Infertility, Miscarriage, and Stillbirth Are Rough on Father’s Day

Father’s Day can be challenging for men on the infertility journey or after a miscarriage or stillbirth.  Being a father in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) with a struggling preemie isn’t the beautiful day you have hoped for, either.  On this Father’s day, I wish love and hope for all fathers to be.  You matter in the family building journey.    


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It’s the Holidays…Again (and You’re Still Struggling with Infertility or Pregnancy Loss)

It’s that time of year again when everything is beautiful and everyone is happy.  It’s a time for pretty parties and get-togethers with family and friends.  It’s a time to be thankful for what you have.  Most noticeable is that the holidays are for children.  Lots of children.  They seem to be everywhere.

For those who are experiencing problems with infertility or pregnancy loss, it can be a confusing and difficult time of the year.  For many, the fact that another year has passed without a pregnancy or another child can be very disheartening.  Time and sensation seem altered, like walking around in a bad movie.  Even the simple act of shopping for gifts for others can be a trial.

There are a great many expectations about the holidays as well.  Many families have enjoyable traditions and rituals that can be traced back for generations.  It’s a time for good cheer and good will.  We exchange gifts with loved ones.  ‘Tis the season, put a smile on your face!  Boy, that’s a tall order for someone who is worrying about their fertility.

I get a lot of questions this time of year from my patients who are struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss about the rules of engagement with family and friends.  So often I hear that their presence is expected and even required at family gatherings.  Not only is physical presence mandatory but emotional presence is required as well. It is at holiday time that my patients come to me in tears, not wanting to ruin a good time for others but tired and resentful about having to pretend to be happy.  “We have been pretending to be okay for years,” they tell me, “and we are not.”

Sometimes acting like things are okay does work.  It offers the opportunity to be a part of a treasured group.  Since infertility can be very isolating, it can be helpful sometimes just to show up and be loved.  But often, others who know you well can tell the difference between sincerity and acting.  That can cause friction in some circumstances.  People who are grieving just don’t make very good partygoers.

I’d like to make a suggestion.  Just try this on and see how it feels to you.  Maybe the holidays are a good time to practice being an adult.  Let me explain.  We are required all day to act like adults, whether we feel like it or not.  At our jobs or our other roles, we make decisions, even difficult ones, and take responsibility for them.  We take risks and deal with the consequences of our actions.  We ask for help when we need to and we admit when we are too tired or too distressed to go any further.  Adults make their own decisions about that they would like to do, or not, as the case may be.  They choose who they would like to spend time with and under what conditions.

So why when it comes to setting good boundaries at holiday time do we forget all of our well-honed adult skills?  It’s as if we pack our adult selves away, in exchange for acknowledgment or approval.  We go along to get along.  We worry more about hurting others’ feelings than about our needs or our own distress.  Where does our ability to say “no” go?  “No” is one of the first words a toddler learns.  It helps to differentiate that child as a person who has wants and needs.  Why does “no” get replaced with “Yes (g-r-r-r-r-r)” at holiday time?

What if you are truly out of sorts and out of steam and cannot even consider attending one more social event?  What feelings does this raise for you?  Are you afraid that you will have to pay a price for your absence?  Unfortunately, in some circumstances, there will, in fact, be friction, guilt or some other manipulation that can make a person feel badly.  Is that enough to make you want to do something that you don’t want to do?  Could you suffer through it without feeling even worse?  Will your family or friends love you less because you need to do something different this year?  Answer truthfully.  It is more realistic that someone will be disappointed and miss you, if you or your partner do not attend.  Might you feel bitter or isolated, missing out on even more of your life?

Alternatively, might you get the warmth and caring that you need so badly just by showing up?  Would it feel good to be with loved ones, enjoying relationships that sustain you in good times and in bad?  Maybe it would be nice to put your worries aside, even if it’s only for a few moments.  It might be the right idea for you to be with others, sharing hope and dreams and healing some of the hurts inflicted by infertility.

What I am suggesting is that you have choices about how you would like to engage in the holiday season.  As with most things in life, it is important that you speak from your heart on these matters.  It is very important that you talk openly and honestly with your partner about what you can and cannot do.  Be prepared that you may each feel differently.  That is a very normal experience in the fertility treatment world.  You do not have to agree with one another but you must support your partner’s wishes.  It is what we count on in close relationships, that someone will have our back.  Maybe your spouse needs to explain to his family that you are just not up for things this year.  Maybe both of you need to make a pact with one another that a quiet time away developing your own ritual is in order.  The point is that you can decide what you need and when you need it.

