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Surviving Christmas

Granted, I’m not Christian.  My understanding of Christmas is based on Hallmark-y movies and Hallmark-y music.  I’ve listened to friends talk about Christmas and read blogs and seen Love Actually at least 14 times.  I come at Christmas as an outsider since my Christmas is generally a stress-free day of volunteer work and movies.  And, at the same time, I know how it feels to be infertile and left out on other holidays and this is how I perceive Christmas must feel for those experiencing infertility or loss.

Imagine there is a holiday called the Great Peanut Celebration. People get together to celebrate the peanut, serving peanut butter cookies and peanut ale. There are other foods on the table as well, but peanuts are the prominent ingredient because it is, after all, the Great Peanut Celebration! Every store is decorated with little sparkle lights shaped like peanuts and everywhere you go, people call out: “Have a Peanuty Day!” There are performances celebrating the peanut and commercials reminding you to eat peanuts and constant newspaper articles about peanuts. After you attend the GPC party at your office, you have to go spend the day with family and friends opening presents while munching on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Oh…and you’re allergic to peanuts.

But don’t worry because there will also be plain jelly sandwiches on the table. Though it really sucks that you can’t eat peanuts. Of course, we’ll all ask you if you’ve tried some newfangled epi-pen that we read about in some magazine and we’ll lament how you can’t eat peanuts and we’ll rub your arm and tell you, “I hope you get to eat peanuts next year because peanuts taste so good.”

And that’s what I imagine Christmas is like for those experiencing infertility or loss.

Peanut allergies can be life-threatening whereas infertility is life-style threatening, so it isn’t the perfect analogy, but I can’t imagine another holiday other than Mother’s Day and Father’s Day which is more child-focused. The entire holiday is about a child–a newborn baby–and everyone going to see this newborn baby. At least at Easter, Christ is a man. But at Christmas, he’s that perfect newborn being celebrated by his parents and community.

There are non-child-focused ways to celebrate Christmas–making out under the mistletoe would be a bit risque for the average school child–but at its core, the holiday is about a baby and the traditions are about family. Getting through the average day with all of the inadvertent reminders of what you don’t have–seeing pregnant bellies while you wait in line, navigating the baby aisles at the food store, or driving behind a car with the “baby on board” bumper sticker–seems like nothing when you drop onto the normal load the weight of all the hopes and dreams people have wrapped up in holidays.

The options are either to leave the traditional celebrations behind–opting to go away on vacation or hunker down in your own home–or take a deep breath and continue with plans as normal. I was talking with a friend this weekend and she lamented that since Christmas had always been her favourite holiday, something she looked forward to all year, it was doubly painful to skip it; to not put up the tree or listen to the music or join in the happiness she always felt prior to learning about her infertility. “You only get so many Christmases in life and I’m wasting them,” she said.

I’m not sure there is a way to bend the holiday to fit the situation any more than celebrating your own mother on Mother’s Day makes you forget that you’re not a mother yet yourself or that you lost your child. Back at Thanksgiving, I made suggestions to get through the holidays, but perhaps more important, more of a boost to get you through Christmas morning breakfast, is the knowledge that you’re not alone. That there are countless other people struggling with the holiday because they also have someone missing from their lives on a holiday that is about a family forming.

How are you getting through the holidays?

mostly cross-posted with BlogHer


1 Heather { 12.21.09 at 10:25 am }

You know what’s freaking hilarious about this: I am TOTALLY, deathly allergic to peanuts! Go figure!

I avoid church like the plague and cry. Heh.

2 Chris { 12.21.09 at 10:58 am }

My strategy was to simply (well, not simply really, it’s actually quite hard) hang on to hope. Hope that things would be different the next year. Or the next, or the next. And knowing that the wait would eventually totally be worth it. Not real helpful, I know, but it’s what got me through.

3 Lynn { 12.21.09 at 11:43 am }

It seems we really had no way out of it this year (or any other year for that matter). My family aren’t really your traditional, all-the-family’s-together type anyway, so that helps some. My eldest brother lives in New Jersey and won’t be home. My sister will be with her in-laws. It will just be the other brother, Mom, Dad, The Hubs and I.

