Although it differs from person to person, I think it's safe to say that experiencing infertility generally does not make the holiday season easier. This year, I've read many excellent blog entries and articles that discuss this issue and offer suggestions for how to handle the holiday blues, so I won't reinvent the wheel here.
I do, however, want to add the following perspective from my vantage point as a psychologist--the holidays aren't just hard for those struggling with infertility. In fact, they seem to be hard for almost everyone! Do you know how my colleagues in my office suite and I refer to the month of January? We call it, somewhat affectionately, "money time", because in first week of January, the phone literally starts ringing off the hook with new clients requesting appointments. It seems that all that togetherness, gift buying, and socially-imposed merriment is just the thing that pushes so many of us right over the edge and into a therapist's office.
Now, I am the only one in my office suite who specializes in infertility, and yet all the therapists, with their various areas of expertise, are equally busy in January. It seems that the pressures of the holiday season affects people with all different kinds of issues and from all walks of life. So although feelings of infertility may be making you miserable at the holidays, you will definitely not be alone in your suffering. It may seem like a perverse comfort, but chances are good that if your infertility wasn't upsetting you this holiday season, there would be something else that would.
I can think of at least two culprits for all this unhappiness. The first is the societal, and often familial expectation that we should be happy during the holidays. The story we are told from a very young age is that if you can somehow just inculcate the right holiday spirit, you will be able to transcend the difficulties in your life, at least for a short period of time. Although this does sometimes happen in real life, I don't believe it is actually the norm that so many holiday-themed movies would suggest. When people find that no matter how hard they try to have the right holiday spirit or frame of mind, they still can't feel better about problems that they have, they feel a sense of failure. (This is the same emotional principle that causes so many people diagnosed with infertility to become distressed--despite all their best efforts, they still have not yet achieved their desired results.) The feelings of failure, combined with the upset about whatever they were trying to transcend in the first place, can often cause people to become sad, depressed, and anxious.
Another reason why the holidays can be especially upsetting has to do with the anniversary reactions they provoke. As with any trauma or loss, people often experience increased feelings of grief or sadness at the same time of year when the loss originally occurred. I am always amazed by this phenomena, both in my practice and in my own life. The subtle cues of weather, smells, and plants for a given time of year, along with the overt cues of time-specific activities, can unconsciously remind us of unhappier times and cause us to feel upset. This often occurs even when we aren't consciously thinking of the original trauma, loss, or upsetting event. For example, I had my first miscarriage in early October many years ago. Although after some years, I stopped consciously thinking about it on the anniversary date, on that day I would inevitably find myself, seemingly inexplicably, cranky and miserable. At the end of the day, I would finally figure out why I was so upset. Now I've come to anticipate this anniversary reaction, which has lessened its emotional impact.
Anniversary reactions are particularly strong during the holidays because there are so many cues as to the time of year, everywhere you look. There is no way you can miss all the holiday lights, Christmas carols, parties, and family gatherings. So if you had a bad time of it with the holidays last year, that alone can make you feel upset all over again this year.
I really hope your holidays are wonderful, and filled with happiness and love. But if they don't quite live up to that expectation, because of infertility or for other reasons, know that you won't be alone. Perhaps, when we stop pressuring ourselves to feel a certain way, we can be more in the moment with how we actually feel, good or bad. Often, sitting with our feelings for a while helps us to understand ourselves and our situation better and to figure out what our next steps are. Although it may be rooted in unhappiness at times, the clarity that can be gained may be the real gift of the holiday season.