12 Ways I’m Showing the Holidays Who’s Boss

The surprising benefits of themes, nuts and bolts

I haven’t been playing coy.  At least totally not on purpose anyway.  I’m well aware of what time of year it is.

The often bargain basement notion of “focusing on something else” has functioned as a dismissive annoyance for the better part of my healing process.  “Focus on the life you DO have” – when that was thrown my way for many years people may as well have been poking me with a fire iron.  So disparaging and unintelligent in its simplicity, isn’t it?  While ultimately that was what I wanted to move towards coming out of treatments (because really, who HASN’T thought of that), the trip from point a to point b is nothing short of a brutal, painstaking labyrinth.  And that’s putting it nicely.  

Not to mention that when you are putting yourself through the wringer to try to have a child, and when you are coming to terms with the fact you will never be a parent, these things ARE major parts of the life you do have.  This is not a trip to Vegas, people.  What happens in baby making and involuntary childlessness land does not merely STAY in baby making and involuntary childlessness land.

And there are always those people around you hyped to find you a “distraction”, especially when your pain reaches its peaks and needs to be felt and expressed most.  A distraction deemed for you when it is really for them, as if it’s possible to focus on anything else but trying to comprehend your missing children and make sense of this new life you didn’t ask for.

It seems though, I’ve finally figured out an application for the peripheral “focus on something else” modus operandi (perhaps there is a time and a place and a grain of truth to almost everything).  Yes boys and girls, so far this year I’ve found that “focusing on something else” during the Christmas season may be my way to go for now.

Please do let me explain.

Moving toward the winter holiday season this year, which my husband and I will be spending at home, I had many thoughts.   Mostly, I was amazed that upon five years out of treatments we still had so little of this holiday thing refigured.  Now, in hindsight, I realize I’d developed much more of a foundation than I originally surmised.

Aware that the endlessness of this season (polite terms for it goes on and fucking on) is one of the things that gets me, I decided that I would benefit from having the days leading up to Christmas be as much about me and as trigger free as possible.  It’s funny how within the place of fading triggers I’m actually able to respect them more for some reason. 

The meaninglessness that hangs over this season for me is now juxtaposed with the slowly forming trajectory of my new life.  I’ve been able to glean some meaning or at the very least, connection, from many other things in life over the past couple of years.  That I don’t in effect “need” to find meaning in the winter holidays gives me a peculiar, floating type of feeling.  I’d rather accept my “what is” this season than chase my tail grasping for meaning that isn’t there.  Plus, I have some major projects that I’d like to be concentrating on.  Which of course has switched me into “back it up and do not mess with me” mode. 

So basically, I determined that I needed to “like keep this holiday shit in the back ground” this year and, whoduh thunk it, “focus on something else.”  In short, Infertility Honesty needs some BOUNDARIES.  But how to pull this off over a stretch of weeks where holidays dominate well, EVERYTHING?  In not wanting to focus on it too much, I had to focus more carefully on it for a stretch.  Damnit, there’s alway a paradox.


**Disclaimer – If you find yourself feeling as though the list below at times reads like a Better Homes and Gardens to do list from 1957, the nut job version, you are not alone.

1) Finish Shopping early and do as much online shopping as possible.  Generally I enjoy buying and giving presents, and ideally I don’t like to have them positioned as something to get out of the way.  The people to whom I give gifts matter to me, it’s just the timing and the occasion are not the best fit.  The “old life” me would have partaken in some of the last minute holiday bustle, going with the flow and present in the moment this time of year.  But the truth is, I now feel the winter holidays are someone else’s flow and moment.  I’m doing it my way so I can stay in my own flow and moment.

2) Take list of needed wrapping items that you lovingly and anally made last year, remove from wrapping bin and go to Target EARLY.  Like as in well before Thanksgiving when there are a blissful two other people in the holiday wrapping section.  It’s not that deep, but then neither is much of what goes on in December, either.

3) Get packages sent early.  Standing in line at the post office behind a mom cuddling her baby, a dad corralling his toddlers or any form of parent glowing or complaining could become far less benign come mid December.  Where, when and even if this hits no longer needs to be of my concern.  I’ve connected with and immersed myself in my emotions for the past – what is it – eight years now??  I’m self reflective enough for at least 13 people.  Therefore I’ll be taking a few weeks off.  