Because this is what adults do.  We do our best to do what is right.  We try to live fair and just lives.  It’s okay to put yourself first sometimes.  Take a breather.  Let this season be a time of growth and peace for you.  You deserve it.


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The “Should’s” of the Holidays (Hint: There Aren’t Any!)

With the holidays approaching, I am receiving many requests from clients to discuss the “requirements” or “should’s” of how they should spend time with others.  This is often accompanied by anxiety, tears, and dread.  For those of you who are already having a hard time due to infertility or pregnancy loss, suffering from postpartum depression, or dealing with caring for a preemie, being required to celebrate holidays may feel hollow or just downright wrong.  This can be made raw by others clueless comments or a cornucopia of babies and bellies.

For others who hail from families at Dysfunction Junction, the holidays can be trying for many reasons including jealousies, controlling people, unresolved childhood fights, past or current abuse, the silent treatment, passive-aggressive behavior, or back-handed comments, among many others.  People often return to the scene of the crime, that is that same old dynamics from years past, because they feel that they must.  Our families have a remarkable way of offering guilt and shame when we wish to do something different.  Here’s how I think about it:

SHOULD=SHAME

Well, putting up with a Should Fest is just a shouldy way to live.

There is also a way that people have endless hope that THIS YEAR, things will be different than last year.  You already know something about this, though, folks.  Unfortunately, some people do not change, even if we wish they would.  The Unchanged Ones do not have to change.  You do…and can.

So what are the “should’s” of the holidays?  Wait for it (drum roll):  There aren’t any!  I know that this may come as a surprise to many of you who are often told by others what you should be doing, or should be thinking, or should be wanting.  When you go along with what others think you should do, two things happen: 1) you end up with resentments and 2) you end up upset with yourself, not the should-giver.  When you make a decision that is right for you, it is inevitable that someone else won’t like it but you will feel more peaceful in your mind and body.

Now if you feel that you must go along with a should-event, I don’t want you to feel anxious or trapped.  There are middle ways that can help you to function more freely and feel okay:

1) Drive separately, so you can leave early if you feel the need to do so.

2) Yes, you can stay for a shorter visit than is “required”.

3) Big drum roll–you can stay in a hotel!  It’s true!  It’s nice to have a place to decompress and rest when you are up to your eyeballs with someone else’s bad energy.

4) Take a rest in the bathroom.  People don’t usually follow you in there.

5) Smile and excuse yourself if you just don’t want to have the same upsetting conversation that you had with the same person last year (or the last 10 years).

6) Stay Velcro’d to your partner or another safe person.  Sometimes people will leave you alone if they cannot get you alone to say something ugly.

7) Develop a high sign with your partner that says, “Gotta go!”  Remember Carol Burnett’s pull on her earlobe at the end of her TV show?

The bottom line is do what’s right for you!  You have many choices that can allow for some warmth at joy at the holidays, as well as self-respect.  I wish you every good thing as you decide what’s right for you!

 


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Have Hope Today on World Prematurity Day

Today, November 17th, is World Prematurity Day.  According to the March of Dimes, 15 million babies are born prematurely around the world each year.  More babies die from prematurity than from AIDS, malaria or diarrhea.  Each year in the United States, 1 in 9 babies–about 450,000–are born prematurely.  Prematurity is defined as birth that occurs prior to 37 weeks gestation.

World Prematurity Day is personal for me–I have two preemies.  My daughter was born at 26 weeks.  We thought that we would lose her on her second day of life.  She almost died again 25 years ago today from sepsis but she rallied.  There were surgeries, terrible fears, and finally, unbelievably, a day when she came home to be our baby after 100 days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

Preemies aren’t just small babies and they don’t look like little dolls.  As you can see, my daughter looked like a science project.  I learned a lifetime’s worth of medical terminology.  Bringing my girly into my life changed it in ways I am still learning about.

To those who are preemie parents, or those of you who know someone who is, thank goodness for the Internet!  My favorite preemie blog is Ain’t No Roller Coaster.  For parents of preemies up to age 4, check out Preemie-L, a wonderful listserve of helpful preemie parents.  For parents of preemies over the age of 4, check out Preemie Child.

Now I’ll share with you the gift that I was given when my daughter was impossibly small and fragile.  Someone showed me a picture of their healthy preemie.  The message was “Babies grow.  Have hope.”  So I share this today with preemies, their parents, their friends, and their loved one.  Babies Grow.  Have Hope. 

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