Mother's Day -- if you're struggling with infertility, it is possibly the cruelest of all commercialised celebrations. As if spending an entire day being reminded of what you are missing isn't bad enough, there are also the weeks leading up to that day with every shop, petrol station, TV show and magazine capitalising on the event. Aside from retreating into a cave there is literally no escape.
You are probably familiar with resilience, as you have likely endured far greater adversities on your quest to parenthood than any of your friends or colleagues could possibly imagine. Chances are you have successfully juggled this major life crisis into the busy schedule of your daily life without raising the suspicions of those around you. You have kept it all together publically, and this Mother's Day is not going to be any different. It is only 24 hours, after all, but it can be one mother of a 24 hours if you don't put a plan into place.
Here are nine ideas to help survive Mothers Day:
1) You are not alone. Feelings of isolation, judgment and loneliness are magnified when your baby void is out on public display. Try and take comfort in the knowledge you are not alone. Thousands of women struggling with fertility, some of whom may have lost a child, others could be waiting to adopt or women who have placed a baby for adoption will also be feeling your pain today. Joining an online fertility community may help you feel connected, supported and most importantly accepted and understood.
2) Avoid the shops. If you can't avoid a family function at least try and avoid the shops. Ask your sibling(s) to organise any presents and contribute the money. The least time spent trawling through Hallmark cards the better.
3) Choose your focus. Are there any positive aspects of Mothers Day you can focus on? In addition to your own mother or grandmother is there another special person in your life that deserves celebration? Maybe you could be celebrated as a special aunt or godmother? Alternatively, you may need to simply get away from the whole day. Book a trip, visit a gallery, see a movie or go do something you have been putting off for years. Lose track of time and invest in your mental and emotional wellbeing.
4) Get empowered. It's easy to feel you are losing control when faced with the roller-coaster of infertility. Mother's Day only heightens that sense of feeling overwhelmed. Reclaiming your sense of control may simply involve doing as you wish for the day, instead of fulfilling the expectations of family members or that overrated emotion called guilt. Hiding under your bed sheets, having a glass (or two) of wine, avoiding all social media whilst watching reruns of Friends may be exactly what you need to survive the day. And that is okay. Own it and give yourself permission to be kind to yourself. Alternatively, you may feel a sense of empowerment from making a donation to a charity directly linked to infertility or miscarriage. Or writing a letter to your local member of parliament detailing the changes needed to support fertility treatment and egg/sperm donation laws. Being proactive will foster a sense of control.
5) Ditch Denial. Nobody wants to dwell on their anger, shame, guilt, frustration or any other painful emotion on Mother's Day, but denying their presence isn't helpful either. A mind filled with a backlog of unprocessed emotions is unpredictable and stressed. By acknowledging each emotion, you are working towards a healthier state of mind, which your partner will probably appreciate too. To do this, you need to identify and label any emotion as you feel it. Take a deep breath and imagine releasing that particular emotion into the sky. This can be tricky and takes time, but the more you invest in your relationship with yourself the easier it becomes to let things go and return to a balanced state of mind.
6) Plan the day. Try and set out your expectations for the day ahead. If you know it is going to be a testing time with relatives, set some time aside to mentally rehearse the day in your mind. Recognise any triggers, people or words that could upset you and put a plan in place for damage control. Get your verbal comebacks together for any insensitive comments and plan a list of conversation topics so you can always change the subject. Set the time for departure and enroll your partner in the process.
7) Get Mindful. Unless you are a meditating monk, chances are your head is filled with a constant stream of incessant chatter. Often our thoughts are pointless, inaccurate and negative. They are just a function of our brain, yet we tend to listen to each thought and believe it to be true. Under times of stress your brain may make up stories to help explain your infertility. Your brain would rather be certain about these stories than live in the unbearable uncertainty of the unknown. These thoughts may unintentionally create more pain and hurt by focusing on the injustice and unfairness of it all. Be careful not to let undisciplined thoughts rule your mind. By practicing a form of mindfulness or meditation, you quieten down the insecurities of your mind and create more space for peaceful thoughts.
8) Handling family and friends. You know the insensitive questions, the pitying looks and the completely useless snippets of information that come during a social gathering of loved ones who have absolutely no idea what you are going through. They are trying to help, sure, but they have no concept of what it's like. This doesn't mean you have to forgive them for being insensitive or just plain stupid, but it would help you if you did. Harbouring resentment does not serve you. Avoid any situations where you feel vulnerable to prying questions and never feel you have to justify yourself to anyone.
9) Survival toolkit. Mother's Day may only be 24 hours long, but that one day of torture can seriously deplete your energy reserves. To help top up your balance try nurturing yourself with a week's worth of enjoyable activities. Give yourself something to look forward to, plan something for each day of the week with the sole intention of lifting your spirit.
Empowered Fertility: A Practical Twelve-Step Guide by Claire Hall and Dr Devora Lieberman ($19.99) is published by Hachette Australia.