Friday, November 14, 2014

Bracing for the Holidays

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. Or perhaps it used to be and now I'm not so sure. Honestly, I can't say it's not my favorite, simply because I don't have another holiday to replace it with.

I used to love Thanksgiving because at our house, it meant family. Mom, dad, Nana, uncles, aunts, cousins, and siblings. Then we started to grow up and it was even more wonderful. All the cousins started bringing home their significant others and we multiplied! Shortly after that, there was a new round of babies... something our family hadn't seen since the early 80s. 

And then my mom died.

When you lose someone, people do their best to treat you with kid gloves for about 5 minutes. What they don't realize is that four years later, that pain is still there. It's boiling just under the surface. You have so many more good days than you did at the beginning, but it only takes a change in the wind to disrupt your thoughts and remind of just how empty you feel. 

In a world where it only takes the wind, infertility is like a tornado.

Fertility treatments do not, I repeat DO NOT, bring out the best in people. They are exhausting. The emotional and financial tolls are staggering. The disappointment over your inability to do something so basic to humanity, the betrayal of your body, and the fear that you will lose the person you love most because of your failures - all these are very real feelings. Not crazy person feelings... normal thoughts, had by normal women, on a very regular basis. The cost is always more than you expected - because if we're being honest, no one ever anticipates infertility when they are mentally planning their future. 

And while you are trying to beat your reproductive organs into submission, the medications and procedures continue to tax you in ways you hadn't imagined. Several times every cycle you have invasive imaging. You have hot flashes. There are epic mood swings. Heartburn and nausea ruin meals... but you're always hungry. Even when you try to watch what you eat, you're puffed up like balloon from bloating. Medications are taken orally, then through injectables, and then (brace yourself) vaginally. Some doctor or nurse is doing - under fluorescent lights - what you and your significant other should be doing in the privacy of your own home.

But I digress... Thanksgiving is the topic... and the holiday season in general. 

For someone trying desperately to have a baby, holidays are a minefield. Social media is always tough. There are always pregnancy announcements, photos of babies, updates on how blessed you are to have kids because they [fill in the blank]. At the holidays it multiplies exponentially and you can't hide from it by going off the social media grid. It's there, in your face, all the time. Seriously. 

All. The. Time. 

So, I'm bracing myself. I'm preparing to face my cousins, who now have 12 children between them. The cousins (and aunts and uncles and siblings and grandparents and friends and random strangers) who ask innocently when I am finally going to have kids. I'm preparing myself for the endless stream of commercials reminding me of the things I should be buying if I were lucky enough to have children. I'm preparing myself to be excluded from bringin a dish to the meal - I clearly don't know how to cook since I don't have a family (why exactly do people assume that my husband I don't eat?). I'm preparing for the onslaught of family themed Christmas cards - ones where every envelope is like a bomb that may or may not go off. I'm preparing myself for the family activities that are clearly not intended for families of two adults, but rather for families with children. I'm preparing myself to feel jealousy and loss and isolation. I'm preparing myself to be surrounded by people that don't realize my pain. I choose not to share it because I feel shame and embarrassment at my failure to conceive. 

Shame and embarrassment. For something that is not in my control. Something that I should be able to publicly discuss without wondering who is silently judging me for waiting until I was almost 34 to start trying to conceive. Something that can't be fixed by "relaxing" or going on vacation or just waiting until the universe decides it's our time. 

The holidays are difficult for many people. They are especially difficult for the families silently searching for solutions to their infertility.