The holidays are upon us once again, and once again I am reminded of the darkest years of my life.
As a child and early teen, the holidays were a time of wonder and hope. I couldn’t wait to put the tree up. I decorated the whole house, pulling out ornaments that I’d made over the years and decorations that had sentimental value to my family. I’d hang cards saved from years past around every doorway in the downstairs of our home. I couldn’t wait for Christmas.
I loved it. All of it.
The lights, the annual Christmas plays I participated in, traveling all around my community to perform in the weeks leading up to and just after Christmas. It was my jam.
Then in 1989 that all changed. Having moved to a new state to start my freshman year of high school, I found myself pregnant. Due Christmas day. You can read more about my story as a birthmother here. To sum it up, I was forced to place my baby for adoption to stay in my home, and the family I’d chosen was a good Christian couple that had promised to send me letters and pictures every year. So while some would consider it making the best out of a bad situation, my son’s impending due date filled me with a sense of impending dread.
The day everyone was anticipating would come and then he would be gone.
That day loomed large and dark for me.
I loved my baby, I loved his father, and I didn’t want to give him away.
I wanted to keep him, love him, mother him.
As an adult, I can see now that this sense of doom would color the holidays that year. I’d always had this drive for perfection, and this year I was so broken, imperfect, shattered and scattered.
It started with the Christmas tree. For the first time, my parents wanted a live tree, and it was ugly. Like, U G L Y. No alibi ugly.
I lost my shit.
That was ugly too. Really ugly. I just couldn’t get over the tree. Begrudgingly I decorated it. But that was all. No cards, none of the other things I’d once enjoyed. I hated that tree. I don’t remember much else about that Christmas except the birth of my son a week before and writing a letter to him and later spilling out his birth story into a journal that would just weeks later be thrown away accidentally by my family. My birthday was the week after Christmas, I toasted the world I hated with some postpartum bleeding and swollen breasts.
My son was here, and then he was gone. I waited. I waited for a letter, pictures, something. Anything to tell me my son was alive and doing well. Something to show me what color his eyes were. His eyes haunted me. I had this drive to know what color they would be. Brown like mine? Green/blue like his father’s? I didn’t realize at the time that I’d end up waiting 18 years to find out.
I did my best to move on, but I was haunted. To say I was angry would have been an understatement. I’d been duped. I gave these people my baby and received empty promises and lies in return.
All the people all around me were happy and cheerful, and I just wanted to scream and cry at the injustice I’d been served and was powerless to change. The violet and bloody dreams of war and carnage invaded my sleep. I’d wake up covered in sweat, thinking I heard gunshots or bombs outside my house. My trauma was deep and dark and I cried alone. Often.
That’s how it continued. For years and years and years.
November brought deep depression, anger, sheer rage. I really don’t know how my marriage survived it. Especially since my husband and I married when I was 18. Statistically, the odds were well against us.
My husband knew about my son; he knew his father very well. They were best friends growing up. But he was powerless to offer me any real comfort for my pain. He took the anger, he took the rage, and he loved me through it all. In spite of myself, the darkness and brokenness and the complete lack of trust in anyone other than myself.
He. Loved. Me. Through. It. All.
That whole season was a sense of impending dread before he was born and then after he was born a reminder that his family lied to me about being willing to send me pictures each year. I’d wait, nothing would come, I’d be torn apart.
That was the cycle every Nov-January for 18 years. It sucked. The single thing my soul craved as it’s only desire was never going to be mine to have. A picture and an update on my son. To know the color of his eyes. Something so simple denied.
I’d like to say that the year we were reunited that it all changed. The depression was markedly less. Thankfully. But the collateral damage to my sense of joy about the holidays was and is a constant. Christmas songs still don’t fill me with joy. Christmas movies make me either want to vomit or throw the remote at the TV. I mostly tune it all out, to be honest.
I’ve always done my best to make Christmas a fun thing for my girls.
I gave them total control over decorating the tree. For many years we had laminated Little Mermaid ornaments that came on the McDonalds Happy Meal boxes. It’s what made them happy and that’s what mattered.
I overcompensated by buying my oldest daughter all that I could until her sister came along and then I just felt guilty that we had to split those resources between two children. I’d often feel the youngest was getting shorted because her Christmas presents weren’t as grand and plentiful as her sisters once were. Even though she never knew the difference.
Today Christmas has a dull edge for me. I can mostly avoid the sadness.
I can reach out to my son anytime I want, hear his voice say “I love you mamma” even at 29 years old. The anticipation of his visit last spring brought me great joy and excitement. The excitement of getting to meet his girlfriend in person after communicating over text for so long. All of those things bring me immense joy. But they do not erase the 18 years of darkness and pain. It’s like the cells in my body remember. They start to shift long before I realize what is happening. Well before I realize the date.
In fact, the truth is I didn’t recognize the depression and rage and darkness until I’d been reunited with my son because that year it was less. Still there, but not as bad. As each year passes, it does get better. Bit by bit. But I’m forever changed. I will never experience Christmas as I once did.
To those of you who have your own darkness that envelops the holidays, I see you. You are not alone. I hear you and I acknowledge your pain. You may choose to put on a smile and a brave face, or you may choose to sit in the darkness and let it pass through you. There is no wrong choice here. We can be both happy and sad at the same time. There are no rules, only emotions that want to be seen, felt and heard.
if you are struggling this year, reach out. To a friend, family member or to a helpline where a warm heart and listening ear are on the other end.