An Advent Calendar for the Involuntary Childless

My Christmas Conundrum

I remember vividly my first mother’s day which came about three months after our final failed treatment. My heart was so heavy breathing felt like bench pressing. The intensity of my pain deemed the question “Will I survive?” more than legitimate, my need for self protection fell just short of having to inhabit an actual cocoon.

But recently I found myself thinking, there’s an efficiency to mother’s day the winter holiday season is entirely lacking. Albeit one of the more hard hitting emotional blows that exists, it’s mostly one hit and you’re done. A bit of lead up, nauseating commercialism and some violating conversational recap here and there, but a seasonal noose it is not.

This winter holiday/Christmas thing however is a bonafide MARATHON. And the longer something goes on, the more deeply it begs the question “what to do?”, and in cases of being childless not by choice, “what NOT to do?” Our fourth holiday season out of our final failed treatment and I still have no real answers.

Part of me wonders if I should try to reclaim Christmas at some point but no inspiration has surfaced. Another more internal part of me suspects that regardless of what I do there is no resurrecting the Christmas season for me. What I do know for sure though is that if I constantly spend myself trying to manufacture an alternative for something that nothing can replace, I’ll be committing myself to the realm of poor mental health. Instead, I’ve made the precarious commitment to the unfolding of what is.

Grief has a way of stripping you down to your very core and from that we become much clearer on what we need. I know I need a meaningful career that allows me to be creative and serve others. I know that I need relationships where I can be my full authentic self and allow others the same. But I honestly can’t say that I necessarily NEED Christmas.

So this year the unsettling conundrum continues. My parents, brother and nephew will be descending upon us for a couple of days, which has been a nice distraction and will be wonderful in many ways. Christmas is a tough time for my nephew, as his parents’ marriage broke up a few years ago in December. So I’m honored and humbled our home is somewhere he’d want to be during this time and I’m dedicated to making it a safe and open place for him.

My nephew’s still boyish fervor about coming to Aunty Sarah’s for Christmas melts my heart, simultaneously tethering me to that which I do have and that which I lost. Another side of me percolates underneath it all, counting the days until the season is all over.  There’s a piece of my soul that feels itself on a mountainous trek, pacing itself the best it can, consciously breathing in and out, in and out until the stark journey comes to an end. In this spirit, I thought of making myself a paper chain in purple, my forever favorite color, having something to rip off each day to get me to the end of this season. A bloody far cry from the red and green paper chains I used to make in my childhood to aid in the anticipation of Christmas, aiming at its arrival instead of its passing.

Somewhere in this process, it came to me we should have an advent calendar for our experiences (with some not so subtle nods to those of us in the Western Hemisphere who struggle with the extra darkness this time of year), and so folks, without further adieu, here you have it. The text anyway – I need for you to work with me here and imagine the graphics. Picture rich hues and dramatic paper doors, some of them double and plenty of glitter dripping with irreverence. Yes, some advent calendars have chocolate or enticing pictures behind their doors, mine has sarcasm.


Door 1 –  Deep Breaths……..

Door 2 – Don’t forget during this busy season to schedule some self care AFTER going to the bastion of fertile hell nail salon.

Door 3 – Respect your mental health. Do as much online shopping as possible.

Door 4 – Receiving holiday cards containing photographic evidence of families with kids? Have a cookie. For each one. Anything over 10, eat cake.

Door 5 – For each holiday card containing photographic evidence of someone’s GROWING family, have scotch.

Door 6 – You know you only rigged up all of those outside lights because this time of year is so atrociously DARK.

Door 7 – Respond “No shit, Sherlock!” to the next person who ‘informs’ you to enjoy what you do have.

Door 8 – I’d bake you some cookies except baking holiday cookies RIPS MY EVER LOVING HEART OUT.

Door 9 – Suspend all gynecological appointments for the month of December. Avoid sitting with your feet in stirrups as precious framed child art dots your line of vision while cheery holiday music is being piped into your exam room. Just sayin’.

Door 10 – Buy yourself a present. Oh wait, you spent all your money on presents for OTHER people’s children. Shucks.

Door 11 – Crying frequently this time of year is totally normal. Just because I know you were wondering.

Door 12 – Put up your tree and, if you’re partnered with someone, see which one of you utters “God I wish our children were here” first.

Door 13 – Stare menacingly at the next person who asks you what you’re doing for Christmas as though it’s somehow a joyous relevant occasion.

Door 14 – You ARE awesome. Society just forgot to tell you.

Door 15 – Say what you’re actually thinking at least once today, such as “My children don’t get to exist therefore I really don’t give a flying rat’s ass what kind of Christmas tree you have.”

Door 16 – The good news is you’re not crazy. The bad news is that yes, this IS exactly what treading in a cess pool of what should have been feels like.

