If you baby has a due date around the holidays, here’s a list of things for you–and your family and friends–to consider. Challenges and blessings that makes having a baby around the December/January holidays different than having a baby at any other time of year. I had a holiday baby and one of my sisters was expecting an end of December baby this season, bringing it all back to mind! Hopefully, these thoughts will help some other mom prepare–and help family and friends know how to best support.
1. Extra stress from unpredictability. Childbirth and due dates are always unpredictable, and while having an April baby on a Tuesday versus a Saturday may hold some difference, having a baby the day before a big holiday, or the day of, versus three days after it’s over–that’s a monumental difference in experience!
Holiday gatherings take many hours of planning and prep work–and if you just knew whether you’d have the baby before or after would allow you to make wiser decisions about how to spend your time and dwindling energy… It was very frustrating in every practical way to not know if I would have Christmas morning with my family, and I imagine it’s the same for my friends celebrating the first night of Hanakkuh or Kwanza, or maybe even New year’s Eve.
When you are pregnant (especially if you have other kids already), you look ahead to that big day and wonder if you’ll be there, as big as a house, or in labor–or just returned home and trying to remember if it’s day or night as you’re up around the clock with a newborn! You did all this work and are looking forward to so much–but will you be there to enjoy it?
My due date was December 26, the day after Christmas. Because I’d had my other children prior to my due date, one almost 2 weeks before it, I hoped I’d have this baby around December 16th. I worked my tail off getting everything ready for going into labor around the 16th. I was excited, anxious, and very busy. But I got it done.
And then I waited.
And waited another day.
And each day that passed, my spirits plummeted further. I wanted the baby to arrive before Christmas! I preferred to be back home and have the disruptions behind us. The stress of my disappointment kept mounting and mounting–and was made worse by the fact that I had worked ahead and left myself with not much to do!
Tips: Focus only on what you can know, and do what’s reasonable with the rest. Also, consider doing something early if it’s really important for you to not miss. Don’t leave it to chance.
2. Feeling like you’re missing all the parties/festivities! A sister just said that to me last week, and I remember that feeling–like you’re missing Christmas. (Note here, this sister is adopting, and still, just about everything on this list applies to her situation, as she will go to the hospital with the birthmom and stay in the hospital with the baby.)
My husband’s side of the family always gathered the Saturday before the holiday, but we were not driving that far from our place of delivery. My side of the family was driving to my mom’s house for Christmas, but we were not. So we had nothing to go to for Christmas Eve or Christmas day. No one to see, no one to celebrate with.There were other parties we didn’t plan to attend either, thinking we’d already have had the baby or that I won’t want to go, being so close to my due date.
And you do feel like you’re missing out on almost everything–because you ARE!
This Christmas, when my sister asked if our family could postpone celebrating Christmas til January, in the hopes that she could actually make it, I knew how it felt knowing everyone was gathering and all was going on as usual and you were missing it. So I said, “Yes, we should move the celebration so she can hopefully join us.” So we are now celebrating in January!
TIPS: Ask. If you’re the one expecting, ask your family and friends, if practical and not crazy, if a celebration can be moved to before or after your expected baby’s arrival. If you’re a friend or family member, consider the mama’s experience and suggest this to the rest of the family/friends. There is nothing like feeling excluded, and conversely, there is nothing like feeling so appreciated and loved as when others consider your experience and move to include you.
If the above don’t work or apply, consider how you can make a meaningful celebration yourself. When you know you are missing a party you’ve loved attending, choose to do something else you love that you won’t get to do in the months ahead: snuggle up with cocoa and a favorite old movie, etc.
I never had to make something up to fill the time. My Christmas Eve party turned into being driven back home through the snow with baby in the car seat next to me. And with the kids, we made our own Christmas day: quiet, at home, with our less-than-a-day-old baby with us!
Christmas morning: presents wrapped and unwrapped, and newborn things all over the coffee table!
3. Extreme difficulties finding care for your other children. I cannot underestimate this one enough. This may have been my biggest stress when anticipating my daughter’s arrival. My due date was the 26th, and though I expected to go early–as I’d never seen my due date in any other pregnancy either–each day the calendar crept to December 24th was very worrying because that was the day we had a gap in childcare coverage. A time when all my local sisters were driving north to visit family or in-laws. A time when all others close enough to ask to come stay with the kids–friends, church family, neighbors–were ALL leaving town! It was uncanny–a year when no one stayed in our county! Though I’d been begging to go into labor before Christmas, I swiftly changed my tune on the 23rd and instead wanted that baby to stay inside until the 26th–just so there’d be someone to take care of our other children!
To solve that problem for Christmas day itself, we’d invited my husband’s parents to come stay overnight–so that someone could be here with our littles, day or night, if I went into labor. We’d never had them come or stay over Christmas, but it seemed the only practical thing to do under the circumstances.
So that left just one small window–the first half of Dec 24–when all sisters and friends would be gone, and my in-laws would not yet be here. Every other day was covered! So of course, basket of nerves that I was, I prayed I’d not go into labor that one morning!
