Not so Merry and Bright: The First Christmas With a New Baby

I remember how excited I was about my firstborn’s first Christmas. As an April baby, he would be eight months old when the holiday season came around. I figured that was going to make everything perfect. He’d be old enough to at least be a little easier to manage. I imagined he’d be sleeping a bit better. Would be doing a bit less cluster feeding. Maybe he’d be sitting up on his own instead of needing constant holding and support.

But my son was different. He was developmentally delayed. Not by much; our pediatrician assured us that he was well within what would be considered “typical” even with his delays. Still, my vision of a Christmas of ease wasn’t happening for me. My son wasn’t sleeping at all. At that time, I was still getting up with him eight to twelve times a night. Some nights, my son would get up for the day at 3:00am and wouldn’t go back down to sleep until noon the next day. His naps were sporadic and often incredibly short. My milk supply was dwindling, and I was depressed about that. I was barely eating (which wasn’t helping my supply problems), and most of the time I felt like a walking zombie. My husband was working long hours, with a three-hour daily commute on top of it. So, I was alone with my difficult baby for 14–16 hours a day. I was showering every 3-5 business days and often having to jump out, mid-shower, to attend to my fussy baby.

It was so hard.

What I didn’t know back then, which I do know now, was that I was miles deep into a crushing and undiagnosed postpartum depression. Whatever joy was to be had during that first year was sucked away by a depression too dark for the light to reach it.

So, when my baby’s first Christmas came around, it just wasn’t the merry and bright blessing of cheer I had hoped it would be. In fact, it was miserable. I tried my best to put on a happy face—to look grateful, happy, in love with my baby and my family. But inside, I was drowning.

I think back to that time of my life often, now that my children are older. I can’t lie, holidays can still be stressful and overwhelming. They don’t always feel as magical as I thought they would be with two small children in the house and all the excitement the season brings. But it is for damn sure a lot easier than it was back then. I honestly don’t think I’d ever revisit that time of my life again.

To the moms of little ones this year, I want you to know that there are so many of us who remember. We remember what it was like for us, what it’s like for you now. We’re thinking of you. We’re wishing the best for you. We’re hoping that you will be gentle with yourself—that you will give yourself permission to rest, to take it easy, to enjoy what you can.

Please accept that your first Christmas with a newborn doesn’t have to be a grand affair. There will be plenty of Christmases to make holiday magic. Years when you won’t be so exhausted. You’ll be bathing regularly. Your kids will be able to do a few things for themselves. And they’ll actually be old enough to remember, to appreciate, and to be grateful. This doesn’t have to be the year you make the magic.

This year, maybe just let the magic make itself. There is a holiday magic that presents itself only in that first year. It shows up and makes everything special, simply my virtue of your tiny little treasure being there for the first time. That magic is enough. Let it be enough.

Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.

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