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Postpartum Holidays—the gift of presence

the gift of presence- dad kisses mom by christmas tree
Erin Brant/Stocksy

“Maligayang pasko po!” Filipino children come door to door singing or exclaiming, “Merry Christmas!” Around the beginning of December children participate in the tradition of going house to house for several weeks and then asking neighbors and loved ones for gifts. (Similar to Halloween.) Even though I was born and raised in the Philippines, I’ve never practiced this tradition. I assume many enjoy it, but would some prefer to take a break? Is this tradition always done freely or would some choose not to participate?

Sometimes motherhood feels like this tradition. Children constantly showing up and asking for time and energy. Some days I give a lot and feel good, other days I give a lot and feel bad—either way, it’s easy to be tired, burnt out and depleted, especially around the holidays.

Flash forward to 2022 and my first Christmas as a mom. I was two weeks postpartum and everything ached. I remember sitting on a second-hand leather couch while trying to heal my second-degree tears. My chest ached and my head throbbed. The house was littered with burp cloths, diapers and nursing pads. The laundry overflowed and the dishes were piling high. I scrolled through my phone and saw friends looking at Christmas lights and visiting Christmas tree farms. At that point, all I wanted for Christmas was eight hours of sleep.

I picked up my sleeping baby as he slowly inhaled and exhaled without a care in the world. I wondered what he would want for Christmas. A new pair of fuzzy pajamas? A transformed nursery with all the latest gear? A pristine house without dirty dishes or laundry? His lips curled into a gummy smile.

My baby wants nourishment, connection and care. Not a full schedule, not a production, not expensive gifts. One day he’ll appreciate presents, but right now he wants the gift of presence. Our first Christmas, I sat at home and watched a streamed Christmas service, singing along while rocking my newborn. I looked over at my husband and smiled. Our circumstances have changed, but our feelings have stayed the same. Family is still the best present.

The hardest gift we can give is ourselves, especially when there are dishes to wash, laundry to fold and emails to read. Mothers give without demanding anything in return, just like the Filipino practice of giving to children knocking at the door. Sometimes, I feel like retreating until the requests slow down.

Ten months later, I plop down on that same leather couch, still surrounded by baby gear. Instead of picking up my baby, he crawls towards me. His blue eyes twinkle as he grins, this time with teeth. He holds his hands up in anticipation. He still wants my presence despite his newfound mobility.

Maybe the holidays are different for you this year. Maybe there are no glass ornaments, fresh Christmas trees or Christmas caroling. Regardless of how you spend the holidays—choose to spend them together. To find magic in the mundane. To make extraordinary memories in ordinary moments. To focus on the gift of time, instead of the gift of things.

This year, regardless of our season, may we enjoy the presence of one another instead of the presents under the tree.