Sunday, December 21, 2008

2008: The REAL Christmas Letter

I have been somehow fortunate enough this year to not have received any of those annoying ‘year in review’ Christmas letters from the few families I am still in contact with. You know, the ones detailing their many vacations and achievements and decorated with pictures of smiling happy kids on beaches, at dance recitals and holding soccer trophies? You know, the ones that silently mock, “haha, this is not you, yet again”? I have long considered sending out one of my own to rail against the unspoken practice that these letters are reserved only for families with kids. But then I realized that:

1. I am way too cynical to do something like that and not have my bitterness come screaming across the letter and
2. What would I say? "Oh, yeah, and in June we lost the baby we had been trying for for 4 years and now we’re going into debt for IVF"? That’s the real story, right?

Really, even with those smiling happy families, Christmas letters are scrubbed clean of strife, but because so much of my year has been composed of this, any attempt at a letter would read nothing like a fairytale (unless Grimm was involved) or rather, would read like pure fiction. So, I’ve been wondering, what would the unedited, façade-free version of my letter look like? Well, I would guess, something like this:

2008: The Real Story

Hello friends and family! Wow, what a year 2008 was for us! You see, it kind of sucked. No, it really sucked! Sure it was punctuated with some saving graces, but generally speaking, the highs were breathtakingly high and the lows were digging through the dumpsters, crying on a nightly basis low. I guess bipolar would be a word used to describe it. After riding the roller coaster of 2008, I’m frankly glad to see it come to an end. What an understatement!

Just after ushering in New Years 2008 surrounded by wonderful friends and the love of my life, I was struck with a deep foreboding about the year that lay before me (please ignore the smiling faces). Now, don’t get me wrong, friends, I am not psychic, nor do I really believe in most supernatural occurrences, but I knew that especially in the middle of a celebration, one shouldn’t feel so unsettled about their future, but I was. Don’t let the picture fool you. Around the same time, Mr. S. was spending many sleepless nights, grey hairs, and 3 weeks out of each month traveling for a job he despised. Our start to 2008 was shaky at best.

Shortly after the New Year, we were given the news that our landlord was going into foreclosure and we had 6 weeks to vacate before the bank took over the property. Good times! In the middle of packing, a move that would signify the 7th in as many years, we went through yet another ‘procedure’, which was a miracle considering Mr. S’s traveling schedule.

Now, as you might have noticed, after 8 years of marriage, we are still without kids. It might not come as a surprise to you then that we are animal-collecting infertiles who actually spend all of our energy and money on achieving something that comes naturally to most couples. January brought yet another failed attempt at a life that I know of only through your Christmas letters and gray stirrups in a doctor's office.

Meanwhile, we were hit with more real estate news: the house we own in Idaho that was supposed to have renters in it until mid-March was vacated early and the renters defaulted on their last month's rent. So, we sent the case to small claims court, put the house on the plummeting market and waited. And waited. Meanwhile, Mr. S. quit his job in disgust and somehow by God’s grace, found another. And then, we moved. Mind you, all of this happened by the end of February.

And then, something entirely miraculous happened in April. File this under a breathtakingly high moment, a true saving grace. We found out that our 4th procedure of this sort was successful…we are pregnant! But unlike others who happily announce the news at birthday parties, we are quiet and cautious, especially given that our first week of pregnancy is spent on ‘miscarriage watch’ because of our low progesterone levels and our 3rd week is spent wondering whether I was exposed to Chicken Pox (I was not and am miraculously immune although I don't recall having it). However, our little bean pulls through and we are able to see a strong heartbeat. I am completely unfazed by the fact that our house in Idaho still sits empty, collecting dust and hemorrhaging money, because I am happy in the little secret that I am pregnant after all these years. But come Friday, June 13th, a day before my long-anticipated 30th birthday party, and 10 weeks into our little one’s short existence, that heartbeat disappears. File this under the lowest of the lows. It’s likely you were invited to that party, which was eventually canceled, and yes, this was the back-story. I am now terrified that this is the closest I will come to a birth announcement in a letter of this sort.