4) Don’t omit outside lights in honor of the darkest time of the year.  That 15 hours of darkness per day is not yet illegal is not my fault.  And neither are my low serotonin levels.

5) Fit in as many appointments, even the ones you normally like to go to, and stock up on essentials ahead of time.  The days leading up to Christmas is no time for a barrage of blaring sappy holiday music or for listening to the client ahead of you bemoan motherhood.  Oh and unlike last year DO schedule your yearly gyn appointment for January as opposed to December 20-something.  You freaking genius.

6) Reconcile your bitter and dysfunctional relationship with holiday cards, already. I’ve decided card sending (of which I did a bit for the first time in about 8 years this year) has to have some significance, whether it’s an association with someone I appreciate, or a chance to tell people what they mean to me.  I enjoy receiving pictures of kids I know and have relationships with as that has a basic human relevance.  As far as pictures of kids I don’t know and with whom I don’t have a relationship, I really don’t give a flying rat’s ass.  And, what do you know?  It’s just days before Christmas and we still don’t have a single card presenting pictures of someone else’s children I don’t really know.  Not mailing cards for eight years does have its advantages.  The minor disadvantage – that we don’t receive too many cards in general – is a mega improvement over families with kids photo land.  When people send pictures of their kids I don’t know, that’s not them telling me how much I mean to them.  That’s them telling me how much THEY mean to them.

7) Give it a go with no tree (but only when you’re damn good and ready).  Oh, the darned tree.  My husband and I have always done a tree together, so it does have a bit of a history of “just us” in it.  But in many ways, we did it in anticipation of what was to come (children) that didn’t.  It seems to be more aligned with our past than our present and possibly our future.  Plus, by the time I have time to put it up, my holiday threshold is full.  And that seems to be a theme currently in play with me – Respect. The. Threshold.  

8) Revel in the latitude (and peace!) created by the absence of a tree or any other “traditional”, “family” oriented artifacts in your living space.

9) Keep indoor decor sparse, actually become inspired as a new concept emerges. From the leeway created by foregoing a tree and keeping decs to a minimum, I realized that the idea of seasonal, non traditional decor really resonated with me.  Interior design/decorating has always been a fancy of mine, so next year’s plan of garlands, wreaths, candles, and (real!) poinsettias is already hatched.  Plus, with white poinsettias I can tie in my white plant theme :-). This whole thing feels much more in line with us and where we are now.

10) Keep holiday chit chat to a minimum. Sure, I can now handle some holiday pleasantries.  From complementing decor to listening to someone’s general holiday/travel plans, I’ve somehow developed a quasi ability to be in the world (threshold of course pending).  It’s quite a change from a few years ago when my “interactions” went something like this:

Other person: “I just put up my tree, I love it.”  Followed by a full on explanation of how it went, how long it took, what every last inch looks like……

My thought balloon: “That’s marvelous.  Oh, and by the way, my children are never coming home.  They don’t get to exist at all, actually.  But please, do continue to expand the concept of riveting by telling me ALL about your tree!”

My physical self – “Uh huh” followed by walking away.

So while I may be able to engage in some holiday chit chat, I’ve decided not to invite it.  Though it’s mostly ok enough, there are potential triggers in there and it’s not the first thing on my mind.  You know, due to “focusing on something else” and all.

11) Any good stuff, don’t forget it. With the level of cluelessness from others and triggers this time of year brings, along with the general “I’m a stranger in a strange land” aura that can blanket many of us, it’s no shock that things that work during this season can be hard to come by at all.  A few years ago my brother and nephew began visiting us in the days after Dec. 25, and it ended up morphing into an unspoken “tradition”.  Awareness that we really enjoyed this, along with an awe that anything was enjoyable within the tumult of the past five years, urged me to casually mention it to my brother.  And now they are coming again this year.  

12) After mid December, don’t pay much attention to Christmas.  It won’t be lonely, it gets enough attention already anyway.  Set aside time to get to projects that are actually relevant to your life.  Revel in the blank confusion on people’s faces when you let them know you’re hunkering down and working on projects over the Christmas holiday.

