The leaves and the weather are changing and the first few months after summer are in the rearview. So what happens when it seems like your feed is filled with toddlers in costumes and “another pumpkin is on the way?” What happens when kids are jingle belling and everywhere you’re hearing: “Be of good cheer” and “tis the season to be merry” and you just can’t? The lights are shining brightly everywhere except in your spirit. 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 season is filled with family gatherings, meals with loved ones, holiday parties, stores filled with everything sparkly, Christmas ads and shopping deals for big families (Christmas pajamas anyone?), more announcements and social media posts that only serve as a painful reminder of what is missing. Infertility, loss, and waiting are difficult enough without the constant reminders blaring bright red and green on your fridge in the form of effortlessly growing families.
So, the big questions we are asking ourselves: how do we still celebrate the holidays? How do we survive without losing our mind or falling apart?
We can do more than simply survive this season.
Even though this season has probably felt lighter and cheerier in the past, we can still find things to celebrate. Remember and thank God for what’s good in your life and in the world – your spouse, your family and friends, if you have a job, the beauty of twinkle lights, the smell of baking Christmas cookies – anything that makes you smile and brings joy.
It’s good to remember these good things our Father has given. Yet there’s no simple solution to make the pain and sadness go away. (I promise if I had a magic wand I could loan out to make you Buddy the Elf style, I would.) Here are a few suggestions to help you cope with your feelings:
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 other commitments” (even if that is simply spending a night at home with the hubs and watching Netflix).
Give yourself grace, more like loads of grace, freedom and love.
Have an exit strategy. This 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 on more questions and also gives you a clear reason to exit.
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
In some cases, it could be an opportunity to lovingly share how that made you feel but most of the time you’ll simply need to brush it off and give grace. It’s what we would want done to us. The teaching moments are important to take advantage of so other #ttc (trying to conceive) ladies out there aren’t hit with the same arrows. Public and social outings are not ideal for this since frustration, anger, hurt can often lead to tears. Added hormones obviously don’t help us here.
At the end of the day, most people don’t realize, know or understand what walking through infertility is like. We can’t expect them too. They’ve likely been through something hard that we can’t begin to understand either. A great strategy is to seek out others who may be feeling left out or on the fringes.
Give yourself permission and allow yourself the space to feel and experience all the emotions. Whether it is grief from a recent loss, anxiety over all of the unknowns, the stress of finances including expensive medical treatments or adoption costs, guilt over a lack of happiness for other pregnant friends, anger over all the pain and waiting, fear accompanied with upcoming medical procedures, the two-week wait (2ww/TWW), and everything in between. Do not feel like you have to plaster on Christmas cheer. Feeling all your feelings means you’re DEALING with them and that is the healthiest thing you can do. Feeling means dealing and eventually healing. Make time and space for yourself and find a few safe relationships where you can be completely honest. There is no reason to hold back with God either. He sees and knows all. Be honest about your feelings, frustrations, and confusion over this with Him.
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.
Additional things that may help you:
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.
Lastly, try to remember that the holiday season is not about turkeys, gathering around well-lit trees, and toasting to the New Year. This season serves as a reminder of the importance of giving thanks and celebrating God’s miracles.
While we do not know the reason for this journey, we do know that God brings gladness from mourning and His desire is always for what is good and best for us. 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 entered your mind. His love and grace will not fail you in your season of greatest need and He will not fail you this holiday season. He is Emmanuel, GOD WITH US.
WiH Content Team with Terri Eastepp - Guest Contributor, Licensed Professional Counselor & Nacogdoches Waiting in Hope Co-Leader - Nacogdoches@waitinginhopeinfertility.com