Ah, Christmas. The most wonderful time of the year. No really, I am not entirely sarcastic here--I love Christmastime. I love decorating for Christmas, I love Christmas music, I love shopping for fun surprises for my loved ones. But holy cannoli, Christmas is a rough time for people struggling with infertility.
I have written about this before, but it doesn't make it any less true. Christmas, while a wonderful time of cheer and love and togetherness, is also a time of feeling alone and left out and incredibly sad.
So much of Christmas is about children. The joy of children writing to Santa, the joy of children picking out their Christmas tree, the joy of children decorating wonky cookies. There are so many facebook posts about how amazing Christmas is when you see it through your child's eyes. There are songs about childlike wonder. There are songs about an amazing baby (yes, I realize the whole holiday is actually about celebrating an amazing miracle baby). Facebook is a veritable visual bombing of babies in their cute outfits, staring at the tree, decorating the tree, dressed up like a tree. Don't get me wrong--I don't have a problem with this. It just makes a body feel really left out when this is not what's happening in your house. And I know you don't have to have kids to enjoy Christmas, that's just silly. But imagine if all that joy and happiness and laughter and magic was something you desperately wanted and you could not at this point in time have it, and every Christmas reminded you that time keeps marching on and your house is exactly the same.
Well, not exactly the same.
Last year we shook things up a bit. We ditched everyone and took off to Vermont for Christmas. We felt naughty. We felt a tad selfish. And then we got there and experienced a Christmas where there's no tree with no toys for good little girls and boys beneath it, and no sense of old traditions that are empty. Just new traditions that are being forged. Christmas away is actually a lovely thing, once you get used to not having a Christmas tree of your own to come down the stairs to. It helps us to have a romantic couple vacation, to celebrate the season with our love for each other, and to not surround ourselves with our empty, silent house. (Bryce is probably snickering somewhere at the thought that our house is "empty" since he is continually on a decluttering mission, but it's devoid of the joyful chaos of babies and children. Totally full of stuff despite his best efforts to make it look like a sparse Scandinavian house.) We make memories together that don't make us sad, and save the traditions for when we can share them with little people of our own, however they end up coming to us.
And they won't be coming to us quite yet, because...
We do not do fertility treatments over the holidays. We have done that before, and it is a horrible disaster. I'm sure for some people it could mean a personal Christmas miracle, but for us it just compounded heartache and increased stress and made the holidays unenjoyable. Even now, as our "last hurrah" is upon us, and time is ticking away, this holiday time is sacred. No treatments. No testing. It is worth waiting a month more. It is worth missing a few months of opportunity to keep that sanity and good cheer intact.
Good cheer is often spread through the annual Holiday Card. We have done a photo card every single year since we were married. I love those things. But the past few cards have been upsetting, because they are babyless. Bumpless, even. Every year chronicles a year of fun together, but still no wee one. Going along with the whole Bryce-loves-to-declutter thing, I would love to have shared pictures of each card with you in this post, but unfortunately they were misplaced. In an effort to declutter. A closet. Yup, the cards were in a little shutterfly box in a closet but they needed to be put away even further. Can you sense my frustration? So, you will just have to imagine the cards as I describe them:
Year One, 2009: Fun wedding photos. Celebratory card. All is good with the world.
Year Two, 2010: Pictures of Maine vacation. Fun photos, a little bitterness over no baby to be seen, but not unreasonable after one year, so we add the dog and cats to the card.
Year Three, 2011: Frustration mounting. No Maine vacation this year due to infertility, hearts broken by ectopic debacle, and so we stage a "glamour shot" attempt with the digital camera and the kindness of strangers. I realize there is quite a bit of boob on the card, but don't care because there's still no baby.
Year Four, 2012: Frustration is palpable. WHY IS THERE NO BABY ON THIS EFFING CARD??? Reeling from miscarriage this year and realization that genetic material is now up for grabs. Cheeky mistletoe shot in 1950s dress and Bryce in 50s-ish collared shirt and sweater. Cats in bowties, not just named but featured. Copy of card sent to fertility clinic with actual message, "I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT HAPPENS IF THERE'S NO BABY ON THIS CARD NEXT YEAR. PLEASE PUT A BABY ON THIS CARD!!!"
