Monday, November 22, 2010

Dealing With Loss Around the Holidays

The Holidays are a notoriously hard time for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. For all of us women struggling with infertility, the Holidays are a time when we grieve the lost opportunity of a new life. What is more difficult is that many of the traditions and rituals of the Holidays are often centered around children. For those who have experienced loss during pregnancy, the Holidays can be a strong reminder of the absence of that little life. My last miscarriage happened on Thanksgiving Day last year. With this Thanksgiving approaching, it is hard not to be reminded of last year’s horror. It is also hard not to think of what could have or should have been as we approach this Christmas.

There are some things that people can do to try and cope with their feelings of grief and loss this Holiday season. Although no one can really take away the pain, there are ways to help manage it.

1. Respect yourself and your feelings. Don’t beat yourself up for being sad or for grieving. Don’t tell yourself that you should be “over it,” when deep inside you know you are not. People often feel pressure to feel cheery and bright during the Holidays. But when you are coping with a loss, it is often impossible to feel cheery or bright. When you acknowledge and accept how you are really feeling, it is often easier to function without lashing out at others or losing patience with yourself. Just say to yourself, “I am really feeling sad today, and that is okay.”

2. Give yourself permission to say no. Are you dreading going to your cousin’s annual holiday party because you know that several pregnant people will be there, including your cousin’s wife? Well you know what? I am giving you permission to say no. We are only human, and many times our emotions are raw. We often need to protect ourselves to retain our sanity. This is not the time to be a hero. If people get mad at you for saying no, then too bad. Last year at this time, due to our miscarriage, my husband and I were dreading the holidays. If it were not for our little girl, we probably would not have left the house or celebrated at all because we were so sad. We participated in some things, but said no to others, so we could grieve and heal.

3. Bunk Tradition. We all have dreams and ideals of how the Holidays should be. When we have suffered a loss, there is a huge hole in that ideal, and traditions that were once joyful may seem more like a nightmare this year. It is okay to change things up a bit to make it more manageable. One year my husband and I took off the day after Christmas, missing many family holiday parties, to go to the Caribbean for a week. Christmas was very hard for us that year, and getting away was just what we needed. Consider doing something different this season, like having your Holiday dinner at a restaurant, or going over to a friend’s house. You might even want to start new traditions. This might make it a little bit easier to cope with your loss this Holiday season.

4. Have an escape plan. If there are just some events that you cannot possibly get out of, go, but make sure to have an escape plan if things get to be too much. Maybe you have another event that you have to attend after this one? (They don’t have to know “the event” is really a CSI marathon in your pajamas!) Maybe you are not feeling that great? (Truth is, you may be feeling just fine physically, but far from fine emotionally) Keep your time limited if you need to, and don’t feel guilty about it for a second.

5. Try to have a little fun. There ARE some joys in the Holiday season. Even when you are sad and feeling completely overwhelmed with grief, there are some distractions that can lift your spirits. Watching the classic movie Scrooged while drinking some eggnog or watching the snowflakes from your window while sitting in front of your fireplace can be a great way to unwind and forget about your troubles, even if for just a few hours.

In short, be kind to yourself. Be patient with yourself. Be understanding of your emotions. Give yourself space. Let yourself off the hook just this once. Shout “Humbug” from the rafters. The Holidays will pass soon enough, and you have permission to pass on the Holidays.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Weight of Guilt

Throughout my entire infertility journey, it has been hard not to be consumed by guilt. There are a hundred things one could feel guilty about during this process. As an Irish American Catholic woman, guilt seems to be something I cannot avoid! In my family, I have seen several generations of some of the best guilt sufferers and guilt encouragers in action. In an attempt to let go of my guilt, I am going to list all of the things I feel guilty about.

I feel guilty that I have serious infertility issues that will most likely prevent me from having another child. I feel guilty that my daughter will have no siblings. I feel guilty that when my husband and I are old and sick, my daughter will have no one else to share the burden of caring for us. I feel guilty that throughout my infertility journey I have been sick, sad and distracted and have not been able to be the best mom to my daughter. I feel guilty that I caused my daughter stress and worry throughout this process. I feel guilty that I might have genetically passed down my infertility issues to my daughter.

I feel guilty that my infertility issues have caused so much pain and heartache for me and my husband. Although my husband assures me time and time again that it is “our journey,” I feel guilty that my body is broken. I feel guilty that I cannot give my husband more children, especially a son, who would have had a "V" (a "fifth") after his name. I feel guilty that when my husband and I got married 8 years ago we talked about having as many kids as we could, and now that hope and dream is not possible. I feel guilty that we have spent half of our marriage struggling with infertility. I feel guilty that my husband has had to worry about me through 8 surgical procedures, all fertility related, in the past six years.

I feel guilty that throughout this process I have neglected people and things that I love. I feel guilty that I have lost touch with friends and missed social gatherings and important events in their lives because I have been consumed both mentally and physically with my infertility. I feel guilty that I have missed hanging out with important elderly family members, especially my gram who recently passed away, because of my inability to go to see them during certain points of my infertility journey. I feel guilty that I have caused my parents so much stress and worry throughout this process. I feel guilty that I cannot give them more grandchildren to love and spoil.

There are many more things I could list. These are just a few that dance around in my head sometimes before I fall asleep. Now that my husband and I are at the end of our infertility journey, I started thinking about all of these things, and the concept of guilt in general. I realized that I could replace “I feel guilty that” with “I have no control over the fact that.” Feeling guilty about something, although heart wrenching and stressful, implies that I have control over it. Having control over something, even if it is something bad, is a safer feeling than admitting to having no control.

Guilt is a weight that can bring you down, paralyze you, consume you and bring you to make choices that your heart doesn’t want to make. To be a better mom, have a healthy marriage and be my best self, I need to let go of all of these weights, all of this guilt. I have no control over my infertility. I have done the best I could with the challenges I have been given. I am only human. Letting go of this guilt will give me room to embrace the future with an open heart and an open mind. I feel lighter already!