by Elizabeth Kirts, MPH, ICCE, IBCLC, RLC
Growing up, I remember so clearly the anticipation I had for the Christmas season. Christmas was my family, religious, and cultural celebration during December (and technically into January since we celebrate until Epiphany). It has remained my favorite holiday. My older children attended our local Jewish Community Center for preschool and kindergarten so during that time I learned more about Chanukah and we loosely celebrated the Festival of Lights with their peers. I loved learning a different tradition and way to celebrate. I love the miracle of the oil; keeping the light during that time. I have taught myself about Kwanzaa, although I’ve never participated in a celebration. This holiday is a combination of several components of the African Harvest Celebrations. Seven nights of celebration where songs, dances, storytelling, and traditional meals are part of the tradition. The seven comes from seven principals of African culture and each night a candle is lit to represent them. Boxing Day started in the United Kingdom and is celebrated in only a few countries on 26 December. This started as a day off for servants to celebrate with their families. It has now become a public holiday. Omisoka is the second most important day in the Japanese tradition. This is the celebration of the end of the year (New Year’s Eve for many of us). It is a time to gather as a family and have a bowl of toshikoshi-soba or toshikoshi-udon where the long noodles represent the cross over from one year to another. Regardless of which of these holidays (or combination of several) you celebrate, the end of the year encompasses traditions of family, songs, light, festivity and joy. As a child I loved the anticipation of all of it. I loved the joy! Joy is different than happiness as it is defined as elation at the time, often about others’ contentment and not just oneself. Last year, for me, it was hard to find that joy during the holiday season. With the pandemic precautions still everywhere, the incidence numbers in my area rising astronomically, and only a short time after the death of my 16 year old, it did not happen easily. I rotely set up my tree and decorated my house. One night in early December, there was a loud knock on my door. I opened it up to find that one of my educators and her neighbor (who attends my church as they are different denominations) had gotten together and left lighted tea lights and battery operated candles all over my porch. Along with that they had left me a pot of soup and a note saying that they wanted to bring me some of the light I give to others. It brought me such joy to hold with the sorrow I had in my heart. The other event from last year that kept me going was how my family adapted to make Christmas happen. We had an outdoor, mid-day party around fire pits, propane heaters, and snow. We were bundled up and froze our toes off, but we regained some of the normalcy that I so desperately needed during the worst time in my life. This year is more normal; although still a bit weird. My life took a total 180 degree turn and nothing will ever go back. But this year, I will be able to sing at midnight mass and we can have an indoor traditional Christmas Eve party with mom and siblings. I have found that the joy and anticipation this year feel more visceral than before. Joy and anticipation are what we get to experience working in the perinatal field. Our families are in the process of the biggest change as they anticipate or are in the midst of the birth of their new baby. Many of us work postpartum as doulas or lactation support. For those of us who are supporting after the birth, there is still the anticipation of what is to come along with some of the letdown that comes with fatigue and mundane. Although sometimes we get caught up in the “work” part of our jobs, it is important to remember how truly lucky we are to be a part of this significant time in people’s lives. What a true blessing that is. I do want to go back to the reason for giving a little bit of my story, not because I want the focus on me, but because it is such a good reminder that sometimes we participate in the a family’s life when the best time, turns into the worst; unanticipated outcomes. Morbidity and mortality are the medical words we use. Illness and death would be the compassionate words. I want to put out a reminder that as hard as these things are to experience; they are truly heart wrenching, they are also a time where we can grow personally and be the support for the families we serve. We can be the person who leaves the impact. It is possible to hold two emotions at the same time. For me, this past year, it has been joy with sorrow and hope with grief. Please remember this when you are working in unanticipated situations. Step into those situations with a heart of compassion, grace, love, open mindedness, and strength. Follow or mirror the family to see how to best serve them. Don’t be afraid of humor during difficult times. Regardless of the situation, it is still the birth of a baby and the joy of that should still be celebrated in the way that is appropriate for that family. As we wrap up 2021, I wish you all peace, joy, happiness, and anticipation of great things. I thank you for all you do each day to be the support for our families. The connection to our families, friends, peers, neighbors, and community is ultimately what we makes us all better people.