“Do you want to do it the day before the holiday or the day after?” My fertility doctor asked me about my first ultrasound. I didn’t have high hopes for it. Yes, I was pregnant, but it was my fifth time… none of which had resulted in a child.
So the question was, did I want to ruin my holiday with a bad ultrasound, or sit on pins and needles and go the day after?
It was Thanksgiving six years ago and I decided to have one last pleasant day before I was back in that room facing the fallen face of the ultrasound technician searching desperately for signs of life. At least, that had been my experience in the past, and I was afraid—the kind of fear that keeps you up every night—that it would happen again.
Let’s do it after the holiday, I told him, hoping I’d enjoy one more day believing I was pregnant. But that holiday, like the ones for three years’ before it, felt like the day before execution. I couldn’t enjoy the turkey (and you thought your turkey was dry!), nor could I stand the relatives swarming over my younger sister with praise. She was pregnant. I mean, stomach-showing, face-glowing, “what are you having?” oohing and ahhing with (boy) child. And all I could think of was the baby I wanted so badly who could never seem to stick.
Everything’s the worst when you’re infertile. But the holidays? Forget about it. Especially a whole season of them. I couldn’t muster the energy for false cheer, the how are yous? What have you been up tos?, when all I had been up to was the never-ending treadmill of doctor’s appointments, shots, insurance calls, the vicissitudes of being pregnant and miscarrying. I couldn’t handle getting gifts I didn’t want or need (unless it was a check for a gazillion dollars to cover an IVF cycle) or celebrating my holiday of light, when it didn’t seem there was any light or hope for a holiday miracle.
Nor could I deal with the fact that everyone else’s life seemed to be continuing according to plan: my pregnant sister and sister-in-law, my relative who went on and on about what she was knitting the new babies not knowing I was pregnant and me not knowing how she thought I could handle it.
I couldn’t handle it, any of it. Not the holiday cards about new houses, new partners and, of course, new family members (except dogs; dogs I could handle).
Thankfully, I'm not trying to conceive right now—that Thanksgiving holiday pregnancy turned out to be “the one,” i.e. our daughter. But I can’t imagine suffering through infertility and a pandemic.
In some ways, things are easier: no holiday parties to smile through, pregnant relatives to see, nosy “so when are you going to start a family?” questions to answer. On the other hand, everything everyone is going through is magnified, especially through the distorted lens of social media. Eight days of beatific family Hanukkah scenes to view, a month of “What are you getting the kids for Christmas” posts, on top of the ever-troubling cutesy-pregnancy announcements that make you feel like everyone else’s life is moving forward except yours. Stuck on social media, with nothing else to do can make these holidays harder during infertility.
The way I got through infertility is the same way I’m getting through the pandemic: I built myself a bubble. Holiday cards bugging me? Don’t open them. (Sorry!) Family or friends being too intrusive? Let it go to voicemail. Instagram feeling too relentlessly perfect? Shut it down.
I’m not one to look for silver linings, to say going through infertility made me a better person or better mom—I’d have gladly skipped all of it. But maybe everyone going through the pandemic now will have more compassion about what it’s like to suffer prolonged uncertainty, searing disappointment, limits on a normal life—many of the emotions we experience during infertility.
And maybe next year’s holidays will be a hell of a lot nicer.
Amy Klein is the author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment without Losing Your Mind. She is the Ambassador for reConceiving Infertility, Hadassah’s initiative to combat stigma and advocate for legislative change.