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A Very Infertile Holiday Season

Right now, if you’re living in America, you’re probably travelling to a Thanksgiving celebration. Or if you’re not reading this until Thursday, maybe you’re chewing a bite of turkey. Or you’ve holed yourself in the guest bedroom so you can read some blogs rather than socialize with your cousins. Because this is a universal truth: family-oriented holidays are hard when you’ve run into a wall with family building. And this is true for the multitude of holidays stretching from Thanksgiving (Canadian or American) to New Years.

It starts with the fact that holidays make us think about family. It makes us notice who isn’t at the table and we think about how we thought the holiday pictures would look, namely, the child we thought we’d be holding. We’ve mentally dressed our future child in holiday clothes and considered the set-up of the snapshot. We’ve mentally noted the faces of everyone in our family as they hold our not-yet child, the way they beam at the newest member.

And secondly, holidays bring us together with family; family who is well-meaning, but lean on the standard catching-up questions concerning jobs, relationships, and family building. Without being there for your day-to-day existence, they have no idea how much these questions are salt in the wound. Other family members may arrive pregnant or toting young children, and it can be emotionally painful to sit in a room with small children even if you also love those small family members.

Stacey’s Thoughts on Infertility poignantly gets to the heart of the matter:

Lately I’ve noticed that it’s getting harder and harder to conjure up those same old feelings of joy for holidays. I think with each passing year, the emptiness in my heart and in my home become harder to ignore. Certainly there is joy and happiness and love in my heart and in my home. My husband and I are very happy with our marriage and in our little family of two. But there is a huge, unfulfilled desire that neither of us can ignore. We want children. We want to be parents. There is a void there for us both. There is an empty place in both of our hearts and in our home where our children should be. The holidays remind me of this.

I’ve Got News For You is also struggling with Thanksgiving, and writes, “I honestly don’t know that I can do this. I don’t know that I can go to this house and listen to the, what I’m sure will be incessant, talk of my SIL’s pregnancy. I don’t think I can put on a happy face and pretend to be excited for them when the abyss of sadness goes with me everywhere. I don’t think I can fake it all afternoon and evening.”

So what’s an infertile person to do to get through the holidays?

I’ll offer up the same advice I gave last year with additional notes from comments that came on that old post:

  • Create your own incentives and treat getting through the holiday season as your job. Pay yourself in whatever will make you happy. For instance, after a trip to the local mall to have your picture taken with your niece and Santa, pay yourself with a manicure. Attending the holiday party from hell may win you an entire bar of chocolate. It’s worth setting up small incentives and budgeting for your own happiness because it can be something to focus on during the task at hand.
  • You know the idea that you can take a large school and make it small but you can’t go the other way around? Flip that concept when it comes to the holidays: take a small part of the holiday and make it big. Focus on something that you can do and make it your contribution to the holiday season. If you know celebrating Christmas will be too much, make sure you throw yourself wholeheartedly into helping prepare Thanksgiving (and then develop an unfortunate case of the stomach flu on December 24th). If you can organize the family gift but can’t fathom how you’ll do Christmas dinner, make sure you send out an email to your siblings early asking for photos of your nieces and nephews so you can design a great picture calendar for your parents. And then skip the ham.
  • Do all your shopping online instead of subjecting yourself to walking past the displays of toys and Christmas baby clothes at the store. Keep it simple this year–you have a lifetime to plot out the most fantastic gifts of all time. This may be the year that you need to buy a DVD or book for each person your list and be done.
  • Leave a note in your pocket: write a note to yourself, ask a friend to jot something down, trade letters with your partner, or simply leave a list of names (therapist, fellow bloggers, the friend you’ll drink with the moment you get home) in your pocket to touch as a reminder that someone has your back when you begin to feel overwhelmed at the holiday table. I can’t be with you at your Christmas dinner (the whole Jew and vegetarian thing aside, I just don’t think your family is going to be cool if you drag along a random infertility blogger), but I can give you a note right now to keep in your pocket. Simply print this out and whenever you get overwhelmed, touch it and remember that there are people out there who get you. And change the line about mini hot dogs if you’re a vegetarian:

Hey Sweetie:

I know it was really hard to come to this party/dinner/get together but now that you’re here, you’re even closer to it being over. Try to enjoy yourself, but if you can’t, nip into the bathroom for a cry or bury yourself at the buffet table and do nothing but eat mini hot dogs for the rest of the night. There is no shame in enduring rather than enjoying and you need to do whatever you need to do to get through this without ruining any relationships. Make sure you take time for yourself today/tonight after you get home. I’m here on the other end of the computer if you need me.


