The Daily News

LFCA Latest Issue: Friday, September 25, 2009.

Latest Post on BlogHer: Parenting after Infertility.

My Status: Fed Josh's almonds to the squirrels. They needed them very badly.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Walking in an Infertile Wonderland

This holiday season, I'd like to welcome you to celebrate my IF Christmas. I know what you're thinking (beyond "what is an IF Christmas?")--what is a nice Jewish girl like me doing talking about tinsel and stockings and a little baby angel at the top of the tree? no're thinking about Real Christmas. No, that's not my holiday. I celebrate IF Christmas.

A few years ago, out of nowhere since I had never had any desire to celebrate Christmas, I found myself listening to holiday music. And singing along once I learned the words. And searching for new routes home that took me past the most houses that were decorated with coloured lights. And I started talking about bringing a tree into the house. And I started talking about collecting ornaments. And my husband--my nice Jewish boy husband--almost had a heart attack.

My infertility therapist asked why I had become obsessed with Christmas. And once I started telling her all about how I pictured Christmas, she informed me that my imagination was much more beautiful than anything most people experienced Christmas-wise in the real world. Somehow, never having celebrated Christmas for real, I had imagined that the pain of infertility went away during the holiday. That you just became consumed with baking cookies and laughing with your sisters and decorating the tree. And no one cried about the fact they were barren.

And I need to explain at this point that the topic of barrenness seems to play a role in many Jewish holidays. On Rosh HaShanah, you talk about infertile Sarah. And at Pesach, we're told about the barren women of Jerusalem during the seder. And at Purim, I once had a miscarriage, so that holiday is ruined for me. But Christmas? Christmas isn't about infertility--it's about HYPERfertility. Mary was so fertile that she could get pregnant without even having sex. And yes yes yes I know the whole story because I've read the New Testament many times by now, but when I was creating my IF Christmas, I was only seeing the fact that there was a newborn and a fertile woman.

Little did I know that at Real Christmas, infertile women feel like crap. And they watch their parents coo over their sibling's children. And they eat too many cookies because they're trying to keep their mouth full so they won't have to answer, "so when are you guys going to start trying?" And they mourn that yet another year has gone by without any progress on the baby front.

So drop your Christmas and come celebrate my IF Christmas. My IF Christmas is best described in a series on montages, with the common thread being that you are finally pregnant.

Scene One: You're walking with your husband in the snow on the way to take home a tree (oh--and it's not from a crowded tree lot. In my IF Christmas, apparently, people collect their trees one at a time from this gorgeous guy who is cutting down trees for people at the edge of the wood) and you fall over on your backs, laughing hysterically. Your husband pauses from making snow-angels to touch your sweater-covered belly (it's still flat since you're only a few weeks along) and say, "I love you."

Scene Two: They're passing around cups of eggnog and when your mother brings the tray by you, you look at your husband and you both smile. Then you look at your mother and touch your stomach while saying, "I don't think I should drink any alcohol this year." Your mother drops the eggnog on the floor while she's crying tears of joy and shaking. And everyone jokes for the rest of the evening about the fallen eggnog. But no one minds that she has wasted all the alcohol because YOU ARE KNOCKED UP and your family is psyched to hell.

Scene Three: You're hanging an ornament on the tree and you're wearing a gorgeous cashmere cream-coloured maternity sweater that shows off your seven month baby bump. Your husband comes up behind you and wraps his arms around you so that his hands rest on your belly and you both laugh when the baby kicks while he's nuzzling your neck. He tells you, "next year, we'll be decorating the tree with our baby."

Scene Four: You're in the kitchen, baking cookies and laughing with your sisters. And everyone is trading pregnancy and labour stories. Your sisters see how worried you look and they laugh and promise you that they'll be out there in the waiting room the second you go into labour.

Scene Five: The snow is falling and you're walking on the sidewalk with your husband, smiling secretly at each other because you just found out that you're pregnant and no one else knows yet. Christmas music plays in the background and all around you, the trees are covered with twinkling lights.

See--there are no tears (except from the mom--and those are happy tears) in my IF Christmas. When I finished telling my therapist how I envisioned Christmas to be and why I was so jealous of Christian women who got to celebrate this holiday, I realized that I wasn't jealous about Real Christmas per se. I was jealous of the women who really got to celebrate Christmas that way. The ones who weren't infertile and were pregnant. So I decided to just pretend that winter. I would hold my belly and smile while I baked cookies. And I listened to Christmas music, pretending that I was walking down the street with my husband after seeing a positive pregnancy test. And I was happy just pretending. Just for a month. And then going back into the real world when the Christmas lights came down in January.

