As we near the end of another year, for many, it will be yet another without a baby.
I’m writing this blog from the perspective of someone who has been there. I have been part of that couple, through countless Christmases where I thought we would surely either be pregnant or holding our baby in our arms as the fairy lights twinkled and the gravy bubbled. I've been around the families where the babies are dressed as Christmas puddings and there are mutterings of how Christmas is ‘all about the kids.’
It’s hard to describe from the other side now that we have our miracle child, but I get it. I really do. Once you have been there, it’s hard to forget. And not that my husband and I have explicitly discussed or decided anything, but somewhere deep within me too, Christmas seems to awaken the longing again. For another addition perhaps, but also for those around me who are still trying, stil waiting, still wrestling with the need to believe mixed with a very raw dispair.
The complexities of 2020 and even 2021 have undeniably impacted those undergoing fertility treatment. Delays, cancellations, the vaccine...more confusion, more worries, more things to consider. Time ebbing away. Although interestingly, I know a fair few people who were going through fertility treatment through 2020 and actually welcomed in a very unexpected way, the Christmas lockdown. In many ways it simplified their Christmas, protected them, allowed them to hunker down without putting on a show.
But here comes Christmas 2021. A return to some sort of festive normal. Gatherings, Father Christmas, stockings, reindeers and twinkly lights. TV ads showing perfect families, local festivities built around the gathering of children under a Christmas Tree. Instagram feeds full of kids in antlers, visits to a grotto and the delight on their faces Christmas morning. And new additions. Other people's babies.
There’s certainly magic in the air, but a deep and lonely hole in the hearts of so many.
Christmas used to roll in when we were still trying and would heavily compound my longing. Thoughts of all the little details of how I’d make it sparkle with magic for our longed for baby and sort of wanting to do those things anyway in a really unexplainable way. It’s unsettling to feel grief for something that has yet to arrive. But that’s how times like Christmas can make you feel if you are trying to conceive.
When we were struggling, I couldn't really find anything to read to assure me that I was normal to feel all the range of emotions that would clatter from one side of my brain to the other while hanging the tree decorations. So I thought maybe the below might be supportive.
There’s a quote i've seen numerous times on Instagram that rings true to me of this subject; ‘Just because someone carries it well, doesn't mean it isn’t heavy’. Those trying for a baby, undergoing IVF, looking down at the pee test, peering up to the sky for answers often have a real knack of wearing a smile when they are inwardly feeling so very different. It’s not always sadness too. Sometimes it’s blind fear that in a social setting they might get asked about it all. Other times it’s just sheer exhaustion.
And to those going through an IVF protocol there is so much to consider. Timings, meds, schedules, appointments. Alongside the well meaning but sometimes constant reminder to think positive.
Whatever stage you’re at, be it natural or assisted, the below might just be a little companion to give you encouragement that you can be more in control this festive time than you might realise.
Set boundaries. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. Got that? No one. So if a misplaced question is fired at you over a platter of pigs in blankets, even one of those sneaky ones like ‘so, how are you, you know, with everything?’ which is so obviously about if there is something growing in your womb yet, you have options of how to deal with that. I stupidly would often just offer up much more personal information than I ever intended to, feeling put on the spot, opening myself up to more questions. But as time went on I got really good at voicing that I didn't want to talk about certain things and we would swiftly move on.
Don't judge yourself. You are 100% allowed to feel jealous, upset, angry, desperate, lonely, blameful, perhaps even more so at this time of year. The important thing is to feel your emotions, don't label them or judge yourself on them. You are human. It is allowed. Voicing them can sometimes help but only if you feel able.
Distraction could help. There’s so much to do at this time of year, well definitely this year compared to last, maybe that’s one of the up sides to the season. But you’ll probably know deep down what things might lift your mood or what things might be too emotional. Stay true to you and be ok with turning things down.
Give yourself some self care. I know it’s a term hurled around so frequently these days but with the hullabaloo of Christmas it might be easy to get really caught up in all the things you have to do/consider as well as lugging around the weight of TTC. Take some time. Put you first. What will top you up? Do it.
Assemble your support team. If the New Year is going to bring with it a round of assisted fertility perhaps use some of that weird week between Xmas and New Year to consider who you are going to need around you during that time. Mine consisted of close friends, a wonderful acupuncturist, one point person at the clinic and I even saw a hypnotherapist to help support some of my rounds. There was something comforting knowing that I was taking a little bit of control of what could sometimes feel a little out of your control, and I felt so supported and part of a team.
Remember who you are. Trying to conceive, undergoing IVF, can swiftly make you feel less and less like you. It’s hard to explain but it can be easy to forget who you are. For whatever reason, and maybe for no reason at all, this is your current story. It will be shaping you for things that right now are not clear. But you are still you. Christmas, and perhaps the time off that comes with that, could be a good time to indulge in the things you love if it feels like a long time since you last did that.
Clue up on Christmas IVF clinic accessibility. I wasn't sure on this myself actually so checked in with CREATE Fertility where I had my IVF program. I asked them about if someone was to be going through IVF over the festive period, what would that mean in terms of appointments or meds or just generally needing to get hold of someone should questions arise. Here is how CREATE operate over the Xmas hols: Our clinics and phone lines are open as normal other than Christmas Day and New Years Day. We do everything we can to make treatment over this period as stress free as possible and have on-call doctors should anyone have to have a procedure on these two days. We also have an emergency phone line which is open 24/7 in the unfortunate event that a patient needs urgent help.
New Years. So you’ve got through Christmas and then BAM, it’s New Years Eve. Perhaps an even more emotional time where reflection on the year that has been and contemplation for the one about to start might overwhelm. You don’t have to subscribe to the hype of this one day/night. Again you can do what is right for you. Hide away, hole up with the people you love. Escape for the night. Dance the night away.
Above all, slow down and feel the love. Christmas time is where some of us are lucky to be afforded some time off. If energised to do so, catch up with those who make you feel truly happy and at ease, read the book you've been meaning to, take advantage of those early dark nights and snuggle on the sofa with a film on. You’re about to head in to a New Year and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a part of the TTC crew, it’s that there is always, always hope. It’s so important to always try and find it.