I don't want a lot for Christmas
There is just one thing I need
I don't care about the presents
Underneath the Christmas tree
I just want you for my own
More than you could ever know
Make my wish come true
Baby, all I want for Christmas is you
- Mariah Carey
If you’re trying to conceive over the holidays, have there ever been truer lyrics? When your struggling on your fertility journey, it can seem like the one gift that will complete your meaningful and satisfying life, is as elusive as a gifted Cabbage Patch Doll in the 1980s. Unfortunately, even if you refrained from naughty behaviors all year long, or you spent nearly all your gift funds on fertility treatments, there are no magical elves guaranteeing your baby-wishes will be fulfilled.
While these hard truths exist all year round, somehow, they feel more intense during the holidays. You’re not alone in experiencing heartache each time you see an acquaintance reveal her baby bump on social media. There is also a commonly experienced grief that feeds on your dream of conceiving in 2017. Even if you are resilient enough to overcome the physical and emotional challenges that come with unsuccessful pregnancy attempts, it can be exhausting to drum up the energy to endure the insufferable uncertainty wondering if “2018 will be our year.”
Before you go all Grinch on Christmas, let us help you strategize some constructive coping mechanism to help you destress and put a song back into your step.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland
There is so much about this process that you cannot control, it can feel like you are living inside a snow globe that has just been swirled upside-down. One way to take back some control, and increase your personal agency, is by engaging in prosocial conduct, (aka doing kind things for others IRL). This type of behavior is proven to increase positive emotions and convert neutral feelings into ones of joy and enjoyment. This time of year there are plenty of opportunities to give back. Look to engage in activities that help other, like donating a coat to the homeless guy you always pass on the way to the subway, stocking groceries at a food pantry, or even buying a cup of coffee for the frazzled person in the Starbucks line behind you. These random acts of kindness can heighten your happiness, making this winter more of a wonderland.
Silent Night (on Facebook)
When you examine your stress, do you find that the root of a lot of compare-and-despair thinking begins with social media? While we regularly encourage social media respites, this time make it easier begin by setting realistic goals for yourself. Set yourself up for success by identifying a clear timeframe that you won’t refresh your feed. If it’s necessary, notify any essential friends or family members that you are going dark – there, now no one is going to blow up your phone. Forget about posting your post-ice skating, hot cup of cocoa photo, you do not need external validation to gratify the decisions you made over this holiday period. This year, when they say, “not a creature was stirring…” let’s let them be talking about your iPhone.
Joy to the World
Celebrating joy and gratitude through writing is scientifically proven to boost your mood. Research supports that the effects are most significant when the individual spends 20 minutes per day (for three consecutive days) writing about intensely positive experiences. Challenge yourself to spend 20 minutes with a pen and paper, writing about your happiest moment of all time. Really embed yourself in the memory, imagine the full range of sensorial experiences, including your feelings, that you encountered at the time. After doing it for three days, you will notice an improvement in your positivity, creativity and problem solving efficiency. Now that’s something to be joyful about.
Trying to navigate an unsuccessful fertility journey is one of the most challenging events one can experience in their lifetime, so it is understandable you will feel down. Give yourself a break from the judgment, and remind yourself that you are human, you are allowed to feel sad. Make room for your genuine emotions, it is okay to sit with these icky feelings, you don’t have to immediately fix them. You don’t have to spend this holiday season with a fake smile plastered on your face, give yourself permission to cry and feel angry. Instead of plastering a fake smile on your face, try making room for your authentic feelings. Your feelings are valid and there is a lot of unfairness around you. That said, the situation will not always be so bleak. Your fertility journey may lead you through tough, unfamiliar territory, but it can also result in an unexpected resolution that may bring you more joy than you imagined possible. In the meantime, try to be as self-compassionate as possible, and mother yourself as much as you can.
Did you know making resolutions to work out daily, achieve a rewarding career, and succeed in meaningful relationships, may be setting you up for a year of anxiety and disappointment. Sure, achieving those resolutions sounds appealing, but trying to have it all is a fool's errand. Not that we're suggesting your incapable or undeserving, but these acts are fraught with excessive pressure. You are essentially giving yourself a pass to convert these perfectionistic expectations into reality.
Through a barrage of external messages, and maybe a few too many reruns of Sex and the City, we have confused the myth of "having it all" with an actual possibility. We accept the idea that we should be able to fulfill all of our lofty expectations, because there so many opportunities at our perfectly manicured fingertips. Unfortunately, when dealing with shoulds, you are usually served a side dish of guilt and anxiety. We get laser focused on satisfying these insatiable demands, that we distort our sense of reality. We are left feeling like we are always falling a little bit short, or slightly inadequate.
Let's get a few things straight. First off, there is no one out there living a perfect life. That person who seems like she has it all together, is still human. Just because you are not aware of her challenges does not mean she is immune to hardship. Humans are multifaceted, so keep in mind that just because one side of the gemstone looks glossy, doesn't mean the other sides are without flaws.
Second, people who seem the most successful are working really hard for it. We're obviously not suggesting that natural talent doesn't exist, but even the strongest acorn won't grow into an oak tree without a nourishing environment. Figure out what you do well and run with it. Use your talents to set yourself apart, and then work hard to fill in the rest. There is no such thing as an overnight success, so stop wasting time envying your ass-kicking colleagues, and get to work.
That being said, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, so by comparing yourself to a prosperous counterpart, you are setting yourself up for despair. Even if she is well-adjusted and self-actualized, it does not mean you would feel the same way if you followed her exact journey. People get their needs met in different ways, so even if you checked off the same boxes on her satisfaction check list, you still wouldn't feel equally as fulfilled.
So the bottom line is this, perfection does not exist. Instead of trying to have it all this year, how about giving yourself permission to be enough? Focus on strengthening your sense of self, and gratifying your authentic needs, and you'll see the emergence of a genuine happiness which will make 2017 one of your bests.