My sister just went through this–she had the one day where everyone was out of town for the day, and she hoped the baby wouldn’t come, because who could she call to take care of her son?
Tips: Plan the best you can–though it feels like you’re piecing together the pattern of a kaleidoscope, and one little twist/turn of the thing, and all the pieces shatter to the ground. (The relied-upon sister can get sick, or a friend who promised they would be called on day or night could change her mind about helping last minute, etc.–and you start piecing together a new puzzle!)
And if you’re a family member or friend, the best advice I can give is to be flexible, even when it hurts. If you offer or agree to help, changing your mind when the time comes, or restricting your availability, puts expectant parents and/or siblings under high stress. If you want to give the expecting family a gift for the holiday, the best one is to give them your flexibility–even though it may be inconvenient during the holidays. (And if you don’t have the flexibility to be of help, that’s ok; just don’t offer it unless you can.) The expecting parents aren’t asking family or friends to undergo any inconvenience that they themselves aren’t already undergoing themselves to an even greater degree. This is an amazing opportunity to give self-sacrificingly, even if the timing is really not preferable.
And for the mamas in this position, the last tip I give is if the above doesn’t happen: forgive. Work on, practice, forgiving those who don’t pull through for you and you feel let you down. (Holding onto unforgiveness does you no favors in labor or the post-partum phase either.)
Note: My favorite part of my story is how we just so narrowly avoided our gap of “no childcare.” (The blessing of answered prayer…) My nearest sister was scheduled to leave the morning of the 24th, but I called her around 4 am, saying I was in labor. It was perfect timing–in just a few hours, she’d have been gone, driving to another state to visit members of her in-laws. (And, if memory serves me correctly, this sister and her husband actually delayed their trip and were at my house later that night when we returned home, though my in-laws had arrived to take over.
Okay, I’ll pause right there. I can almost hear readers’ eyes popping out of their heads. I was able to deliver the baby and be home the same day because I went to a free-standing birth center with midwives, and you need stay only 4 hours after birth, if all is well. I’d done that before; having a natural birth in the environment of those midwives always left me in good shape; I never had to recover from interventions (as I did in my first son’s birth, a hospital birth complete with Pitocin induction and various other things that complicated my recovery).
Extra tips: For friends and family: be like my sister. She’s awesome. Self-sacrificially, she and her husband stayed in town! (That’s above and beyond.) For each of my babies, she was always the first (or among the first) to meet each baby, whether at hospital or at my house upon my return form the birth center. Also, be like my in-laws, willing to come overnight for a holiday, totally against their tradition!
4. Extra stress from added tasks. It’s just true that for women and moms especially, the holidays present a long list of extra things to do. So while packing the hospital bag, washing the baby clothes, getting the room/crib/bassinet ready, add baking cookies, making snack trays and gifts for office or school parties, all the Christmas shopping and food prep too. (Holiday stress to the second power.) Then, there are the gifts–and the wrapping! For any non-pregnant woman with normal resources of energy, this is a monumental task completed in late nights already!
Tips: Enlist others to help. If a family member offers to help–let them! Also, delegate others and/or exempt yourself from extra, outside demands on your time which may not be yours to give in the end. You may not even make it to Aunt Mary’s house for Christmas Eve so even if you always make the gingerbread, this may be the year to let someone else do it or simply explain that you cannot be counted on. (Your family may not have the gingerbread one year, but it will be okay! Friends and family: offer to lighten the load, offer your time or effort or extend the grace of a free pass on an obligation.
5. Reduced staff/availability of services. I gave birth to all three of my kids at/near a holiday. (Really!) The first was Memorial Day weekend. I stayed in the hospital an extra day even, in order to get a chance to see the lactation consultant as recommended, but she still had not returned to work before I left. It became a theme in each of my births: “Well, normally we have ______, but because its’ a holiday, we don’t.”
Similarly, for our daughter’s Christmas Eve birth, my husband wanted to leave and go get some restaurant food to bring back for us to eat. He even got recommendations before he left, but then found that all area restaurants were closed. When he made it to the main inter-state highway about 15 minutes away, he fund one fast-food restaurant open, so that was what he got! Because we’d delivered this baby at a free-standing birth center, not a hospital with a cafeteria, we had to get food elsewhere. (I’d already eaten my frozen enchiladas meal brought for the purpose; labor makes you famished!) We didn’t realize how much the world shuts down Christmas Eve/Day, since we’ve never needed to check them out before. (Plus, giving birth can sort of take you out of time, and you don’t know what day it is anyway!)
Tips: Just be realistic about how the world has available on holidays. It’s not completely business as usual if you birth on a holiday.
6. Holiday cheer helps. If you like the holidays and their trappings, then it is a mood booster. I do love the holidays and so took advantage of the nostalgia and comfort from the festive decorations on the dark, wet streets as we drove to the birth center. I labored and gave birth to the background of Christmas carols. (If you find that annoying, you can have it turned off.)
