Sunday, December 13, 2009

Ghosts of Christmas Past

I just opened an email newsletter with a list of tips on surviving the holidays while going through infertility, written by a well-known women's health expert who runs an amazingly helpful mind/body program for infertility (I should know – I took it twice in my two years of treatment). The email points out that the holidays can be brutally difficult for those in the throes of infertility (she's right), and outlines strategies for coping.

Reading the email took me instantly back to last Christmas, both a whole lifetime ago and only yesterday. How the season began with such wide-eyed anticipation and ended, finally, with closure on the pregnancy that wasn't to be. How raw everything felt after that ill-fated ultrasound, how perfect it seemed that the world was covered in frigid, unforgiving layers of snow and ice. How it seemed that I alone had been left out of the lighthearted festivity shared by everyone else. Last year, Christmas – in a cultural, not a religious sense, because the religious part filled me with peace, a sense that all things happen as they are intended – felt like a party to which I'd not been invited.

Several things helped me through – here are two. The first wasn't among the coping strategies listed on today's email, but I am a true believer in it nonetheless. It was, quite simply, retail therapy. After an ultrasound showing that perhaps the medication management approach hadn't worked to resolve my miscarriage (I had no idea what I was still in for), my husband and I decided to go return a couple of things at the mall and then catch a movie. While at the mall, we walked past a high-end British retailer, which was advertising a post-Christmas sale. Let's just take a quick look, I said, and my husband – eager to do anything to keep me calm and sane – complied.

As I flipped through a rack of coats, I felt it before I saw it: the silkiest cashmere trench coat with a detachable fur collar. Normally I would have looked at the price (even on sale) and dismissed it, but I already felt like I existed on a plane at odds with reality so I thought, why not, and pulled it off the hanger. If clothing, as many believe, like art can be transporting, this was evidence. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that when I put that coat on, I became a different person. I may still have been desperately grieving, but I looked damn fabulous doing it. It cinched in the right places and cradled me in pure luxury, and I decided that if there was ever a time for a splurge, it was then. I bought it on the spot.

I'm not necessarily advocating that everyone experiencing the grief of infertility during the holidays go out and buy a cashmere/fur coat (and please, if you're not a believer in fur just say it silently to yourself). But I am saying that for me, treating myself in that way was like telling myself that I deserved good things – and believing it. That seemingly superficial treat fulfilled me emotionally as well. I felt like I had something – even if it was just, for that moment, a thing – to look forward to again.

The other thing that helped me was given to me by a good friend, one of the first people I called about the miscarriage because she got it, and me, so well. She brought over a care package for me that included three CDs: one for moments of sadness, one for anger and one for hopefulness. I'm not sure which this particular song, "Ashes on Your Eyes," was on – to me it fits both "sad" and "hope" – but I played it so many times that, years from now, I may hear it and be once again in that time and place:

Ashes on Your Eyes - Deb Talan

Just about the time your heart breaks like a wheel

Not in a straight line, but all in pieces

Some you'll leave behind
on a road you won't revise

No, you won't revisit that dirty compromise.

Now you only dream in peaceful blue

The morning doesn't even scare you anymore

You are a phoenix with your feathers still a little wet

Baby, the ashes just look pretty on your eyes.

As with the coat, on the surface it is just a song but at the time it represented so much more to me – a perfect resonance with my emotions, a promise that I wasn't alone, a call for hope on the horizon. I began to believe that maybe, just maybe, I would soon dream in peaceful blue.

This year is different, fulfilling the hope that slowly emerged as I grieved one year ago. This year, my coat is in storage, and will remain there until next winter, when I've (hopefully) returned to my pre-pregnancy size. I'll take it out and, grateful for another Christmas, remember.


PJ said...

I'm glad this Christmas is better for you!

I was able to enjoy Christmas last year in ignorant bliss, with some positive betas. But that first week of January, I went in for that first ultrasound and nothing. Horrible, horrible thing to happen to someone, especially who has already gone through so much to get pregnant. And then to have it repeat last summer...

I don't know what I did to get through it, except pour myself into work and try to stay busy. I probably didn't "deal" with it as much as I should have.

Anyway, I'm so glad this year is different! I'm still nervous even from the 9w ultrasound that I have to wait until 11w6d for another... but I think the odds are in my favor for once, and if that one goes well, I think I can breathe for a while.

JamieD said...

Retail therapy can be just so, well, therapeutic. Especially if it makes you look 'damn fabulous!'

After my m/c last fall, I bought myself a laptop. Therapeutic, indeed.

Jem said...

Your cashmere coat sounds divine. Hey, we find coping mechanisms wherever we can.

Your writing is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

I think a "splurge" on a coat is a good investment. You wear the thing everyday when it's cold, right? It will last for years, right?

Good splurge. :)

Catherine said...

Yes, I will always remember, too.