I had a slight meltdown the other day – over my holiday cards.  Yep, my cards caused me to burst into tears.

To be fair, this was the culmination of a few days’ worth of stressful events.  My son knocked over the Christmas tree on Friday, breaking a few ornaments, including one of great sentimental value (thankfully, it can be fixed, after which it won’t be going back on the tree).

Saturday, I dashed about my house to get it decorated before family comes this week, wondering if it was worth it to drag the boxes of decorations out of the crawl space and down the stairs, get the house decorated, and put the boxes back, knowing I’d be doing it all in reverse in just two weeks’ time.

Sunday, I was still online, frantically searching for last-minute gifts and wondering how my mom did all this before the advent of e-commerce.

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My Christmas tree, after my son knocked it over.

So by the time Monday rolled around, I was at the end of my rope.  I got 95 cards together and took my son Charlie to the post office to buy stamps and mail them.  There was only one person in front of me at the self-serve kiosk, a deceptive appearance as I endured a more than 15-minute wait as she seemed to be mailing her life away with all the packages she had, confounded by her difficulty at operating the machine.

When I finally got my stamps, it seemed to take an eternity for the machine to spit them out, and during that time, Charlie relieved himself all over the floor of the post office lobby.

I wasn’t upset at this, nor by the disapproving looks of the many customers who were behind me in line.  It happens, and Charlie is usually great about holding it, so he must have really had to go.  Unlike other kids his age who might have freaked out or cried their eyes out at the scene, Charlie was pretty chill.  In fact, after cleaning up the mess I was ready to bolt, but Charlie, pants soaking and all, insisted on helping me stamp and mail the envelopes right there as originally planned.  So we did.

I had a love-hate (ok, mostly hate) relationship with holiday cards this year.  I debated over whether or not to send them.  I visited the photo sites a few times, and was unable to find a card design that I was excited about personalizing and sending.   There weren’t any fantastic photos of Charlie or our family that I hadn’t already put up on social media, so the lion’s share of the card recipients would see photos they’d already seen.  But I went through with ordering them, and when the cards came, they sat unopened in the box for almost a full week before I got around to getting them ready.

When Charlie did his thing in the post office, I texted my husband about the crisis.

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Then, I stopped to think.

I realized that I sent the cards out of a sense of duty.  With the exception of 2000, when I moved into a new condo during the holiday season, I’ve sent cards out every year since 1989.  I may not have been excited about the cards, but I couldn’t imagine not sending them out.

But sending out holiday cards isn’t what it used to be.  I used to devote considerable time to finding just the right cards.  I’ve sent art cards.  I’ve sent cards purchased to benefit charities that are meaningful to me.  My first few years in DC, I sent cards depicting lovely snow-capped images of the White House or Capitol building.

While one of my most revered holiday traditions used to be carefully selecting my cards, and spending an evening hand-writing personal notes in each one with holiday music playing in the background, over the years card sending has devolved into a clinical exercise of printing address labels, stuffing envelopes and executing the mailing.  The past few years I didn’t even handwrite our names.

So are these cards even fulfilling my intended purpose for them, to connect with people in my life who obviously mean something to me?

And what does any of this have to do with fertility?  This is a fertility blog, after all.

There can be a lot of “duty” involved with the holidays.  Obligations, expectations, it’s all the same thing.  Stuff we might not want to do but feel like we have to do for whatever reason.  A lot of, “we’ve always done it this way.”

I’ve written in the past about surviving the holidays when on the fertility path.  And there’s a lot of good information out there on navigating the emotional minefield that is this season while you’re trying to conceive.  Because it’s all about family, this time of year can be so raw, so gut-wrenching, so devastating if you don’t have the family that you dream of, or if you have a family but it feels incomplete.   It can take all the effort you have just to keep it together to see your cousin with 4 kids, or your long-lost aunt and uncle who ask when you’re going to get around to having offspring of your own.

And with the day-to-day stresses of the season, self-care can take a nosedive, or fly out the window altogether, right when we need it the most.

This year, my suggestion is to listen to your inner self, and if something doesn’t feel right, release yourself from the obligation to do it.

If it doesn’t feel right to you to spend all day at the family reunion, skip it, or only go for an hour.  If you’d rather not host the big holiday party that you’ve always done in the past, don’t do it this year.  Your guests will find other means of entertainment.  If you dread baking cookies for your office party, don’t do it and go buy a pre-made cookie tray, or even better, a veggie platter.

Listening to an honoring your own individual needs is the most vital form of self-care.

I should have done this with the holiday cards.  I sent them not because I really wanted to connect and share a heartfelt greeting with my friends and family, but because I felt like I “should,” and because I always have before.   My recipients’ lives wouldn’t have ended at not hearing from me this year; in fact, they might not have missed it at all.  Maybe I’ll feel differently next year, but this year I derived absolutely no joy from the experience.

And joy is what the essence of the holidays is about.  While it may be not be a particularly joyful time of year for you if you’re on the fertility path, honoring your own needs can help you find the strength you need to get through the season, and maybe you’ll even be able to find a little joy in the process.

Ironically, the only word on my holiday card this year, besides our names, is “joy.”

Heartfelt holiday wishes to all of you.  xoxo