Wishing for something or someone absent from your life is always a feeling that’s hard to accept. As the holidays approach, the longing may become more intense making it an especially difficult time for individuals and couples who yearn for a baby and struggle with infertility. The holidays — leading to the New Year — are seen as a marker of time, a measure of what we’ve achieved over the past year, and a time to reassess goals and dreams both internal and external.
The everyday sadness over no baby is bad enough without the forced merriment of the holidays. Anticipating this time can become overwhelming both emotionally and physically and even more so if you are already worn out from treatment. With each gathering attended, perspective can be lost and extreme pessimism can quickly set in, leading to anger, sadness, disappointment and, of course, envy toward those who are about to have, or already have a baby or multiple children. Although quite normal, these feelings may become unbearable at the time of year when “merriment” is expected. You may wish for invisibility because you just can’t imagine how you’ll make it to January.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO TO GET THROUGH?
This does not mean you become controlling, it means that you will be the director of your activities. Choose carefully the open houses and gatherings you will attend and then plan, plan, plan. For example, have a sign with your partner, spouse or trusted friend, letting them know if you are in need of a time out or being rescued from a conversation. Arrange your own transportation, allowing yourself to leave after a short time if necessary. Depending on someone else may keep you there longer than you want to be. Plan what you may say if you are asked specific questions about having children; remember it’s your information, not every question asked requires an answer. If you find yourself crying try to step away…go outside, to the restroom, or to another room. If others notice, it’s ok. Adults cry in public more than you may think.
Traditions are wonderful, but it’s fine to depart from them when necessary. Saying no to a gathering that you’ve attended for a decade does not mean that you will never go again. If questions are asked you can say, “I can’t make it this year, I hope to come next year.” Or tell your aunt that it’s just too hard to see your cousin with her newborn when you’ve been trying so hard. Or just say whatever feels most comfortable. The decision is yours, reactions of others belong to them and need not impact you.
Plan how you will spend your time. You may want to be the one to cover the office, then reward yourself with a week off when everyone else is back to work. Do something you never have time to do. Go to a non holiday related event in a part of town where the parking is usually difficult. Plan to avoid the mall. Perhaps it’s the year to make donations in honor of those to whom you usually give gifts.
Take care of yourself. Eating well and sleeping enough are obvious ways. Choose one that’s different, such as an activity you’ve been away from, but still enjoy. You can also join a support group or speak to a professional who understands the unique nature of your sadness.
Most importantly, allow yourself to have your thoughts and feelings, they are part of you. Try to judge them less and embrace them more. If you believe that the holidays are about being generous and kind, then why not extend generosity and kindness to yourself?
Ellen Eule, LCSW-C, has been on the counseling staff of Covington & Hafkin for many years. As a clinical social worker for decades, she’s helped people build their families in many ways. Ellen sees patients in Bethesda, Frederick and Rockville, Md. She can be reached at 301-229-0055.