December can feel like such a colossal failure when you’re trying to start a family. You begin the year hoping that by Christmas, you’ll have a new stocking hanging on the mantle. You hold on to this hope until April hits, at which point the thought in the back of your head of that stocking turns into traveling while pregnant.
By summer, you’re thinking of cute ways you could reveal the baby’s gender by using a complex system of hired actors to be elves and possibly a rented reindeer to pull a sleigh full of pink or blue presents for everyone. By the time Halloween is over, you’ve moved on to the thought of wrapping a onesie with “I Love My Grandma” or “My Aunt is Better Than Yours” and handing them out to family members on Christmas morning. Then Thanksgiving is over.
You start hoping, praying, that maybe, just maybe, you’ll get that miracle positive as the best gift ever on the last night of Hanukkah. New Years eve comes and it all starts again.
Infertility is a constant battle of hope and heartbreak. Two demons wage war in you each month, each cycle. If you’re waiting for your phone to ring, every time 5pm hits, your heart breaks a little again and you tell yourself, “Surely tomorrow.”Every cycle, you hold on to that hope, that this month, this time, you'll get that miracle.Click To Tweet
It escalates in December, because the holidays are about two things: Family and miracles. We’re surrounded by our nieces and nephews we might not normally see during the year.
We have to resurface from our holes and face in a very raw manner the real world, and our empty arms feel heavier somehow. We gather together to celebrate the miracles and believe; we light candles because the oil burned for eight nights or maybe we gaze at the nativity on the mantle where the statue of the Impossible Baby sleeps in a manger or His mother’s arms while the skies alight with the songs of angels and a new star.
This, surely, is when our miracle will come.
But it doesn’t. Our oil only lasts the one night, letting the darkness back in like a wave from the sea and the skies are empty, starless and silent.
We read cards from friends, family and the dealership you bought your car from. You sit, wondering if you should even bother this year because you don’t think everyone wants to hear about your incompetent cervix, that time your husband went to give you an HCG shot, got the needle in and then forgot what to do next (true story) or how you can’t even afford cards because do you have any idea how expensive it is to get knocked up? Your cousin sends theirs and you feel like vomiting as you read about how Timmy made the National Honors Society, got his Eagle Scout, was voted “Best Soup Ladler” at the local soup kitchen AND potty trained himself all before he cut his first tooth. Part of you wants to take a red marker and scribble a note and send it back with “Yeah, but he still has your huge nose, so there.”
We’re told this time of year to be thankful, to count our blessings, to celebrate the year past. We’re supposed to look back on all we accomplished that year and find joy and hope for the next. But when you’re trying to start a family, when your year involved a diagnosis, a loss or just wall after wall after wall—it’s hard not to feel like it was all for naught.
I came across a song a few years ago by a woman named Catherine Papworth called “This Year (Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas)” which she wrote for a friend who’d lost her child to SIDS. I listened to the lyrics and found myself sobbing. It was how I felt every single year as Christmas approached:
In 2005, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, right before Christmas. I have no idea, even today, what we did that year. I just remember tears rolling down my face as I stared at my sesame chicken in the middle of my work day, numb with grief at the news that I would probably never have a successful pregnancy. I’d lost a baby in September, along with that shiny bubble that had surrounded the idea that this would be effortless as it was something I knew I was destined to do. More than a little baby had been lost to me that year, my hope, my faith and my future had vanished with one phone call and a quick google search.
This time of year is about family and faith and miracles, but for those of us who know what it is to cry when you pass the “Baby’s First Christmas, 2015” ornaments that we won’t hang and feel like there’s no light left in us as candles are lit, it’s about loss and pain too.
And that is absolutely, totally, and completely okay. You’re allowed to hurt. You’re allowed to be sad. Don’t try to force happiness when you’re not happy. It’s damaging and it won’t accomplish anything. Don’t allow it to consume you, because you are more than infertility, you are more than sterility, you are more than a name on a profile, you’re more than where you are in your life right now.Your year was not a failure. You fought. You fought so hard.Click To Tweet
You fought because your desire to be a parent, to make a difference, to fulfill this part of you that screams into that consuming darkness that you have so much love to give and you’re not giving up, even though you want to with every fiber of your being.
Your desire to be a parent will make you one, be it through biology, adoption, fostering, being a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or just being the best aunt, uncle, friend or neighbor ever to kids in your family and community. You can take your love and your passion to do something and put it towards someone who needs help, love or a voice.
I know it’s annoying to hear yet another person with kids who isn’t in the thick of the fight telling you “just do this” or suggesting to “just ignore” or “stop being so selfish;” I’m not saying that. I remember, I live, how hard it is.
When I get angry at my infertility, I reach out to people and try to fix something or alleviate the pain somehow for someone else. A few years ago I was frustrated with some aspects of adoption in our family and so I grabbed my camera and shot a session with a couple placing their baby. It hurt, it was so hard to see, but knowing this baby was so loved and how much her biological parents loved her, helped my pain. And it gave me control over it.
So we’ve done things when we’ve hurt; we’ve gathered Christmas things for the kids’ names on the trees in the mall, I’ve knit hats to donate to hospitals and we donated money to various organizations. Other times when I don’t want to even think about it, we escape. One Christmas, we just packed a bag and went to a resort. Another year, we made our own fun. My mom sent me a Raclette grill, which we use for special occasions. This year, I’m going to see if I can go visit with people in a nursing home, maybe walk some dogs at the shelter. I see where I’m hurting and see if I can make a difference.I can't always fix my own pain but I can help someone else with theirs.Click To Tweet
It’s been something I’ve tried to do and will start to weave it more solidly into our family’s Christmas. Because I can’t do anything else. It’s how I cope.
You move forward. You tell yourself, “Next year, things will be different.” Hopefully, they will be. They might not be. But don’t forget while you’re fighting this war for parenthood that the battles count. Each try, each attempt, each failure: It’s all teaching you how to fight. A decade beyond the day I sat crying into my chicken, I am fighting for my children. I’ve been fighting for other people’s children. I hated the pain it caused, I hate the fact we have no money and that I’ve lost friends and seen some very ugly parts of people, but boy howdy, do I know how to fight for what I want. I know how to speak up, I know how to work the system, I know how to pick my battles, to come across as an expert when I’m clueless and how to see things for what they are. Because I faced that reality with every negative test, every bill from the clinic, every email from the agency and every situation we were presented with.
We ask for the blunt truth. And we move forward.
We keep walking through the hurt, through the emptiness, through the loneliness and the despair because we believe in something more. We believe in those miracles we see this time of year and we hope and pray and wish that we will see ours. We put our decorations away, we tell ourselves that next year, we’ll have a new stocking and a Babies First Christmas bobble on the tree.
We take a deep breath, we look ahead, gathering the strength we gained from last year and we wait. “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow. So have yourself a Merry Little Christmas now.”
Peace, joy and light to all of you.
Photo credit: Burgess Coffield/YouTube.