  • Pick and Choose: there is no rule that says you must attend every event during the holiday season–even if you’ve gone to everything in the past. If it’s going to cause more grief than it’s worth, just attend the event. But if you can get your partner to “surprise” you with a holiday trip, all the better.
  • Book: I actually include a lot of ideas like these in Navigating the Land of If to get through life in general; not just holiday. I’m just saying.
  • I will tell you the only trick I have up my sleeve: the holiday card. Most holiday cards we receive are either generic package-of-12 types or pictures of kids/families. We send out cards every year that routinely get responses that it was the best card they’ve gotten all year, or sometimes the best card ever. Sometimes one fabulous photo of us in some fabulous locale; sometimes a whole series around the world (which it will have to be again this year). We used to just have a normal photo card, but now we include a newsy update of career progress and travels. The people with kids (or limited funds, or limited outlook) say, “Wow, your life is amazing. I’m stuck here at home.” I’m not trying to make them feel envious of us, but envy is way better than pity. –Baby Smiling in Back Seat
  • All of our friends have been sending photo X-mas cards in the past years. In previous years, we’d send an awesome vacation photo. Like- heh!- we still had fun this year!–Mrs. Spock
  • One tip I figured out early on: If you can’t shop online & have to go to the mall, find out what hours Santa will be there — & then go when he’s not around. There won’t be as many kids & babies around to deal with then. –The Road Less Travelled
  • I manage to work in a reference to Katie in every edition of our Christmas letter… usually in relation to our volunteer work. But I like being able to remind people that she was real & is still a part of our lives. My Christmas card itself usually has either an angel or Classic Pooh theme (which was also the theme of her nursery). I know other people who use angel stamps on their cards as a subtle reminder of their lost baby(s). –The Road Less Travelled
  • This year I solved my problem in the cowardly fashion… I offered to work. I work at a domestic violence shelter, which is open 24/7… So I figure I might as well. I can get paid double time as well, so it’s all sorts of awesome. –An Unwanted Path
  • I started listening to holiday music in August this year. I’m using it as my own private technique for connecting with the joy of the season early enough that I won’t suddenly get trampled in the crush of child-centric images, events, and conversations coming my way during the *actual* season. I want this year to be different! –Lisa

What tricks do you have up your sleeve to get you through the holiday season?

Cross-posted with BlogHer.


1 a { 11.24.09 at 4:01 pm }

My family would think it was awesome to drag a random infertility blogger to Christmas dinner…and there are always potatoes (my family) or crudites (my husband’s family) for the vegetarian to eat!

If the holidays are too hard, I just withdraw. Holidays have always been a source of expectation and tension in my family anyway, so I guess I am kind of used to it. Unfortunately, it means I also carry it on, and make my husband deal with my drama. I’m getting better though, by taking charge of my own life. If I don’t feel like going to Christmas parties or dinners, I don’t go. We’re having Thanksgiving dinner with just our little family this year, and it will be wonderful.

2 Rebecca { 11.24.09 at 4:01 pm }

I don’t think AnUnwantedPath’s way is cowardly at all. S/he is awesome for doing that.

3 Bea { 11.24.09 at 4:29 pm }

AnUnwantedPath has a good idea there – you could volunteer somewhere instead of working at your job, if that suits your career path/skills better. Imagine anyone complaining that you’re not at the table because you’re at a homeless shelter.


4 Stacey { 11.24.09 at 4:47 pm }

Thanks so much for the mention in this lovely post, Mel. The holidays can be so hard, but I do my very best to try to stay focused on what I have instead of what I don’t have. Thanks for sharing all these great suggestions. Happy Thanksgiving to you!

5 Kitty { 11.24.09 at 4:48 pm }

Aw, Mel! Your note (combined with my PMS) made me tear up! I’ll have to print that one up. 🙂

I love Baby Smiling in Back Seat’s suggestion. I am actually in the process of making our Christmas card, laden with photos from our 2 week road trip hubs and I took in September. Maybe I’ll have to throw in a quick letter too!

