At the beginning of the 2021 holiday season I was nine months pregnant with my fourth baby. I had to prepare mentally and physically for both the upcoming holiday season AND the reality of being freshly postpartum during such a festive – and busy – time. I always hoped for a December baby, so this felt like a dream come true. What’s more magical than bringing new life into the world? Having that baby during the most magical time of the year!
I got off to a rough start when I initially let extended family know I would not be making or hosting Thanksgiving dinner and then changed my mind at the last minute. Thanksgiving morning found me up at 5:00am in full-on-ninth-month-nesting fashion excited to make all of our family’s favorites. Six hours of cooking and a full plate of food left me vomiting for 12 hours with dehydration-induced contractions, followed by 11 days of being able to eat very little food due to prodromal labor.
Elsie arrived in fast and furious fourth baby fashion in early December. Now that we were a family of six with children in what felt like the hardest ages and stages – newborn, 21 months, four and almost 13 – I hoped that newborn baby cries would blend right in with the craziness and magic of this special time of year.
I ALSO realized I’d have to be more intentional if I wanted to both make holiday magic for our family and share in it. As a planner and an Enneagram Two, I’ve always been the mom who wants to do it all – especially at the holidays. With my first three kids I got good at graciously turning down any offers for help. (Please tell me you can relate: “I’m the mom; I made these children and I should be the one to take care of it all, right?” Wrong.) This fourth time around, with afterbirth cramps that felt like actual labor again, I all-but-yelled “Yes!” before a family member could get out their offer to take the older kids for a walk, to the park, for a sleepover, to cheer practice or to decorate cookies.
As we approach my December baby’s first birthday and I look back on this season last year, I have some tips to share for other mamas expecting a baby around the holidays. And remember: holidays are for moms, too. Even (especially!) when you’re in such a raw emotional and physical state, you deserve to experience the magic in it all!
Here are some practical ways to make the best of being postpartum at the holidays:
Set boundaries and expectations early on while pregnant and accept all the help you can get from people who also love your children. We have big loving families and they like to show their love and be hands-on. When we added our second child in 2017 we let our families know that we do not leave home on Christmas Day and we have stuck by that – but we do accept visitors! (Of course with RSV, flu and Covid in mind we have a number limit to keep germs at bay.)
Breastfeeding? My husband and I had a chat about me not being the one to leave the room when it was time for baby to eat. He’d simply ask his grandfather or uncle to go in the kitchen with them while I navigated feeding our new baby.
I sent an Amazon wish list to all who wanted to buy gifts for the kids. That way I did not have to keep track of who was getting what.
I made a rule for myself (those boundaries again!) long ago that I do not cook a large meal on Christmas Day so that I can enjoy the day, too.
Feel the pressure to have fancy Christmas outfits? What about matching PJs that everyone wears all day long? It was the best way for me feel comfy in my sweaty, leaky body!
We modified the traditions the kids look forward to most, like Elf on the Shelf and decorating cookies. The elf only hid instead of playing tricks like you see on Pinterest. Premade sugar cookie dough and already-baked gingerbread men are as convenient as they sound and were just as fun!
Hold on to the parts of the holiday you really love! My husband and I always love wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve after the kids are in bed with a glass of wine and music. I still got to enjoy our ritual, just arms more full than usual and the dockatot in our wrapping circle.
Savor the little rituals. My mom always had us unwrap gifts one by one from youngest to oldest (being the oldest of six I was always last and annoyed but now I do the same with my kids!). It’s lovely getting to really see the joy in each unwrapping instead of all kids ripping into the paper at the same time. It feels like the magic lasts a little longer when I get to see each reaction one at a time.
Be kind to yourself. I cried most of Christmas morning before going downstairs to meet my husband and the kids, so sure that I ruined a magical Christmas morning from all of the tears I cried while struggling to nurse a screaming newborn on very little sleep. But their magical morning was NOT ruined; with their new baby sister added to the mix in her reindeer beanie, our home – and hearts – were full. And yours will be too!