Membership Rites


I sent my first photo-collage Christmas card. It wasn’t my original intention. I am still uncomfortable with such demonstrations because I have had at least a hundred of those little grenades land in my mailbox over the years of trial and tragedy; I didn’t want to be the shrapnel wedged in someone else’s infertility at possibly the rawest time of year. I examined the list carefully, and it seemed safe: already-parents, post-menopausal aunts, young and unmarried cousins too focused on graduate school to worry about babies. I had my stash of photo-free cards on-hand in case of risk.

I defaulted to the photo card because I have been sick, literally, for a month. This has set me back at work such that the grading stacks are growing while the holiday season amps up the errands and chores on the personal end. I just could not picture myself sitting at the table and handwriting forty cards and envelopes, particularly since imminent shower invites expanded my list substantially. I tossed the photos together one morning before school at 4am, realizing that I have been terribly camera-shy while pregnant! (Note: take more belly pics for posterity.) I had the cards rushed and filled out all the addresses from 1-3am on Friday night during one of my many pregnancy-induced spurts of wee-hours productivity.

Despite the pragmatism of my motives, I was awash in something else when they arrived in the mail: the distinct feeling of finally being included in this family-centric world that has been thrumming blithely behind my tragedies all these years, and that reminds me of the several couples I know who are still struggling and receiving these exploding holiday cards en masse. I wish, I wish that we could discover a way for the lucky ones to enjoy their fortune without alienating couples who yearn for membership but feel hopelessly excluded.

18 thoughts on “Membership Rites

    • I thought I would wait until there were actual baby pics to do the photo card, but I understand why they have become so popular: they are 100% times easier.


  1. A more than thoughtful holiday wish. So much of our feelings of satisfaction attach to comparisons. Research tells us we will feel better if we get a dollar raise and no one else gets one than if we get a $2 raise and so does everybody else. That said, I’m glad you are on the top side of this thing for a change.


    • It is nice to have the luxury of being considerate instead of being on the other side, for once. Sometimes it seems totally unreal that these babies will be born and I will be an actual mother. They are moving and shaking in there a lot lately, so the reality is literally palpable and my awe grows each day.

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  2. It was one of the things that I really wanted to do after having a baby–send out a family Christmas card. While painful at times, I only received (and now send) cards from my closest friends. Therefore, almost everyone on the list who wants kids has them–my one or two friends who don’t have kids know what we went through to have A. However, I’m so careful on FB–in part to be sensitive and in part because I’m paranoid–I don’t flood my news feed with him, just a birth announcement and a steadily decreasing number of pictures of A.

    I had to move out of the infertility head space; it takes a long time and a lot of work. We just had a failed FET, so I do not consider myself post-infertile (I may update my blog one day). Everyone is different, but for me, I find that as time moves on, that the weight and the guilt of having a child when so many others don’t lessens and the pain of what we faced prior to having him fades.

    However, in this IF community, the guilt and the weight of having a living child remains. It feels like gloating to people I consider friends.

    I think JustHeather says it best–the only way to manage is to walk with understanding and love.


    • Yes, “understanding and love.” I really just aimed to be thoughtful. One friend recently lost a pregnancy at 9w, and it seemed cruel to send her a card with u/s photos on it. She got the handwritten one. Funny enough, she texted me a pic of a Christmas card from another pregnant friend with huge ultrasound photos on the front and vented to me about her “carelessness.” It made me extra glad that I stopped to consider her. Like the Hippocratic oath, I aim to “do no harm.”


  3. I find these family photo cards to be an odd, and in many ways exclusionary tradition. It’s not the norm here in NZ, thank goodness. And cards in general are dying out.

    But it is part of your culture’s holiday traditions, and so I’m glad you’ve been able to be part of it. I also appreciate your sensitivity to have the non-photo cards ready for those who might otherwise feel isolated. Too many don’t think of it. And it’s not just for the infertile either, of course. The recently bereaved or separated/divorced, or those who are lonely when the children leave home or live overseas, or those who have no siblings, or families, or friends, or … or …


      • I tend to agree with Jess – I don’t think it’s that strange or inherently nefarious. I do generally send Christmas cards, and I also look forward to getting personal mail for a change. The ubiquitous photo card thing is something that has gained intensity over the past 10 years, and that has made it feel taunting or exclusionary at times. Before that, it was handwritten messages from people in your life whom you may not talk to as much as you might like, and it was nice…for everyone, I think.


        • Oh, it’s not the Christmas cards I dislike, as I totally agree with you both about that tradition. (Though they are dying out – I used to get and send a lot, but not any more). It’s the photo card thing that I find so strange, especially for us here in New Zealand.


  4. I’m impressed you got them out at all. We got many fewer this year; maybe the holidays just fell strangely on the calendar? But it’s a tradition in your world, and I do think that when the tradition is meaningful to you, that you take part in it. And you did it the most sensitive way you could.


  5. I’m glad you sent your card out, and I get that it’s a bittersweet thing. I personally love those photo cards — we’ve sent one just the two of us since we got married and it’s fun to put them together (and convenient when you can have the message printed and just pop them in an envelope and go). They used to bother me more than they do now, not because I didn’t want to see my friends’ families, but because the march of time was so evident in those babies that became toddlers that became grade schoolers while we stayed the same. But, I always enjoy getting them even when they make me sad for a brief moment. I think it’s great to remain infertility-sensitive, but not at the cost of your own enjoyment of your new life. You deserve to send out a card without feeling guilty about it (even though I know that’s probably not wholly possible). I think it’s great that you think of these things, but I’m glad you sent the photo card (and also had the non-photo cards for people you knew might need it). I know I look forward to the day when I can send a card that has a tiny person on it…and if that doesn’t happen, well I guess they are just going to get ridiculously elaborate until I get over it! 🙂 Enjoy this time, it’s yours and it’s joyous. As a person still without, I can tell you that I can feel others’ joy and appreciate their experience while being sad for myself and not have it ruin the holiday display.


    • You are stronger than me. Last year, I felt so dizzy from the April loss followed by the September FET failure, that I couldn’t even open them. I’d tear open the envelop enough to determine whether it was a photo or traditional card, and if it was the former, it went into the trash sight unseen. That was a particularly bad time, but in general, the photos were hard for me. Watching other people’s kids grow up was definitely part of it. I have this keen sense friends’ and cousins’ children who coincide with my many losses, and seeing them start pre-school or kindergarten has often made me feel hapless and pathetic for still plugging away. One thing this pregnancy has shown me: things don’t change until they change. It’s crazy that I am even here. I never would have expected this as TTC had started to feel like some morbidly ridiculous second job that would never yield anything but strife.


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