This time of year is a time for celebrating. A time to be with family and remember the fond memories of Christmas’s passed, yet make new memories to look back on in future years. It’s a time of year to be with loved ones, but what do you do when your most loved one is with another family? How are you supposed to survive this “wonderful time of the year” when all can do is ache for the absence of a child you carried and aren’t raising?

I remember my first holiday season after placement. I felt as if I was a bad actor in a play, a play that was long running and felt like it was never going to end. Everybody else was smiling, laughing, exchanging gifts and reminiscing. I simply waited in the wings until it was my cue, delivered my lines, then exited the stage as soon as I could. My smiles were fake, my laughter forced, and the words I spoke were as empty as I felt. It was the loneliest I have ever been. So how can somebody learn from my experience? They say that the first year is the hardest because you hit all of the holidays and anniversaries when the emotions are so raw. So are all birth mother’s doomed to at least a full year of misery and emptiness, if not longer? Is there another way?

While I can’t deny that the holidays will have difficult moments, there is a possibility of joy. Give yourself some credit; you’ve performed an amazing and selfless act. It’s ok to be a little selfish and take some time for yourself. At that time in my life, it meant putting on that smile and enduring to the end. For another birth mother friend, it meant confiding in her family how she was feeling. I know others who avoided the situation altogether and some that embrace the spirit of the season. What’s important is to find out what will work for you and do it. There will be others, family members, friends, neighbors who all think your grieving process should be different than it is, but it’s a good time to stand up for your decision if that situation arises. Here are 3 tips I can remember that helped me survive the first Christmas after placement.

1. Make small goals

Ever seen “What About Bob”? Baby steps all the way! I made a game plan. Decided to get out of bed, dress up, eat at least one healthy meal, and smile for the family. I did it. One by one, I did it. Eventually the only thing I had left was to smile, and that was easy once I had made it through the rest of my “list”.

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2. Think of your child

This seems counterproductive, right? You’re in mourning, perhaps feeling overwhelmed, so to think of your child might make the emotions surface. However, the only time I felt at peace was when I remembered my son. He was six months old at the time, probably chewing on some wrapping paper he ripped off of a gift under the tree. I thought of his parents who waited years for a child, finally able to celebrate a holiday as a family of three. Thinking of him, remembering why I chose a better life for him, that was the easiest way I was able to feel comfortable with my Christmas five years ago.

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3. Look forward to the future

The next holiday will be easier, I promise. And the next one after that and so on. There may be a year here or there that will feel harder than the previous year, but none will be harder than the first. If you get pictures, the pictures will be sweeter each year. I have one of my birth son getting a surprise visit from Santa last year, and he was running to see Santa so quickly that the picture is blurry. It is, by far, one of my favorite pictures of him. I knew back in 2009 that the pictures, videos, and relationship would only strengthen and that gave me a reason to be excited about Christmas in upcoming years.

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