Holidays, Covid-19 and Infertility: How Not to Lose Your Mind

Holidays Covid-19 and Infertility: How Not to Lose Your Mind

Some years Chanukah falls the same week as Christmas, and others it falls a few weeks before. (The lunar Calendar, don’t ask.) When I was going through infertility, it fell nearly a month before. 

Ugh. I thought, a whole month of holidays. 

I used to love the holidays – the more, the better. I was happy to celebrate my own Eight Days of Lights and also partake in friends Yuletide and Kwaanza celebrations. I could do a few gift exchanges, eat doughnuts and fruitcakes (holiday calories don’t count, right?) and even share a few naughty kisses under the mistletoe. Hope, Joy and Light.

But after suffering a miscarriage, I did not have any of those. And I could not bear a month of holiday cheer. Little did I know that I would have three more holiday seasons to deal with – three more years of treatment, of disappointment, of losses, of watching other people celebrate holidays, watching them light their candles/trees, standing outside the window, wondering if I’d always be looking in. 

I couldn’t imagine having to do this during this during a pandemic. 

“I think that the holidays are a particularly difficult time for us in general right now because of isolation,” said Janice Weinman, CEO of Hadassah, which has launched reCoceiving Infertility, a new initiative to end the stigma of infertility and advocate for legislative change. “I think for people who are suffering from infertility, the absence of having a family is heightened. People look at others who have families thinking, oh they can celebrate during this time and I can’t.” 

Can you? Can you celebrate when you’re going through infertility? I mean, do you even want to? The question really is not how to celebrate, but how to survive the holidays during infertility – pandemic or no pandemic.

Celebrate – Only if You Want To

I’m really not one for silver linings (I’d gladly have skipped over my four years of infertility and miscarriage and passed go and gone straight to motherhood) and I hate the word, “at least,” – as in “at least you can get pregnant,” or “at least you have a husband”  — but maybe, just maybe, at least this year you don’t have to go anywhere. Not to an ugly sweater party, not to midnight mass and certainly not to a house filled with laughing children. That means how you celebrate the holidays is up to you. 

If faith or tradition are important to you, you can celebrate.  “Having read some comments about the state of things and that we should be grateful for what we have, etc. etc,” Erin Khar, author of Strung Out: One Last Hit and Other Lies That Nearly Killed Me, who has suffered multiple miscarriages, wrote on Facebook, “My reminder: Grief and gratitude are not mutually exclusive.” 

Every time I skipped out on a holiday, I felt doubly bad, like, I can’t have children and have a holiday too? So I might have tempered my celebrations, but I still wanted something.

On the other hand, if the Grinch has got you down, and you want to skip the tree and/or fill stockings with coal? Go for it. (True Story: I actually bought my husband a soap that said. “Lump of Coal.”) 

Every time I skipped out on a holiday, I felt doubly bad, like, I can’t have children and have a holiday too? So I might have tempered my celebrations, but I still wanted something.

This year, if you want to skip that Zoom with your nieces and nephews? It’s pretty easy to “forget.” I’ve recently discovered that doing things online – writing that insincere email, sending someone a present, partaking in an awful party  – is simply easier from afar. 

You can also cower under the covers feeling sorry for yourself, and no one will be the wiser. 

Don’t Suffer in Silence

But you don’t have to suffer alone. You should absolutely not suffer alone, in silence. 

When I started going through infertility there were no private Facebook groups devoted to the subject, where strangers could bond over hating other pregnant women (#kiddingnotkidding) or Instagram influencers shooting themselves up with hormones and who knows what. (Instagram barely existed in 2012!). 

I didn’t suffer in silence, I started writing about my journey in The New York Times “Motherlode” Blog, just to talk to commenters about the crazy secret world of infertility. 

But you don’t have to announce to the world what you’re going through. Take your journal and start writing about it: it doesn’t have to be Hemingway (it probably won’t be Hemingway since he’s known for his brevity and these times call for long-windedness); or take your canvas and start throwing paint at it.  My point is, don’t keep it all inside, especially now, when we’re stuck inside. We don’t have to be stuck with ourselves.

You know that relative who keeps inviting you to Zoom calls and holiday parties, just tell her a bit about what you’re going through. You might be surprised at her reaction (or at least shut her up!).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from both infertility and the pandemic, it’s how to pare down my friends and contacts and focus only on the people who, in the words of Marie Kondo, ‘bring me joy.

Egg freezing and IVF have been up during the pandemic. Some doctors believe it’s because it’s easier to go to treatment while working from home: no boss to explain things to, no busybody co-workers wondering why you’re missing meetings. But, that also means that you can share with who you want, when you want, if you want. 

You might be surprised at the support you get. 

Find a Group or Mentor

Speaking of support, I found I couldn’t always talk about the vicissitudes of treatment with my husband. He was going through his own thoughts and feelings about our repeat loss, the financial burden of IVF and not being a dad yet. My mom friends were often busy with their families, and some of my single friends thought I should be grateful that “at least” I had someone. Oddly enough, I found the most support in my childfree by choice friends. “I don’t want to have kids but I want you to have what you want,” my gay best friend would tell me after I regaled him with another failed egg retrieval. 

I never joined a support group, but in retrospect, I wish I had. “Holidays and coping with family and friends is becoming more and more difficult,” according to RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association,” which suggests finding a support group in your area

These days, most support groups are online, and you can even find a therapist with expertise in infertility—because no one wants to spend their 50 minutes explaining the difference between an IUI and IVF. 

“The first thing so many people who come to our group say when we go around, is ‘I feel so alone and I want to know other people going through this also,” says Dalia Davis, Founder and President of Uprooted, which provides online groups as well as mentors. “When people hear other people’s stories, they feel less isolated; you can always learn something from how other people experienced it.”

This holiday season, also consider giving back: If you are done family building, or have been through enough of it in order to help a newbie, you can become a mentor online to help others, through a platform like Fruitful, or remain in your online Facebook groups to direct newbies on what doctor to find, what treatment to try or just to say “I care.” 

Bubble Up!

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from both infertility and the pandemic, it’s how to pare down my friends and contacts and focus only on the people who, in the words of Marie Kondo, “bring me joy.” I’ve lost a few friends during infertility – because they couldn’t understand what I was going through, or simply didn’t want to. Some came back, and others were replaced by friends I met when trying. 

Going through a pandemic and infertility during the holiday season (or any season) tends to help you focus on what’s important – or more importantly, what you have energy for. Which frankly, right now, isn’t much.  That’s why when health experts counsel you to “pod up,” to choose a family or group of friends for the pandemic, it’s not such a bad idea for infertility, too.

This holiday season will hopefully be the last like this – suffering from infertility, in a pandemic, before most of us can access the COVID-19 vaccine. Some days it seems incredibly hard, but remember: both are finite, with an end in sight. We just have to protect ourselves as best as we can until then.


Contributor

Amy Klein

Amy Klein is the author of "The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind," which is based on her successful New York Times “Fertility Diary” column, in which she chronicled her journey to have a baby (ten doctors, nine rounds of IVF, four miscarriages in three countries). She is the Ambassador for reConceiving Infertility, Hadassah’s Initiative to combat stigma against infertility and advocate for legislative change. Amy writes about health, parenting and reproductive rights for publications like The New York Times, The Washington Post, Business Insider, The Forward, The Jerusalem Post and others.


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