Year Five, 2013: I did not want to send a Christmas card this year. I had decided last year was the LAST YEAR for a babyless card at Christmas. I had all kinds of insane ideas (including pictures of embryos around the card, Merry Christmas spelled out in needles, etc.) but none I'd actually do in earnest. So I decided we'd do a New Year's card. A card about hope for the next year, not the disappointment of what didn't happen this past year. Not that there's not a lot to be grateful for and happy about this past year, but it was another year where the summer Maine vacation did not happen (and was actually cancelled last minute thanks to the donor cycle timing that we could not control whatsoever), another year where despite our best efforts we did not expand our family, another year of heartache and stagnancy and watching the cards roll in with SCHOOL AGE children on them, not babies anymore. (NOTE: I do want your Christmas cards! Keep 'em coming! Time marches on for you, and not for me, which makes me sad, but shared photos of your families and pets do not make me sad.)
And so... New Year's Card. Like the Vermont trip, it is a departure from the normal tradition to preserve that for our futurefamily, and a creation of a new tradition to soothe our ravaged souls. I was originally going to send it out after Christmas, but guilt over all the cards coming in and obsessive-compulsiveness won out. I put the card together this weekend. A message of Cheer All Year! With 10 photos from this past year around it. I did not include the cats (mostly because they refuse to be photographed together and they typically are only photographed when doing weird things), but did sign their names. It is a card of remembering the good stuff that happened this past year. And on the back we wish for a fabulous 2014 to come. Where dreams come true. And the photo is my "Never Never Never Give Up" magnet. Because I cannot let this card go without in some way intimating the truth--it is highly upsetting that there are no babies on this card in any way shape or form. It is not by choice. We have traveled the path that was supposed to treat our medical disease of infertility, and it took us on a bit of a wonky side tour. This year we are pursuing one more medical treatment, one last hurrah, before we put the medical side of things to bed and pursue adoption. The NEVER GIVE UP means that we don't give up on being parents. We will make this happen, somehow. It may not be medical. We may need to let go of some dreams to achieve the ultimate dream. It is not easy. None of this has been easy. But you can only travel your own path, and go where your hearts take you. And so we nod to infertility on our New Year's card.
We started a new tradition this year. Our neighborhood sponsors families in need each year, and each year in the hustle and bustle of things we forget and miss the deadline and feel like horrible people. I mean, I always donate books to the Ronald McDonald House at Barnes&Noble, and I put dollars in the red kettle, and I contribute to other things, but we have never actively shopped for a child in need. This year, we participated. We bought things for two little girls. You would think it would be sad to go shopping for children that aren't ours, and for a brief moment where I held adorable baby dresses in my hands it was, but it was an incredible joy to shop for these children. I mean, I shop for children every year because of friends who have kids. But in this case, we were shopping for children we didn't really know, and it was to give them a fabulous Christmas in tough times. We could take our good fortune and spread it about and give joy and imagine (as it would be creepy to track down the families and peer in their windows on Christmas morning) the sheer happiness that these girls will have when they open their presents straight from their wish lists. We got to play Santa, and it was immensely fun.
There you have it. Let old traditions go for a while so that we can forge new ones and save our sanity in these difficult times. Save magic for the future. Preserve as much as we can so that we can be the best parents to our FutureBaby(ies). Feed our love and keep the demons of doubt and despair at bay. Try not to throw things when commercials and/or facebook posts tout that you don't know what Christmas is until you've experienced it through the eyes of your child or you've had a baby or whatever. Enjoy celebrating with friends and family before and after the holiday, and over the phone or skype or facetime. Honor our families but stoke the fire of our little family of two. Get away from it all and try to have as fertility-free a holiday as we can when infertility has infiltrated the very essence of who we are. Somehow though, when you are away for the holiday and the stress of the house and responsibility and all that is gone...you can almost pretend that all is right with the world. Because in that moment, that beautiful, romantic, peaceful moment away from it all, it truly is.
Happy holidays to you and yours. May 2014 be the year that dreams come true and hearts are healed.