For those who are experiencing infertility, the pain of longing for a child is especially acute during the holiday season. Society bombards us with messages about families and children: A long line of adorably dressed children line up to see Santa; silver ornaments boast “Baby’s First Christmas”; children’s Hanukkah books line store windows; and oh, those sentimental television commercials!
“Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go…” The infertile woman hearing this familiar refrain wonders if she will ever be a mother, let alone a grandmother. Will she ever have a child to whom she can sing holiday songs?
What is it really like to experience this constant emphasis on a part of life you desperately want and may never have?
Struggling with Emotions
“Holidays are a time for family, and they can be such a painful reminder that after trying for so long, you still don’t have one,” says Suzy of Missoula, Mont., who has been trying to have a baby for four years. After a failed in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle in August, Suzy is now awaiting the results of a frozen embryo transfer.
Allow yourself to feel sad, deprived or depressed. Infertility is a major life crisis and you are entitled to those feelings. Talk with each other about your feelings. Your spouse may be able to help you through the rough times.
Mary Casey Jacob, Ph.D., of the University of Connecticut Medical School’s infertility program, has been helping patients cope with the stresses of infertility for 10 years. Jacob agrees that the holiday season is family oriented and encourages couples to accept that. She points out that Christmas is about a pregnant woman and a birth.
Jacob encourages infertile couples to become good copers. “Coping is about having a sense that you can manage a little bit about how you feel in every situation. It’s not about controlling the situation or controlling others. You know that certain situations will be tough. Good copers prepare for situations.” She points out that by anticipating situations, couples can prepare to make choices, not be victims. “The essence is, good copers are people who have bags of tricks.”
Jacob advises that couples make a conscious choice about whether or not to be in treatment over the holidays. “It’s a choice to whether you want to take a month or two off or stay in treatment. Will you have guests in the house who don’t know you’re in treatment will you have to make excuses about doctors appointments, hide needles? Or will there be guests who know, and who can help out by running errands while you’re at doctor’s appointments? Think about the timing of the cycle, and where you’ll be when you get results. Look ahead in that way. It’s okay to take some time off, to participate in the holidays. You don’t have to put your life on hold; you can participate in life as it is now.”
Jacob encourages couples to take especially good care of themselves physically to help cope with the stress of infertility. Around the holidays, many of us ea too much, drink too much and don’t get enough sleep. “Emotional reserves are deleted in treatment, and it’s especially important to be moderate and take care of your physical health at that time.” Jacob points out that this is true not just during the holidays of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas, but also during other holidays such as Mother’s Day.
Denise of Ocean Springs, Miss., is dreading the holidays this year. Last year, after 8 years of trying to conceive, she and her husband conceived twins through IVF. As family and friends prepared for Christmas, Denise and her husband learned (10 days before Christmas) that the babies had died in utero. This year, “I cringe at the thought of waking this Christmas morning alone instead of with my would-be 8-month-old twins,” she says. “I know I’ll cry while everyone is happily tearing into gifts.”
Denise says that most people have forgotten their loss. “We suffer silently and watch other peoples’ kids grow up, and watch our dreams die,” she says.
Many infertile couples feel isolated from the “fertile” world, and this can be especially true during the family-centered holidays. While it’s not healthy to avoid everyone and anything about the holidays, it can be healthy to avoid situations and places that make us feel worse. Jacob encourages couples to think about what they find most difficult about the holidays, and to make a choice to avoid what’s hardest for them.
“Whether it’s child-centered religious services or mall Santas, you can choose not to have those things in your life.” Jacob suggests looking at alternatives to traditions that hurt. For example, if religious observance during the holidays is important but you don’t think you can make it through children acting out the Christmas story at your church, try attending services on a university campus. “The services are more adult-centered and cater to faculty and students,” says Jacob. There may be some children of faculty members present, but children won’t be the center of the services.
Tammy, who lives in Davenport, Iowa, is putting Jacob’s advice into practice this year. “I avoid stores with Christmas themes, and try to buy gifts via the Internet,” she says. “I guess I just feel I have to avoid a part of life that could cause further pain.” Tammy lost her first child a week before Thanksgiving last year; the baby was 12 days old. She has since been unable to conceive.
RESOLVE, the infertility advocacy organization (www.resolve.org), has some good advice for coping. RESOLVE encourages couples to stay tuned-in to each others’ needs and suggests that they “set aside time to share your feelings with each other. Allow yourself to feel sad, deprived or depressed. Infertility is a major life crisis and you are entitled to those feelings. Talk with each other about your feelings. Your spouse may be able to help you through the rough times.”
RESOLVE also suggests: “Remember to capture the ‘spirit’ in each holiday which makes it special. Participate in activities which bring meaning to you at this time; create the joy intended in celebrating the holiday for its own sake.”
Good advice for everyone, infertile or not.
By Michele St. Martin for www.preconception.com