“I made a complete ass out of myself at Ben’s Christmas party,” I whispered to Julianne.
Julianne and I sat on the couch, sipping coffee after an earlier-than-usual morning. It was Christmas morning, and Ben and I were at Julianne and Greg’s house, as were Paige and Nate. With everything that we, and Paige, had been through this year, it was nice to have a different Christmas, one that wasn’t about how our home was decorated or how many presents were under the tree.
She looked over at me. “How bad was it?”
“Bad like he’s going to need to find another job.”
“Ouch. What happened?”
“Some woman with three kids started going on about her premature baby. He only weighed five pounds.”
“I don’t doubt that it was a difficult and scary time for her and her family, but it’s not the same as what we had to go through.”
“I’m sorry. Clearly she didn’t get it.”
“I’m sorry to be such a Debbie Downer.”
“Believe me, nothing is going to bring me down today.”
It was the first Christmas for Julianne and Greg as parents, and Nate’s first Christmas as well. Nate and Sadie had been showered with gifts, but were too young to really appreciate it. Nate had chewed on the wrapping paper, while Sadie had run around the room trailing ribbons behind her until she wore herself out. They were both sleeping now.
“Is it everything you imagined it would be?” I asked Julianne.
“And so much more. I’m sorry, I know that must be hard for you to hear.”
I shrugged. At this point, it was hard to deny that I was heading toward motherhood at breakneck speed. “I’ll get there soon enough. What was the best part?”
“Oh, when she went to see Santa. It was like magic.”
The picture from their big day with the man in red now held the center spot on their mantle. Sadie sat on Santa’s lap, staring up at him, her eyes wide. She wasn’t quite afraid, but definitely curious. Who wouldn’t be? She couldn’t possibly have any memory of her first Christmas the previous year. Then she was suddenly deposited with a strange bearded man dressed in red, and she wasn’t quite sure what to make of him. A lot of kids her age cried, and I totally understood why.
“She was so well behaved, and so patient in the line. She’s such a wonderful little girl,” Julianne said.
Sadie had fallen asleep on the living room floor, surrounded by her new toys. She lay sprawled across the floor dressed in a red and green taffeta dress. Nate was curled up in a pack and play nearby, clutching a brand new teddy bear. Paige too was napping, settled into a bed in the guest room. Being a single mom was wearing her out. I wished I could join the sleepers. I was finding myself more and more exhausted in these waning days of my pregnancy.
“You guys could go home,” Julianne said. “You look exhausted.”
“I am exhausted.”
“Ben’s having a good time helping with the construction.”
Sadie had, in fact, received a fantastic playhouse and climbing structure for the backyard. Greg had gotten the foundation put together, and Ben was helping him with the detail work, like hanging the swings. I didn’t want to drag him away. He didn’t get a lot of time with his friends, and so it was nice for him to have this time.
“They should come in anyway. It’s getting cold out,” Julianne replied. “I’ll go fetch the guys, and you can head out.”
Ben and Greg came in, rubbing their gloved hands together and stomping their feet.
“I don’t know why you bothered to put that together,” I said. “It’s too cold out for her to use it.”
Greg shrugged. “You’ll see, you’ll understand.”
“Ready to head home?” Ben asked.
I nodded. Ben helped me to my feet, since getting up from couches and chairs had become very difficult for me. We said our good-byes to Julianne and Greg.
“Tell Paige we said good-bye and Merry Christmas.”
Ben helped me out to the car and into my seat. I leaned my head back against the headrest, closing my eyes.
“Nap time?” Ben said.
“Well, we’re almost home.”
He backed out of the driveway, and turned the car toward home. After a minute, he spoke again.
“That was hard.”
I had closed my eyes to rest, but they flew open at his statement.
“Watching them have Christmas with their kids.”
“It wasn’t hard for you?”
“Not really. Not hard like it used to be, anyway.”
“This was the worst Christmas I think I’ve had since we started this,” Ben replied. “It was sad before, because we didn’t have kids. It’s sad now because we did have a daughter. We do have one. She’s just not here.”
“I’m so sorry, Ben,” I said softly. “I didn’t know you were having a hard time.”
“It was great too, don’t get me wrong. It was so nice to see how happy they are. It was the first time in a while that Anna not being here really hurt. Yoiu know, more than the day-to-day hurt of not having her here. Losing the chance to have Christmas with her, it sucks.”
I was always surprised me when Ben and I had different triggers for our grief. I generally had a harder time with the every day grief, while he tended to react more strongly to the milestones, to the concrete things we were missing. Like with the cookbook. Like when he’d seen kids waiting at the bus stop on the first day of school a few months back. And, now, when our friends got to have Christmas with their kids while we watched.
“Why didn’t you say something?” I asked. “We could have stayed home.”
“I don’t know. I know you needed this. I know it would have been worse for you to sit at home. I’m okay, Elise, I’m hurting a bit more than usual.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
He reached over and placed one hand on my belly. “Keep growing this.”
“Oh, I’m doing my best there.”
“You’re doing a great job, and I’m so proud of you. I can’t imagine how hard it is for you, but I know how scared I am. I know that I worry about this baby, and you, and making sure you both come out of this okay.”
“We’re both doing fine so far.”
“I know. You’re both amazing.”
“I don’t know about amazing. We’re both doing what we’re supposed to do.”
“Well, you’re both doing a great job of that, then.”
“It still feels like February is a million years away.”
“It’s right around the corner.”
Our due date felt close enough to touch. I was starting to be able to visualize that day a few weeks from now where our baby would be in the car with us. It almost seemed impossible now that we wouldn’t get there, a thought that I’d been afraid to have for so long.
In five more weeks, we were going to have a baby.