I loved being pregnant during the Christmas season; Christmas is a favorite holiday. If you have ever tried to identify with Mary, being pregnant makes you think of things you might otherwise never have thought about, regarding her experience. I remember our church showing this video for Francesca Battistelli’s Christmas Song “Be Born in Me,” and tears streamed down my face:
7. Who cares for you at home may have to change. I already mentioned that stress ate at me, worse each day, the closer the calendar crept toward Christmas day. Tears dribbled down my cheeks easily, even when I had no idea why. It took me days to realize consciously that my anxiety rose in reverse proportion to the number of days left until Christmas because, if I gave birth right before or during Christmas, my mom would not be coming to help.
There are just times you want your mama. For each of my babies, my Mom came to help for 2-3 days. That was always such a comfort and gave such peace of mind because she’d had 5 kids, loved, loved, loved babies (we call her “The Baby Whisperer”), and she also nursed her babies and could give both support and help in that department. (And seriously, The Baby Whisperer can take a crying infant and soothe it to sleep even through feeding times!)
But when you give birth near or on a holiday, the person/people you were counting on for the transition back home may not be able to come right away. My mother, who lives hour away from us, already had a houseful of guests staying overnight, for whom she was cooking a breakfast and dinner the next day. She couldn’t just leave them. I do remember she wrapped it up as quickly as she could and did get to us later, Christmas night. (God bless her!)
After birth, your hormones are bonkers, and you cry at the drop of a hat. I honestly was completely bummed that my own mama couldn’t be there for that first day home–all because I had to give birth on one of the TWO holiday days I didn’t want to! It was really okay; my husband was there, my in-laws were there to help with practical things like the other kids and some kitchen stuff to keep people fed.
Tips: As much as it pains me to say, any mama in this predicament just has to give it time when her mama can’t get there right away due to holiday traditions/obligations. Even though it can be really challenging at times, due to the fact that you’ve JUST GIVEN BIRTH, not to begrudge the family enjoying a big holiday meal while you’re trying not to have non-stop hormonal crying while hiding in your bedroom, trying to teach your tiny newborn with a too-small mouth how to nurse, since your tiny house allows no other place to be while in-laws are visiting. (Even while you’re simultaneously glad those wonderful in-laws ARE there, because they kept your other kids and are currently playing with them in the living room! Face it, you’re a bundle of contradictions after childbirth.)
And though you feel the only thing to make all things right in the world is the presence of your mom, a holiday might be the one non-tragedy that could mess that up, and you simply have to wait.
Accept any all kinds of help this is offered. Maybe it’s not your mom offering to help with the baby, but DO take up your Mother-in-law’s offer to heat up supper, and your husband’s offers to set up a movie for you in the bedroom, and your kids ask if they can carry diapers to you. Receive all the love and grace you can soak up while waiting for what you feel is the only balm.
8. The chance to use holiday names. My daughter’s first name had been picked–since I was in high school. But the middle name was yet to be decided. We considered many names for our girl that have a Christmas root or association: Holly, Ivy, Natasha, Natalie, Christmas, Ginger, Christina, December, Winter, Star, Stella, Angel, Mary, Merry and Noel/Noelle. I really loved Noelle, but a sister had that picked out for a future child, as its middle name, so we left that alone.
In the end, we chose Joy for our daughter’s middle name. It was so perfectly fitting–recalling such a time of great joy, celebrating a pinnacle event in our faith, when angels told some smelly shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be to all people.” And our baby girl indeed brought us great joy too. And in the years we’ve had her, she has lived up to her name of spreading joy with her personality and by just being herself.
9. Unparalleled Christmas gift.
Your family, and especially kids, will NEVER forget the arrival of a holiday baby. It will be permanently etched into their memories, always associated with that holiday.
My oldest had prayed for a sister for two years, and to him (and us), this baby was the best gift we could have been given (after the original Gift, of course).
No present that year even came close to comparing with his baby sister.
This was the best part of having a holiday baby. My boys have such strong memories of her arrival because that event combined with Christmas. Even on days she drives them nuts, they still say she was their best gift.
So, anyone else have anything to add to this list? And homebirth moms, I imagine your list might include some other items? What would you add? Leave comments!
P.S. A public service announcement: If the peculiar challenges of a holiday baby leaves anyone thinking that induction might be the best solution, to guarantee a birth before the holidays, I just have to say that is one route my family has determined is not an enjoyable solution. Just have to put that out there. Three of us 4 sisters have walked the path of induction in the birth of a child (though not elected in order to have a child before a holiday) and it left our only sister yet to have children to say, “Why do doctors induce anybody anyway?” because she has seen is that it led to very long, drawn-out labors with unnatural levels of pain, very difficult recoveries as a result of multiple interventions brought about by the induction process, and in one case, ended in C-section anyway because the baby was not ready. I could write a whole post on this subject, but I felt I needed to say why I didn’t list it as a “tip” for a mama to avoid the unpredictability of arrival. Induction is a big decision in which many factors need to be considered, and I can share only our experiences as to why we’d not recommend it as a solution for holiday convenience.