For almost five years, the day before Thanksgiving – as I baked multiple pies for our huge annual family gathering – marked the beginning of my least favorite time of year.
When you are infertile, and the one thing you want most in the world – but God isn’t giving to you – is a child, the holidays are incredibly difficult. No one seems to want to acknowledge it.
Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve was just one long exercise in torture for me and Keith. There are family events practically every weekend, people are glowing with pregnancy announcements, and new babies are celebrated at every turn.
For crying out loud, the whole Christmas season centers around a baby.
No. No, thank you, very much.
Today is, obviously, much different. When I begin baking my pies, I will have a six year old insistent on “helping,” eating apple slices, and begging for cinnamon-sugar pie bites. I will put on Christmas music because, well, I’m mostly happy for the holidays this year. We have started new family traditions (see: cinnamon-sugar dusted from-scratch pie crust). Plus the Boy loves music, so my beloved collection of Christmas CDs gets a lot of playtime in November and December.
But the feelings I had during those four plus years aren’t entirely gone. In fact, I’ve been very emotional the past few weeks, as my arms are aching again for a baby that is nowhere in the future picture.
While I’m certain this year will be so much better, in terms of celebrating the holidays, I still have those feelings of holidays past. I remember very well what it was like to dread these next few weeks. So, in order to honor those feelings (because I honestly don’t ever want to forget what I felt; it makes me SO much more grateful today), here are ways we survived the holidays during the height of our infertility struggles:
Avoid family gatherings.
Let’s be honest – do you really need to go to your third cousin’s son’s second wedding? Probably not. Do you need to go to that distant relative’s Christmas party/baby shower? Nope. Schedule a date with your husband or your best girlfriend, and you can honestly claim conflicting events. Now, in the spirit of truth, Keith and I have been blessed with understanding mothers. They got that we needed to not be somewhere.
One year, we simply left town over Christmas. We drove a few hours south and stayed at a state park inn. They’re open on the holidays for meals; we hid away, walked around town, played a lot of cards, watched too much bad cable television, swam in the icy pool, and avoided the holiday altogether.
I know, I know. I hear people sucking in their computer screens they’re so aghast I would mention this. But seriously – Christmas Eve was the worst church service for me all year. Tons of families in their cute matching outfits just showing off, er, I mean, worshiping. Find a smaller church that is less likely to have families. Go to midnight service where there might be children, but probably not babies. Or just don’t go. I couldn’t handle the multiple Baby Jesus images on stage, in the manger scenes, on the background slides. So we skipped it.
Do something for yourself when you need to.
Get a manicure, a pedicure, new running shoes, a massage, a night away with your favorite person. I needed mass amounts of dark chocolate and iced green tea during these weeks. I was frequently at Starbucks getting a cookie and green tea either on my way to or from an unavoidable event (and sometimes, both ways, if it was a particularly bad event).
Be honest with those that you can be, anyway. As I said, our mothers are wonderful women who got that we were struggling. They didn’t pressure us to do anything, but we were very honest with them. We said we couldn’t do it (whatever the “it” was at the moment). We didn’t go to parties where there would be pregnant women and/or babies. Our small group, especially, understood this and loved us anyway.
Or pie. Or the fancy oranges from the fruit bowl that are supposed to be for decoration but taste really good. Whatever helps you feel better. Now, I’m not advocating drunkenness or overeating, but sometimes a properly timed refill or a bite in your mouth helps you avoid answering the inevitable rude question, “So, when are you going to have kids?”
Avoid the stores when there will be oodles of children.
I tended to shop early on weekend mornings. Being a teacher, I usually had a few days “off” where I could go late at night (because I didn’t have to get up in the morning) or early in the morning. And I would take my iPod loaded with my favorite hard rock so I didn’t have to hear the holly jolly Christmas music.
Be honest with your spouse or your best friend – whoever it is that is most likely to support you.
We had code words to leave events, we had “emergencies” that needed tending to. Strangely, Keith and I were never desperately upset at the same time. We took turns, which was handy. We were also each other’s excuses for things, as in, “I’m sorry, but my husband/wife can’t/wont’ be able to attend, so I won’t either.” It was wonderful.
Cherish your spouse.
Don’t let this season push you apart. Cling to one another and celebrate your love. I know that sounds really cheesy, but being with Keith – having fun with him, crying with him, joking with him, praying with him – it made all the difference in the world.
Finally, know that you aren’t alone.
I, for one, am praying for women everywhere this year who are suffering through yet another holiday season with empty arms. I know so deeply what it’s like to reach another milestone holiday season, having thought “this will be the year,” when it isn’t. I will be praying for you, and I am here if you need a pep talk, or someone to cry with. I understand, and I won’t ever forget.
I hope you have a blessed holiday season, even if you are just surviving again this year.