6 Kim { 11.24.09 at 4:58 pm }

I recognized it wasn’t something I couldn’t handle this year, and I backed out. Instead of focusing on what I *can’t* handle, I’m heading into the season excited about the possibilities of the new traditions TH and I will make this year.

I’m just going to roll with the punches. If I’m really excited about putting up the tree, we’re going to do it and not wait. If I can’t handle being around our nephew, TH can go and I can stay home. I’m not going to force myself into any situation, and I’m just going to accept where I am and be there. I don’t know how else to survive this one.

7 Christa { 11.24.09 at 5:47 pm }

We’re completely avoiding family this year and going to Cancun. 2010 will bring new hope for us, we’re convinced it’s going to be our year to shine!!

8 Hope in Briarrose { 11.24.09 at 5:49 pm }

Last Christmas was extremely emotional for me. It was so hard getting all of those picture cards with children/babies, families on them. What really drove the nail through my heart is when my mother-in-law sent me pictures of her other daughter/husband/ and kids. ???? Why??? I felt like it was a slap in the face “Look at what you don’t have.”

I had been crying all day when I received those pictures in the mail. I decided that very moment that I was going to stop and take my own family picture. I gathered the hubs, kid, and cat and we all huddled in front of the fire and took random pictures. I was laughing by the end of the night. Even though I looked like total shit because I had been crying all day and my eyes were 2 times their normal size, I sent them out in cards anyway and I posted it on Facebook for all to see.

It always reminded me, look I DO have a family.

9 Geochick { 11.24.09 at 6:10 pm }

We’re about to go to the Caribbean to partially deal with the holidays. Plus I’ll get some kick-butt photos and include them with our cards this year. I’ve been waiting to include photos until we have a baby but I’m frustrated enough now that I have a little bit of stick-it-to-all-my-fertile-friends/family in my attitude this year. Last year I tried to pretend I wasn’t miserable and it blew up big time in a couple of embarrassing instances so I’m all for acknowledging the miserableness (with a tiny twinge of hope that this is our last childless holiday season).

10 Melissa G. { 11.24.09 at 6:26 pm }

Mel, I’ve read that pocket letter before and I wish I had remembered it a few weeks ago when I subjected myself to a babyshower…. Ugh. I’ll certainly use it for a few other parties I have ahead.

I don’t really have any coping advice to share. I feel like this is going to be my hardest year yet, so I have no idea what I’m going to do. I’m just really grateful for this post.


11 Caitlin { 11.24.09 at 6:41 pm }

I love your pocket letter idea, Mel. You are so wonderful…

I don’t have any savvy ideas for this Holiday season. There is no getting out of get togethers in our family – sick or not. I imagine I will trudge on through with the same ol’ facade I have had for the past 3 years. There were two new babies born in 2009 and another cousin in her 5th month of pregancy…just please send me your prayers…

12 Another Dreamer { 11.24.09 at 8:00 pm }

Very awesome, thanks for posting this Mel. It did help me so much last year, and it is good to know that I am not alone. The holidays feel so isolating, especially this year. Thank you.

And I totally worked last year, and I am doing it again this year 😉 So many reasons I love working the holidays. The ladies in the shelter are awesome and it’s very rewarding, getting out of going to in-laws, and of course the double-time is nice. And most people don’t say anything, even if they secretly think it.

Thanks Rebecca and Bea- I appreciate your comments about my coping technique- I’m glad that it isn’t as cowardly as I thought it was. Thank you.

13 suburbancaroline { 11.25.09 at 12:06 am }

This year is really challenging – I had a miscarriage in the spring, and the due date would have been 11/25. So I’m dealing with a lot of would-have-beens there, and I’d really rather not add the family into the mix so close to that day. However, this may also be my mother’s last Thanksgiving – she’s undergoing chemotherapy for cancer, and it’s not going so well. Holidays have always been important to her, so I can’t not show up. And then, that also means that when/if I do have a child, she may never meet it – so many regrets.

14 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 11.25.09 at 2:23 am }

The braggy card was my only trick. Well, that and cherry-picking who you see on a given holiday — because of IF, or because of anything about family that you can escape to save your sanity. Sometimes fallout from absence is easier to deal with than day-of drama.

