Another year has passed, and parenthood remains elusive. You greeted the beginning of this year with a wish or prayer that you would usher in the next new year as a mother or father. But you are waiting still.
Perhaps you have amassed more ultrasounds 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 12 months to achieve one of life’s most basic expectations, was instead marked by yet another treatment cycle, attorney consultations, paperwork checklists, and homestudy 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 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:
- Do something special for yourself and, if married, your spouse. Schedule a session at a spa or a weekend at a charming country inn.
- 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!).
- Limit time with pregnant people.
- Find out who will attend a family event, and decide whether to go.
- Join a waiting parent support group via your local infertility or adoptive parent group.
- Focus on school or work.
- Take care of yourself — exercise, get enough sleep and eat well.
- Keep a journal.
- Donate time or goods to a charitable organization.
- 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.”