Door 17 – Start a campaign to eradicate the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” from existence.

Door 18 – If you’re able to send holiday cards or even imagine sending holiday cards once again, pat yourself on the back. You rock!

Door 19 – If you’re not sending cards because A) you cannot possibly imagine doing so ever again in the absence of your children or B) you decided you just don’t give a shit, pat yourself on the back. You Rock!

Door 20 – Get a “suck it” T-shirt printed for every person who asks you this season when you’re having kids, if you have kids or why you don’t have kids. Such as “Suck it, Aunt Mildred!” and “Suck it my nosey neighbor Bethany!”

Door 21 – Wear your “suck it” t-shirts out in public

Door 22 – Advocate for making “suck it” t-shirts standard childless not by choice holiday policy

Door 23/Dec 23 – It has started getting lighter a little earlier each day. But who cares, you really won’t feel the difference for at least another month anyway.

Door 24/Dec. 24 – Demand that people TURN ON THE COTTON PICKING LIGHTS ALREADY. 17 hours of darkness per day JUST MIGHT BE ENOUGH. Not everyone has been gifted with an endless supply of fucking serotonin or a calibrated autonomic nervous system. (Ok, that one was personal. I digress).

Door 25/Dec. 25 – This totally blows. I feel you sister.

Door 26/Dec 26 – Feeling a bit lighter aren’t we?

Door 27/Dec 27 – Form your own kick line just because

Door 28/Dec 28 – Make resolutions if your ability to envision the future has returned. If it has not, be kind, don’t judge yourself and give yourself credit for your bold realism. And give 2018 the finger if that’s what feels right.

Door 29/Dec 29 – Start putting away holiday paraphernalia

Door 30/Dec 30 – Distance yourself from those “I like to leave up the decorations as LONG as I can, I just want for Christmas to go on forEVER” people. That shit’s toxic.

Just. No.

Door31/Dec 31 – Party like it’s 1999 or 2018 or whatever your year of choice may be (or if you need to avoid getting sick as that will add a month or two to your already waaaay too long nervous system disorder recovery, stay in and secretly miss watching Kathy Griffin even though you know she went too far). You survived another one, you tough feisty people you!!

12 thoughts on “An Advent Calendar for the Involuntary Childless

  • Sarah, Just one tweak to the above advent countdown – there should be alcohol and cake after putting up the tree. It’s my toughest moment.
    Ps. I love you and your blog. Thank you for being there. Xx

  • I’ll join you in flipping of 2018 ;). As for Christmas carols try coming up with alternate lyrics like “Its the most blunder-full time of the year” Mocking the cheer helps me anyhow.

  • Very wise idea! And I love that you’re reclaiming what brought you joy, turning it into a something even better.

    Tweet to #7: Alternate between “No Shit!” and “Dane to you!” Because usually people giving this assvice fail to recognize their good fortune.

    And ugly Christmas Sweaters for all to go with the “Suck it!” T-shirts. Fully advocate for going for broke (also helps make surviving the family present opening experience r that make more doable)

  • LOVE IT!!!!!!!! : )))

    I like to pull the Solstice card and tell people that I am heading into the darkness – see you on the other side. That’s one way to avoid parties, gift exchanges, and other potentially stressful situations and it usually shuts them up pretty quickly! After all, it is hibernation time and we are the only stupid animals that are running around like there is an abundance of energy out there that doesn’t exist at this time of year. Naaahhh, the darkness is a good place to rest and restore. The light won’t come back until after the party dies and everyone crashes, right? : )

  • I think I’ll just repeat #14 every day 🙂 With the occasional dash of SUCK IT! in between… I gotta say after being an unholy mess last year with my attempts to be Christmas-y, our “every other year” strategy is paying off beautifully being all chill and calm while the rest of the world is freaking out in traffic, grocery stores and the like…

  • So, so true: “Grief has a way of stripping you down to your very core and from that we become much clearer on what we need.” This one sentence explains so much of why almost my entire life has changed since infertility–my address, my career path, every single relationship in my life…

    Honestly, I saw this post the day you posted it but I saved it as a little present to myself for Xmas morning. Then yesterday, after waking up and enjoying my coffee, I snuggled into the couch under the Xmas tree lights (no decorations, I didn’t have the energy for that, but hey I got a 4′ pre-lit tree up this year and I really enjoyed it) with a blanket and my dog and read your post. It was just as true, hilarious, and poignant as I thought it would be. So thank you for being a wonderful part of my Xmas morning!

    Doors 7 and 14 all day, every day!!! :)))

  • I LOVE your advent calendar idea — only wish I`d read read this before Christmas!! I am bookmarking it for next year, to pull out when needed!

  • This was a great idea! I’ll remember it for next season. I’m so glad we are on the other side of the holidays!

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