The holidays, when families gather from afar to celebrate, are often prime times to announce a new pregnancy or show off a new baby. This can be especially painful for couples who have recently lost an infant, suffered a miscarriage, or dealt with long-term infertility. Because of this, holidays might present the agonizing choice between gathering with family or staying far away from a situation that might exacerbate grief.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”Romans 12:15 from the NIV
Before loss, this verse seemed a reminder of the obvious—empathize with others. But after loss, this sounds like a call to self-sacrifice.
How are we supposed to celebrate other couples’ good news when still mourning our own loss? All kinds of emotions can rise to the surface—bitterness, envy, self-pity, anger—when we are confronted with others’ happiness that highlights our own disappointment and grief. What can we do? How do we be true to our own needs, be socially acceptable without alienating friends, and also honor God?
Remember, you don’t “have to” do anything. When contemplating holidays, showers, or other social events or celebrations after our son Josiah died, this is the advice I was given. I tend to be motivated by a sense of obligation, so I needed to hear that it is okay to skip out on certain social events and just stay home. When grieving, we have to know ourselves and what we can handle. We need to give ourselves grace.
At the same time, we don’t want to completely shut out the world and ignore our friends and family forever. We need to take care of ourselves and allow for our own grief, but it isn’t good to allow our feelings to completely dictate our lives, either. (I addressed an aspect of this in a previous post, “Push into the Pain.”) How do we balance this? How in the world do we follow the instruction to “Rejoice with those who rejoice” in the midst of our own grief?
I’ve survived by substituting.
Whether during the holidays or any other season, here are some helpful tips, both for those who are mourning a loss and for those who are rejoicing over a new gift.
Rejoicing with Those Who Rejoice
If you cannot bring yourself to say “congratulations” when confronted with a face-to-face pregnancy announcement, maybe you could manage a weak smile of acknowledgement before politely excusing yourself.
If you cannot fathom having to endure a baby shower, you could send a card or a gift instead.
If you can’t honestly make any acceptable comments on somebody’s social media pregnancy or baby announcement, hit the “like” button instead.
If you cannot handle being around a pregnant friend, you could spend time on the phone with her instead, maintaining your friendship without having to see her growing belly.
If you really want to participate in a family gathering but find it too painful to be around a new baby, you could greet the happy couple, smile and make a short comment about their baby, and then find someone else to talk to in another room.
This list is not exhaustive. Nor are these suggestions always possible, depending where you are in the grieving process. That’s okay. Do what you can.
Mourning with Those Who Mourn
A note to those rejoicing about a new pregnancy or new baby in the presence of those who are mourning the loss of their own: While it feels unfair to the grieving mother to have to face other new mothers’ joy, neither is it fair for those gifted with pregnancy and healthy babies to have to hide their joy. Being mindful is key.
Here are some suggestions for navigating this delicate time.
If you make an announcement on social media, be sensitive in your wording. You don’t have to NOT share just because you know someone who has lost a baby or a pregnancy. Just be humble and don’t constantly fill up people’s news feeds with pregnant belly or baby pictures. And don’t be offended if certain people don’t respond.
Somewhere I read this advice: If you are meeting up with a friend who has suffered loss or infertility, send a message letting her know about your pregnancy ahead of time. That way she can react to the news and process it in private before seeing you face to face.
If you are close to this person, definitely tell her in person before she finds out from someone else or on social media. While we don’t want other people’s joy rubbed in our face, we also don’t want to feel excluded.
After learning of our daughter’s diagnosis, we spent a weekend with family, staying the night at my sister’s house. That Sunday as we finished lunch together, my sister and her husband gently informed us that they were expecting their fourth child, due just a couple months after our baby. As much as I wanted to be happy for them—and genuinely am— this news was excruciatingly painful to me in that moment. Hearing of a new cousin my baby would never know, I could not hold back the tears of my own impending loss. That afternoon, I may or may not have cried the entire 6-hour drive home to West Virginia.
While this was really hard for me to bear, my sister did the right thing. Gently informing me directly, before making a public announcement, was far better than me finding out indirectly from another family member or on Facebook. Feeling left out would have compounded the grief I was already experiencing.
If you will be at a family gathering with someone who is grieving, kindly refrain from making a big deal about announcing your pregnancy.
Three years ago, we were excited to announce our first pregnancy at my extended family’s Thanksgiving gathering, just like other cousins had done. But this year, Thanksgiving came two months after losing our second baby. As much as I longed to be surrounded by the comfort of family, I dreaded the possibility—more like probability!—of hearing additional pregnancy announcements from any of my many young married cousins. I was not mistaken: two cousins and their wives were, in fact, expecting. But this time, these new pregnancies were mentioned quietly in passing, graciously not requiring any response from me. This was a gift. I didn’t have to quickly leave to go take a walk and cry hot tears alone, as I had anticipated.
If you spend time with one who is grieving loss, don’t constantly talk about yourself or your own good news. Instead, ask her how she is doing, and be willing to listen. Or show an interest in her and talk about other topics unrelated to pregnancy, babies, or loss.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. You can’t totally prevent your grieving friends from feeling pain. But you can be mindful.
These principles could also apply in other life situations. While the details would obviously be different, these general ideas could help when having to celebrate another’s engagement, wedding, or anniversary while you are recoiling from the death or divorce of a spouse, or longing for marriage.
To those in mourning, be willing to try to celebrate others’ happiness in some small way, while still taking care of yourself.
To those rejoicing, be mindful of those still grieving and recognize the immense love and sacrifice it takes for them to share your happiness.
To all, think beyond yourself, and be kind.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
What other suggestions do you have for those celebrating and those grieving to share with each other? Please comment below.