It seems I’ve awarded myself an Extreme Christmas Makeunder.  This would not have worked for me a few years ago – when or if I did errands early had no bearing as pain naturally pervaded everything.  That was my normal then.  I now find myself knowing there is space for whatever emotions do and/or don’t surface over the next few days.  Space to breathe and survive and not have wounds unnecessarily poked.  Space to appreciate any internal growth and change that occurred this year.  And space for the “new thing” to come in, whatever it does and doesn’t end up being.

It is still early yet.  Posting this just days away from Christmas as opposed to the beginning of the month is a total reflection of my confidence meter.  Does anyone really know what works until January 1 comes and goes anyway?  Speaking for myself, I sure don’t.   

While phases of healing often overlap, at the same time, each phase is often so completely different from the other.  Now how’s THAT for some holiday schizophrenia??  Since this year seems so different from years past (as least as of now), I had to wonder.  What in the hell were the last four Christmases about anyway?  What WAS I doing??

Well, I was surviving for one.  And it took me years to truly perceive how much my life and everything in it would need to change.  Symbols of that which I lost were everywhere, and immersing myself in their presence facilitated my presence in my new reality, unforgiving as it was.  This also expedited my grieving.  It was as if I had to put up a Christmas tree and stare at it for three or four years straight to really fathom and then mourn that there will never be children scampering out of bed to burrow underneath and find their surprises.  Plus, in the beginning of this CNBC life, everything morphs as some kind of a beguiling conundrum for which there is no current resolution.  It’s like being on Jeopardy and losing: 

“I’ll take holiday traditions for $600”.  

“The thing you may or may not find new meaning in in five years.”


Followed by buzzer.

For me the general, and mostly subconscious belief was that at some point, things like Christmas trees and stockings would become less painful, I’d learn how to live with them and they would eventually be up for a repurposing of meaning.  I was right about the less painful part.  But as things become less painful, I have found their relevance also flushes.  Their lack of alignment to one’s current life becomes more visible.  So I was off in my supposed trajectory – many things that were once so painful and/or the object of much questioning don’t necessarily fade back IN.  It would have been impossibly harsh to wrap myself around this concept back then though.  

Recently I worked my way through Thomas Attig’s “How We Grieve”.  His central premise is that the grieving process, in many ways, is a relearning of the world, and that this is the main undertaking of active grievers.  So “relearning the world” can go to the top of the list of just what in the heck I’ve been doing for the past five years.  With all of the relearning there has been to do, perhaps I’m just finally getting around to relearning Christmas.

If you’re not yet at the point where sneaking into Target in November can be the icing on your cookies, or if dedicating the days leading up to whichever holiday you may celebrate sounds as appealing as a lobotomy, fear not.  I’ve included below my wall of fame/shame/blame – my posts from holiday seasons past. 

12/19/2014 – Putting Infertility in the Annual Christmas Letter

1/6/2016 – I Like Mondays

12/23/2017 – An Advent Calendar For the Involuntarily Childless

See Loribeth’s post at The Road Less Traveled for some thoughtful holiday reflections (from someone who likes to keep traditional Christmas, if that’s more your flavor) AND a comprehensive list of posts addressing the CNBC holidays.  Thanks for putting it all down, LB!!

The latest edition of the Childless Not By Choice Magazine features perspectives on the holidays and holiday coping, and also contains a discussion between founder Nicci Fletcher and myself on the challenges of redefining ourselves and our lives.  Thank you to Nicci for laying the groundwork for an interesting and substantive discussion.

While my first few years out of treatments were about Survival and Immersion, my process has shifted to Creating Space and Minding the Threshold (of that which I can now tolerate).  I think what really helps people engaged in their own experiences are not black and white prescriptive sound bites, but rather the contemplation of broader concepts while back-floating in a lake of grays.  But hey, that’s just me.

And as far as next year, I wonder.  Perhaps I’ll be somewhere different on this variable trek, maybe ready for some travel.  Vegas anyone?  I think a holiday CNBC gathering in Vegas is in order.  And I’m actually NOT being facetious for a change.  Who’s in??

So, Survival, Immersion, Creating Space, Minding the Threshold, and Vegas……….

And to all a good night.