The Hubs and I plan to spend Christmas Eve night with a bottle of wine (or two!) and lots of good movies. We’ll exchange gifts Christmas Day with one another and the other family members who’ll be around, then have a meal with them. That’s pretty much it for us.

On a slightly humorous note, The Hubs and I were asked to watch the nursery at our church last night while everyone else celebrated the Christmas Contata. Seven babies, The Hubs and I. While we both enjoyed being with the little ones, it just highlighted the fact we aren’t parents ourselves. And the fact that AF arrived Saturday pretty much put me in the doldrums for the rest of this year.

Oh, well. There’s always next Christmas…..right?

4 Megan { 12.21.09 at 12:04 pm }

I am seriously thinking of sending that peanut story to my family…

5 Lavender Luz { 12.21.09 at 12:12 pm }

As someone who has experienced both (I’m deathly allergic to peanuts and carried an epi-pen for years), I can say the analogy is a good one.

I no longer carry an epi-pen (but I still stay away from peanuts), and I also am celebrating a victorious Christmas. Dark meets its demise on the solstice today, and I freaking conquered IF a few years ago.

May those on the outskirts of THIS Christmas be abundantly blessed in 2010.

6 Rivqah { 12.21.09 at 12:15 pm }

Longtime lurker, without a blog… My solution wouldn’t work for everyone, but as a pretty hardcore Catholic, I’m throwing myself into the Liturgy of the Hours, which is the “official” daily prayer book for priests and most monks and nuns, though lay people are welcome to use it too. Since it’s written mostly by and for people who’ve made a vow of celibacy, it takes the focus off the “family-family-family” drumbeat pretty effectively!

Trying to spend some of that undirected nurturing energy by sending cookies to my sister who will be alone for Christmas. Oh yeah, and I’m trying to avoid thinking about how over-the-moon my MIL will be at our nephew’s first Christmas, and just how invisible hubby and I will be.

7 Em { 12.21.09 at 12:29 pm }

Ok.. maybe I am the only one who went into complete christmas overkill to get through it… i was always a bah humbug kinda person until IF and now I am like “wheres Bing and his carols?” “rumballs stat!”

8 serenity { 12.21.09 at 1:03 pm }

Before IF I loved, loved, LOVED Thanksgiving and Christmas.

But way of coping when it seemed we weren’t ever going to be parents? I celebrated the family I DID have – my husband, and wonderful supportive in-laws, my own parents and grandparents and brother and sister.

And I drank a LOT of wine to get through the rougher moments.

9 Jem { 12.21.09 at 1:36 pm }

I think Wal.mart hates infertiles. You know that commercial on TV where all those kids wake up on Christmas morning and run down the stairs, eager to open presents?

I’m not even Christian, and that commerical makes ME sad.

How to cope? Good communication with loved ones so they know what you are going through and can be sensitive. Choosing Holiday parties carefully. If you can’t face a room full of toddlers, graciously decline the invitation from the colleague with a big family.

This is not an easy time of year for anyone, let alone those who are not considered “a family” unless there’s a baby in the picture.

I think it just helps to know there’s a whole community of wonderful people out there who understand…

10 Kim { 12.21.09 at 1:44 pm }

I decided to stay home instead of visiting family, and I’m concentrating on making this our first Christmas in our first home with our new family’s traditions. TH and I *are* a family, and this Christmas, we’re trying the holiday our way.

It helps that my Mom, step-dad, and siblings are coming. They knew I needed them and are making their way out here to give Christmas a new twist.

11 Erica { 12.21.09 at 1:48 pm }

So far one of the best things I’ve found to do with the holiday season is to let myself cry when I need to.

