Ashleigh and Sebastien, share some thoughts on how to tackle the holiday season when your baby is missing from the festivities.
Dominic Christophe Rousseaux, Ashleigh and Sebastien’s second child and much loved first son was stillborn in October 2014 when Ashleigh was 39 weeks’ pregnant. Dominic has two beautiful sisters, 4 year old Juliette and little sister Sophie who is almost 1.
I find Christmas time, actually all happy, family-oriented occasions, to be highly emotional and conflicting. It is hard to be happy at such a joyful occasion when someone so important is so painfully absent and missing out. Yet, at the same time, the sad times we have been through make the happy ones feel more intense and filled with more gratitude than they would have been before. This happiness often leads to guilt. Is it insulting to my son if I feel happiness when he isn't here? For me, I have found that the way to get beyond the guilt is to acknowledge him as part of the celebrations.
My favourite thing to do to start the holiday season is to place a small, wooden Christmas tree next to my son's photo. We do this on the same day that we set up our own Christmas tree, and it stays up for as long as the real one does.
This year my four-year-old daughter had the honour of placing Dominic's tree. It is a wonderful and memorable way to bring him into the Christmas season with us and include him as part of an annual family ritual. We do the same thing at Easter time with a wooden bunny. Finding little things like this to do brings me an enormous amount of peace, knowing that our family will always know and acknowledge our baby who is not here with us anymore, and it helps me to carry on with the rest of the festivities, knowing that we have done something that is just for him.
I find that it helps to make those who spend time around us over the holidays aware of how we feel about remembering our son. At the start of the holiday season, I will often share a social post about loss that resonates with me, so that those who we may cross paths with or who might be thinking of sending us a card know how we feel. This year I shared a post from Sands:
"Christmas is a difficult time for us.The grief we have for our son that died is caught up in all the things he will miss, but he is still our son and it is lovely to see him remembered in the Christmas cards we receive.Don't be afraid to include our son's name in Christmas cards this year. Thank you for your love and support."
Friends and family who have not experienced a similar loss may not realise that the emotions intensify around special occasions, so a brief reminder like this in the lead-up to the event helps them to remember that the holidays are not a time of pure joy for us.
When big occasions arrive, I find that my son and his absence is at the forefront of my mind, and I used to find myself waiting to see if friends and family were going to mention him to me. Having this expectation of people to make the first move, meant I was often disappointed or hurt when he was not acknowledged. Now I make the first move and acknowledge him early on so that others can follow my lead, knowing that they can talk about him and include him without worrying about upsetting me. I have only ever regretted the times I DIDN'T mention my son, so I have found this to be enormously helpful with difficult situations.
When someone does make an effort to mention my son, I make sure to let them know how meaningful it is to me. Expressing gratitude to them helps them to remember my reaction and makes them more likely to mention him again next time, which warms my heart!
Something that was helpful for my wife and I was to agree that it is ok to be sad and that this is normal. At the same time, it is better to let yourself enjoy things rather than thinking "I can't be happy right now". This winds up with a bit of an emotional roller coaster as you could be happily enjoying something nice, when suddenly it hits you that your baby is missing. This hits suddenly, like a wall, like you unexpectedly miss-stepped and have suddenly fallen down a pit, and it sucks.
But if others, most importantly your partner, know this and are prepared for this, all you need to know is that you/your partner is missing the baby. And it's ok to let yourself cry. We found that this helps to get it out of your system, and that your emotions settle down afterwards. It is also a way of acknowledging the child you are missing, which is important to us. It actually helped us feel better - not about what happened - but about ourselves and what we hold dear, which is our family.
By giving each other permission to be sad in this way it is a whole lot less stressful than trying to 'keep it together'. Trying to suppress showing any emotion, either good or bad, just adds a pile of stress to what is already one of the worst experiences of your life.