Celebrating the Holidays While You Wait
It's tough to wait another year. Here are some strategies that will help you until your child arrives.by Amy Rackear
Another year has passed, and parenthood remains elusive. You greeted the new millennium with a wish or prayer that you would usher in the New Year as a mother or father. But you are waiting still. Perhaps you have amassed more Polaroid pictures of embryos that failed to attach in utero. Maybe you have a photograph or video of a child who sleeps thousands of miles from the room you long ago decorated in your mind's eye. The annual calendar, with twelve months to achieve one of life's most basic expectations, was instead marked by yet another treatment cycle, attorney consultations, paperwork checklists and home-study visits.
The Winter Holidays As A Family Gathering
Will your concerned aunt ask yet again about your seemingly static parental status? You imagine the ensuing silence and averted eyes, punctuated only by a cacophony of silverware until, finally, someone speaks. Your sister is visibly pregnant. Nieces and nephews trip over one another in outfits tailored for the season. As much as you love them, they evidence what you are missing.
When, you wonder, will your own child be among them? Family gatherings in which children feature prominently may be particularly difficult. The juxtaposition of the joy with which you once greeted the holidays and the grief that now threatens to undermine it may isolate you from those you love. What we want most is to see the Chanukah or Christmas lights through the eyes of the one child who remains absent.
It is unsettling to feel increasingly anxious and depressed as the holidays approach. However, these feelings are quite common among those waiting to adopt. Author Linda P. Salzer writes, "Sometimes it may seem that the only way to survive a holiday is by imagining the arrival of a baby by the next time around. This deadline syndrome can bring temporary hope, but it also can result in depression when you realize that the present moment is last year's unfulfilled deadline."
Dawn Smith-Pliner, founder and director of Friends In Adoption, sees a pattern: "I know when the holidays are approaching by the nature of the phone calls in our office. Like clockwork-every year for almost two decades-I've watched folks who are hoping to adopt 'shut down' through the holidays." Some take a hiatus from all family-building efforts until January when, Smith-Pliner reports, "The telephones start ringing non-stop."
A survey I conducted in September asked respondents to compare the pleasure they derived from specific holidays before beginning infertility/adoption efforts with their holiday experiences during the process. Participants reported a significant decrease in their enjoyment of the holidays with Christmas and Chanukah the most painful (85 percent reported decreased enjoyment), Thanksgiving next (63 percent), and almost half (47 percent) reported finding the arrival of yet another childless New Year's Eve difficult.
Respondents had spent from two to ten years in the infertility/adoption process and reported that each childless holiday season became more difficult. Many families employed more coping mechanisms for each successive holiday. Some, for example, opted for minimal contact with their extended family. Conversely, others found comfort in what one respondent portrays as "surrounding ourselves with people who love us."
Coping with the Holidays
Survey participants were asked to identify those activities that reduced their own anxiety and depression during the winter holiday season. Some may work for you:
o Do something special for yourself and, if married, your spouse. Sechedule a session at a spa or a weekend at a charming country inn.
o Do something special for your family, so you contribute and feel appreciated. If you're creative, consider making personalized gifts (you may not have time once you are a parent!).
o Limit time with pregnant people.
o Find out who will attend a family event, and decide whether to go.
o Join a waiting parent support group via your local infertility or adoptive parent group.
o Focus on school or work.
o Take care of yourself-exercise, get enough sleep and eat well.
o Keep a journal.
o Donate time or goods to a charitable organization.
o Find an adoptive parent support group in your area and, however difficult, attend a family gathering-seeing other happy families may lift your spirits more than you can possibly anticipate.
If necessary, summon the courage and resilience to withdraw, albeit temporarily, from family traditions and gatherings that are painful. Often, the very decision to adopt is accompanied by a sense of peace and certainty. "We made the decision to move on," writes a woman on the threshold of adoption, "And we had a great holiday season as a result."
Notes From My Journal
November 1991: My living room is bathed in rose, lit by the small stained-glass lamp in the corner. I, unobserved in my baby's adjoining nursery, memorize what I see and hear.
The woman is fair and forty, and I have known her for half those years. She cradles in her freckled arms an infant girl of seven weeks, with skin the color of mocha and dark soft curls. For two days they have been mother and daughter. My friend coos in natural cadence, but the voice I have known for so long now sounds oddly unfamiliar. They have come to spend four days with us. I am moved by my friend's desire to include my family in these first, precious hours. We came to adoption from different directions, but we are now both new mothers.
My friend wears a long white nightgown and, like a shawl, her thick blond hair drapes her shoulders and back. Her baby's head rests comfortably in the crook of her arm. The soft pink light is in harmony with the lullaby playing in my son's room, and all of my senses are at peace. I put my baby to sleep as the other baby quietly begins to know her mother, and the world within which I move is in perfect balance, reflected in a shadow on the ceiling that rocks nightly to this music. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving.
Amy Rackear is a social worker, freelance writer and parent through adoption (domestic and international). She lives with her husband and two children in New York State.
Helping Friends and Family Understand
'Tis A Gift to Be Wise
An invaluable holiday present is Patricia Irwin Johnston's booklet, Understanding Infertility: Insights for Family and Friends. Those who care will also be interested in "Advice to Friends and Family" from Salzer's Surviving Infertility. Share these suggestions:
1. Understand that an infertile person does not resolve intense feelings overnight.
2. Listen to what the couple has to share-their pain, frustration, and anger-and try to imagine what they are experiencing. Avoid advice.
3. Let the couple know they are not alone--share your support.
4. Respect the couple's need for privacy, but let them know you're there when they might need you.
5. Be honest in telling of your own pregnancy. As painful as the news may be, it is usually better than keeping it a secret.
6. Be aware that reactions differ from person to person and from day to day. Understand that some people may need to isolate themselves occasionally.
7. Humor has its place in dealing with the struggle of infertility, but do not be the one to joke about it-leave that to the one experiencing it.
8. Do not imply that the couple's inability to conceive must stem from inner doubts about having children or must mean that God has not found them suitable for parenthood.
9. Support the couple's decisions regarding medical treatment or resolution as best you can, even if you do not agree.
10. Learn about infertility so that you can be an informed listener.
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