Friday, October 29, 2010

Infertility and Halloween: Cheers? Jeers? Tears?

Halloween, as the ultimate children's holiday, may evoke your own childhood memories of that magical day and evening. Or it may have a darker side as children fill your yard, just for this one evening, with joyful anticipation. What's so dark about that? Well, for one, they're not your children, even though they may stimulate your fantasies about how much fun it would be to create imaginative costumes for your own little one(s), usher a child through the neighborhood on that night, and sort through the goody bag once all the treats have been collected.

So what is this holiday like for those who yearn for parenthood? To many of us it serves as a reminder of the cheers that children echo again and again in the weeks before Halloween as they shop for or create their own costumes, visit pumpkin patches, carve the pumpkins and stock up on sweets. There's lots to cheer about if you're listening to the kids, but I often found myself feeling emotionally sidelined as other parents shepherded their little ones through the anticipatory preparations. Then when Halloween actually arrived I could put on a happy face at my front door, but at the end of the night I knew it had been just that - a happy face covering the wistful emotions in my heart.

Emotional jeers would jab at me too. I would grouse at the huge amount of sugary snacks being purchased, knowing that the money spent on them could better have been donated to a local food bank so low income children could have nutritious food available. Or I would mumble to myself that the last thing any child needs these days is extra calories -- and for several years I followed the example of a neighbor dentist who passed out toothbrushes to trick-or-treaters (my virtuous choices ranged from pencils to apples to raisins, evoking surprise but not enthusiasm from the local kids, who clearly viewed me as a kook!)

And inevitably there would be some tears shed. Sometimes they were an over-reaction to smashed pumpkins or T.P.'d trees the next morning. More often, though, my tears were in response to the feeling of not being in The Club, to which I devote an entire chapter in my book When You're Not Expecting. This feeling of being left out of parenthood, of being deprived of cuddling a child each day, of missing the opportunity to re-live aspects of my own childhood if only I could share them with my child...these were the precipitants to my misty eyes as Halloween approached, peaked, and life moved forward again.

And, of course, as I came to learn and dread over the years of my infertility, Halloween was just the beginning of a long series of family holidays (more of this in future blogs). So each year I would view Halloween as a testing ground to prepare me for how I would try to reconcile my infertility with others' celebrations of holidays that often had children, pregnant relatives, nursing mothers and infants in attendance.

Having begun this blog with some reference to "cheers," I will end it by sharing a personal "cheer." After three years of battlng infertility, my daughter was born in late October, and we arrived home from the hospital the morning of Halloween. With no time to carve pumpkins and barely enough sense to purchase some candy bars, we welcomed trick-or-treaters with genuine joy and enthusiasm. Many of the neighborhood kids had been curiously observing my swelling abdomen, so they considered themselves very privileged to get a first introduction to "the newest kid on the block" that evening. My husband and I had decided to dress her in the most symbolic of costumes: a Red Sox hat and bib. To us, as loyal Red Sox fans who met during the World Series season many years earlier, who had cheered the Red Sox on for countless years without a World Series victory, we knew what it was like to hold out hope eternally. We had held out hope for our child's birth for what felt like an eternity, never knowing we would have the joy of a baby to cuddle on this special children's celebratory holiday.

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