12 Michelle { 12.21.09 at 2:02 pm }

I’m not sure that what I’m doing to cope is “right”.
We have chosen to not celebrate this year. No tree, no decorations, no music. It feels weird and mostly good at the same time. I would have chosen to go away for this holiday and forget it entirely.. however DH is obligated to his fire department for the entire day & night on Christmas Eve and he doesn’t want to leave his siblings for Christmas.
I will go to dinner with my Mom, stepfather and his children on Christmas Eve and have a small lunch for my Mom, Dad & Brother on Christmas and then visit DH’s siblings.
We only bought gifts for the children, and my Mom.

13 Michelle { 12.21.09 at 2:04 pm }

Oh yeah.. and a certain mall jewelery store hates infertiles too. If I see that commercial with the newborn, husband/wife and Christmas tree I might stab my eyes out.

14 Alana-isms { 12.21.09 at 2:40 pm }

LOVED your post—what a wonderful analogy between IF and an allergy…you worded it in a way I think would be beneficial for non-IFers to understand.

Since I’m going through SIF I try to hug my daughter more tightly and live in the now. I try to treasure the current moments that we’re making memories…and focus less on my longing for a sibling for her.

15 Katie { 12.21.09 at 2:42 pm }

This sounds horrible, but we are avoiding the holiday gatherings as much as possible–especially when it comes to my husband’s family. Since this will be his nephew’s first Christmas, we just plan on “stopping by” to say hello on Christmas Eve and then we are spending Christmas Day alone. Of course, we’ll still have to see the baby on Christmas Eve, along with my husband’s pregnant cousin. But at least it’s only for a couple of hours. I’m hoping I can make it through. I’ll be happy when the holidays are over. I’m just not in the Christmas spirit this year.

16 Jenny { 12.21.09 at 3:11 pm }

What makes it even worse for me, and I’m sure many others, is that I don’t want to appear selfish and ruin other people’s holidays by seeming sad. It’s not their fault we don’t have a baby. Oh the guilt….

17 a { 12.21.09 at 3:46 pm }

Compartmentalize – that’s my strategy. I’m very good at stuffing away the painful. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the year I had 2 miscarriages was also the year we were avoiding family for other reasons – and particularly avoiding the SIL who had a due date 2 weeks earlier than the one I was supposed to have. Also, don’t take it personally when the marketing is to the average person…

18 lily ashley { 12.21.09 at 3:56 pm }

every year is a tough one since my last loss, everything reminds me of my lil one that could have been here, there’s no way of getting away from it. i take my time and cry when i need to, and i turn up the music and bake when i need to cheer up.
as hard as it sounds, t here could be worst things happening to us, so i try to look at it that way to get by.

19 Kami { 12.21.09 at 4:19 pm }

I always avoided the get togethers. Bah humbug! I was never a big Christmas person anyway, but it still stung. Hubby and I had some nice dinners all by ourselves during our TTC years.

Now that we have a little one who likes lights, I am trying to get into the spirit of things for the first time in years. Of course, before all this I had some hope there was a god and now I am convinced there isn’t so it is more of a winter solstice holiday for us.

20 Christa { 12.21.09 at 5:41 pm }

We’re spending the holidays at home with each other. no other family at all! I do feel like something is missing in our lives, I thought for sure this would be “the year”, just like everyone else has probably felt. So this year we picked a child from an angel tree at the mall and bought him some presents for Christmas. We may not have our own children yet but at least we can make a child out there smile on Christmas Day.

21 JC { 12.21.09 at 9:34 pm }

We’re going to my parents for Christmas and luckily I only have 1 brother and he doesn’t have any kids (just a g/f). It would be more painful if he did, I’m hoping he doesn’t have any “accidents” until I at least have a baby. So it will be fun and I’ll drink lots of mamossas. Lots. =)

22 Mrs. Gamgee { 12.21.09 at 11:22 pm }

I’ve mostly focussed on my work, and less on the traditional stuff that I normally do. I wouldn’t say that I have backed out of Christmas celebrations, but maybe I’ve made myself too busy doing other things to be able to participate in a way I would have in the past.

23 nycphoenix { 12.21.09 at 11:42 pm }

I just wrote the ups and down of church and advent and christmas. I get thorought it by trying to remember that I am more than my uterus and by the faith that I have that my God has something wonderful for me

24 Rach { 12.22.09 at 2:11 am }

How are we getting through this Christmas?

