Thanksgiving used to be one of my favorite holidays. An American Studies major with an emphasis in Pre-Nineteenth Century Material Culture (no, really), I relished the historical minutiae and correcting those who still believed the traditional Thanksgiving story of yore (presumably these are the same people who think smoking isn’t bad for them). I actually used to not read my oldest son Thanksgiving children’s books because it pained me to ingrain in him the Hallmark-y “Thanksgiving Story.” Yes, Mommy has issues. Moving on.
Of course I also loved the rituals of Thanksgiving. Watching the parade in PJs while my mom, and later me, cooked. Sneaking stuffing out of the Crock Pot and perpetually wondering why canned cranberry sauce is always labeled upside down were part of every year. Once I had my two boys I looked forward to passing along the wonder of Thanksgiving with family if they could EVER sit still long enough at dinner. The closest they’d ever gotten to being still on the day of is the two full minutes when The Rockettes come on- they’re truly mesmerized.
Then came Thanksgiving of 2008 when I was four months into a surprise pregnancy (as in (a) surprise! spontaneous and unprotected sex and (b) surprise! I can get pregnant without a thermometer and a chart and acupuncture needles and a year to kill). Darren had always wanted three kids and I was excited too (though unnerved as well as I was barely keeping up with two). It had been a dramatic pregnancy, full so far of all sorts of high drama, emergency procedures too delicate for even me to write about (and two trips to the ER), and I was facing five more months of weekly shots and blood transfusions, steroids and full bed rest (my body hates few things as much as pregnancy, except maybe organized sports and flying coach).
Tired from an emergency room visit the night before but relieved at the positive ultrasound showing a fully human looking baby instead of a lumpy fetus, we sat around watching the parade and eating monkey bread. In the middle of that bucolic scene, I began to hemorrhage.
A quick call to my doctor, who was in Palm Springs, concluded I was either experiencing a prolapsed placenta or was miscarrying. Her partner met us at the office on that beautifully sunny and warm day. He calmly set up the office and led us to the ultrasound room as we made cocktail party chit chat I can’t remember. As the doctor began, Darren didn’t realize immediately but I remember saying “There’s no heartbeat? There’s no heartbeat” even as he still moved the wand around my rounded abdomen. All of the amniotic fluid was gone to the point where he couldn’t even get enough contrast to show what was still inside: our now dead baby.
The bizarre cocktail chatter continued after he turned off the machine, as we, in shock, went into “preserve normalcy” mode. On a day with a fairly strict timeline, I was supposed to be setting the table (we had 20 family members coming to our house for dinner) and instead I was being driven to the hospital as my doctor pulled strings to get me a private room and a doctor to perform the necessary procedure. Instead of turkey and it’s tryptophan to lull me to sleep, I got general anesthesia. Instead of changing into forgiving clothes after the meal, I got a hospital gown and a gurney. Instead of giving thanks for my growing family, I gave into being bitter and angry and anguished. And I still am a little bit of each of those, two years later.
So now, instead of celebrating the arrival of Thanksgiving decorations in the store, I openly weep when I’m blindsided by the first display (really, who expects Thanksgiving decorations in September?). I avoid volunteering at school when it’s time for the Thanksgiving Feast and play. I don’t even volunteer to buy decorations for the class. An avid and impassioned holiday decorator, my house is untouched between Halloween and Hanukkah. Turkey artwork by the kids goes straight to storage. I even go so far now as to take my whole family away from our city and seek refuge up north with friends where we’re creating new traditions.
So, I hate Thanksgiving. And probably will forever. June would probably plaster on a smile, tie on a freshly starched apron, and keep on moving through it. But I’m just not there yet.