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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Stirrup Queen's Holiday Survival Guide

We should talk about this now because the Christmas decorations were in CVS even before the Halloween candy went to half price and Thanksgiving menus were being sketched out last night while electoral votes were being counted. Tonight we saw the first of the sparkle lights while driving home. Welcome to the lead up to Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years--or a little time period I like to call the Infertility Minefield Trifecta.

Three holidays in quick succession all focusing on family, babies, and time--the salt in the open wound of infertility, when we are desperately trying to get a respite from thinking about family building, babies, and the passing of time. It's not like you can ignore the holidays--not with the constant barrage of commercials featuring people in turkey costumes, houses draped in sparkle lights, and renditions of "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer" coming over the loudspeaker (always sung by a choir of children so you get that extra knife in the heart while you try to navigate the clogged aisles at your local food store). Your options are either to hide out, alienate your friends and family, or fake it until you make it (or to legitimately have no problem with this time period in which you should probably click away from this survival guide).

I'm going to recommend going with the Fake It Until You Make It route and have compiled this handy guide of ideas to help you keep grinning and nodding while your Aunt Jane asks you once again when you're going to start having children:
  • 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.

Love,
Mel
  • 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 its worth, just attend the event. But if you can get your partner to "surprise" you with a holiday trip, all the better.
What tricks do you have up your sleeve to get you through the holiday season?

I'm moving up these suggestions from the comment section below:
  • 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
Keep sending them!

Click here to Kirtsy this Survival Guide.

29 comments:

Jen said...

:) I have trained my family to be cool with random people showing up, so feel free to arrive at my house anytime. Plus, I've got another vegetarian coming this year, so there will even be things for you to eat!

Jendeis said...

Mel, I love you. Totally printing this out for Thanksgiving with my in-laws.

annacyclopedia said...

Oh, dude! This is the best! I'm totally going to bring it to my support group next week - I was planning on starting to talk about the holidays thing then anyway.

Once again, your genius knows no bounds.

Vintage Mommy said...

It's been seven years since we had to navigate the holiday minefields, but I still remember. I didn't fake it very well . . . your advice is kind and reasonable - as always!

sassy said...

I'm am about the shopping online thing as well... still, it seems like half the presents we're buying are BABY CLOTHES !!! (eergh !)

Cassandra said...

Budgeting for your own happiness... does anyone ever do this enough? What a wise one you are.

I am incapable of leaving a question that you ask unanswered, so 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.

Heather said...

Love this post. Great primer for getting through the holidays! I'll be taking this to heart, even though I have a daughter. Now that she's 8 years old, I get a lot of relatives at holidays asking the "Are you ever having another child?" I would never ask anyone that question.......

loribeth said...

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.

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).

cmstovall said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. In addition to the holidays, I have a baby shower next weekend that I cannot get out of, so this came at the perfect time! And thanks to Loribeth for the tip about finding out Santa's hours before heading to the mall. Mel, you are the best.

Anonymous said...

I cringe everytime I hear in-laws and holidays. I am printing out several copies of this (just in case).Thank you very much

Grad3 said...

Even having Lil' P I still find the holidays difficult, I seems to find memories of what was--- thanks Mel.

Patricia said...

I seem to have mainlined this post. It seeped all the way in, deep down to my core. If you check your blog stats, you will see that I have been hovering here for a couple of hours. I could only read the post in little pieces, it struck so very close to the heart. This comment alone has taken half an hour. (Scenario of crying at work: feel the tears come, refuse to blink, minimize browser, dig fingernails into palm, refuse to blink, distract self, blink, tears flow, sniff, hide, distract self, eventually maximize browser, lather rinse, repeat.)

Thank you for the note, it is what sent me over the edge. But knowing that you are there at the edge with me/us?

There are no words. And yet I'll leave you with a sincerely heartfely thank you, anyway.

Take Back the Holidays! said...

