A Spe­cial kind of Christ­mas

Three women ex­plain why their cel­e­bra­tions this year will feel unique ‘I never thought I’d have a fam­ily of my own’

Woman & Home (South Africa) - - Doing It Our Way -

Alexan­dra Hemins­ley, 41, had two rounds of IVF and a mis­car­riage be­fore giv­ing birth to baby Li­nus. This will be her first Christ­mas as a mom. She is an author and lives with her part­ner.

“For most of my thir­ties I chose to opt out of Christ­mas: it’s a time for fam­i­lies, and if you don’t have one of your own, the fes­tive sea­son can leave you emo­tion­ally raw by the time the last of the mince pies has gone. Even if your loved ones are the kind­est of folk (as mine are), Christ­mas needs kids – and if you have some­how ne­glected to fin­ish the year with spouse or in­fant in tow, it can be bru­tal.

Rather than mooch around feel­ing sorry for my­self, for years I chose to do char­ity work over the hol­i­days. Do­ing some­thing for oth­ers helped me cope with the sea­son’s op­pres­sive jolli­ness, and it was a hasty re­minder of how many of us strug­gle at this time of year. Some­times, it’s far eas­ier to be gen­uinely happy among strangers than to feel lonely among those you love the most. Within a year of mar­riage, my part­ner agreed – we were, by that stage, em­broiled in fer­til­ity treat­ment – and do­ing vol­un­teer work felt like an es­sen­tial Christ­mas sur­vival mech­a­nism.

‘I’ll wear two party hats and make up for lost time’

I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber the Christ­mas be­fore last. Af­ter two un­suc­cess­ful rounds of IVF and ut­terly bro­ken by a mis­car­riage only weeks ear­lier, we chose a numb­ingly boozy, friend-filled day, me pre­tend­ing that a fam­ily might not be that im­por­tant af­ter all. A year later I was preg­nant, but hav­ing had some scary test re­sults, was ter­ri­fied to tell any­one but close fam­ily and friends. Hav­ing our baby with us still seemed im­pos­si­bly far away. We barely did any­thing, stay­ing at home and shun­ning Christ­mas par­ties.

This year we’re about to em­bark on the Christ­mas I never thought we’d have, the first with our ruddy-cheeked, gig­gly baby. We can love him, squish him and treat him with­out too much e­ort at all. I’ll splash out on some crackly wrap­ping pa­per, which will no doubt fas­ci­nate him for hours, and I am gid­dily look­ing for­ward to dress­ing him up in a rein­deer Baby­gro. Yet the thought of rein­te­grat­ing our­selves back into a straight­for­ward Christ­mas makes me slightly un­easy.

It isn’t be­cause we won’t be happy, of course we will, never hap­pier! Per­haps I just can’t for­get how cruel the sea­son can be to those who don’t fit in: those with­out the fam­ily, the sup­port net­work, or the grit to get through the en­forced fun un­scathed. So this year, we’re back to the shel­ter at our church, jug­gling the baby and vol­un­teer­ing in shifts.

The rest of the time I’ll be throw­ing my­self into Christ­mas, mak­ing up for lost time. I’ll be wear­ing two party hats at ev­ery meal, one for this year and one for a time I couldn’t face it. I’ll eat what­ever I want, throw sleep­ing regimes to the wind, and rel­ish the sight of my neph­ews squab­bling over who gets to hold the baby. Be­cause even when I couldn’t ex­press it through the murky sludge of sad­ness, I love my ex­tended fam­ily and friends as much as I do my new fam­ily. I’d never have made it to this dream Christ­mas with­out them.”

New mom Alexan­dra with baby Li­nus

Alexan­dra’s Leap In: A Woman, Some Waves and the Will To Swim (Cor­ner­stone) is avail­able from Ex­clu­sive Books.

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