A Man’s IF Holiday Perspective: It’s All Relative

Kevin shares his thoughts on dealing with infertility and the holidays. As a guy, he finds solace in dealing with infertility through his work – whether that is intellectual or hands-on. Read more about the inspiration Kevin took from deer hunting this past year.

This November, I went deer hunting for the first time. While sitting in the woods, patiently waiting for a deer to walk past my blind, I began to read Einstein’s biography.  The book discusses in detail Einstein’s two theories of relativity – general and special. His special theory of relativity is what challenged Newton’s long held traditional concept of absolute space and time. Through a series of mathematical equations and experiments, Einstein disproved Newton and instead demonstrated that space and time were relative to the observer – not an absolute concept. For example, someone moving inside of a train will have a different experience than someone standing on the side of the road watching the train go by.

Kevin, sitting in his blind, deer hunting.

Kevin, sitting in his blind, deer hunting.

Reading this in the woods, I couldn’t help but see how much of this theory also relates the experience of infertility.  My wife and I have were diagnosed with infertility 5 years ago. That moment was life altering and brought upon itself a host of questions we never imagined we would have to think about. Today, we often have to remind ourselves that there is no absolute right interpretation or method of dealing with infertility. Just like Einstein’s theory: infertility is relative to the observer. Every year around the holidays, this topic comes up for us as a couple. Often we may be experiencing things differently, and we may have different ways or methods to make the holidays work in our minds. Let’s face it, this holiday is all about the birth of a child and it’s a tough one for the infertility community.

For me, and I would imagine many other men out there, talking explicitly about infertility is not really our way of coping and channeling our energy into something positive. Personally, over this year I have focused a lot on work and have been afforded some unique experiences to travel and live my passion of being a medical physicist. I have also poured myself into renovating our house that we bought as a symbol of our love and what we share together, even if we never have children of our own. This is extremely important to me.

A garage entrance that Kevin remodeled into a living room.

A garage entrance that Kevin remodeled into a living room.

I do not think we should despair over having different ways to make these holidays doable, but we should rejoice in that we share in this experience together. There is somewhat of a beauty in thinking about Einstein’s theory and that there is no absolute correct way to interpret and cope with infertility. However, it is comforting to know that a common thread is that the infertility community all shares this experience together. I hope everyone else out there can use this as a bit of consolation and uplift as we head move into a new year.

Five Tips for Holiday Self Care

Embarking on the next couple of weeks of holiday celebrations, we offer you five tips that we find ourselves practicing as a method of surviving the celebration of a miraculous conception while dealing with infertility.

#5 Send a holiday card. Really! Tired of getting pictures of new babies and growing families in the mail? Send your own card! Remind others that you are a family! Maria does this frequently sending cards featuring herself, husband, and two puppies. For her, this is a form of infertility advocacy.christmasphoto_2016

#4 Treat Yo Self! Take time out and pamper yourself. Get a massage. Get your nails done. Make yourself feel good!

#3 Talk with your partner and ask, “What are we going to do to make the holiday special for us?” Maria recommends this especially as much of the holidays revolve around the excitement of nieces and nephews waiting for Santa to come. Maria tries to go out for a Christmas Eve brunch with her husband to block out a set time for just the two of them.

#2 Remember it’s okay to just say “no”. Not everything is going to be something that you are going to want to attend. Just like baby a baby shower, remember you don’t need to attend every holiday party or every family event. Sometimes you just need to say no. And that’s okay! Elizabeth said no to her extended family Christmas party this year and spent time with child free friends instead.

The lone decoration at Elizabeth’s house, which wasn’t put out until 3 days before Christmas.

#1 Try to step back and enjoy the simple things. To say infertility is complicated is an understatement. Balancing infertility with the holidays can sometimes increase anxieties. We suggest taking a night and escaping. Make a fire, turn on some holiday tree lights (or don’t if you’re on a decorating strike like Elizabeth), cozy-up with a cup of tea, blanket, and a good book to escape. Sometimes taking a moment to remove yourself from it all allows you to better process and handle the ups and downs that will no doubt come with your infertility diagnosis.

We hope some of the suggestions we have implemented over the years will help you navigate the holidays and new year. Most of all, we want you to know that you are not alone.

Wishing you peace this holiday season,

Elizabeth and Maria

The Holiday Blues

 

This short reflection is a few years old. I wrote it after being recently diagnosed. The holiday season was fast approaching at this time, creating a lot of anxiety.  Re-reading this reflection, I am quickly transported to a place of deep pain. The reflection seems like a distant memory, yet, also hauntingly familiar. Many of the feelings and thoughts are still there. The only difference is that they appear less frequently and not in the same velocity as they did when I first wrote this reflection. Today, I wonder, when did I stop fighting my infertility and begin to embrace it? And why did I choose surviving infertility over fighting for a family? – Maria

The Holiday Blues

The holidays have always been special to my husband and I. This is when we first met. When we first started dating. When we got engaged. When we told our families we were getting married. When we bought our first house. When we got our first puppy.

