how to replace the plans I had with the ones I get.
We started our stimulation medication for IVF the week after Christmas last year. I can remember leaning over to Dan after we had stuffed ourselves with a third family Christmas dinner and saying, “This could be our very last year without babies.” Those words hang in the air even now. They didn’t float away with hopeful wistfulness, they hung heavy settling into the couch waiting to be fulfilled.
I wanted twins. I wanted both embryos to take. I wanted everything that came with loving two and logistically caring for two. Twins felt like the ultimate reward – the absolute reason this had to be so hard was so that we could end up with two. The day after we saw both hearts flickering on the ultrasound screen I began planning for the holidays.
The babies were due in September so the holidays would be their first adventures. I earmarked an easy to carry play yard for Dad’s lake house at Thanksgiving, smaller portable bouncy chairs to take to Mom’s, a sturdy playpen that could double as bassinettes for overnight at Dan’s Dad’s farm. I researched ways to tandem breastfeed - how to do it in public or was it better to pump before gatherings. I decided to throw myself full-fledge into twin-momdom and put coordinating Christmas outfits and Halloween costumes on my Etsy to buy list. It was early to be planning, but I didn’t care – all my dreams were coming true.
Until they didn’t. Until we lost them. There are days even now, seven months later that I still remember with absolute clarity the exact moment each little body was handed to me. I can remember my body labor-worn and bleeding crashing against a bed to be handed the most delicate humans I’d ever seen. There are moments where I can still see my daughter’s heart beating and I cry out – why couldn’t we save her!
This year for Halloween, I put up our decorations, I oohed and awwed at people’s baby costume pictures on Facebook, I emotionally prepared to smile at each person that came by … until I just couldn’t. Moments before the doorbell rang with trick or treaters I turned all the lights out and wept. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I gave up on Halloween and decided to try harder for Christmas and Thanksgiving.
Yesterday, I swapped out my fall decorations for Christmas ones. It’s a week early but I wanted to get it done. I moved things around from last year. But it still feels the same. Nothing feels externally changed – everything is proceeding like normal. Because we never had a Christmas with them. We never had a Thanksgiving or Halloween. So the worst part of this year is that everything is the same as always.
I’ve been trying to figure out what to do with this. While everyone is posting articles and queries about how to get through the holidays post political upset, I’m just trying to figure out how to hold it together when asked what I’m most thankful for. I’m just trying to practice my happy face. I’m wondering what to do if I start crying when we hand out presents. I'm staring at the only ornament that indicates that they were here.
In the grief world we talk a lot to people about how to create new traditions to survive holidays after the loss of a loved one. We talk about ways to keep their memories alive during the season. We talk about the right to choose whether or not you want to celebrate at all. I remember all of that being incredible helpful after we lost my sister and Dan’s mom. But losing babies is different.
They were going to be the changed tradition, the new memory, the extra logistics needed. And even though the table is set the same as last year and the tree has the same number of presents as before … it feels incomplete, not enough, heartbreakingly missing something.
I started writing in this blog to suss out my own experiences after losing our twins. To examine the grief at arm’s length and share it with anyone who needed to hear it – anyone who needed to borrow my words to describe their experience, or understand the experience of someone else they loved. After we passed the due date the writing seemed to wane. Each time I sat down I had nothing new to say except it still hurts. It feels really awful. I miss them so much my innards quake. And even with moments of hope and love scattered here and there the words I would’ve written the last couple months wouldn’t have healed either of us.
But today I wanted to remind us that the holidays are about family. At least in my world they always have been. We never discuss politics at our holiday gatherings but apparently many families do – I’d encourage you to put it aside. Put it aside and remember who might be missing someone.
The holidays are hard for many people anyways. This year is gut-wrenchingly the hardest for me yet. I tell our story above because I will still look normal on the outside. This season I will decorate and celebrate with family, because that is all I have. That is all most of us have.
