Putting Infertility in the Annual Christmas Letter

Here’s ONE small way to crack the taboo…………

I really didn’t think I’d be posting about anything Christmas.

I’m not a “Christmas” person. I despise the short days, the impotent sunlight, and the impending if not already present cold. The sheer length of the season coupled with the commercial rigor defies any standard of sanity. Since my teen years I found the buildup to one freakin day also culminated into a bit of a let-down, and I’m not a big fan of the flu season or of the depleted physical energy that comes with trying to stay warm either. Oh, and snow boots and sweaters and dressing in layers – so NOT hot. So with most of the above being in play for a short six weeks or so now, I’m already anticipating the planting of my seedlings in April, and planning my May/June garden designs, as that’s truly where my heart is. While visions of sugar plums and assorted holiday paraphernalia may very well be dancing in other people’s heads, visions of soft shell crabs, sauvignon blanc, flowers blooming, warm sunny days and lingering with good company into balmy nights are what dance in mine during this time of year. Not to mention our infertility journey has left me with the definite need to keep the stuff with which Christmas is primarily infused – myth, legend and fantasy – at arm’s length.

I love how our outside light display turned out this year, and I do tend to like the hanging loose week after Christmas with the impromptu get togethers (baby and prego free for now, of course) that often go along with it. And I was very happy that my family (parents, brother, SIL and 9 year old nephew) were planning on coming (from out of state) but quite unfortunately they are now not able to make it.  So we are on our own, and at the last minute nonetheless, to navigate through one of the toughest seasons for those grieving child losses of any kind. So no jingling all the way this year.  Laughing sarcastically maybe, but no jingling.

But either way I’m looking ahead, as I remember much preferring the back to the routine yet open ended space of January, where I always used to breathe a sigh of relief. This will be our first January in five years not doing a fertility treatment, as IUI #s 1 and 5, and IVF #s 1 and 5 were all done in four consecutive Januaries. I hate the cold, but am very much looking forward to relearning January as a drug free non-pin cushion.

I really didn’t think I’d be posting about Christmas, as I’m not exactly a timely blogger either. A big picture person by nature, I more often than not let the things I go through marinate in the daily tumble of life, and once written about, I have a strong tendency to hold them close as I wait for an answer to my (initially subconscious) inquiry, “so what is this REALLY about?” Sometimes an answer comes, and others time does nothing to alter the mystery. As a result I’m often posting about summer in the fall, or about things that I went through two years ago, my only boundary seeming to be that I try and stay on the same planet as everyone else. Anything eventful that might occur throughout my December may in actuality not show up here until oh say March.

HOWEVER.

One of the things that is never off my mind since entering the infertile world is how to bring the disease of infertility into the main stream. How to “put it out there” so to speak so that the pointless taboo eventually dissolves and we all have the opportunity to go through this wretched disease with more support and less blankness and even shunning from our fellow humans. Often walking around with few good answers to this problem, my Mom seems to have come up with something. We all have our different needs for privacy, and varying life situations that effect how and when we speak. And in my experience, it is easier to be upfront about infertility once there is a definite result to report, even if the end in question is a sad one. But I think my Mom’s efforts are a worthy offering, so on that note I’ll let her take it away as I remain in my natural quasi bah-humbug state.

An excerpt from my Mom’s annual holiday letter:

“Sarah and Julio are working through what couples never get over. Not lucky enough to conceive after ten infertility procedures (5 IUIs and 5 IVFs) they are too depleted financially ($80,000) and emotionally to consider adoption. Forever the chef who puts love into every bite, Julio continues with ambitious restaurant ventures: the current one is in the New York City borough of Queens (the most ethnically diverse county in the US). To aid the healing process, Sarah writes about the infertility experience with frankness and even some wit. Her blog is available upon request for anyone brave enough to learn about this last taboo and the details that make the associated etiquette indelible. One of the hardest things for me is to realize how I’ve missed the boat with all the “well meaning” comments I’ve made for decades while wanting so much to respond effectively to people whose hearts ache. Every phone conversation with Sarah leaves me grateful for the courage she and Julio have to face these days head on.”

Oh, yes she did. My Mom is far from perfect, and my relationship with her is often far from easy. It is a relationship ample with challenges and a more than detectable level of dysfunction. Quite the quizzical woman, she often has me and the rest of the family scratching our heads in confusion wondering just where in the heck she is coming from. But when she hits it, she clocks it out of the park like nobody’s business. And no one can ever accuse her of being unloving.

As the losses of infertility really started to take their toll, my family members did their share of clueless, insensitive and uninformed things. Through the fog and alienation of my pain, I knew I had to try to get them onto my page, or at least inform them about it. I intensely resented this job on top of everything else I was dealing with, and often my “educational gestures” were rude and hard hitting as I’m prone to be when I’m frustrated and scared. But every now and then I somehow managed to grab onto a few shreds of clarity, and they kept listening. Now, as my husband and I are dealing with one of the toughest results a couple who tries to conceive can get, no children, I’m overwhelmingly grateful that they did keep listening.

This is by far the BEST present I ever could have gotten, Christmas or otherwise. Love, acceptance and acknowledgement. While not every parent of someone dealing with infertility would want to write about it in their holiday letter, let this be a reminder.

The holiday season is a tough time for anyone struggling with infertility, no matter what stage of it they are in, and no matter what their result might end up being.

The love and support of our families is essential for a smoother navigation through this truly wicked life crisis. Whether it be a simple expression of love and parental pride, help and alliance in social family situations, or a non-judgmental listening ear, it is my holiday wish that all of my fellow infertiles who are fortunate enough to have families at all receive the love and support from them they deserve this year.

7 thoughts on “Putting Infertility in the Annual Christmas Letter

  1. Your Mom put me on to you and I’m following as much as possible. You are opening minds… yours is a much needed perspective. Not for the first time, I’m telling you: KEEP WRITING!! xxx

  2. Wow, your mom is spot on, good for her (and you). I agree with so much of what you’ve said; 1) I too hate winter, and most of what it brings (though I don’t mind Christmas) 2) I don’t want to be upfront about my infertility until I was something difinitive to say either way, 3) I too resent the fact that I have one more thing on my shoulders in that I feel as though it is partly my duty to educate the masses, because I feel I may come off as a crazed, bitter infertile.

    Best to you through the tricky holiday time.

    • Tricky is the PERFECT word. Good luck to you as well.

      Reg #2, Yes, anything not definitive people seem to take as an invitation to pounce with advice and platitudes galore. OR they take the revelation that you’re doing IVF as a given that you’ll be pregnant soon (yeah, like that equals) and constantly ask for updates. I hope more social protocol emerges for these situations in years to come. Reg #3 I used to struggle with the fact I wanted to strangle people along with the truth that this rage really came from my deep vulnerable place of wanting to be seen, heard and understood. Sometimes I would pull back, but it still amazes me how many times I found (and continue to find) the right words when I was SO CERTAIN I couldn’t.

  3. Wow, that’s amazing!! How many of us would love to hear that from our own parents??

    I did tell the sad story of our pregnancy in our Christmas 1998 letter and made reference to our daughter &/or to our support group work in many subsequent years (although not recently). My choice of card is usually a subtle tribute to our daughter as well.

    • How amazing that you’ve been able to give voice to the experience of your daughter and honor her memory in your Christmas cards. I’m curious to the responses you did (and didn’t!) get?

  4. What wonderful understanding and pride from your Mom. The fact that she has realised that maybe she has said some awkward things in the past is a bonus. She’s learned from your blog and experience, and is open to learning more. That’s all you (or any of us) can ask for.

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