The only Christmas I was pregnant, my second pregnancy, was not one I spent celebrating with carols and singing and anticipation of things to come. Instead, I spent the time in a cramped van for two days, and laughing for the first time.
When I was 19 weeks pregnant, my father-in-law passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly. We had all been at my niece’s first birthday party the day before, and the next morning he was dead.
At that moment, the entire focus of our family changed. We were no longer a young family expecting a second child; we were a family in mourning. The pregnancy was suddenly so far on the back burner that it wasn’t even cooking!
The next weeks and months were a muddle of relatives and tears and wakes and a funeral. Additionally, my father-in-law owned a business, and it was up to my husband to take it over until it could be sold. This meant that my husband had to work his own job for four 10-hour days, and then work his father’s business the other three days for 10 hours each day. He was working 70-hour work weeks while mourning his father, trying to support his mother, and expecting a second baby.
For my part, I was trying to make life as normal as possible for my young son, who had so suddenly lost his beloved grandpa and subsequently very rarely saw his father. I never had time to think about the baby on the way. I relied on my friends very much: one would watch my son while I went to my OB appointments, another made him a scrapbook of Grandpa. Our neighbor boy mowed our lawn. I tried my best to think of thoughtful answers to my son’s many questions about Grandpa and death.
Through it all, neither my husband nor I had many thoughts to spare about the baby in my womb. He didn’t touch my belly to feel the kicks. I could never remember how far along I was in the pregnancy. I remember feeling very guilty about it at the time, but it was hard for us to focus on the world outside the grief.
Another friend of mine, who knew what we were going through, offered to enroll us in her Bradley childbirth classes for free. This was very special to my husband and me, as it provided a specific time each week for us to focus on the joy and anticipation of our upcoming baby and to forget about the sorrow for just a couple hours every week. Though my husband was constantly working, he made a specific commitment to be at every lesson.
The holidays quickly came, and with it brought more heartache; my husband and his family were distraught at spending their first Christmas without their dad. I still tried to keep the holidays as normal as I could for our son, but it was very difficult to get into the spirit of the holiday as my husband was hurting so much and working constantly.
My mother-in-law quite understandably did not want to be home on Christmas day, but wanted to take a road trip with her family. So on Christmas Eve, my husband, my son, my mother-in-law, my sister- and brother-in-law, their year-old daughter, and I, 32 weeks pregnant, all piled into the van and took off.
We traveled all around the state during those two days. We had an agenda, but it turns out everything we had planned was closed for the holiday. So we just drove for miles and miles and miles for two days and talked and bonded and laughed for the first time in what seems like months.
After the holiday, my husband and I realized that we needed to prepare for this baby. I still vividly remember the to-do list I placed on the fridge a week before the birth. The number one item was “discuss names”.
Our baby daughter was born exactly two months after the trip. My husband and I were over the moon, but we were vividly aware that her birth might be a bittersweet time for his family: the joy of a new baby, coupled with the knowledge that this is the first grandchild that Grandpa would never meet.
It is now five years later. The baby girl is now almost five and most definitely has a name. Christmas is joyful and happy and full of lights and music. The story of The-Christmas-Trip-Where-Everything-Was-Closed is now the stuff of family legends. And though I didn’t feel it at the time, I remember it as the Christmas I was pregnant.