What happens when kids are jingle belling and everyone is telling you, “Be of good cheer,” and you just can’t do it? The lights are shining brightly everywhere except for your eyes and spirit, the most wonderful time of the year doesn't feel so wonderful. Every ounce of you wants to spend the season celebrating and rejoicing but deep down all you can focus on is the emptiness of your arms and the longing in your heart.
For so many of us, the holiday seasons with family gatherings, Christmas cards, stores filled with everyone and everything sparkly, Christmas, New Year’s parties and picturesque social media posts only serve as a painful reminder of your journey. Infertility, loss and waiting are trying enough without the constant reminders blaring bright red on your fridge via adorable Christmas cards of kids in matching pjs.
So, the big question we are asking ourselves is: how do I enjoy the Christmas? How do I survive without losing my mind or falling apart?
The holidays used to be so special. Maybe they still are but they now hurt you more than they delight you. You can do more than simply survive this season. You can get to a place to enjoy, give and even fully take part. That sounds like a lot, but it is deep down what you truly want, isn’t it? While there is no simple solution to this, (I promise if I had a magic wand I could loan out to make you Buddy the Elf style happy I absolutely would) there are a few things that might help.
- Know your limits and don’t be afraid to say No. We all know that baby showers and birthday parties are a struggle, but we often forget that holiday parties can often pull on our heartstrings with equal strain. It is 100% acceptable to politely decline invitations instead of putting yourself in a situation that may cause you emotional turmoil. You also do not have to explain why you are declining. A polite, “We are not going to be able to make it this year” is perfectly acceptable and if you are prompted further, a simple “We have previous obligations” (those obligations can be spending a night at home with the hubs and watching Netflix.)
Give yourself loads and loads of grace, freedom and love.
An exit strategy is necessary if you choose to go to a holiday soiree, office party, friends get-together or are pre-obligated to family events. Therefore, have an exit strategy planned in advance between you and your husband. Have a pre-set phrase or gesture that lets your significant other know, “I need out now.” Ours was always “We better get home and feed the animals.” Think of something simple that does not bring about an onslaught of questions and also gives you a clean reason to exit. (Perhaps the flailing arms and hands with the “get me out of here” look isn’t ideal for this scenario.)
- Have an “Elevator Pitch” ready, know your triggers and anticipate the questions. Waiting in Hope Ministries addresses this important one quite a bit during local groups. The goal is to have a quick and concise answer to the hard questions we get asked during our infertility, loss or waiting journeys. Basically, something that could be vocalized in the time it would take to answer someone in an elevator. This is equally important during the holidays. You will probably need more than one pitch ready for the different possible circumstances you will face. Think about who you’ll be seeing, where you are going and what are the general questions you hear most. Then literally prepare for it by sitting down and write a few words, a sentence or general statement to be your guide. Here are some general examples of question types to prepare for:
- Do you have kids?
- When are y'all going to have kids?
- Do you want kids?
- Give yourself something so routine that you don’t even have to think about answering it just flows out like a well-rehearsed Christmas carol. For instance here are some possible answers to borrow:
- No, we are waiting on God’s timing.
- No, not yet.
- No, we want kids and are praying and waiting for when that might be.
- Not sure when or if we will get to have kids but God has a perfect plan even when I can’t see it.
- No, we don’t have kids yet, it’s actually hard for us and we would appreciate your prayers.
- No, we are hoping to one day get to answer that question differently.
- Yes, I have (#) in heaven. (If you are willing to be open this one is a home-run gospel and God conversation.)
Also, prepare for all those times you are holding someone else’s precious little one and someone (kindly and well intentionally) says, “motherhood looks so natural on you.” This one was always hard for me to swallow. You know they mean well but it doesn’t hurt any less, so prepare something in your elevator pitch list.
We must expect even the silliest or most ridiculous comments. If we are honest we’ve all stuck our foot in our mouth at one point or another and we must extend grace to others who do the same thing. Even the harshest and most inconsiderate comments or questions generally come from others who just don’t know they did it. They many not know you are experiencing this or what this is like. Give them the benefit of the doubt, be the bigger person and extend grace because honestly they probably don’t even realize what they did wrong.
Remember most people are not speaking out of malice towards you but OUT OF carelessness.
