holidays + the alternate timeline

I never thought about the alternate timeline very deeply until I stumbled, blindsided, into my first holiday season post-loss. I would acknowledge to myself now and then, “I should be X weeks pregnant right now…” which wasn’t ever easy to think about, but the alternate timeline has a much more profound impact the further time moves you away from your loss, and passing that first due date is a real bitch.

We should have had a 2 month old to celebrate Christmas with last year. Or I should have been 6 months pregnant at Christmas if pregnancy number 2 wasn’t lost. Five months pregnant if pregnancy number 3 made it. Today, there should be a 14 month old playing on our living room floor next to our Christmas tree that doesn’t exist, because I have no Christmas spirit or because I cannot brave the aisles at Christmas tree lots or Target or anywhere. I’m not sure which, maybe both, but it doesn’t matter. The point is, moving through life is hard when you remember the alternate timeline, do the math, and repeat every few months.

We exist in 2 worlds after loss: the painful reality of being without your child that you carried, however briefly; and the “what should have been,” now a distant fantasy, the life you imagined the moment you saw 2 pink lines. What many don’t realize is that those of us who’ve lost babies have already lived a lifetime of memories with our children. I had already imagined what our babies would look like (with our curls, my husband’s eyes and dimples), their personality traits, their first steps, first day of school, what hobbies they would enjoy most, who they might grow up to be. I imagined staying up all night listening to deafening cries, attempting to soothe temper tantrums in public, the bad days. The life that parents with living children have, I lived that in my mind while I was pregnant, and over and over again after every miscarriage.

Most of the time, it’s easy enough to stay grounded in reality and deal with waves of grief as they come. Holidays are the hardest because there are reminders everywhere that your baby isn’t here. We’re expected to at least appear joyful, give and receive material gifts, spend entire days socializing with family in various settings. While I can find joy in some of these moments, this time of year is a harsh reminder that our family is missing some members. Faking okayness through small talk at social events. The lack of baby clothes and toys, with our child’s name on the tags, under the tree. The only children present are nieces and nephews and for the time being, learning how to hide the fact that seeing their young, sweet, familiar faces isn’t breaking your heart into pieces.

The calendar is an endless list of reminders of what is missing. Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, would-be-due-dates sprinkled throughout. It hurts, so we hold each other closer on these days. For all the mothers and fathers in this tribe, I hold you in my heart on those days too.