Thanksgiving causes many people with infertility to pause and re-evaluate the meaning of this U.S. holiday. Not only do we feel distinctly unthankful for what have become elusive and unsuccessful efforts at parenthood, but we also feel apprehensive at the prospect of sitting at the holiday table with pregnant women, nursing mothers and infants in high chairs.
So what can we do to anticipate new ways of approaching and getting through this particular holiday? For starters, it may help to figure out just what is likely to cause the most emoti0nal difficulty this year. Is it the tradition of family togetherness when your family of two feels especially small next to the burgeoning families of your fertile adult siblings? Is it the expectation that you will need to pitch into meal preparation and clean-up with more energy as the parents in the group attend to their offspring? Is it the anticipation that enthusiastic conversation at the table will focus on the children, a recently announced pregnancy or, worse yet, that there will be complaints about the exhaustion of parenting or the discomforts of pregnancy? The list could go on and on, but we all know our most vulnerable issues connected with our infertility and how they change over time.
So, in the spirit of trying to be creative about those vulnerabilities, what are some things to consider? I know some couples who decide to make Thanksgiving less about tradition and more about celebrating in a new way: volunteering time in a workplace that could free up some of its employees to enjoy the holiday with their loved ones; serving food and offering conversation at a homeless shelter; or delivering Thanksgiving baskets to families who have requested them. Other folks without children may choose to enjoy nature through hikes, renting canoes and kayaks, camping out or preparing their gardens for the winter. All of these may very well be done before or after the traditional family Thanksgiving, and they will give you the opportunity to carry the conversation in interesting directions for others around the table.
But what if you are at a point where the length of time or effort others expect you to devote to Thanksgiving is already feeling like a burden? There's nothing that says this year has to be like other years. If you are feeling emotionally depleted and not celebratory, figure out what you are willing to do to contribute to the holiday, let the hosts know far enough in advance so they needn't count on you for your famous stuffing/pie/gravy or whatever, and offer to do only as much as you can comfortably. Try to arrange to be seated near people whom you enjoy, and arrange a signal (and a prearranged excuse) with your partner if you need to make a retreat from the celebration in favor of some peace and quiet.
For some people grappling with infertility, Thanksgiving may represent a wish to be absent from family altogether. The prospect of an extended weekend out of town, or with distant friends or relatives, or submerged in a favorite city, activity or indulgence just hits the spot. Do it! Explain in whatever way you choose to the usual Thanksgiving crowd, perhaps contribute some homemade desserts for the meal, and then disappear to enjoy yourself without the reins of tradition holding you back.
Creating your own traditions is a valid an approach to the holidays. Although your infertility may be the catalyst to your creativity, this also represents resilience on your part to taking care of yourself, to expanding your horizons and to thinking about the continuing holiday season in new and more fulfilling ways.