And that is my totally neurotic, made-up, fantasy Christmas that I celebrate every year. It's my IF Christmas where all of us are pregnant and so happy. And it doesn't matter if the other 11 months of the year, I'm a nice Jewish girl who bakes a challah every Friday. Once the Christmas songs start playing on the radio until the end of Boxing Day, it's open season for my IF Christmas. And I start dreaming of my white Christmas and walking in that winter wonderland--hand on belly and my heart singing.

Come join me. It's sort of like drinking. It's sad if you celebrate IF Christmas alone, but it's socially acceptable if everyone else engages in unhealthy magical thinking alongside you. And you have a built-in excuse not to drink any nasty eggnog since you're knocked up for the month. And I even grant you permission to wear that maternity shirt you purchased during your second month of trying to conceive when you thought motherhood was right around the corner.

I'll get to writing about the other side of Christmas later...


Thalia said...

See, the sad thing is that none of those fantasies made me happy, they just made me sad for what I'm missing, and terrified about what is to come for the next few weeks. I'm sorry, but I can't join in on this one!

Lisa P. said...

I'm with Thalia... I'm in tears. We have more unknowns coming up than knowns... there's a chance I may be finding out today that I'm not the only defective one in my infertile relationship... and even if there's nothing wrong with my hubby, I will get to start Clomid right before Christmas.

It makes it even worse that I did all of that, two Christmases ago, minus the seven-month belly of course. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only one who thought, "Another ^%$&*% year and nothing to show for it!" It helps to see that there are other people out there who also think that.

I like the idea of a month off, of a month pretending I could be pregnant as easily as half the population. Unfortunately I can already see the festive season and everyone else's offspring flocking towards me. And I love eggnog, what can I say? Maybe another tot of vodka in there, just for some strength?

Anonymous said...

Okay, let me be the first to RSVP to your IF Christmas party.

Anam said...

see when we started out on our journeythere were no other kids about... then slowly everyone else had kids and every christmas was a nother year marker as your see their kids grow. thankfull family didnt have kids so we were spared the cooing and the questions but then i lucke dout onthe inlaws. my family though should be shot! i'll join you in a month fo downtime. and to make this year slightly odd - my cycle end id due christmas eve!

Anonymous said...

You know, that pretty much reflects Christmas for me last year. I wanted it to be a Currier & Ives painting and it just wasn't. It was trying to smile through choked back tears, listening to the Christmas story told from every angle (all of which involve a cooing little baby). It was making a stocking for my nephew's first Christmas, and trying to supress the intese jealousy swelling up inside me every time the family oohed and aahed over his "first" everything. It was mourning the recent loss of my grandfather, especially because I'd wanted him to know my children.

But I love this time of the year. My head gets clouded with thoughts of carols and lights and Christmas fantasies, however ridiculous they may be. So I'm in for the IF Christmas celebration. I'll be icing gingerbread men at the kitchen table if anyone wants to join in. Or just steal a bite. Because I'm pretty sure that's allowed at IF Christmastime.

Anonymous said...

Apparently I'm the first to notice that scenes 1 and 2 are newly pregnant, but somehow scene 3 is 7 months pregnant, which is impossible if it's the same pregnancy or Christmas. So, not only is your IF Christmas one of happy times and magical moments, it's one of those amazing miracles of having more than one successful pregnancy. (Unless you start really reading into it and realize that if the baby in scene 2 were born, then scene 3 would already have a child and it would be the waiting for baby #2, which then means that either you are decorating the tree while baby #1 is asleep or at grandma's, or your IF Christmas really does have some IF involved and baby #1 was lost in the first trimester, leaving time for the recovery cycle and becoming pg with baby #2)

I think I prefer to just disconnect all of the scenes and give one to each infertile I know (keeping scene #2 for myself, since I wished on your stone last night and I would be 5w4d on Christmas if my wish came true), repeating those scenes as many times as necessary to make sure every infertile has one.

Merry IF Christmas everybody!

Anonymous said...

I'll join in! I would love for even one of those scenes to be real!! Imagination is a wonderful thing...

Anonymous said...

I hope this doesn't offend you, only someone who hadn't grown up celebrating Christmas since childhood could idealize a HAPPY IF Christmas that doesn't involve skipping the family celebration in favor of a romantic getaway for two...The Christ child isn't the only child idealized during this holiday. Fertiles just love to make it "all about the kids."

I've already decided that I just have to skip the Christmas Eve church service this year because I don't want to hear *anyone else's* birth story, unless they overcame IF -- not even Mary's. Miraculous virgin birth? Good for you, Mary, but I just can't hear about it until I get my own miracle.

