A Baby in December
Leaves of sienna and pumpkin and chardonnay hues lay on the ground, leaving the elm and poplar and maple trees bare. The last piece of Thanksgiving apple pie is claimed. Temperatures fall, making crisp the inhaled air and the chill on our skin as we rush between stores. It’s Christmas season, holiday “game on” so to speak. Anticipation builds, children make out their lists. Mall Santas are seasonally employed. A few snowflakes might even begin to dust the roads and the lawns of our brightly lit homes.
It’s a time of preparation, impending celebration.
The story of the Nativity brings with it the joy of a birth, the coming of a baby.
But for mothers, Christmastime is a bit like spring time. Nesting behavior abounds—cleaning the home for guests, decorating, icing cut out cookies, carefully hiding presents. Children and parents pass through our own stages of our lives: we believe in Santa, we don’t believe, we are Santa. No matter where we are in the stage of our life cycle, the expectation of a baby goes together with the anticipation of Christmas in an especially magical way.
For those moms approaching the Decembers of the reproductive years, a pregnancy during the holidays can renew the enchantment of motherhood, and of childhood, invigorating us with anticipation like that of the youngest children peering out the window for a team of reindeer and a chubby bearded man in red.
One particularly frigid fall, I learned that I was expecting my second child, and that’s exactly what happened. I was already three months pregnant, and the holiday to do list was growing fast.
At 39 years old, I was no spring chicken, yet I was about as healthy as I could expect from myself, given my lifestyle, age, and my honest, but not fanatic commitment to exercise. I did the elliptical a few times per week. My weight was normal, my eating habits were balanced. But subtle things were starting to make me feel, as a mother, like my days of summer were being crossed off the calendar, and that each month was a glossy page being yanked off a coiled binding ring, sailing off the calendar, just a little too quickly.
I had just started to notice a few stray gray hairs.
My breasts no longer pointed toward the heavens.
And the upcoming Christmas season was approaching forty years redundant for me.
Even with a giddy eleven year old, the thought of battling the shopping crowds and writing the addresses on piles of Christmas cards and donning the right dress, the right shoes, the right bag, for office parties and block parties and family parties, seemed a touch repetitive. These weren’t unpleasant responsibilities for me, but they were, nonetheless, responsibilities.
And I already had a ton on my plate.
Now my abdomen that had returned to normal after my first baby at 28, seemed to balloon twice as fast. My feet swelled, my breathing was short. There was no doubt that this pregnancy was harder with older maternal age, than the cake walk my first one was for me at 28.
And there was still so much holiday work to do.
Yet as the unique individual within me began to grow, so did my expectancy of motherhood, again. And as Christmastime approached, the suspense built. I imagined the joy of the holidays for our newest addition, a sibling for my son. I read the pregnancy magazines again, comparing the size of my developing baby to fruits of increasing sizes. I likened my baby’s growth to the seasonal delicacies: a fig, an orange infused with cloves, a spiced pomegranate. My baby was getting bigger, and so was I, and I anticipated the baby’s coming with childlike excitement. One evening, while my son and husband and I were trimming the tree, I held a Christmas ornament, a shiny, round bulb, in my hand, saw my reflection in it.
My skin was renewed and supple. My breasts were once again pert. My hair was thicker, fuller. And by five months gestation, I couldn’t help but realizing that my little one was quickly expanding as we awaited the holidays, and a baby’s debut. Perhaps this was all second trimester second wind, but I couldn’t help feeling a renewed sense of seasonal joy.
My first baby, Roman, was now six, and he was just able to feel the gentle baby kicks over my belly. As he patiently awaited Christmas Eve, asking me if Santa might bring him a puppy or the new pair of hockey skates he needed, or the packs of baseball cards he coveted, I nervously awaited my amniocentesis results.
Finally, the call came, revealing something entirely novel, something that removed all redundancy from my life.
I was having a genetically healthy baby girl.
Maybe the extra estrogen explained my healthy glow, but I like to think it was the joy of being a mother all over again. The wonder of the holiday season. Yet I doubted myself. I worried. That night, a group of caroling little girls wearing red taffeta dresses, with braids and patent leather shoes and white tights, holding candles and singing Silent Night, came to our door. I didn’t own any pink onesies yet, didn’t have a single barrette, not one bow. I still had a baby wardrobe of six to nine month denim overalls and a toy box of trucks and dinosaurs, and my son’s hair required only a trim every six to eight weeks.
Our new baby would be a lot of work.
I listened to the girls’ carol. They were selling mint chocolate candy bars for their cheerleading squad, and my cravings for chocolate were insatiable then. I bought a dozen of them, and wished them well. Then, knowing that this would likely be our last child, and that there was likely a woman somewhere across town that had more to worry about than we did, I boxed up my son’s old coats and mittens and play clothes, decided to donate them to a shelter, despite the fact that I still had an emotional connection to them.
The next night I sat and brushed away my worries with a cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows and big dollops of real whipped cream. From the front window, I sat watching the snow fall. I put my bunny slippers on and my feet up on the chaise. I already had firsthand experience developing a strong mother daughter relationship. I remembered the special Christmas cookie recipe my mother and I shared, the baking that, when I was my son’s age, ended with me and the kitchen covered in sifted sugar and flour. I remembered holding my baby brother, recalled thinking that he looked a bit like a wrinkled little man, and I remembered learning to run the scissors along the ribbons of the Christmas presents so they coiled up in multicolored curlicues.
When I was done with my cocoa, I tiptoed upstairs, peeked beyond Roman’s door.
He was fast asleep.
I crossed out yet another day on the grown up calendar, noting how almost an entire month had flown by, again. Then I opened the 25th door on Roman’s Advent calendar, sneaking a tiny chocolate soldier one day premature, and popped the candy into my mouth. I sat and wrapped the presents from Santa, created those springy curlicues of ribbons with the scissors. I stopped to feel my daughter’s legs stretching out against the wall of my tummy muscles, put my hands over my belly. She was actively stretching, but she was kicking back, too, as we sat waiting for the coming of a baby.
Melissa Franckowiak is an MFA student and writes for Traffic East magazine in Buffalo, NY. Her short fiction piece, The Very Pertinent News of Gabriel Vincent DeVil, recently placed in the 86th Annual Writer’s Digest Literary Fiction Awards. Melissa set goals in early childhood to be a best-selling novelist and physician. She writes thrillers as Melissa Crickard. The daughter of an English and a Science teacher, Melissa attended Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Buffalo, and after being awarded two Bachelor’s degrees in Physical Therapy and Chemistry, she advanced toward her M.D. degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, going on to become a diplomat of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Melissa is the mother of two children, the owner of a chatty Panama Amazon parrot and a lover of all things outdoors.