This year I talked to all of my friends and family and we all agreed we would not exchange gifts with each other, but would buy only one gift for each kid. This is sales pitch I used. "The downturn in the economy is causing me to rethink the Holidays, would you be interested in not exchanging gifts this year?" They will be all for it, trust me. Next, I convinced one of my friends and her family to join my family for Thanksgiving. We will be going out to dinner for Thanksgiving. We have not picked the place yet, but I know we won't need reservations. Finally the best part, my in-laws are not going to come for Thanksgiving. They are going to my sister in-laws house instead because they are having a home cooked meal. Don't get me wrong, I love my in-Laws. It's just that this year is my year!

G$ said...

This is awesome!! Thank you Thank you!

MrsSpock said...

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!

Io said...

Alcohol. That's my trick to make it through.
Luckily, we don't have huge family celebrations for Christmas (neither of my siblings have children and Al's family is Muslim) and Thanksgiving I am too busy eating to care about anythign else.
But I like your list! I think the note idea is a good one for any situation.

niobe said...

I just ignore the holidays. And the rest of the year, I stay far, far away from any family members whose existence reminds me of things I don't want to be reminded of. And, if someone mentions them, I change the topic. Or cover my ears. Or run out of the room screaming.

Another Dreamer said...

Love the Holiday helpful ideas.

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.

nancy said...

I often forget you are an IF who is ttc. Well, maybe not actively ttc yet. (are you?) (and I was also super surprised to find out you did IUI w/ injects for the twins. How many follies did you have?)

I dont know why I forget. It's NOT because you already have kids. I was a ttc IFer with kids, so that doesn't do it for me. But maybe because you just seem like our home room teacher. You discuss all these things. You bring us together. But it's like seeing your teacher in the grocery store. She seems out of place. And that's how I feel about YOU ttc. Not being out of place really, just not actually being a ttcer.

Good post though. Like always, you are incredibly thoughtful.

JamieD said...

This is such a great post. First - it's functional. All of the advice is great and will be put to good use. Second - it reminds me that I am not the only one cringing at the thought of the holidays or tearing up while listening to talk of children and their first Christmas.

Thank you for this, Mel.

Lisa said...

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!

Bea said...

Great survival guide. Thanks for these tips. I have nothing to add except maybe move internationally...

Bea

Bea said...

P.S. Love your note.

Bea

Anonymous said...

I am scare. Last December was spent in Denver going thru IVf for the second time. It worked! found out dec 29 I was pregnant for first time. Lost Baby in May. Just went thru egg retrieval 2 weeks ago and only 4 embryos frozen. Won't find out info until december on the genetic testing. Meanwhile, I get to try to plan Holidays with my inlaws and sis in law with a 2 year old. Its going to be Hell. thanks for the advice...may take a lot of personal time away. Though my husband says my "wall" I put up is getting bigger. any suggestions

Piccinigirl said...

Love your note, I just might print it and take it with me, just because the twins are here doesn't mean the hurt of the holidays have gone away. As always, YOU ROCK.

and as for our xmas card, we always send a pic of us, normally from Aruba because we are there right after Thanksgiving and it was our "giving the Finger to Infertility" card. This year, I wanted to make sure that we took a "family" picture on vacation so that Mr Kir and I weren't left out of the picture that has become our "family" for years now. Somethings I feel are "ours" and I want to keep it that way, even though the picture of our family has changed.

Ya Chun said...

We are using an avoidance strategy - home remodeling on Thanksgiving (a can of pumpkin-colored paint, anyone? - please pass the jigsaw) and a trip to Mexico in December. New Years? Aw shoot, I didn't think of that one yet!

the Babychaser: said...

The day after our last BFN (in August) I declared that this year we were taking the coward's way out. For the first time in 15 years, we're abandoning my MIL and her sister and spending four lovely nights in a small cabin in Luray, VA. (Think wood-burning stove and hot tub on a deck with a veiw of a snowy valley.)

Of course, we can only get away with this once, and I'm already worrying about not being pregnant in time for Christmas NEXT year. Sigh.

I'm going to print out your little note and keep it in my wallet. Your survival guide could not have been better timed.

Lisa said...

Wow...amazing post and thank you. Totally started me crying (especially the note to put in my pocket, which I will), which is what I'll fear will occur all throughout the holiday. My last fertility treatment was unsuccessful and we'll continue this road into 09. I dread those who are clueless and ask "So, when will you start having children?" I'm not sure I'll be able to keep myself contained this year.

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