An image of our first puppy, Stella. We picked her up from the shelter the on New Year's Eve. She was symbolic of a new year, new life.

An image of our first puppy, Stella. We picked her up from the shelter on New Year’s Eve in 2010. She was symbolic of a new year, new life.

Lately though, we’ve been needing to rely on those memories in order to escape feeling the holiday blues. Now, as we find ourselves in this new place, this new understanding of what it means to be a married childless couple, we have needed to question what this means.

This year we decided to volunteer for Thanksgiving. To visit with the elderly. We thought this to be a great idea as it avoids feeling the constant reminder of this childless lack. And by volunteering we felt a great bond with Bob, Mary, and Ethel. All three did not have a family to visit them. They were very much on their own. Feeling many of the same emotions we felt. Not sadness, not loneliness. Just acceptance of this is how life was to be. Finding meaning and special joy in little things. Little things like having the café at the nursing home open and simply visiting with those who silently felt the same acceptance towards life.

But Christmas and Thanksgiving are two very different holidays. Thanksgiving is reflective and about the food and blessings that you have. Christmas is projective. It is very much about “another year.” And more often than not it is about children. Baby Jesus and manger scenes. Promoting a redemptive and celebratory message about the power of the baby.

It is also about kids and the “magical joy” of Christmas. Kids waking up Christmas morning and running to the tree. Screaming at the excitement at finding an Xbox or Easy Bake Oven – but more often simply screaming because Santa arrived and provided.

This has become clear to us over the years that we’ve been married. Each year, it seems harder for us to embrace the spirit of the holidays. We know this and often comment on it. “What are we going to do to make the holiday’s special for us?” we ask each other.

We come up with different ideas to make it special. Often times it is simply going for a drive to see the lights and reliving the memories of us doing this when we were younger, before we were married – when we looked to the future of family with hope and excitement.

Now though, it is more common than not to experience the holiday blues.

christmasphoto_2016

While we still find it difficult to celebrate the holidays, we make sure to send out a holiday card each year. This card is from this year. We make a point to stress that while we may not have children, we are a family.

In fact, the puppy that we got around the holidays is no longer with us. Five years have past since I last wrote this reflection. Her passing reminds us of how we could have our own 5-year-old at this point in our life. Our own child eagerly waiting to find presents under the tree. Instead though we are still trying to make sense of it all. Still trying to find joy in the little, non-traditional family we made.

When I hear “Blue Christmas” by Elvis on the radio, I am transported to the moment I wrote this reflection. Sometimes it is nice to be reminded that while the holidays can be a time of joy, they can also heighten personal pains.

Infertile for the Holidays

Need a Holiday Survival Guide? Our guest blogger, Angela Bergmann, has one for you! Maria and I first met Angela at Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. this year. Thanks, Angela, for sharing your tips for dealing with Infertility during the holidays!

Elizabeth

dreams

Infertile for the Holidays

The holidays are trying at the best of times. Add in being infertile, and the holidays can be a true test of will. I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be!  Well, at the very least, we can take steps to make it through in one piece.

This Christmas marks the ninth year since I started trying to conceive that there won’t be a baby in my Christmas photos. Last year, for the first time ever, I had some small hope as I completed my first IVF retrieval and subsequent transfers around Thanksgiving and Christmas. After those failed, I was so sure I would cycle again and be pregnant before this holiday season. Alas, it was not meant to be.

Knowing how hard the past several holidays have been for me, and feeling like this one may be the worst yet, I tried to proactively prepare myself for this holiday season. I found a counselor that works for me, and I have actively tried to practice self-care. I also put together a “Holiday Survival Guide” for my RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association peer-led support group.  Knowing how hard the holidays can be, I wanted to share some of the tips from that guide- lessons I’ve learned over the years that can help ease the pain of being infertile for the holidays:

  1. Practice self-care. Having a tough time? Stressed out? Treat yourself to a manicure, or a couple hours snuggled on the couch with a blanket and Netflix or a book. Whatever it is that makes you feel good, do it.
  2. Ask for help. A lot of the time people don’t realize we’re suffering because our disease isn’t visible. Communicate with those around you so that they know what you need (My husband says he would like to see this tip bolded and underlined).
  3. Say no. Remember, it’s okay to say no to things. The only way we can protect ourselves is by being our own advocate.
  4. Have an exit strategy. If you want or need to go to something, have an exit strategy. Conversation getting hard for you? Have a password to let your spouse know you need some air or that you want to go home. It’s also a good idea to have a way to tell them if you’re having a good time!
  5. Grieve. What we’re dealing with is sad, and is a grieving process. Those around us may not recognize that. Allow yourself the space to grieve what you are going through. If you’re comfortable, explain it to those around you.

It can be difficult, but try to remember that our family and friends aren’t trying stress us out… They just don’t understand what we are going through, and often just want to be helpful. They don’t realize that what they are saying is not helpful to us, as we are suffering from a disease.