15 Angela { 11.25.09 at 2:47 am }

I went where no man had gone before and told my family I would not be meeting them at the beach for Thanksgiving that year. And several years after that. Do they have cruises that sail from Nov. 20something thru the new year? Why was I not as smart to avoid my family for the rest of the year that my 16 yr old niece was pregnant? That was 13+ years ago and it still stings. But God works in crazy,”out of the box”, “way out there” ways and 6 kids later ( one pregnancy) I can say it was worth the wait. The pain??..ok maybe…:)! I’m thinking of all of you!

16 Courtney F { 11.25.09 at 5:45 am }

These are all GREAT ways to keep your mind of IF and other’s kids! Sometimes avoidance is best for sanity!

17 Guera! { 11.25.09 at 7:39 am }

I just bought three bottles of my favorite wine yesterday to take to my mom’s….and I don’t plan to share any of it.

18 Megan { 11.25.09 at 1:37 pm }

These suggestions are so great! I wish I had been reading your blog when I was going through this. Alcohol, avoidance and tears in the middle of present opening was ok, but I think I would have done better with your list! Oh – and spending the day skiing worked sort of well, since I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I was pregnant.

19 DCPatient { 11.25.09 at 3:07 pm }

I have come to a point where I am very thankful for the blessings and lessons I am receiving through this fertility journey. Peace to all.

20 Kat { 11.26.09 at 12:11 am }

Thanks for publishing your little pocket note. I just wrote one for my best friend as she prepares to head home to her in-laws, where she will not get to tell them she’s pregnant, again. It helped me put into words what she probably needed to hear from someone right now.

21 Katie { 11.26.09 at 7:28 pm }

Thank you for sharing that note, Mel. It really helped me get through today.

22 battynurse { 11.26.09 at 11:54 pm }

I think my family would be fine with a random IF blogger too. But there is no tofurky. Lots of other good stuff though.

23 Beth { 11.27.09 at 7:12 am }

I felt better when I could celebrate the holidays in adult ways with other childless (by choice, circumstance, or IF) friends. For example, we had schmancy cocktail parties with decidedly kid-unfriendly foods, delicate stemware, and plenty of alcohol. It wasn’t deliberately planned to be anti-kid (not all knew then that we were dealing with IF), but it was very much pro-adult. My immediate family was incredibly supportive too – we celebrated Christmas with just us – no extended relatives, no neighbors, no expectant or new parents. They weren’t the Christmases I’d hoped to have, but they did have the least amount of pain possible.

24 Romancingthestone { 11.27.09 at 9:52 am }

This was a wonderful posting Mel. And so fitting. When my husband and I don’t feel like celebrating (like a few night ago for a pre-thanksgiving party we opted out of) we slip in a video of “Fiddler on the Roof”. It reminds me of childhood and family in the best way, and we can spend the night alone together! stone.wordpress.com

25 Bridget (@bcyberchondriac) { 11.27.09 at 11:50 am }

A couple of suggestions for handling the children-in-your-face holiday thing:
*Minimize your time at the big family dinner. Pop in on your way somewhere else.
*Look absolutely stunning and gorgeous! All the exhausted, snot-stained moms will be jonesing for your freedom and fabulousness.
*If you have a pet (cat or dog) put it front and center. Talk about it constantly, send people Christmas pictures of it, etc. It will kind of illustrate what they’re doing to you. I have this awesome single girlfriend who has the cutest beagle that she’s just nuts about. She got a giant picture of him framed and gave it to her mom for Christmas. And she insisted that her mother put this giant framed photo on the same shelf as the photos of the grandkids, in FRONT of the other photos.

26 andrea { 11.29.09 at 6:27 pm }

I am SO amazingly grateful to you for this post and the virtual Thanksgiving dinner post. I’ve been reading here for quite some time and wanted to jump in and join the community but hadn’t had the courage til now – Hi everyone! We’ve had primary infertility for 6 years, I have Stage 3 Endo (but only diagnosed 2.5 yrs ago), don’t ovlate and we have just learned that my husbands sperm are not doing their thing. After 2 surgeries, 6 mths fertility drugs and 1 older child International adoption, we are now on the waiting list for ICSI IVF in about 9+months.
I LOVE this post – wish I had it 7 christmases ago. Thanks again.

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