Needing Distractions for the Day

I enter each holiday season now with trepidation.

watercolor a lonely thanksgiving table in the middle of a forest
Image created via Midjourney

On this day in 2015, I was at O'Hare airport waiting for a flight to Kansas City. The day had produced the first snow of the year, and not in a small amount. It caused delay after delay, rescheduled flight, getting onto the plane, and waiting for more than an hour on the tarmac. Only to be told that the flight was canceled and we needed to de-plane.

I had been at the airport for about 15 hours at that point, only to go to baggage claim and discover that my suitcase had been lost.

To add to my misery, I was pregnant. The positive test had appeared only days before. Timing-wise, it was a slight reprieve during pregnancy for about two weeks before I expected morning sickness set in. Too early for an ultrasound, the trip to Kansas was a welcomed distraction – a way to turn my attention elsewhere while I waited for the day when I could see a heartbeat.

It was only two months after Nelle had died. Two different doctors had told us that there was medically no reason to wait before attempting another pregnancy. As I sat in the doctor's office with that question – How long do I have to wait? – he asked me if I was sure I didn't want to take a break, emotionally. I shook my head. One child does not replace another, but having a baby could perhaps begin to heal my broken heart.

That positive pregnancy test was not a moment of joy. Today, I don't even remember taking it. I don't remember telling Ger. I only remember the fear that instantly grabbed my entire self and didn't let go.

Being so early in the pregnancy, I had told only a friend or two. I hadn't even told my family yet. I had planned to tell the hosts of my trip upon my arrival in Kansas. I could picture that moment of being greeted, a hug in sympathy for all that I had been through over the past few months, and then whispering "I'm pregnant." Maybe in that moment, I would finally allow myself to experience joy. And feel the joy of others being happy for me.

The hours passed and at one point I was certain the flight would be canceled. I texted my host and shared the news: that I was indeed pregnant, and had intended to tell her upon arrival. Since I had already worked out the scene in my head of telling her, the idea of not telling her wasn't an option. She had to know, and that was the day she had to know. As someone I interact with closely and frequently through work, I wanted her to be aware of what I was certain would be a daily struggle with stress and fear for the next 9 months.

Shortly after I had shared the news, all of the waiting passengers were told to grab our carry-ons and quickly get onto the plane. A window had opened up for us to depart.

As I sat on the plane, still stationary at O'Hare, it became less and less likely that we would take off. We knew that the pilot could only work a certain number of hours for the day – which we were butting up against as the afternoon dragged on – and that FAA regulations only allowed us to stay on the tarmac for a certain period of time. We were waiting for a crew to come and de-ice the plane, but there were several other flights ahead of us. It was increasingly warm on the plane and I felt myself starting to panic.

Tears began to flow. The woman sitting next to me was in her late 60s with curly gray hair to her chin, and a round, grandmotherly figure. She thought that I was upset about the potential of missing my flight. I am the person who never carries tissues in my purse, so I was trying to wipe away the tears on my sleeve. She handed me a cloth handkerchief.

I told her that I was scared. That I was barely 5 weeks pregnant and worried about the heat of our confined space and sitting for so long. I could feel my own blood pounding through my body and wondered if that tiny life was receiving what was needed to keep growing. Wondering if the constriction of my surroundings could cause something bad to happen.

Even after the words tumbled from my mouth, I knew how ridiculous it sounded. Like the first-time parent who feared that one misstep would cause a loss.

I told the woman that I had lost a baby at five months in September. I do not remember her response, but I remember continuing to cry into her handkerchief.

Finally, the announcement came that the flight was indeed canceled and I handed the cloth soaked with my tears back to her, thanking her for its use.

Realizing that today was that day, three years later, I stiffened. Friends and family were sympathetic to my plight in the airport and lost suitcase, but almost no one knew the additional strain that the day had placed on me. I felt that it was a prelude to what the rest of the pregnancy would hold, where every moment I would wonder if my baby was ok. Where ordinary inconveniences – like a canceled flight – suddenly became a sweeping tide and I felt like I was drowning.

I entered that holiday season that year with simple wishes: to make it through the day, and that my baby would be born healthy.

My wishes did not come true.

I made it through the holidays, but 12 weeks later, my daughter, Iris, died. And after that, making it through even one day seemed like a monumental task.

I enter each holiday season now with trepidation. A "checking off" of the days between when Nelle died in September and when Iris died in February of that one horrible season. We usually celebrate Thanksgiving with another family and it has been our tradition going back at least five years but they have been plagued with a stomach bug this year.

As I look ahead to tomorrow, I wonder about the day and what it will bring me when our celebration consists of only the five of us and no other noise or distractions around. Much like I needed that distraction in the form of a trip three years ago, I think that "keeping busy and occupied" is how I handle the holidays.

And so with Thanksgiving being my mental kickoff to the festivities of the holiday season, I am trying to find a way to fill that quiet tomorrow, because I think I will need it. Maybe it will be a yoga class in the morning. Maybe a movie marathon with my big kids. Maybe writing some more.

Whatever I end up doing, I hope that it will allow me to be thankful for the many good things I have in my life. While also recognizing what I am missing.

A Different Thanksgiving Celebration
I’ll do my best to find new ways for us to have joy at home, but it will be hard.
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