12 thoughts on “12 Ways I’m Showing the Holidays Who’s Boss

  • Since before my awareness of my infertility I’ve chosen to basically do whatever the fuck I choose to on the holidays. Buy a tree, not buy a tree, buy gifts, not buy gifts, whatever I’m feeling that year is fine. Maybe it’s my fucked up DNA family that didn’t help with that in that it was their way or the highway so I naturally said ‘screw you then I’ll do the opposite’ as I’ve never liked being told I have to celebrate a certain way, ya know. When my dad was alive he never picked out anything on his own, just asked us to name one affordable thing we wanted and he’d buy it, ruining the surprise out of everything, and my mom only did gifts for you if you came to her house so if you dared go elsewhere you were SOL. Ironically, my dad’s family was similar so if I wanted to see the various aunts and uncles and cousins who never picked up the phone the rest of the year (not exactly close knit), I knew I’d have to buy a bunch of gifts for strangers which I always thought was bullshit. Now I do like getting a tree, but some years especially these CNBC years I’ve wanted to ignore it all…one year I actually took the tree down on Christmas eve I was so wrecked from depression. My husband and I were going to do “experiential” gifts this year but yesterday I asked if we could just go down to the beach this morning and have breakfast at the bakery where we went for our wedding brekkie and leave it at that, then just make a nice dinner on Xmas and leave it at that, he was totally fine with that. I must say it’s approaching Solstice and I’m already counting down when I can take the tree down, cut it up and compost it so that I can get going on the DIY project I have for that area of the room. I’m just glad that I don’t have any guilt over gift giving and so when I go into a store, I can put my invisible earmuffs on and ignore all the buzz around me because ain’t no pressure for me when it comes to Xmas, not anymore. But obviously like any sane creature I couldn’t be paid a thousand bucks to step into a mall this week. 🙂

    • I love your approach! It’s kind of freeing to think that I can do whatever I want on Christmas for, well, basically ever. No expectations from anyone except myself.

    • Ah yes, as if infertility and childlessness weren’t enough, it’s all layered over whatever “wonderment” our families of origin happened to dish up. Sounds like you’re solid in the “do what you need to do, don’t do what you don’t need to do” gear. And if it were me, I’d be way more into a prospective house project than an xmas tree too – I can totally relate.

  • Thanks as always for your post. I’m finding a lot of solace in simplicity. We opened gifts yesterday and sent off gifts to family and now our tree is “bare” underneath. But then I look at it again and realize it’s not bare – it’s the way it’s supposed to be. And that’s fine.

    • Hi Elizabeth – thanks for sharing. It’s interesting what we now find solace in. For me this year it was staying in touch with people, from long deep conversations to just checking in.

  • Thanks for the shout-out, Sarah! I love your list of how you’ve made the holidays work for you! & I hope you had a Christmas that was, if not merry, peacefully tolerable. 🙂 On to 2019, & hopefully better things!

    • Thank you, LB. I think “peacefully tolerable” is a very reasonable ideal! I made it through overall better than usual, but like many of us, I also breathed a sigh of relief in early January.

  • Love this post Sarah – thank you. As always you make sense of everything unfathomable. I feel so much better about – doing things differently, adopting the “whatever” vibe and not inviting any holiday chat but not having it ruin my day if it comes! I also love the reference to minding the threshold – its all a forward and back feeling but really its not – it takes a lot to “relearn the world”. I feel so much better about not putting up my Big tree – we have a small one – I’m thinking about new things too. Interestingly I couldn’t find our stockings (used to be filled with small things and left on our beds as kids), I had a special one for me and hubby. I think they are aligned with our past so I won’t be looking for them again! I’m catching up with all posts as we now go to France skiing for the Christmas break – our new way to do Christmas.

    • Hi Jane – Your skiing trip sounds lovely! You comment got me thinking – as far as our “old way” of doing things, and the ways we perceived we would be doing things at this phase of life, I think it takes time (painstaking time) to realize what we need to move away from. And then, it’s hard to move away from them as letting go of the “old way” of doing things can be a loss in and of itself. Never mind getting to the part where we give ourselves credit for it!

      • Hi Sarah – exactly – how on earth do you know what to move away from when your gut doesn’t want to move away from any of it for a very long time! And when it starts to move away – its wrapped up in more loss (spot on as always). I feel I can breath again now though – it was hard to say no to things and people but I did enjoy letting go of the pressure that I should be doing things a certain way. I did have the feeling quite a bit “why am I still doing this” , still working it out I guess…….

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