Christmas past

I have just finished my Christmas shopping. Nothing too spectacular this year, given our now very imminent international move. Santa is going large on books, DVDs and clothes in our house, and small toys that pack up into flat cases. And kites, which can be assembled and flown on Christmas Day, then disassembled and repacked for the move.

Even New Plymouth, a comparatively peaceful place most of the time, has gone mad. And driving me even more over the edge – the schmaltzy Christmas music.

I have good reason to loathe Christmas music. A long time ago now, my husband and I found out that we were infertile. It was a huge blow to us, and to our ideas about how our lives together would be. We wanted to have children, and to find that we could not was devastating. I know, there are plenty of people who choose not to have children, and lead rich, valuable, interesting lives. But we had made the other choice, and trying to rethink our understanding of ourselves was difficult.

I longed to have children, but a lot of the time, I found I could put the immediate pain out of my mind, and just get on with living. I was studying again, my husband had just launched into a new career, and aside from not being able to have children, life was good, and full of promise. But every now and then, in the midst of our carefree, child-free state, our childlessness would hit me, hard. A TV program would hang a plot-line around a baby, an advertising campaign would feature babies, the latest nationwide charity push would be for babies – “Little Button Nose”song, anyone?

Come Christmas, as the year was drawing to an end, and like most people we were considering the year and its successes and failures, there would come an avalanche of songs about an expected baby, and the joy and wonder of that baby’s birth. I would stagger through the Christmas season, trying not to listen, but hearing all the same, and aching inside and out because my arms were still empty. The worst Christmas of all was the one where we had finally tried a cycle of treatment, and three days before Christmas, we found out that it had failed.

My husband and my mother and I all wept, and “Hang in there,” my dad said as he handed me endless glasses of wine. Not the best for a woman trying to be as healthy as possible before starting a pregnancy, but needs must. Hang in there we did, and within a few weeks, after another cycle of treatment, we found that we had a baby on the way at last.

The immediate grief of infertility is long past. But those damned songs trigger a remembering of the grief every year. I can still barely listen to “The Little Drummer Boy” and “Mary’s Boy Child” often has me on edge.

So one of the things I do at Christmas time is think not just of my beloved husband and daughters and parents and brothers and sisters-in-law and all their children, but I also think of the people whose arms are still empty. If you know someone who is battling infertility, give them a hug, and tell them to hang in there.

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Aside from drinking copious amounts of wine, one of the other ways we survived infertility was through very dark humour. As it turned out, about a year before we started trying to conceive a baby, we decided that we would start using natural family planning, that is, the much-maligned rhythm method. We took the lessons, bought the thermometer, and got on with it. We thought that we were superb at it – but then we found that it wasn’t that we were terribly clever: it was just that we were infertile. Not so bad, you might think, except that in the meantime, we had persuaded friends of ours that it was a fabulous method of contraception, provided you were sensible and careful. So they ditched all the chemicals, and started using it. They announced their pregnancy about four weeks after we announced ours.

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2 responses to “Christmas past

  1. Thanks for sharing this, I know it isn’t easy. I am frequently amazed at the insensitivity of many when it comes to issues of fertility (or otherwise). The pressure and inappropriate comments many make enrage me on a regular basis. You never can tell just by looking if someone is having problems conceiving, or is infertile, or has had a miscarriage. Yet some people seem to just blunder through life making unhelpful assumptions and even less helpful comments about breeding which can wound deeply.

    In some ways I think our society is kind of weird about the whole issue of having children. The political discourse is in some ways dominated by a few issues (in particular abortion) with little real discussion of broader matters related to fertility, breeding, child-rearing, and what life is like for those who want to take part in those activities but can’t. And I don’t think this is something that is just a “women’s issue” either.

    By the by, you know what they call people who practice the rhythm method of contraception? Parents (boom boom)

  2. I dunno, the natural method has worked for me for quite a while now… I’m not pregnant :) No, seriously, I’ve used it with two partners for about 7 years now (I’m getting old, I had to think about that). Albeit now I’ve had a vasectomy so it’s a bit irrelevant, but if you’re both into it IME/IMO it works well.

    The whole having babies (or not) thing is pretty intense, I’ve had two friends have miscarriages this year which was a bit harsh. One of them now has a daughter so it worked out ok in the end. It’s just tricky dealing with people’s expectations and trying to be sensitive to how people feel about what they’re doing.

    Low point: after my vas I said to a friend “you’re all keen on one, when are you going in” and he went “my gf is pregnant”. What can you say in that situation?