Yesterday was Thanksgiving. This time of year we are all encouraged to think abut our lives and be thankful for everything we have. Maybe keep a diary with scribbled notes of things that we are thankful for. Small things that happened earlier today. Or yesterday. Or last week. Or maybe big things like myself who is now incredibly Thankful for my new job. Something I’ve been dreaming about for a long time. And that all of a sudden came true. In a time when I had almost given up. I am truly thankful for that. Or you might be thankful for having a good health. For having friends and family around you. For having a warm home and food on your table every day. There are thousands and thousands of things to be thankful for. Both big and small.
However, it is not always that easy. You go through different phases in your life when thankfulness does not come naturally. Even though you know, logically that you have a lot to be thankful for, there is still something missing. A big piece of your life that is just not there. So even though your mind tells you that you are lucky in so many many many ways, you still struggle emotionally to truly feel that gratefulness. We all have different reasons. For some it could be the loss of someone they used to share their life with. A close relative or a very dear friend. For others this empty space was maybe caused by something completely different. A loss, not of a person, but of the feeling of belonging. Being part of something. A community. A place. A country. A culture.
When struggling with infertility, this season can be particularly difficult. The. Holiday. Season. You know. ‘This the season to be jolly. Fallalalallalallallalaaah! Cozy warm commercials showing happy families in front of sparkling fireplaces indulging hot cocoa. Holiday Movies with couples in love throwing glittery snow balls at each other laughing. You might watch these but instead of transfer you to that warm holiday spirit, they just remind you of everything you wish for but do not have at this moment. But worst of all, are the get-togethers. You meet family and friends. Gatherings. In the spirit of the Holiday. Thanksgiving with extended family. Holiday parties at work. Catch-up-before-going-away-drinks out with friends. Christmas or Hanukkah with your parents, grandparents and siblings. Or with your in-laws and all family on your spouse’s side. And of course. At such events. The questions so often are spilled out. Right there. In the open. Not because people are specifically rude. Or want to pry on your personal life. But because for some reason, other people’s family business seems to be everyone’s business in our culture. ‘Tis the season to be jolly. And what can be more joyful than chatting about someone’s kids-to-be…?
You know that these questions are not meant to be hurtful. But nevertheless they are. They sting. They make you cringe in your chair when you try to keep smiling, blink a little extra to keep your eyes from watering and try to hold your drink steady. Not shaking. You smile. And you tell a lie. Still smiling. And then try to move on to another subject. But it still hurts. And you have to excuse yourself and leave the table to take a deep breath in the bathroom. You look yourself in the mirror. Trying to desperately think of all things you are grateful for. Everything in your life that brings you joy, and happiness and love. But all you feel is that emptiness. You feel the loss. Not the loss of someone close to you who no longer are with you. Someone you knew all your life. But the loss of not have had the chance to meet this very special person yet. And what is even more terrifying than this feeling of loss, emptiness and grief is your fear. You are scared to death that this might actually never happen. Ever.
Then you clear your throat. Wash your hands. Splash a little cold water in your face. Carefully not to ruin your make up. You are back at the dinner table again. Or maybe now the rest of the family and guests have moved to another room. Maybe you just grab a glass and start mingle around. But of course, you of all people have to end up with your younger sister. Or your brother-in-law and his wife. Or your spouse’s cousin. Who very happily and emotionally announces that they are expecting. Tears of joy in their eyes. Everyone cheering. A toast! Congratulations falling like glittery sprinkles around you. And there you are. Knocked down. Once. Again. Hit by first by your own fear, then by your envy and jealousy. And finally with guilt. For not feeling happy. At all. The fear and the guilt. Strong and intense feelings. Dark. Not the ones you’d want to wrap yourself in during the joyful Holiday Season. Or any season for that matter. But particularly not during the Holidays. However, there is little you can do. It really is extremely hard to wear the Thankful-Grateful-Joyful coat for the Holiday Season when all you can feel is what you are NOT Thankful for.
I have no specific advise for how to survive this season with a hole in your heart. I have no suggestions for how to find your lost Thankfulness. Or how to bury your fear or ignore your guilt. I think there might be as many ways as there are individuals out there. For me though, when that emptiness was threatening to swallow me, I tried to tackle it by just accepting that it was ok to feel the way I felt. That jealousy and guilt and other dark thoughts that roamed my mind were ok. As long as I did not hurt anyone deliberately. It helped some. The very best though, was communication. First, I usually talked with friends who knew what was going on in my life. Who could listen and support. Most of them were in a similar situation as me. My Ovulation Sisters. But I also talked to some other close friends.
Later, when I felt less vulnerable I even tried to talk to people around me. An advise I still think is one of the best, even though it can be extremely hard. Let them know that some questions are better not to ask. You tell them that people usually share things they are excited about, like if they are planning to grow their family. When time is right and you are ready, you’ll tell them. All from your heart. So they do not need to ask. They do not have to come to you. You will come to them. And when you share. They’ll listen. They can get excited if you are, and if your are not, they’d better be supportive. Let them know. Hopefully they will think of this not only when they are around you, but also when they are around others. Who knows, you may realize that you are not the only one in your family or among your friends who has not been sharing. Communication is the key. To almost everything. Even to the (sometimes winding) path to Thankfulness.