We’re spending the day on the back of our motorcycle, no destination in mind, though the coast sounds good because it’s going to be a lovely 36 degrees (celcius not F!).

The only thing we HAVE to do on Christmas Day is stop by a friends place for drinks…it will be blissfully child free!

25 coffeegrl { 12.22.09 at 6:25 am }

A colleague of mine is having a kind of “adult only” Christmas party on Christmas day. It’s a potluck party for adults with nowhere else to go/no one to celebrate with which involves food, music, and games. It sounds like a lot of fun to me and the perfect antidote!

26 Half of a Duo, Raising a Duo { 12.22.09 at 6:39 am }

Here is how I am getting through it.

Being a voice for the barren. Yes, I wrote a stunning ICLW post.

And I am going for Iron Commentor status. It keeps me hopping at 4-5 am. I am determined, since there seems to be A LOT of people on the rolls this month. I am determined.

I am also away from home. Which is a good thing since, the pull of having a 3rd child is strong upon me. Now that the boys are 21 mos and stellar and I am kicking butt and taking no prisoners in the mama dept, I feel confident a trio would be great.

Except I am barren.

And the expense of yet another surrogacy journey would kill us. We have to save for college and retirement and the last journey decimated our savings.

So I am savoring these moments. At nearly 48 years old, having the little dudes saying “I love you”. And obsessing over everything car/truck/plane/train related. As boys universally are, I guess.

27 nh { 12.22.09 at 11:39 am }

Unlike the last few years; this year I am celebrating Christmas with family. Instead of hiding away, I am going to my S-I-L’s (who has two daughters). And there will be tears, and I will cry. And I won’t go to the main Church Service, because I know that the mid-night service will have no children at it. But we haven’t celebrated Christmas with those girls that give me so much joy for the last 6 years – so this is the start of something new.

28 Carrie { 12.23.09 at 10:59 am }

We all know that its impossible to trick ourselves out of identiying where the underlaying sadness of the season is coming from but I don’t think that means that we have to stand in the line of fire either. Its ok to turn down party invitations, to not hang the thousands of photo Holiday cards with pictures of our friends babies on our refrigerators, to not deny ourselves our truth…that this time of the year is really hard for us. Let’s acknowledge our feelings, not appologize for them or for allowing them to color the mood of someone elses Holiday…we all share the Holiday after all.

29 Manapan { 12.23.09 at 12:53 pm }

I wanted to say more than ought to be left in a proper comment, so I blogged about it here.

30 loribeth { 12.23.09 at 4:05 pm }

(Knocking wood here) The holidays (so far) have not been too bad for me. We are at my parents’, doing the things we always do & always have done. There is just us, my parents and my (childfree by choice) sister & her boyfriend — no small children, no pressures (not these days, with both of us in our late 40s — most people realize that ship has now sailed…) — which makes things a lot easier than many people have it.

At the same time, I know that some day my parents will be gone — and then what? 🙁 I try not to think about the Christmases yet to come too much, & just enjoy what we have right now.

31 Lisa { 12.26.09 at 12:13 am }

For me Christmas itself is not all that difficult…I just focus on the REAL meaning! My Savior was born! Christmas is much more than food, presents, etc. It is a time to remember what my life would be like if Jesus never came to this world as a baby to save me from my sins! Remember that and steer clear of family and friends with young children…and those that might want to ask you when it will be your turn… 🙂

32 Battynurse { 12.27.09 at 3:38 pm }

As someone who celebrated Christmas for the first time at 21 I still usually feel like I’m making up for lost time. I was Christmas deprived as a child. And children or not, for the most part I can’t imagine not decorating my house at Christmas time, even if I am the only one who gets to see it (since you know I’m not putting decorations outside again anytime soon after the great christmas tree theivery this year) . Since I’m not religious I get more into the decorating and doing for others. That said there is still a part of me that has a hard time with the whole Santa and the magic and wonder of Christmas that I never got to experience as a child and that I long to experience through the eyes of a child now.

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