Anonymous said...

Tears here too. If only any of those fantasies could be true.

I intended to skip Xmas this year but it's just too lovely to miss. That doesn't mean it doesn't suck though. My siblings decided that only the kids get gifts this year -- which means we'll be buying presents but won't be receiving any. And christmas eve dinner with my inlaws means dinner with the unnaturally fertile cousins (eight of them, four of whom had children in ONE YEAR!). Oh so much fun. But we'll be skipping the dinner this year. I just can't handle that many babies at one time.

BTW, I'm totally pissed that my parents named me Sarah. Why the heck did they have to pick the infertile one???

Anonymous said...

Okay, see, these fantasies are placeholders for memories. At least to me. Placeholders in my head.

If I don't fill my poor noggin in with something, then I'll be washed away with the wretched voice that whispers not you, never you, God hates you and you'll never be a mother.

And I'm going to be a mother -- either through pregnancy or adoption or whatever -- it will happen.

And until I have happy memories of my own, I have placeholders.

Anonymous said...

I'm with the others who are not really feeling the Christmas spirit this year. For me, this time of year drives home the fact that it's been a year since we first visited the RE to talk about getting pregnant with our second child. We thought we had this all figured out when we spent almost 2 years trying to get pregnant with my son. Now here we are having to go above and beyond what we went through the first time.

It would be mentally dangerous for me to fantasize about being pregnant for Christmas.

Anonymous said...

My fantasy is so un-glam compared to all of yours. Mine is that I get happy CVS results before the holiday and don't have to be in limbo over whether to tell people or not at Christmas. But my CVS procedure likely won't be until early January...

Anonymous said...

ROTFL at the comment that Christmas is about HYPERfertility. Mary was so fertile she could get pregnant without even having sex. :) LOL The Original ART. Divine ART. I love you Mel. (And don't get me started about IF in organized religion and being on the outside.)

Don't forget Mary's infertile cousin ... from that twice-challenged IF demographic ... IF and >35! That's IF holiday luck for you. At Xmas ... even the ones you thought were in the same boat as you turn up pg, straining your Good Sport muscles til you feel the burn and then some. ;)

I'm seeing a lot of wishful posts on the ttc with IF message boards right about now ... the BFPs-For-Christmas-For-All wishful/magical thinking. You see it most from the ones that have been at it for less than a year. Those posts make me cringe a little. Because all of the time-marking holidays and milestones, both the public ones and the ones we construct for ourselves, are little electric IF trip wires. Until you've been at this for so long you are finally too weary to over-drive your headlights. So you *try* to step over these occasions ... like speed bumps in your head (or turds in the grass?).

Anonymous said...

I am sitting here while my 5yo son sings Jingle Bells and hangs ornaments on the tree. He is so gleeful, and yet I am on the verge of tears as well. I am weary as the other poster said (after having been at this for 4 years now). It's crazy to me that in one season of life you can be fertile and the next year (yes, I started trying again when my DS was 1) you can drift on over to infertile. And last August 27 when I got my "miraculous" after trying for 3 years BFP, do you want to know what my first thought was??? I can finally get that 4th stocking that I bought monogrammed with our new baby's name (who BTW would have been 7 months old right now). Because you see in my previous "fertile" world 6 years ago, I just knew that I would have 2 kids and need 2 stockings. So for hubby, me and 2 kids that makes 4 stockings. So, here we are 1 year and 1 month later since the D&C and there are 3 stockings hanging. And each year as I unpack my boxes I find that dreaded 4th stocking. I think I need to do something with it!?! Any suggestions???? And another question, am I fertile or infertile since I have been pg twice, but very infertile in between? I am having an identity crisis. It took me 3 years to get pg with the m/c baby, so maybe 3 years is my lucky number. Maybe I just have to wait 2 more years while more and more people around me keep filling the earth!!! Can you tell that I just got AF on Sunday??? I am majorly having PMS. Oh, and Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Anonymous said...

Yup. Tears. I'm crying here at work, because I want all of your fantasy Christmases--at the same time, if possible. (How would that work? Maybe in several parallel universes?)

It could happen. Right?

Anonymous said...

The Infertile Couple’s Guide to Surviving the Holidays

One of the most painful of all human experiences is that of deeply longing for a child and yet not having this child. Infertility is one of the most profound of all personal sufferings. Even so, this suffering is somehow intensified by the same conditions which bring such gladness to others during the Holiday Season. At a time when many feel merrier and more social than usual, those who are infertile may want to shield themselves from more pain by escaping into relative isolation. If that isn’t enough, child filled images are everywhere we turn - our stores, our televisions, our places of worship. At every outing these beautiful faces and images assault us with our own empty wombs and hearts.

