Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Approach to "Happy New Year"

Ever since my teenage years, I have carried out my tradition of welcoming in the new year at midnight and climbing into bed. Before drifting off to sleep, I would review the happiness and regrets of the past year, wondering about what the new year would bring, as well as tucking in some hopes for the future and a few well-intentioned resolutions.

In my infertile years, this new year tradition no longer brought me comfort. My review of the previous year would be replete with regrets for the pregnancy that never occurred, doctors' uncertainties about what to do next, and the emotional loneliness of the infertility experience. As I have talked with people grappling with infertility, I find similar responses to facing the new year, which can feel daunting rather than hopeful. In my new book When You're Not Expecting, I quote one woman who captured a wealth of emotions about her reaction to welcoming the new year:

"Making New Year's resolutions has been a miserable challenge ever since we were diagnosed with infertility. It's bad enough that another year has passed without a baby to share our lives. The thought that I should focus on changing or improving something about myself is downright infuriating. Somehow, just getting through the year in one piece is an ordeal in itself."

So what do we do with the anger and sadness that may accompany our ringing in of the new year? First we acknowledge our right to these emotions. But we then have choices about how to harness this emotional energy and move it in new directions. In my conversations over the years with women and men who are grappling with infertility, they have offered creative ideas about new directions they have embarked on to relieve the anguish of the infertility journey:

  • I set aside quiet time to meditate each day. This psychological space belongs just to me, and I focus on becoming calm. It has helped me to feel more emotionally steady when I face the inevitable upset of getting my period, negative test results, friends' pregnancy announcements and office baby showers.
  • I try not to let infertility hijack my entire life. I try to do more than just distract myself with outside activities -- I really try to become involved in my book club, home improvement projects, sports events and other things that bring me pleasure. Some of these things I do with my partner, and others are more my thing. And I do let myself pay attention to the feelings generated by my infertility -- it's just that I refuse to let these feelings come at me 24/7.
  • I have found that being aware of others' needs helps to give me a perspective on my own sadness. I've set aside time to be helpful to others that actually gives me a lift -- visiting with an elderly neighbor, tutoring a low income teenager once a week, and helping with some community projects from time to time. All of these help get me out of being emotionally consumed by my infertility and remind me that helping others can bring happiness into my life.
  • I've always loved being outdoors, and I find that giving myself time to take daily walks, to plant in my garden (or indulge myself in seed catalogues during the winter!), to bicycle, to cross country ski, or even to watch DVD's featuring national parks can give me a feeling of the world as being beautiful even when I'm not feeling fulfilled.

So, as I talked with women and their partners who approach the new year without feeling any need for resolutions or self improvement, I could see that their emphasis was on taking care of themselves, expanding their focus in life beyond their preoccupation with infertility, making room for calm and satisfying thoughts, and honoring all their emotions without having the negative emotions consume them.

May your new year be enriched by any of these perspectives that you decide to try.

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