Coping This Christmas

christmas2016Well. It’s officially that time of year — the “most wonderful” time of year. Christmas.

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I’ve always loved it. It is such a special time for families — being together, sharing meals and gifts. Baking cookies. Watching Christmas movies. Making snowmen. Driving around looking at lights. Going to the candlelight Christmas Eve service and singing carols. Drinking hot chocolate and playing games. It’s such a happy time of year.

At least for most people.

Not for me this year. Or last year. Or the year before. Christmas has become a sad time for us because it emphasizes family and traditions, and it marks another year gone without having children. Matt and I want so badly to have our own family to share traditions with, to make new memories with, and instead of being a joyous time, Christmas reminds us of what we are missing. Our hearts have been ready for children for years now, but instead of growing our family, our heartbreak grows. With each passing year of involuntary childlessness, the holiday season becomes more difficult.

The past two years I tried hard to stay joyful at Christmas, despite heartache. In 2014 and 2015 my family suffered some significant losses, and those in combination with our infertility made my holidays hard. But I pulled myself together and did my best to celebrate. I decorated my house, sent cards, and made cookies. We hosted parties, and visited with friends and family. I did my best to be happy, even though I was feeling more and more broken as the days passed.

Now for a third year I am still struggling with infertility. I have no baby to introduce to my family and no happy announcement to share. Instead, I have a pregnancy loss added to my list of losses, and I have the hard job of accepting that again my life is not where I’d hoped it would be a year ago.

I think back to a conversation I had in early June with my mom about how I’d be close enough to my due date by Christmas that I shouldn’t be traveling… But as it turns out I’m not lucky enough to still be pregnant, and we’re not staying here for the holidays. Instead of welcoming a baby into our home soon, we’re preparing for IVF. This month we’re having procedures done, having blood drawn and genetics tested, and waiting for financial estimates. And in the meantime, I’ve been searching for the right ornament to add to my collection to memorialize our lost baby. No surprise, there’s no good ornament for “lost baby 2016”.

So I’m having a hard time with Christmas this year, and I’ve decided that to make it more bearable, I’m going to make some changes. To start, I’m not going to pretend this year. Because things aren’t great right now for me. I’m not happy and there’s no point pretending otherwise. I’m distraught at what 2016 brought us and I’m so disappointed to be facing yet another holiday season feeling broken and lost. So instead of going through the motions of things we usually do and pretending that things are ok, I’m going to focus on what brings us joy. I’m trying to leave myself open to whatever strikes me as fun or meaningful. I’m not interested in doing things that we feel like we should do just because we’ve always done them or because someone expects it. I want to do what I can to find some happiness for us. For example, Matt and I have planned dates for the month to make sure that at least twice a week we’re doing something fun together. In addition to those planned dates, I’m going to make sure we watch the best of our favorite Christmas movies. And I’m only going to send out Christmas cards if I think it would make me happy. I’m only going to put out Christmas decorations that really bring me joy in that moment. I’m only going to put up a tree if I feel it would bring me more joy than pain…

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In addition to focusing on activities that bring me joy, as I said in my fall post, I’m going to make sure I continue to practice self care. I have been doing that as best I can and I will keep it up. I’ve been outside walking and hiking, and going to the gym. I’ve treated myself to massages and manicures. I’ve been reading and writing. I’ve been saying “no” to social events when I need to,  and saying “yes” when I want to. I practice gratitude to find something good in everyday. I’m doing what I can to take care of myself — mind, body, and spirit.

And I’m going to make sure I give myself space to feel sad. Because not all things are going to bring me joy, and some Christmas traditions now make me really sad. I’m not going to pretend that I’m ok, because I’m not — I’m hurting. I will need to take time to check in with myself and give myself breaks and quiet time. I ask in advance that my family accept that I’m in a sad place. Holidays during infertility and after loss are painful, and I’m carrying a lot of pain right now. You don’t have to feel sad too, but please respect where I am with my grief.

Another thing we’re doing this year is rewarding ourselves — after visiting our families we’re going to take a trip with some friends to a city we’ve never visited and ring in the new year with them. We will see the sights, eat good food, and we will toast to our survival of this miserable year and hope together that 2017 will be better.