The majority of the time they have our best interest at heart. If you are open in your struggle, educate them on the best ways to help you. Remind them that you are suffering from a disease, and that it’s a process. If that doesn’t work, excuse yourself and don’t feel bad for doing so. As someone once said, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”  You have to take care of your own well-being if you hope to have any good cheer to spread!

 

 

70 Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Infertility

Aaah, the holidays. If you’re like me, this time of year has definitely been made more challenging by your infertility diagnosis. Years ago, before I had any idea that I’d one day be traveling around the country with an infertility art exhibit, collecting oral histories, and running art and writing workshops, I compiled this list of tips for coping with infertility during the holidays.

Some of the ideas are mine, some are of those of people I’ve met along the way, some are from online blogs, or resources like RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. I wish now that I had kept track of where I’d found them so I could give credit where credit is due. However, it’s been too helpful to me, and those in my infertility support groups, over the years to keep it to myself. So, I’m sharing it with all of you this week. I’m particularly fond of #s 12, 17, 42, 52, 68, and 69. What are your favorites? Do you have any you’d like to add?

Hang in There!

Elizabeth

Tips for Surviving the Holidays

  1. Treat yourself.
  2. On a good day, make a list of things you’re grateful for and read it when you’re feeling down.
  3. Give yourself an enjoyable challenge.
  4. Shop Therapy!
  5. Enjoy one on one time with your partner.
  6. Take good care of yourself.
  7. Tell parents and other family members how you are feeling using “I” statements.
  8. Limit time spent with family if you find it too stressful.
  9. Change the way you celebrate.
  10. Create new traditions.

    smothering_web

    An image from s/m/othering, by Marissa McClure. Part of the ART of IF permanent collection.

  11. Volunteer.
  12. Plan at least one day during the holiday that you are really looking forward to.
  13. Make a date to see your siblings and/or parents away from children so you can really catch up.
  14. If you think you may act badly under stress, decide ahead of time how to behave.
  15. Be sure to incorporate the usual events that are meaningful and joyful for you into your plans. Don’t let infertility rob you of your joys.
  16. Don’t go to holiday events.
  17. If you do go to holiday events, have an escape plan.
  18. Instead of attending an entire event, go to only the portion of the event that you find enjoyable or tolerable.
  19. Don’t feel like you have to hold babies.
  20. Alternatively, hold every baby available to get your “fix.”
  21. Be prepared for the “When are you having kids?” question.
  22. Decide ahead of time whether or not to tell your family about your infertility.
  23. Don’t be afraid to cut off uncomfortable conversations.
  24. Be ready to cope with pregnancy announcements.
  25. Be forgiving of yourself.
  26. Hide in the bathroom for a few minutes (or more) when necessary.
  27. Put yourself first.
  28. Be interesting! Adjust the focus from your inability to have a baby to something positive about you.
  29. Shop online instead of in the stores to control what you see and when.
  30. Ban the baby department if you must go into stores.
  31. Create mantras.
  32. Cry.
  33. Focus on the lighter side of infertility by joking with your partner or friends who understand.
  34. Don’t open holiday cards. It’s okay to throw them away or put them aside to open on a good day.
  35. Get exercise.
  36. Avoid television to avoid the holiday commercials.
  37. Party with adults only!
  38. Rely on your support person/people.
  39. Have an emergency to-do list of enjoyable activities. Write it when you’re having a good day and then pick an item from the list when you’re having a bad one.
  40. Take a break from Facebook.
  41. Be honest with others about your feelings.
  42. Dress up!
  43. Think positive! Let yourself dream about future holidays as a parent.
  44. Remember the reason for the season, whatever it is to you.
  45. Plan a January “get away” or other reward.
  46. Ask for/tell others what you need from them.
  47. If it’s too hard to shop for baby and kid items, buy a gift card instead.
  48. Try to avoid sitting next to new/expectant moms at dinner.
  49. Slow down.
  50. Start each day with intention.
  51. Do what you need to do for yourself with no apology.
  52. Remember that “No.” is a complete sentence. You don’t need an excuse.
  53. Do what’s right for you.
  54. Find a way to honor your lost baby or babies.
  55. Schedule time to grieve.
  56. Don’t expect to live up to others expectations.
  57. Practice empathy.
  58. Make your own holiday cards and avoid the card aisle.
  59. Decorate for the holidays or don’t. Either way, do what feels right to you.
  60. Write an uplifting note to yourself on a good day. Keep it in your purse or a pocket to read when you are feeling down.
  61. Journal your feelings.
  62. Create memories with a special child in your life.
  63. Write down your favorite childhood memories.
  64. Avoid talking about Infertility at holiday parties. If someone brings it up, say you’d rather enjoy the holidays instead.
  65. Watch a holiday classic.
  66. Make a list of resolutions, sticking to things you can control.
  67. Give yourself an infertility break by not trying to get pregnant over the holidays.
  68. Educate others by being ready with infertility statistics when the topic comes up.
  69. Find a creative outlet like coloring, painting, or another kind of crafting.
  70. Remember that it won’t feel like this forever.