Published on December 24th, 2013 | by Becky Castle Miller

You’re Not Ready for Christmas, And That’s Okay: Thoughts on Advent and Birth Prep

I lit the candles at church on the second week of Advent. I read prophecies—preparations—of Jesus’ arrival. The slow, careful actions and meditations of Advent this year reminded me of birth preparations. They’re similar, aren’t they? This readying of ourselves and our lives to meet a baby.

All the trappings around birth and Christmas, the gifts, the decorations, the supplies, the traditions…all this stuff we attach on to the singular event of a baby’s arrival? Sometimes it’s too much.

I was maybe a little too ready for Providence’s birth last month. Planning my first home birth and first birth in the Netherlands, I put hours of thought into preparing. I separated the long list of birth supplies into huge bags: for the verloskundige (midwife), for the kraamverzorgster (post-birth home-care nurse), for myself. My room was newly decorated, cleaned, and organized, with a tiny dresser for the tiny clean baby clothes. I brought in an extra cabinet for diapers, nursing pads, and other disposables, and topped it with a basket of drinks and snacks for labor and later late-night nursing sessions. The bassinet was ready beside my bed and a basket of candles and matches was ready by the bathtub. After I finished everything on my birth prep list, I was still pregnant, so I reorganized the bathroom. The detail that really got my midwife and husband laughing was the note on my birth plan about exactly how long it would take to fill the tub (25 minutes).

For weeks I had been methodically preparing. Meditatively. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically. Myself and my home were so ready to welcome this baby.

The preparation was valuable, but it wasn’t an end in itself. It was all geared toward an event. When it was time, my world narrowed down to the water and my prayers, all the preparations forgotten, because they didn’t matter anymore. Sixteen hours after labor began, Providence was born, and all my focus turned to her eyes, opening underwater, and her hands, waving gently at the world.

I wasn’t at all ready for Estel’s birth two years ago in Rhode Island. She came 18 days before I expected her, and even though I’d been through labor twice before, I refused to recognize it when it started. We weren’t ready, so it couldn’t be happening. My house was a mess, dishes spilling off the kitchen counter and my bedroom half done because I’d decided 8 months pregnant was a great time to move the master bedroom across the house and redecorate it. Thankfully I’d made a run to Target for diapers and wipes, but the bassinet wasn’t set up, and the baby clothes weren’t washed and sorted. My mom hadn’t even begun her 3,000 mile journey to us, and my mother-in-law was out of town. I had no backup plan for someone to watch my oldest two kids. My hospital bag wasn’t packed.

Nothing was ready, and I was stressed about this, until I could no longer ignore the every-two-minute contractions at 3 a.m. All other considerations left my mind as I settled into the work of labor. All that mattered, all I needed to be concerned about, was meeting this baby. I called a friend (and woke her up) to come stay with Joshua and Katherine, tried to relax while waiting for my birth attendants, and headed to the hospital.

Twenty-eight hours after the process started, Estel was born. I was on my hands and knees, and the midwife handed her to me through my legs. I scooped her up and clutched her tightly as I settled back onto my heels; she filled my arms and squiggled into my heart.

And that’s really all you need to be ready for a baby: welcoming arms and a welcoming heart. Now that I’m a more experienced mom, I laugh looking back at my first-time baby registry. Wipe warmers and matching crib bedding and all-terrain strollers aren’t necessary. An old towel (or swaddling clothes) will do for a blanket, and your own heat will keep baby warm.

You’re probably not ready for Christmas right now, especially if you’ve experienced baby preparations recently.

I know I’m not. My newborn has given me plenty to reflect on about the birth of Jesus, but she hasn’t given me a lot of time and energy for Christmas planning.

I wouldn’t have any decorations up if my mom hadn’t helped before she traveled home a couple weeks ago. I woke from a straight up nightmare about shopping frantically at closing time for stocking stuffers. (Which I then proceeded to do the next day, frantically, at closing time). As I write this, it’s Christmas Eve, and I haven’t wrapped any of those stocking gifts or the big gifts for under the tree. I don’t think I actually have enough wrapping paper. I haven’t ordered presents for half the people on my list (who will probably be getting emailed gift cards at this point). My husband is working insane hours, most of us are sick, and I’m beyond tired.

The trappings aren’t ready. But last night, as I held six-week-old Providence, whose need for sleep seemed to decrease as mine increased, I recalled my preparations for her arrival, and the arrivals of the other three. They reminded me of Advent. The anticipation, the waiting, the hopes and fears.

I didn’t think I was ready for Estel, and yet it turned out I was. I was overly ready for Providence, begging her to come, and yet the welcoming was the same.

Babies come when they’re ready, not when we’re ready for them. Jesus came at the right time, whether the world was ready to welcome him or not. Whether the baby is born in a hospital or at home, in a parking garage or a stable, welcoming the baby is what matters.

I’ve been a pill the last couple days. I yelled at my husband, I yelled at my kids, and I yelled at myself. I was angry and sad and overwhelmed. (Heh…sounds like me at the end of pregnancy, too.) Today I decided to stop. I left the cookies unbaked, the gifts unwrapped, and half the traditions undone. I bicycled with my babies in the cold rain to church where we welcomed the Christ-child together.

Maybe you’re fully prepared for Christmas this year, your tree surrounded by beautifully wrapped gifts. Or maybe you were halfway on your long Christmas road trip when you realized you’d left all the presents at home. Or maybe they were stolen off your front porch.

Maybe you just-in-time welcomed your spouse back from a deployment or welcomed a new child into your family, and Christmas is full of joy.

Maybe you’re grappling with overwhelming bills, sick parents, or a miscarriage. Maybe you just said goodbye to a foster child, and Christmas is full of grief.

Ready or not, here Christmas comes. And if you can manage to open your heart and your arms, even just a little, that’s all you need to be ready.


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Photo by Randomsoleil under a Creative Commons license.

To comment on this article and/or share your Christmas traditions (and which ones you’re not ready for this year), go to the related blog post Christmas Trappings.

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