Sunday, December 21, 2014

Guest Post: The Promise of a Christmas Card

I've wanted to share this story with you for a long time, readers, but I waited. I waited because I wanted you to be deep in the throes of the holiday season. I wanted you to be one more busted ornament, Mariah Carey Christmas carol, or blinking strand of lights away from building a holiday-proof bunker and hiding from ho-ho-ho-humanity until spring. Because "The Promise of a Christmas Card" is about the kind of gift that makes all that holly-jolly BS worth it.

Michele Mariani Vaughn is the blogger behind this story. You can read her on the regular over at A Storybook Life. Her writing is thoughtful, meditative even, and catches you off guard with its down-to-earth humor. She writes about everything from pregnancy to parenthood to life as a cancer survivor and to, above all, gratitude. I was lucky enough to meet Michele through Listen to Your Mother DC, which is where I heard her read "The Promise of a Christmas Card" (after you read the story below, check out her LTYM reading here). I watched from stage as an audience collectively leaned forward, willing a happy ending. And that's Michele's gift: revealing the wonder and rugged beauty in what may seem run-of-the-mill or even heartbreaking, making the happy ending. You don't even have to take my word for it. Read, "Cancerversary #7: Grateful for Survivorship" and "The One Where I Didn't Know What to Write" (in which Michele writes, very eloquently, about the Boston Marathon). Next, become her devoted fan on Facebook and Twitter!

The Promise of a Christmas Card

By Michele Mariani Vaughn

Most obstetricians’ offices might as well be decorated out of central casting: copies of Parents and Fit Pregnancy magazines, pamphlets for cord blood harvesting — and pictures of the babies they’ve delivered, plastered on the walls. Always the baby pictures, many of them from Christmas cards sent by grateful parents.

I haven’t always been a big Christmas card sender. Early in my time in DC, I was always at my busiest, work-wise, around Christmas. After that, I didn’t feel much interest in sending them out.

By the time I wanted to — when I was one, two, and then three deep in miscarriages — I couldn’t bring myself to send out a card that was missing a baby.

The third miscarriage had the worst timing: right at the start of December, just as the happy photo cards of my cousins’ and friends’ kids started to fill our mailbox. I had to put the cards aside in place of the issues of Us Weekly and Runner’s World that they arrived with.

I left my first OB practice after the nurse told me to just “go ahead and try again” after that loss. I found warmth and solace in the office of my wonderful specialist, and I was thrilled when his waiting room had stacks of travel and news magazines in place of Highlights and Working Mother. But there were so many Christmas cards there that the walls might as well have been papered with them.

Seeing all those babies still stung a little, but then, and there, I got it. Those cards were sent by parents who had walked those same hallways and endured those same exam rooms with the same fear that we had, that they’d never get the chance to send the glossy 4×8 photo card of a grinning infant wearing a Santa hat or tucked inside a stocking.

When I got pregnant again, my new doctor ordered weekly ultrasounds to monitor my progress. Each week, I’d go in, lay on the exam table, and look at the corkboard on the wall filled with Christmas cards, waiting and praying that the screen would show the flashing blip of a heartbeat.

Every week, it did. Once I’d had several good scans, Dr. Sacks, our specialist, “released” us to the care of my new obstetrician.

He sent us on our way with happy shorthand: “I think there’s a 90 percent chance that you’ll have a Christmas card this year.”

I didn’t repeat that line to anyone. It held such hope and promise, but fear kept me from saying it again. We’d made it this far before. We’d seen heartbeats. We’d framed early ultrasound pictures. And we’d agreed, back then, that this would be our last try – the last time we thought we could brave the pregnancy roller coaster.

What if we got cut off at the knees again? The what-ifs were all I could think about in those early weeks.

But with that Christmas card line, Dr. Sacks was giving us hope. My heart so wanted to trust him, but my head, filled with the reminders of the years of physical hurt and emotional heartache, didn’t know if I could.

Even now, tears spring to my eyes when I think of that conversation.

They’re tears of empathy for myself, remembering back to the fear that gripped me, and they’re tears of such relief and happiness that we were finally on the right side of Dr. Sacks’ odds.

He’s now on our Christmas card list, and our son Teddy’s picture is one of those babies lining his office walls.

And I’m already thinking about the card we’ll send him this year, with two babies on it: Teddy and his little sister.

Teddy and Katie, starring in "A Double-Stuffed Adorable
Sandwich: The Vaughn Family Christmas Card"

PS: Now that you've read "The Promise of a Christmas Card," you'll want to follow up with "There's the Promise of a Christmas Card, and Then There's the Reality of a Christmas Card Photo Shoot." If you've ever tried to herd cats or take a photo of small children, you will appreciate this epilogue. 


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  2. "A ninety percent chance you'll have a Christmas card this year." A gem of a doctor and a gem of an essay. I absolutely adored this and now I am out 3 dollars for an extra box of Kleenex.

  3. This was great, I just thought I would tell you that I love Christmas cards and have plenty hanging on my wall