Surviving the Holidays After Baby Loss | Tackling Family Gatherings While Grieving

Family gatherings can be full of anxiety, especially after baby loss. Maybe one of your family members is pregnant. Maybe your grandma keeps asking about when you're going to give her a great-grandchild. Maybe your uncle won't shut up about how "dramatic" you're being about your miscarriage.

Whatever it is, your feelings are valid. Here are 8 ways you can tackle family gatherings while grieving:

1. Have a buddy

If you have a friend or loved one who will be going to the gathering with you, consider having them be your designated buddy. This person will be on alert that you're stressed and will be there for you if you need them. Your buddy might not have to actually do or say anything in particular, but just knowing that you have a buddy incase a negative situation arises can be helpful.

*Be sure this person consents to being your buddy and that you talk with them about your concerns ahead of time!

2. Avoid people and places that don't support your grief

A lot of us feel obligated to go to family events even if we don't want to. But guess what? You're not obligated to be around people or places that don't support you. Will your family talk sh*t if you don't show up? Probably, but that's okay. If you'd like to let them know ahead of time that you won't be going, something as simple as "I've been feeling really down lately and the holidays are hard so I'm not going to things this year" can work. You can tell them over text, over Facebook or not at all. You're not obligated to explain yourself.

3. Allow yourself to leave if necessary

If you initially feel like "okay, I think I can do this" and then something happens and you decide "nope", that's okay! You can take a break by going to the bathroom, sitting in the car for a bit or leaving all together. Allow yourself to leave if that's what you need to do. If you're a people pleaser, give yourself a pep-talk beforehand about how you're going to do what's best for YOU.

4. Bring up your baby, don't wait for others to do so

If you're nervous about your baby being the "elephant in the room", bring them up yourself! Maybe all the grandkids sit at a certain table - you could bring up your baby by saying how much you wish they could have been here to sit at that table too. Or maybe everyone pulled names for Secret Santa and you include your baby on the card. If you want to bring up your baby, do it! You might not get the reaction you want but at least you know you did what your heart was telling you to.

5. Prep for the triggers that may come up 

Maybe you just know that your mother-in-law is going to ask when you're going to have a baby. Plan out how you want to respond to that question and what her reaction might be. Or maybe your cousin is pregnant and you know it's going to be a trigger to see her growing belly. Think about what you can do to make sure you're okay - you could be intentional about not sitting next to her at the dinner table or avoiding her in the kitchen. Or this could be a big enough trigger that you don't go to the event at all and that's okay too.

6. Let people know that you're only going to stay for a little bit 

Planning a specific amount of time that you're going to stay can help ease the anxiety of going. 45 minutes is usually a good time frame to say. You're allowed to leave before that or after though. If you and your partner are going, talk about this beforehand. Talk about what happens if they want to stay but you don't and how you can handle that. If you're going alone, talk to a family member ahead of time and let them know that you're only staying for x amount of time. If you feel obligated to have a reason other than your mental wellbeing, I get it. In that case you could say that you have something important to do so you have to leave early. And that doesn't have to be a lie - you can deliberately plan something important to do after.

7. Have a code word

If you have a designated buddy or are going with your partner, have a code word for "it's time to go" and another for "I'm taking a break". Talk about the scenarios in which you might use the code words and how they can support you. Maybe you use your code word to say that you're going to the bathroom to hide for a bit. Talk about if that scenario means they should go with you or that they should just text you to make sure you're alright.

8. Debrief

It's really important to debrief both with yourself and another person. By debrief I mean process what happened and your feelings about it. Some good questions to help you process are:

Was it easier than I expected or worse? What really upset me? What was an unexpected positive moment? Is there anything I wish I would have done differently? How do I feel about the entire thing? How can this experience help me in the future?

Did any of these ideas get your brain stirring? I hope you can add some of them to your survival tool box. I know I'll definitely be using all of them at some point myself!

Be gentle with yourselves,