But honestly ... if someone just gives me a hug and says they wish my babies were here too I might just explode in gratitude.
Hello friends, I took a hiatus from writing last month but have received several recent encouragements to get started back.
We traveled at the beginning of September and then took the rest of the month to settle into our new reality – which is actually a non-changed reality - A reality in which we do not have to figure out how to juggle two newborns and all their needs. Our house is still quiet. That’s the thing about infant loss or pregnancy loss. On the outside your life seems unchanged, but you were planning for major changes. And when they don’t come … you just feel lost. Lost and sad and quiet and kinda lacking purpose.
There is an old Patty Griffin song that I used to play on repeat: Making Pies. The song has a sweet somberish sound with an undertone of bravery. The lyrics tell a story of a woman making pies instead of caving into her grief (at least that’s how interpreted it). My favorite line “You could cry or die or just make pies all day. I’m making pies.” Oh Patty, me too.
I have actually, literally, started making pies. I'm staying at home during the day and often baking a pie. I’m fortunate enough that my husband is able to take care of our living needs – so I’m “breaking” from school and work. The advice to take a step back from social work while I try to recover makes absolute sense. My work and study require my heart to be strong, it requires me to put my pain on hold so that I can hold someone else’s pain. (Side note: Hug a social worker if you can. There is not shortage of self that they are giving in their work.)
I can’t give that right now. Some days I want to – I miss working. I miss helping others. I’m bored a lot of the time. I actually cannot remember a time in my life where I haven’t worked, volunteered, or gone to school in some time consuming combination. But, I’m forcing myself to recover, to gently glue the pieces of my heart back together so it can hold. I’m also working on gluing those pieces together so we can hopefully open our hearts again. In the process I think I can learn to be better in my work …
Also, I think I am becoming a better human. Loss does that. It breaks us and forms us and builds us. Strange, but true. I wouldn’t pick it though. But unfortunately, I can’t unpick it now.
The truth is, I still cry a lot. I spent a lot of life being strong. I spent a lot of the last decade and a half standing up to the pain of loss. I spent a lot of hours being bigger than my grief. But losing my babies … it was just cratering in a way that I can barely put words to. I feel so incredibly broken inside. But also, I feel full. Broken and full. Love does that – makes us bigger.
In the healing space, I’m practicing holding both things: love and pain. It’s true of all loss though isn’t it? We learn to hold the weight of our love and our pain. We practice over and over until we are recovered. I don’t expect to fully recover until this life is over, but recovery is a lifelong thing any way. At least that’s what I would tell a client … so I’m gently telling myself. Every day, every step, a little closer. The bravery is in letting both things exist (love and pain) without feeling like you have to get rid of either to be healing.
So in the meantime, I’m making pies. It takes time, concentration, and I feel good about the outcome. When I need an hour or so to escape – I’m putting my hands in the dough, stirring the raspberrys or apples or cream or peanut butter (for Dad), or pecans (for Mom) and appreciating the ability to make something.
I didn’t cook or bake much before we lost the babies. So I’m learning this as I go. It’s new. It’s yummy. My husband loves it. I’ve picked up a couple other hobbies/self care activities too, but this is his favorite.
“I could cry or die or just make pies all day. I’m making pies.”
I’m interested to hear what new thing you began after your loss? Did you make something? Create something? Or start doing something different? Change an exercise routine? Please share … maybe it will inspire another griever with something that they could try while learning to live this new life after loss. Feel free to post a comment here or on the blog Facebook page: Facebook.com/lossandlife
Hi, I'm Tiffany. I believe in the power of stories to connect us to each other. I write about life after loss and all the love, longing, and learning that comes from it. Grief is big, love is bigger. My newest stories are about motherhood (after both infertility and loss). In my experience, love doesn't get bigger than motherhood.
© Tiffany Kann and Loss & Life, 2013-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Tiffany Kann and www.lossandlife.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.