While your family was busy barbecuing and watching fireworks, I was sitting at home on my couch just a few weeks shy of watching my dream die, alone and numbed, eating too much and having also been rejected from the 4th of July party I was looking forward to whose invitation it took enormous courage to accept to begin with. At that moment, I had never felt more alone, so I made a choice and found Open Path where I met my very first 'infertiles', live and in person. And guess what? They're REALLY normal! Actually, they’re amazing! No horns, no green, scaly skin. I know that’s hard to imagine as a fertile person, but it’s true! I started an infertility blog soon thereafter. After connecting with several women traveling similar paths through these routes, I found unlikely and amazing friendships.

And after figuring that I'll never be able to have a baby, I gave my SUV to my Mom (who needed a car) and bought a completely impractical 2 door convertible that symbolizes my total lack of hope for a child at this point and is probably more expensive than what we should have gotten, but by then, I didn't give a shit about anything. In fact, Mr. S. and I got our first tattoos together to signify our loss, our hope, and our united front.

July also brought a trip to Vegas where we were able to forget about our grief for almost 2 seconds- a 2 second time period that was likely fueled by yard-long Margaritas. And yes, I did double-fist 99 cent margaritas as well. I don’t remember much of the trip for this reason. It was great! In August, I got a new job, scaling my previous commute from an hour to 6 minutes. Oh, and I conveniently forgot to mention that over the course of a few months, I managed to gain 10+ pounds.

In both October and November we were visited by two more failed attempts at your Christmas letter life and attempted to host Thanksgiving at our house with disastrous results. We should just stop pretending that we’re normal already, right? Our small claims court case against our former renters was finally settled, but once again, they defaulted, this time with the court. Our property manager is now after their wages, we took the house off the market and rented it out again, at a loss. Awesome.

Finally, we’re in December, a place I must say that because of my steady distancing from people as a result of our failed pursuits for a full family, I am visited by very few happy smiling families on the Christmas cards in my mailbox. Thank you for that. It is only more reinforcement for me to hide away. As I force myself to listen to Christmas music and decorate our tree, I am reminded that I will soon be borrowing a huge hunk of money to increase our efforts to build our family. I am both excited and terrified by this pursuit. I wonder to myself what it will be like to pay that bill each month if we are unsuccessful, but try to step into the new year with bravery and hope. Despite all that has happened, both good and bad, Mr. S. and I still have each other and in the face of such loss, our union is strong. Despite everything, I am more than ready to move on to a New Year and hope the next one will bring us all better fortune.


Nikki said...

"Despite everything, I am more than ready to move on to a New Year and hope the next one will bring us all better fortune."

Amen to that, sister. May 2009 be better for all of us. May 2009 be the year when we send out the sickeningly sugary sweeeet Christmas letters with pictures of drooly faces of our new born babies plastered on them!

Lorraine said...

Luckily, the only Christmas letter we ever get is from one of my husband's childhood friends, and we look forward to it with gleeful and probably just horridly condescending anticipation: it is hilarious. The wife writes it, and it is just dripping with the tone of a gloating Christmas letter - but all the things she writes about are WEIRD, like how she had to sew three versions of their mauve drapes before she got them just right, or that their son had to give up basketball because his grades were slipping - but it was worth it because he finally passed algebra! The crazy thing is, they are not at all being sarcastic - this is really their way of keeping in touch.

In fact... we haven't seen their letter yet this year. Hmmm... if they give it up, it will truly be a missed tradition!

As for you, my dear, the new year is the year for you - I hope you'll have to trade that two-door in by summer at the latest. Car prices should be pretty good for a while...

'Murgdan' said...

Awww. I love your REAL Christmas letter. You've summed it up so nicely, and even squeaked out some hope for next year....I'm hoping next year brings you more fortune than you can even imagine.

(I love someecards!)

Michelle said...

