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Why I Include My Stillborn Son in Our Holiday Traditions

My Kids Get a New Ornament Every Christmas, Even the One Who's No Longer With Us

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Some of my fondest holiday memories are of waking up on Christmas morning to find my stocking bulging with a shiny new ornament. I'd slowly pull it out, fully aware of its fragility, anxious to see what eye-catching bauble my mom had chosen specifically for me. She purchased a new ornament for me every year as a way of documenting my life throughout childhood. When I finally ventured out on my own, I loved having an ornament collection to decorate my own Christmas tree with. Examining each one and recalling the story attached to it made me excited to carry out the tradition for my own kids one day.

So after my first child was born, I got to work choosing the perfect "Baby's 1st Christmas" ornament — the beginning of her childhood collection. And for the next three years, I added to it. When I again became pregnant, I looked forward to starting the process with another child. I imagined two children rushing down the stairs on Christmas morning to pull an ornament from their stockings, and perhaps not without fighting, they'd find the perfect place on the tree to hang them. But my pregnancy didn't go as planned. Although my womb had been full with a kicking baby, a sibling for my daughter, I left the hospital with empty arms.

My baby was born still. And in an instant, the future I'd imagined for our family vanished. We wouldn't be celebrating Christmas with a new baby, and there would be no life to document. At least that's how I felt initially.

But as Christmas approached that year, my mindset changed. I realized that there was in fact a life to document, albeit a short one. I had a baby, and although he died, the fact remained that he would always be a part of our family. Just like his sister's life was being documented by each new ornament on the Christmas tree, I wanted the same for him. So I spent weeks choosing the perfect ornament for him, and when I found it, I had it personalized with his name and birthdate and referenced his arrival in heaven. I didn't plan to buy him an ornament every year, like I was doing for my daughter, because his story was over.

Except his life and death would make for one of the most important stories our family had to tell. He had died, but his memory and impact on our family had not. Our lives were forever changed, and his absence would always be felt. So I wanted to make space for him in our lives — and on our Christmas tree. He had been born still, but he would always be my child, and I wanted to document that through our yearly ornament tradition.

So every year, I buy a new ornament for each of my children. For my daughter, it's something symbolic of her interests or a special event. For my baby in heaven, it's something that includes his name, his place in our family, or simply the number of years we've missed with him.

Including my baby who died in one of our Christmas traditions helps me feel connected to him during a season in which his absence seems especially difficult. Hanging his ornaments is also a great way to start conversations with my daughter about the loss of her sibling. We talk about how old he would be if he were hanging ornaments up with us, what he might look like, or what gifts we would get him if he were here. It's a way to promote togetherness even though we aren't actually all together.

There will always be an absence on Christmas morning, but hanging ornaments for my baby who died makes it feel like he's present in some small way. I imagine he sees us hanging the treasured ornaments that bear his name and details of his memory, and that somehow he can feel our love despite the chasm between heaven and earth. He'll never decorate the Christmas tree with us, but seeing his name dangling from its branches is my way of celebrating his existence and our family's continued love for him.

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