During the five years I dealt with infertility, holiday cards may as well have been laced with anthrax.
Smiling babies appeared inside every envelope, reminding me that I would once again spend a year taking my nieces and nephews to visit Santa, or sleeping in the “bad” room because, you know, I was the one without kids.
On Christmas Day 2014, I sat alone at my dining room table eating a meal prepared for six people. My husband, like the rest of our anticipated guests, was sleeping off the flu in the next room. In every sense of the word, I was alone.
In my own version of enhanced interrogation techniques, I flipped through holiday card after holiday card, asking myself, “What are you doing wrong? When will this feeling pass? Why can’t you be happy today? Why is the world celebrating while you sit here sobbing?”
One card in particular poked a hole in my heart every time. An expectant mother announced her pregnancy saying, “We are so excited and very terrified!”
What right did she have to say she was terrified? The woman who was staring into the life she’d envisioned for herself since she was a young child was somehow scared about it? That isn’t fear. Fear is staring at a future that looks nothing like the one you had prepared for, hoped for, and drained your bank account trying to achieve.
When I first saw those proverbial two lines on the pregnancy test this past summer, I knew I’d never feel that kind of fear again.
And, in the ensuing months, though I’ve been exhausted, nerve-numb, hormonal, and oh-so-very nauseous, the fear of an unknown future has become a distant memory.
This year, I’m the one sending out the card with the picture of a swollen belly. I know it will arrive like a Trojan horse to some woman out there. It will show up on the doorstep of my Gram, who is spending her first Christmas without my Pap in nearly 70 years. It will arrive in the mailbox of my friend, who lost her mother recently, at a tragically young age.
Often, we wonder what to say to those who are hurting. People regularly told me, “I wish I could say something to help.” Yet, as they racked their brains to find the right way to talk to me about my life, they rarely considered how they were presenting their own lives. Regardless of what they said to me, the words they used to describe their own situations were what I felt deepest and most.
A friend would reach out to wish me a good day. Then, she would share an article on Facebook about how a person doesn’t know love until she is a mother. She would post about how mothering was the hardest challenge in the world. She would use #blessed in reference to her life, but not mine.
I remembered that article and that hashtag far more than our conversation. Correct or not, I felt judged for my situation, like I was less blessed or less loving or less wise. I felt she assumed her life was one to be envied, while mine was one to be pitied.
But people who are hurting this season need our love—they do not need our pity.
We all need to think less about what we say to those who are hurting and think more about how we present ourselves to them. If we make it seem like we have everything—the answers, the partner, the love, the baby—then no amount of kind words directed their way will make them feel less alone.
The goal of all these modern conventions, from holiday cards to social media, is to connect with people. We are sending our updates to a crowd, but often one without a face, without a story, without an identity.
We need to remember that within that group is the woman sitting alone at her table reading your card and wondering why she doesn’t get to feel joyful this year. It’s easy to lose her in the list of 200 addresses or the feed of 1,200 people. But she’s there—and she pays more attention to what you say than most.
As we consider what to say to those who will spend this season struggling, worry more about what you don’t say directly to them but do say to the masses. Think about the words you use to describe your life, and the privilege you have to share good news.
Be humble, gracious, and kind. This is what those who are in pain will remember most.
Author: Bethany Eanes
Image: Author’s own
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Cat Monkman
Social Editor: Emily Bartran