I have always prided myself on being good at sharing. Unless the sharing involved germs of some sort, or heaven forbid, my snacks, I have always been happy to share! Over the years, I have shared clothes, stories, my home, my family, knowledge, emotions, you name it. Four years ago, everything changed: I was asked to share my child. No words can adequately describe how gut-wrenching and difficult this can be. You can multiply those inadequately described feelings by 20 when it comes to sharing your child on Christmas.
The second Christmas after my divorce was one I dreaded even as the ink was still wet on the freshly signed divorce papers. This would be the very first Christmas that my precious daughter would not be spending with me, her mother. Something about this seemed painfully wrong, unnatural, and completely unfair. I spent the better part of September of that year feeling sorry for myself. I looked at the stack of Christmas books in the basket in her closet and after she went to bed, I would pull them out and sob — thinking about how I would not be reading these books to her on Christmas Eve.
Mad, Not Merry
As October and November came and went, I found my sadness slowly morphing into anger. I was not only devastated and hurt that I wouldn’t be holding my sweet angel on Christmas morning, but I was also flat out furious that this was being taken away from me! How on earth could it be right that I was not going to spend Christmas with my child? This was a child that I grew for six months in my body! I spent 73 days driving three times a day to the NICU to stare into her isolette and pray, holding her tiny hand during blood transfusions, pumping every three hours through day and night for seven months, hospital stays, surgeries, oxygen tanks, feeding tubes, therapy, dirty diapers, spit-up, throw-up, first smile, first words, first steps . . . how DARE this world do this to me!
When Christmas Eve morning rolled around, I was lucky enough to wake up with her and spend a few hours with her. As I brushed her curly mess of hair, she turned to me and with a huge smile and said, “Mommy, read me ‘dis.” I looked over her shoulder to see her holding one of the Christmas books that I was so sad not to be able to read her before bed on Christmas Eve. It took every ounce of self control that I had not to allow the tears to pour down my cheeks. I held her tighter than I’ve ever held her in my life, and we read that book twice! After that, I got her dressed, kissed her tiny cheek, and walked her outside to load her into her dad’s car.
As I watched the car pull out of the driveway, I realized this was not about me. It wasn’t about MY Christmas, or what I was owed, or the way I wanted things to be. This was about something much bigger than that. I’ll be honest, it took a lot to “suck it up,” so to speak, and to face the reality that my feelings, though valid, were incredibly selfish. How blessed was I that in just 48 hours, I would have two short, little, squishy arms wrapped around my neck and my cheek would be covered in slobbery, sticky kisses?
After a fairly long 48 hours, during which I was beyond blessed to be well distracted by family and friends, the most beautiful knock my front door sounded throughout the house. As I tore the door open, and scooped up my precious elf, I was overcome with feelings of joy. I carried her inside and she immediately spied the piles of presents under the tree and her grandparents on the couch waiting for her. It was right then that the most beautiful thing happened. My dad immediately opened his arms for her and said, “Merry Christmas!” She ran straight over to him, gave a quick hug, and then headed directly for the presents. I shook my head in disbelief, and mumbled, “Merry Christmas.”
Christmas was right there, in our house, at that very moment. It didn’t matter one bit what the date on the calendar said; it WAS Christmas! We celebrated Christmas just as we always have that morning. I read her Christmas stories, we ate Christmas lunch, I watched the pure elation and excitement on her face as she tore apart the shiny paper on each gift under the tree. More than once that day, I actually forgot that it was not, in fact, December 25. I’ve never told my father how much those two little words changed everything for me.
This year, I will again find myself loading my daughter into her father’s car on Christmas Eve morning. Admittedly, it never gets easier to send her off. There will still be an empty ache in my heart each time I glance at the stockings or tree on Christmas. It will always tear at my heart to look around the church on Christmas Eve and only be holding a candle, instead of a tiny hand. I will try to enjoy myself and will spend time with family and friends anticipating that knock on the door when we will squeeze each other tight and say, “Merry Christmas.”