Each year, we work with infertile couples to find their way through the holidays. It is our desire to offer to you some insights and suggestions which you can use to protect yourself and your marriage as we did when going through infertility.


What do you give to your spouse who has everything they want except for their heart’s deepest desire?

- Decide as a couple how you wish to handle the exchange of gifts. Talk to each other about what’s missing.
-Get away together.
-Save the money you would use for gifts for your next cycle.
-Be careful not to use gifts to try to “fix” things, diamond stud earrings for her, new golf clubs for him or a new car for you both will not make your infertility hurt any less.


Wives -
If you feel you can’t attend an event whether it is with family, friends or a church service, give yourselves permission to decline even at the last minute. Or you may choose to leave early when enough is enough.

Husbands -
Be aware of the “Because Clause”. You do not need to explain or justify your choices. Make a simple and direct statement about your choices and leave it at that. Once you start explaining your decisions you put yourself in a defensive position.

Well meaning family and friends will invite (and often EXPECT) the two of you to attend all kinds of functions which, under normal circumstances, you might love to attend. But now these same gatherings can be excruciating, especially if children are involved. Usually, the wife feels this pain more intensely than her husband. But guys, if its painful for her before you two even leave your house for the event, it will only become more painful for her once you arrive. So don’t go! And guys, it is a loving act to be the one to call the host and decline the invitation. It’s one more way you can be protective of your wife. And, throwing her under the bus by blaming your absence on your wife’s suffering, is not loving her or yourself!

As a couple you need to negotiate whether one of you will attend a family event without the other. This can be a set up for disaster if your communication isn’t truly honest. Wives, don’t encourage your husbands to attend an event without you if you already are feeling abandoned and alone. If the two of you decide he should go and represent the two of you, then have a clear understanding that at any time you may call him with a request to come home to you early.

Whereas once your place of worship brought you comfort, solace, and meaning…Now it may bring you heartache. Instead of feeling solace you find yourself wondering, “Where is a loving God in the midst of all my pain and loss?” Words and hymns that have historically held so much meaning only now leads you to an existential crisis. “What does all of this mean anyway?’

Choose carefully together what gatherings you think you can participate in.

The forced isolation of wintry weather can be compounded by the winter we feel in our hearts and bodies. So it becomes crucial for our emotional survival for us to look for warmth and friendship from our spouse and our very closest friends.

Here’s a short list of opportunities for finding comfort:
-fires in the fireplace
-hot chocolate
-good books
-movies (preferably comedies)
-trustworthy and empathic friends
-massaging one another
-seek out whatever you can that leads to both health and comfort.

Each year as we struggle with the issues discussed we are reminded of Charles Dicken’s Scrooge and the ghosts he faced. For the infertile couple the Ghosts of the Holidays are very different but are none the less frightening.

Ghost of Holiday Past-
Reminds of us the time in our marriages when we were still pregnant with hope, expectancy, and dreams of conceiving our children in our very own bedrooms by candlelight and music.

Ghost of Holiday Present-
We find our Present filled with uncomfortable doctor visits, angry rifts between spouses, and the monthly return of menstrual blood to mock our fruitless efforts.

Ghost of Holiday Future-
As Dickens described: “Ghost of the Future”, Scrooge exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen!” This is the ghost of our deepest dread and worst nightmare. Will we forever remain childless? Trapped and isolated in the infertile world while those with children go about their lives without us. We feel angry, damaged, alone and totally uncertain about what our future holds.

Each one of us knows the three Holiday Ghosts we’ve mentioned. We know them because they’ve been with us in previous holidays and because they haunt us 24/7, 365 days a year. They make us cringe, weep, rage, and run. And just like it was for Scrooge, these ghosts, if we’ll let them, will teach us more about ourselves. Facing them can inform our choices. They can empower the decision to not lose each other and ourselves as we desperately search for our heart’s greatest desire.

This gift is provided by the Stewart Institute for Families.

Anonymous said...

Your IF christmas is beautiful.

Cibele said...

I am with Thalia and also in tears. I have fantasized about all these scenarios and it hurts deeply to know that is not happening for me this year and I can't be optimistic enough to thing that next year will be different.

Anonymous said...

My last Christmas was an IF Christmas. I decided that if I just pretended that it was all OK, and that I had a precious secret, than it WAS all ok.

Bless you for sharing this. It's truly beautiful and what we're all hoping for.