By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
“So…why are you going?”
My sweet friend, let’s call her Ashley, had just told me about how much she was dreading Christmas. She and her husband are traveling halfway across the country to be with extended family, a family of loud, funny, sarcastic, in-your-face, mostly well-intentioned people who she knows will be needling her about why they don’t have kids yet.
“I can hear your clock ticking!”
“Your cousin got pregnant on her honeymoon—and you two have been married how long?”
“I swear I’m going to croak before this one gives me a grandchild!”
What they don’t know is that Ashley had another miscarriage last month. So she is going to suffer through all the questions and smart-ass comments in silence, with a half-smile on her face and a crack that is growing deeper in her heart.
But she is going because family gatherings are fewer and farther between as busy lives take over. And the older generations aren’t getting any younger, so she feels like she’s on borrowed time with them. And her favorite aunt was widowed earlier this year, and Ashley doesn’t want her to feel alone over the holidays. All valid reasons, but oh how my heart aches for her as I anticipate and imagine what she’s facing this coming week.
I asked her to put me on speed dial, so that if things get really rough, she can step outside or lock herself in the bathroom and call me for emotional support. Even though she and her husband are still trying, still hopeful (and I’m hopeful for them too), I sent her some classic LWB posts about dealing with social landmines and getting through the holidays when you’re childless-not-by-choice. I hope I helped her, and I hope I can continue to help her get through this season with some dignity and grace.
After our chat, I started thinking more about how no one in her family knows what she’s been going through. I know better than to encourage anyone to break a silence on something so emotionally devastating as multiple miscarriages, especially in a large and rowdy gathering, but her sharing her confidences made me think about the fact that all of us are dealing with things that aren’t fit for announcing to the general public—or sometimes to our immediate and extended family members.
So, while I’ll be dealing quietly with my own hurts, as I gather with loved ones over the holidays, I’ll be approaching them with a new awareness. I might give slightly longer hugs, I might reach across a room with a smile, I might keep an eye out for someone who is left out of the conversation or looks a little more isolated than usual. Whether or not they choose to give me their confidence, I can give them something: the gift of kindness, the gift of compassion. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll get that gift in return.