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When family gatherings become a burden

Updated: Mar 11, 2020

You either enjoy them or you don’t. But even if you don’t, they’re usually tolerable and you’re able to tell yourself they won’t last forever.

I personally used to be a big fan of family get-togethers. I liked to catch up with relatives I haven’t met in a while, see how the kids have grown, enjoy the company of the elderly. Ok, I also liked the food and any occasion to dress up a bit.

Since my loss, things have changed. I still enjoy the food and I don’t necessarily mind the elderly, but these days, being part of big family parties is no longer my favourite distraction and to be honest, I skip most of them.

And I notice I am not alone in this.

Most of you complain about having a hard time coping with the occasional anniversary, the Thanksgiving dinner, the wedding celebration or the dreaded Baby shower.

When did family gatherings become a burden? And how come it was infertility that changed everything?

The rules are simple: you get married, you get pregnant, you give birth. Or not.

The problem is the “or not”.

What if everyone else around you gets pregnant and gets to show off a new baby every Christmas or so? Everyone else but you, that is. Somehow, it ends up putting you in the limelight, instead of them. Or is it just in your head? Maybe they don’t care you’re the childless one and it’s been 6 years without so much as a pregnancy announcement. They go on talking about paediatricians and best tips for soothing sore gums and the flu going on at day care and you just stay there and watch them talking, unable to jump into the conversation.

And you may tell yourself that it’s ok, you’ve given up anyway, who the heck wants to spend sleepless nights especially at your age (advanced maternal age, or so they call it) and you would never ever trade your lazy Sunday mornings for their night feedings anyway.

Yet the awkwardness is there, throbbing like an ingrown toenail in a tight shoe.

And you don’t even know what’s preferable: for them to make pretend your infertility doesn’t exist, like you never even tried for or wanted a baby? Or for them to be compassionate and make sympathetic conversation, asking questions or even worse, the horror of horrors, give advice!

Oh, the evergreen “You stress too much, relax and it will happen”.

Or the “A friend of a friend had a surprise pregnancy at 49 years of age. See? Miracles happen”

How about the: ”Have you considered adoption?”

And the all-time winner: ”At your age, maybe it’s better it never happened, pregnancy is risky over 35".

Someone should write a guide for relatives of infertile women. Like a good manners manual, teaching them what to say and most importantly what to never say.

Someone should also write a guide for us infertile women teaching us how to behave in a society where (out of good will more often than not), our own family members hurt us, without even realizing it.

A guide to tell us awkwardness is normal in an awkward situation. And a family gathering where every couple brags about their kids, but you don’t, because you don’t have any, is awkward.

And it’s okay not to be okay and you don’t have to have to fake it. Because being sad for yourself doesn’t mean you’re envious of others or unable to feel joy for their success. And even if you can’t, at one point, feel happy about their accomplishments, it’s normal, because you’re human. And that alone doesn’t make you evil.

And if one day you feel you can’t put on your happy mask and join the party, you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Listen to your heart and your feelings, and give yourself time to heal. There will be other Christmases, and weddings, and anniversaries. And things may change. Life is so full of surprises and you never know what is around the corner or what the next Christmas may bring.

Happy and peaceful holidays to all of you, wherever you are!

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