People don’t realize, know or understand what we are going through within infertility. But, that’s okay… we can’t expect them to. Give grace even when it doesn’t feel deserved. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. Romans 3:24
- Sometimes it might be an opportunity to lovingly share how that made you feel or that they just “inserted their foot into their mouth." If it doesn't present itself as a "teaching moment" simply brush it off, love and give grace. It’s what we would want done to us. The teaching moments are important to take advantage of so that other #ttc (trying to conceive) ladies out there aren’t hit with the same arrows. A “pay it forward” mentality, but more often than not these public and social outings are not ideal for this. We all know what generally comes out of us at these - frustration, anger, hurt and for a potentially hormone pumped up, emotional lady (like you and me) this is a less than ideal circumstance. If you do feel like you should say something, do it in private somewhere and be sure to have a calm, loving heart about it. Attempt to explain your current situation and let them know that "when they said ____, it made you feel _____." Then lovingly respond letting them know that you understand they probably didn't mean to do this nor realize what they were saying could be hurtful.
Allow yourself the space to feel and experience your emotions. Whether it is grief from a recent loss, the worry from not knowing what your next steps are, the stress of extreme holiday budgeting due to expensive medical treatments or adoption costs, the fear associated with upcoming medical procedures, TWW, or waiting for a borage of other reasons, and everything in between. Do not feel like you have to plaster on Christmas cheer and not allow yourself to embrace what is going on in your heart.
- Counseling - Seek a professional and perhaps a christian counselor to discuss your heart, grieving and struggles. Infertility, loss and "all the things" take a huge toll on us and therefore a support system and healthy coping skills will be necessary for your survival and ability to begin to thrive.
- Journal - If we do not get the weight of our stresses, emotions and hurts out they can be like a poison inside of us eating at our physical body, mental state and spiritual peace. Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many. Hebrews 12:15 (NLT)
- Pray, read scripture - Real truth is needed to cover over and combat the lies we feel on this journey. Post the truth all over your house or wherever needed to continually remind yourself what is true to comfort and encourage you in the feelings. This is my comfort in my affliction, that your promise gives me life. Psalm 119:50 (ESV) Meditate on it day and night.
- Draw closer to your spouse through these emotions - This is not a journey you face alone, for God joined you as one, so allow your husband to be there for you. Create special times for the two of you to truly be together and talk and pray together. We often forget how important it is to really talk with our spouse—be open and vulnerable. I can’t express how truly powerful this is sometimes to just be with each other.
As people in our culture we too quickly move ahead or feel like we should be in a better place. On the flip side we may wallow and stay stuck because we become accustomed to the sadness. Infertility as a whole is grief - grief of many different things. Whether you are grieving your expectations, your dreams or your future it is all valid and cannot be ignored.
If you are going into this season knowing that there is already more than you can handle, as a counselor myself I can't encourage you enough to seek additional support. The assistance of a counselor can be invaluable throughout this season of life. With all that the journey of infertility and waiting bring into your life, it is easy to feel bogged down. Couple that with anything else that may have been weighing heavy on you AND the holidays, it is important to know when you need help. Counselors can help you work through the many facets which this journey put under the microscope, from personal struggles to marital struggles, and help you come out with a better understanding of yourself and how to work through the many valleys you will encounter. Please know that the first counselor you see may not be a good fit, so take the time to find someone you feel comfortable with and who will push you forward.
5. Try to remember that the holiday season is not about food, gifts, gathering around well-lit trees or fireworks. This season serves as a reminder of God’s love, grace and miracles.
The miracle of the birth of our Savior, the grace that brings us redemption, and the unwavering love He provides each day, which He made so evident with the ultimate sacrifice of His only son. His love is strong when we are not, and while we do not know the reason for this journey we do know God has a perfect plan for you—That may come in the form of a child, a healed body or heart, contentment as a family of two, or something else that has not even fallen on your radar yet.
Gods love and grace will not fail you in this holiday season or IN your greatest season of need.
That is the truth to surviving and enjoying this most wonderful time of the year. Praying you walk into and embrace this season, wherever you are at in it - choosing to give yourself and others more grace, which none of us deserve. We did not deserve Jesus's birth and hope or Jesus's death and restoration. Praying the God of grace and love fills your heart and shows you himself this season.
Terri Eastepp - Guest Contributor, Licensed Professional Counselor & Nacogdoches Waiting in Hope Co-Leader - Nacogdoches@waitinginhopeinfertility.com