When Christmas Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas
We came home with our five-week-old on December 5, 2011. Our new normal. Our world wasn’t just shaken by a baby – but by a diagnosis and a weak hope that this new mommy would make it through Christmas.
IV feeding. Drains. Narcotic pain meds. Open wounds, and those festering in my heart that I had neither the emotional or physical stamina to deal with. Survival mode.
No, it certainly didn’t feel like Christmas.
We had just endured a harrowing five weeks in the hospital – which began with the joyous birth of our son, Reed. Our miracle baby. It quickly turned into a fight for my life. The discovery of dying intestines, bleeding that wouldn’t stop, intertwined scar tissue and multiple aneurysms.
I survived, but as the surgeon put it, “a very sick woman.” After five weeks, I was stable enough to go home under the care of my attentive husband-turned-nurse and home-health nurse visits. Loved ones helped provide around-the-clock care for our son.
“Go home and enjoy the holidays and we’ll evaluate in January what course of action we’ll take,” they told my husband. The research-hospital experts were unsure about the next steps in dealing with my complicated case.
Terrified and relieved, we went home.
So this is Christmas?
I typically decorated for Christmas in mid-November. This year was different, as we spent the fall preparing for a baby, then the entire month of November in the hospital.
December brought two more trips to the ER, with subsequent procedures and hospital stays. Loved ones had to care for our son at home. Presents, parties and pageants were the farthest thing from our minds.
At some point, our friend and dog-sitter set up a tiny artificial Christmas tree with teensy ornaments on a TV tray by our couch. To bring in a little Christmas cheer, she told me. I smiled weakly.
My mother-in-law, who stayed three weeks with us, brought Reed his first Christmas presents. She did the nighttime feedings, diaper changes and burped him despite his loud protests. She held him entirely too much – even during the night – and we cautioned her that she was spoiling him. But I’m so glad she did.
We spent our days in the living room, surrounded by Reed’s swing, play mat, toys, my medical supplies, my makeshift day bed on the couch and our tiny little Christmas tree. Reed stayed downstairs with his caregivers at night, and I slept in a recliner in our room due to the IV wires and the pressure on my neck from the growing aneurysm on my carotid artery.
Gifts Not Found Under the Tree
When Reed’s grandma had to leave, out-of-state family took turns coming out to help us. Church friends filled in the gaps.
During one stint at home, we decided to take family photos for Christmas cards.I have no idea why I agreed to this – maybe it was even my idea? Getting ready was exhausting. I’d only ventured out a few times for short walks or doctors’ appointments.
So we dressed Reed up in his little Santa hat. I got dressed, did my hair, put on makeup. The orange-hued tone of my jaundiced skin was starting to fade. With my hair carefully camouflaging the growing lump on my neck and my clothes covering the drains and tubes, I looked almost normal. I was exhausted.
Steve’s aunt took our photos, even a few with our little dog who was so loyal through all of the crazy changes happening in our home. I don’t remember who ordered the photo cards or who addressed them. Or even when we sent them, because December was filled with trips to the hospital.
But we have them, and I’m grateful – just like I was for our little Charlie Brown Christmas tree.
I spent Christmas week in the hospital. Church friends were watching our son in between family visits, and I asked them not to take Reed to church. We wanted – no, needed – to be the first to take him, I explained. Somehow I had a mustard seed of faith that that would someday happen. They graciously agreed and had a quiet little celebration at home with Reed, bringing him by the hospital for a Christmas Day pick-me-up.
The Weary World Rejoices
While Christmas 2011 was overshadowed by managing each new emergency, we had glimpses of hope that only Jesus offers.
We had so much help that we didn’t have to worry about Reed’s care – something typically all-consuming for a new mother. Our families and church family stepped up in unbelievable ways – truly a gift from God. My husband was fed by gracious friends delivering meals, while I was nourished and hydrated by TPN feedings for 12 hours a day. Somehow our laundry was done (which was a lot because our new baby was quite the spitter) and our toilets were cleaned. When we were in and out of the hospital (with Steve by my side day and night), loved ones cared for Reed, our house and our dog.
We delighted in watching Reed’s new milestones and his precious smiles and giggles. Our weary hearts could rejoice because these slivers of normal gave us fuel for a new day. Yes, Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas, but we could celebrate anyway.
While a baby changed our world, THE promised baby changed the entire world 2,000 years ago. Jesus Christ was the fulfillment of a promise of a new day. His coming meant that our weariness over life on earth (where things will never be just right because of the fall) and our flesh wrestling with sin are numbered. He is the embodiment of hope and salvation for the sin-sick world.
If your Christmas this year is overshadowed by heartache, I pray you can recognize little gifts of God’s goodness. Allow the tiny Christmas trees in your life to reach the ache of your heart. Rest in the promise of the baby who came so that you may have abundant and everlasting life.
Weary hearts, Merry Christmas from me to you.