Surviving the Holidays (When Your Arms Are Empty)
Ohhh, the holidays. The dreaded, joyful, stressful, crazy holidays. This time of year is magical but stressful for many. The gathering, gifts, decorations, expectations – it’s overwhelming. But a season of joy can become a season of (more) pain for those who desire a child but still have empty arms. If you’re on the path of infertility or adoption and still waiting for that perfect gift, this is for you.
We were on year two of infertility with no spark of hope in sight. Adoption was on our hearts but we weren’t ready. As we approached the end of that year, life delivered a fork in the road for us that was seemingly impossible to navigate. It was stressful, hopeless, and dark. But we were on the brink of the joyous holiday season and I was expected to perk up and be merry. We had 20+ holiday cards from family and friends stuck to the refrigerator – all little reminders of what we didn’t have. We had 9 invitations for various holiday parties and gatherings – all awaiting our eager reply. We already had the entire month planned with family and friends. Sounds like fun, right?
I looked at our calendar with dread and tears. I anticipated the many, many light and fluffy conversations that would be expected. I predicted the number of times we’d be asked when we were having children. Or, even worse, why we didn’t have them yet. I was aware of the guest list of each of these gatherings and counted the number of pregnant women I would encounter and have to sit back and watch as people swooned over her perfectly round belly. I counted the number of young child or new babies that would be present or introduced to the extended family for the first time. I could already feel the eyes on me as people discreetly (but not really) watched to see if I would consume a glass of wine or not. If not, their eyes would spark with the anticipation of a secret we were hiding from them. I would endure multiple subtle (again, not really) hints that our family was anxiously waiting another grandbaby. I would field invasive questions with blatant lies just to end the conversation or switch the focus. Who knows – maybe there would even be another pregnancy announcement! Those happened frequently enough these days. We had been married for a couple years by this point – we had expectations to uphold! I imagined myself getting dressed up and marching up to the door with a bottle of wine and acting jolly when I was feeling quite the opposite inside.
That year, when the weight of infertility had us feeling everything but jolly, we did what we had to do for us. We needed an escape, time to heal. We strongly considered taking a short beach vacation – just the two of us. We didn’t but we should have. Instead, we threw all the cute, creative holiday cards in the trash so we didn’t have to see new babies and happy families every time we walked by the refrigerator. We limited our time on social media which proved to be a virtual whirlwind of pregnancy announcements, family portraits and the typical look-at-my-kids-crying-on-Santa’s-lap photos. We RSVP’d with “can’t attend” to 8 out of the 9 various friends and work holiday parties making excuses not to go. We didn’t bake cookies and deliver to the neighborhood. We limited our time with family and chose not to attend during the big, extended family gathering. Instead, we planned a separate day for a smaller Christmas gathering with only our parents and siblings. For us, that was much less overwhelming. We found that we fielded fewer comments and questions from intermediate family. We did some of the normal holiday things such as baking cookies, watching cheesy Hallmark movies, and putting up the tree. We normally do those activities with other family or friends. But that year, my husband and I just did those things together. There was still some joy and “festive” feelings but we didn’t have to be fake, we didn’t have to answer inconsiderate questions, and I could break down and have a good cry any time the wave of emotion washed over me. I could have a glass of wine – or not – and no one would judge me. We took care of ourselves with a lot of down time, rest, and relaxation. We made it okay to be sad. We made it okay to not be okay. We made it okay to have an untraditional holiday season because we just couldn’t bear the alternative. Not that year.
We got through. The new year came and delivered a fresh perspective and newfound hope. It didn’t happen instantly but we had used those previous months to begin grieving and processing our emotions. So we were ready. We were ready for a new year that was guaranteed to at least be easier than the previous year, right? My arms were still empty but this was a fresh start. And little did I know, two little miracles were on their way to my arms.
If you’re hurting this holiday season, I’m giving you permission to hurt. You don’t have to be okay. You don’t have to save all the Christmas cards, or attend all the parties, or answer questions about your future family. You don’t have to RSVP “yes”. You don’t have to wear mascara when you can’t go an hour without tears. In all ways, take care of yourself. We work so hard to help others, uphold expectations, be everywhere, find the perfect gifts for everyone. But I’m letting you off the hook – just this once. So, Happy Holidays to you – even if they are less than traditional.
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