I used to love the holidays — then infertility happened
Let me start by saying that I love the holidays as much as the next gal. Thanksgiving is normally one of my favorite times of the year. I usually book plane tickets months in advance in order to see my family, eat, drink, and be merry. But this year, I dreaded hitting “purchase” on those Delta tickets. You see, I’d hoped and dreamed for a long time that this would be the year when I would bring a newborn with us to my parents’ house in Minnesota. At the very least, I hoped to be sporting a pregnant belly along with my stretchy Turkey Day pants.
Instead, after two long years of TTC (trying to conceive, as they say in infertility speak) and two very stressful rounds of in vitro fertilization, it still ended up just being my husband, myself, and my fertility medications making our way to the airport.
Still, it wasn’t all bad news. A few weeks before the Thanksgiving holiday, our nurse called with our PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) results to let us know we had two healthy embryos as the result of our last round of IVF. They were frozen and waiting to be transplanted into my uterus. That meant I could be pregnant in just six weeks time! Cue the happy music.
So I bought late (read: overpriced) plane tickets to the Midwest. Off we went to catch our flight, all hopeful and optimistic. The happy music was still blasting.
I think the happy vibes lasted until we actually got to the airport. We weren’t even through security before the happy tunes were replaced with crying. So. Much. Crying. “Why didn’t anyone tell me so many babies travel on this holiday?” I whispered to my husband. It was like San Francisco International Airport was bursting with kids, practically coming out the woodwork to taunt me. Every trigger that I usually avoid was there.
At the gate, couples suddenly surrounded us carrying the most adorable babies I’ve ever seen. And they were complaining about diaper blowouts and middle seats, blissfully unaware of how lucky they were. They already had the one thing we couldn’t. At that point, it wasn’t just the babies who felt like shedding a few tears.
That’s when I realized it; the holidays can be absolute hell if you’re going through infertility.
I’m not alone in this thought, either. Samantha Franklin, a licensed clinical social worker in San Francisco, helps infertile couples get through the holidays every year. She tells me that there’s a reason that they are so difficult:
I am in a weird in-between phase in my fertility medications where I can drink, and a glass of red wine plus noise-canceling headphones got me through a flight sitting behind an excited row of toddlers on their way to grandma’s house. Once at my parents’ home, I played with my sister’s kids, mimosa in hand, trying not to think about what a great mother I’d be. I rubbed the pregnant belly of one of my best friends and genuinely told her how happy I am for her (which is true). Then I had a very large mojito.
I saw relatives and avoided their awkward questions as best as I could: Yes those IVF injections are pretty painful, and no, we haven’t considered surrogacy yet. I put on a fake smile and kept busy helping my mom cook and clean. When the week was over, I felt exhausted and happy to be going back to our San Francisco bubble.
One in eight couples today have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. After my Thanksgiving experience, I asked Franklin for some more tips. If you’re in this unfortunate club and have upcoming holiday celebrations to contend with in the near future, here is what she recommends:
1Feel free to use the phrase, “No, thank you.”
If you want to opt out of this year’s celebration because it’s too painful and go to Hawaii with your partner instead, you shouldn’t feel guilty. Your family’s holiday will be there next year, or the year after, for you to go back when you’re ready.
2If you can’t avoid celebrations, place yourself in an empowered position.
Send out a pre-holiday email to family members letting them know exactly where you are in the fertility process (as much as you want to share). Say that you’d rather not discuss it over the holidays. You appreciate them respecting your privacy.
3Prepare and practice an elevator speech.
This can include as few or as many details as you want — but remember you don’t owe anyone personal details.
4Carve out alone time for yourself.
If you have the budget for it, stay in a hotel instead of with relatives so you have a safe space to retreat to. Excuse yourself as much as you need. Stay busy, cooking, chopping, and clearing plates. If relatives ask questions you don’t want to answer, feel free to excuse yourself or say you need to use the restroom. Avoidance is okay in this case.
Remember, going through infertility during this time of year can feel lonely, but know that you’re not alone. If there’s ever a time for a little magic, it’s during the holidays. I’m wishing that everyone trying to get pregnant finds a miracle this winter. With luck, we’ll be that couple complaining about diaper blowouts at the airport next year.