I like your real Christmas letter. I too was lucky not to receive any of those xmas news far. I hope you have a Merry Christmas and I hope you have a much better 2009!

Martha said...

I'm toasting you with a virtual Yard long Margarita, Shelby. Here's to 2009 for you and the Mister. Totally nice ride, umm, can I take it for a spin??? Pretty please?

Re.Xmas letters, there is a special place in Purgatory for people who write such drivel.

banditgirl said...

Shel, this was so moving and powerful! It gave me some relief too! Thanks for vicariously experiencing a catharsis through reading this very honest and real letter. Among other things, you alluded to something really important (and tremendously annoying): the senders of these annoying family letters create such an idealized, glorified, mythologized version of their family that it blows my mind sometimes! Like this friend who made her husband leave her job and move far away where he works from home and commutes and is depressed because he misses his friends so much and she's in a tiny little town with a new job, trying to write a book and articles while her kids are scared to go to school because they might be marginalized. But the entire letter is a national anthem to her family's glorious happiness. WTF!
I will be here, wherever the journey takes you, with flaming monkeys and cheerful M-Sista hollah-s! I am keeping my fingers crossed and lighting a candle for you today.

The Swann's said...

Such a heart wrenching post... I ache not only that you are experiencing this but that I too, feel the same way (as well as thousands of other women!)

Perhaps I'm thankful that my mom seems to be the only one who sends these out... May 2009 bless you with ALL the desires of your heart!

Tara said...

You took the words right out of my mouth!!!!

I love your convertible! I tried to convince R that I needed one of those this summer...but instead, I just drive my empty SUV.

Here's to a MUCH BETTER 2009 for all of us.

Love you, sweetie!!

Lost in Space said...

I love you, Shelby!! Thank you so much for sharing this. I was looking back at the last Christmas letter we sent in 2005 and it made me sad to see how so much has changed since then. We can never go back to that happy-go-lucky time. I truly hope 2009 is so much better for us all. Many hugs.

banditgirl said...

Shelby, I have been meaning to tell you ever since our class started how much I dig your Beamer! Hella cool!

Karen said...

What a great Real Christmas letter although I wish it had been a better year for you. I hope 2009 is full of many more highs and no lows.

Another Dreamer said...


I don't think anyone would want to hear my real letter either. I'm more of a "sign my name on the card with no additional sentiments" anyway, lol.

I hope the new year brings all of us something better.

Hope your gradutaion IUI has good results.

Smiling said...

Here's to 2009... Thanks for sharing your letter. The back story to your 30th was heartbreaking. I just celebrated my 30th, and as much as I really didn't want to have, I needed that party. I really hope you have a great party, hell lots of them, for all the right reasons soon.

luna said...

I meant to tell you how much I love this post! good riddance 2008!

I Believe in Miracles said...

This is an awesome Christmas letter. I'm praying for 2009 for you. I'm hoping that it will be better and all your expertise will finally not be needed anymore ;o)

Sarang said...

This SO resonated with me! I just skim those x-mas letters wondering, so, what's the REAL story here? My MIL took to sending them out...and had to ask my hubby what the name of my agency and my job title was for her holiday letter. So, let's see, years have gone by and the only time she needs this info is to send out in a "brag letter" to her friends and family. SO FAKE!

{sigh} Maybe I am just a bit bitter. I am just as guilty of sending out *blissfully happy* New Year emails and Facebook postings (when all is surely not rosey on this side) but I would love most of my world to think it is!

the misfit said...

I'm so glad you wrote this. I don't know why, but it always makes me feel better to hear somebody else tell it like it really is!

And - this is what gets me - how does nobody notice us? You've been married eight years, and nobody ever asks you if you're all right? Or keeps their mindless bragging about their families to themselves?

Sometimes I think the infertile are actually INVISIBLE.

S said...

This was a really brutal but beautiful post, straight from the heart. I hear you on so many levels! I love the car. And seriously, I dont have green scaly skin either :)

I really dig the way you write. Hope 2009 isnt an "epic fail" for all of us.