After writing all of these things down it seems like maybe I’m being a little bit selfish this Christmas season, but I really don’t think I am…. Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s necessary. And besides, if we can’t care for ourselves or show love to ourselves, then how can we possibly care for or love others? If our vessel is empty, how do we expect to pour from it? I believe that by focusing on myself and Matt, we will better be able to survive this tough time; that we will be able to create some joy together, share some happiness with others, and find more things for which to be grateful.

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Toasting Our Survival

toasting_our_survivalMonths ago when we sat down and planned out our first few weeks of date nights I included “bubble bath & champagne” in our list. During that first bubble bath while drinking champagne, it occurred to me how much I really liked champagne… and by champagne I mean a sparkling wine because “real” champagne is only from a certain part of France and the kind we like is from somewhere else… it’s sweeter. In fact, when we asked for it to be served at our wedding we were informed it was a “downgrade” because it wasn’t the real stuff. We didn’t care. It’s yummy. Anyway, I digress. I decided then and there in the bathtub that every month following, whenever my period arrived, we would treat ourselves to a bottle of champagne. Not to celebrate another month of disappointment and loss, certainly not that, but instead to celebrate each other and our survival of another month trekking through hell trying to grow our family. Because survival is truly what we are doing, and every month that this pain doesn’t swallow me whole is a month worth celebrating.

When people first learn about our little champagne celebration I always have to explain that we’re celebrating our survival; it’s not some dark humoured celebration of our losses. Nor are we trying to drink our worries away. It’s just that after a month of hoping and dreaming and going through treatment, just to be disappointed again, it’s nice to take a few minutes to toast each other and indulge in a sweet, bubbly treat while we celebrate our survival.

I’ve chosen the word “survival” carefully… However, with that said, I’m not sure how intentional it was when we first started our champagne celebrations. I think at that time, the word just seemed right. But in the months since as I’ve shared with friends our little tradition and had time to process it more, I’ve come to the point of using the word survival very intentionally. I’ve seen things online of “overcoming infertility” or “battling infertility”… but thinking of it in terms of survival resonates more with me.

Thinking of “overcoming” or “battling” my infertility doesn’t sit well with me for a couple of reasons. To start, considering I’m still in the middle of my infertility, using words like “overcome” seems a bit ahead of the game, and I wouldn’t want to tempt fate by suggesting that I’ve already overcome it. I haven’t. And when will my infertility be “overcome”? Will it be overcome if and when I finally hold my own child in my arms? Because if that is it, what if that day never comes? Then I’ll have failed to overcome infertility, or lost the battle. Right? Wrong. I don’t want to think that if we end up childless that we’ll be the losers in this. I like to hope that if we end up childless we’ll make our peace with it and that we’ll be ok. Instead of feeling like “overcoming” is empowering me, it makes me feel like it’s setting me up for failure because I’m just not sure where I’m going to end up.

The thought of my infertility as a battle doesn’t sit well with me either. A battle seems to imply to me that there might be a disastrous end to this. Battles mean people die. And while I have had an enormous amount of loss during this process, including an ectopic pregnancy, thinking of my baby being a causality in a battle is disturbing and sad. Battles also imply weapons…  and while I have days where I do feel like I’m pulling out big guns to fight this problem I have, I’m ultimately trying to create life, not destroy it. So battle terminology doesn’t resonate with me.

But survival. It does. Survival may not seem very empowering, but it is to me. It might not be for anyone else, but it’s right for me. It’s not arrogant or destructive, and it acknowledges that something terrible is happening, but that I’ve made it through, or rather that I’m making my way through. I’m doing my best to keep going, to grasp at threads of hope even when I feel like I’ve reached the end of the rope. Surviving my infertility means to me that it’s not keeping me down forever. I do have (lots of) bad days, but so far I have made it through those bad days 100% of the time… So I’m going to plan on continuing to survive. The journey is hard, and has been full of heartbreak and despair, but surviving it means I’m going to keep going regardless of where this crazy road is taking us. And along the way, I’m going to occasionally toast with Matt our amazing ability to continue forward together.

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