'I long to experience the excitement of the family going to buy the tree and decorating it to the sound of cheesy Christmas classics. This year we've decided to go away. Somewhere hot. Somewhere we're not reminded of the family we haven't got.' Jessica Hepburn
I have just read Jessica Hepburn's “The pursuit of motherhood” in under 24 hours, I could not put it down. It felt like having a long intimate conversation with the author or having stumbled across her diary and once you join her on the rollercoaster ride of trying, and failing, to start a family, you are desperate to see if there is a happy ending.
Her diary entry on Christmas resonated. Three years ago we had just started trying, I didn't drink at my work Christmas party which was paramount to wearing a T-shirt with 'I AM TRYING TO GET PREGNANT!' printed across my chest. I got knowing smiles and even a rub of my belly along with the line “You are going to be a fantastic mum!” Back then just a couple of weeks in to the trying game I smiled back and imagined how the following year would involve cards and gifts with 'Baby's first Christmas' written on them.
A year later, no baby, no pregnancy. It's Christmas Eve and I'm back in the village I grew up in staying with my parents. We attend church just once a year for the crib service, to sing carols and to catch up with everyone. After the service I'm stood with my mum and a group of her friends, each cradling a grandchild in their arms. "Come on Naomi when you giving your mum some grandchildren?" 10 pairs of eyes look at me expectantly. Seconds feel like hours. My godmother bless her, who doesn't know we're trying chips in haughtily: 'Naomi is far too busy with her important job in London to be thinking about babies!' Phew saved but that is not the case at all, I think about babies constantly and the fact that I don't have one yet.
Another year later, no baby, no pregnancy, but I have left my job, just, I go to the Christmas party to say farewell to people I've worked with almost 8 years. I'm leaving for many reasons, 32 to be precise but the overriding comment seems to be: "I bet you're leaving to have babies aren't you? You will be pregnant in no time." Christmas is just too much to handle and I officially declare it cancelled much to the dismay of family and friends. We email everyone saying we're not doing cards or presents (buy yourself something nice and stick a label on it saying it's from me) and will catch up with them in the New Year. We fly to Tenerife and stay in bizarre resort where the average age is 75 and every 2nd person has a mobility scooter decorated with tinsel! It's a strange Christmas, there is a tree by the swimming pool and we still watch the sequel to The Snowman.
Another year later, no baby, no pregnancy. There is no cancelling Christmas this year, my younger brother is bringing his new baby to the UK for a giant family Christmas. Luckily I am in a very different place to last year and am looking forward to dressing my nephew up in a fluffy reindeer onesie! However I am still apprehensive, Christmas is a time for gratitude for all that we have the flipside of this being that it is also a time to grieve that which we do not. Walking into a baby department a month after failed IVF is like walking on hot coals – excruciatingly painful unless you keep your training in the forefront of your mind. This year I will be utilising every tool I have and thought I would share a handful with you:
Cognitive behavioural therapy – Thoughts are not facts. It is very easy in this situation to feel that infertility has stolen Christmas. I used to adore this time of year, last year it was something to avoid. But infertility is NOT a grinch like character, green and fluffy with a big sack into which he stuffs our joy, hope and happiness. Yes infertility is unfair, yes Christmas is 'all about the children' but infertility can only steal Christmas if we let it. When Christmas shopping for my nephew the thoughts running through my head went something like this: “What if I never get to shop for my own baby?” “What if aunt is as close as I ever get?” Along with these thoughts came the familiar panic in my chest and a deep overwhelming sadness. Time to bring in my first weapon, CBT. Simply ask the question:
“Do these thoughts originate from a fact? Are they true?”
Mine originated from the thought that I might not be able to have a child. This is not a fact, a possibility yes, but not a fact. Next ask:
“Is this thought helpful?”
If a thought is making you feel bad then it is not helpful. You can say to yourself:
“I notice that I am having thoughts that are neither true nor helpful!”
You may be amazed at how powerful this is and how it allows you to step back from your thinking and just observe. Be compassionate with yourself, don't beat yourself up for having these thoughts, congratulate yourself for the fact that you have realised and are now in position to change them.
Mindfulness – CBT goes hand-in-hand with mindfulness, bringing yourself into the present moment. For a copy of my '10 easy ways to bring mindfulness into your day' poster sign up here. The most useful over Christmas might be my 3 + 2 = 5 breathing. If your mind is racing or you are feeling overwhelmed just stop for a minute and count to 3 in your head as you breathe in. Hold your breath for 2 counts. Then breathe out to the count of 5. Repeat for 6 - 12 breaths. This sends the message to body and mind to slow down and relax.
Emotional freedom technique – I have written before about how important it is to acknowledge and accept our feelings, at Christmas even more so with the presumption that we should all be merry. EFT is perfect for this and just saying the below statements out loud can be releasing.
“Even though I am not looking forward to Christmas I accept these feelings and myself.”
“Even though Christmas reminds me of what I do not have I can accept these thoughts and at the same time be thankful for what I do have.”
“Even though I am jealous of those who have children I know that it is okay to be jealous and I accept myself anyway.”
A good tip when feeling jealous is to ask yourself if you would be happy to trade lives with the person you are jealous of. That means trading partners, houses, careers, family, friends and memories. You may find that when think about it from this perspective you realise how much you have to be thankful for. If you have not done so already you could also read my blog on coping with jealousy “Hands up who is jealous of Kate?”
If you are interested in learning more about mindfulness, CBT or EFT then take a look at my Embrace course. I am also being interviewed in January on mindfulness as part of a fertility and wellness summit. I will be emailing out details in January of how you can listen to the summit for free.
To learn more about EFT right now and watch videos on how to do it see my resources page.
For my full review of 'The pursuit of motherhood' see my bookshelf page.
PS Yes I did draw the Grinch image!