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If you are struggling with infertility, the holidays can be a tough time of year: Children and babies are everywhere and social media feeds are full of pregnancy announcements. Plus, Christmas largely revolves around the celebration of a woman who never asked for a baby receiving one from from God without ever touching a basal body thermometer or ovulation testing kit.

After three years of infertility, I’ve tested lots of holiday survival options. From chugging half the three-liter bottle of Barefoot Pinot Grigio and crying at the Thanksgiving table to screaming at my 22-year-old brother’s advice on “controlling my destiny.”

I am embarking on yet another childless holiday season, and maybe I am too grief stricken to be giving out any kind of advice, but here’s the guide I wish I had from the very beginning.

You are not alone. This is not your fault.

There are 6.7 million women who are experiencing the pain and frustration of infertility with you. I know all your friends are pregnant. I know they are complaining about their kids’ Christmas lists. But I promise you are not alone. And regardless of the sex advice the cashier at Walgreens gave you when you purchased yet another pregnancy test, having sex on a boat won’t help you get pregnant. Infertility is not an “inconvenience” but an actual disease of your reproductive system. You and your partner are part of the one in eight couples struggling this season.

Spend your money how you want

Maybe, like me, you haven’t started your family yet because you can’t afford the often out-of-pocket cost of in vitro fertilization. Who has $35,000 sitting around for a 37 percent chance anyway? Where has that left you? Anxiously emptying savings accounts into an IVF Fund? Canceling Christmas to pay off the $8,000 you’ve already spent on failed fertility support? Showing up to Friendsgiving contributing only plastic spoons because the acupuncture your friend’s sister’s aunt swore by didn’t work?

My advice? Just buy the damn Christmas candle. Create the memory. Give yourself permission to spend your hard-earned cash on things that will bring you joy this season.

Reframe November. Get involved.

November is also about voting. Sixteen states currently cover infertility support and 10 cover at least one round of IVF. If, like me, you’re not in one of those states, it’s time to identify the local leaders in your community who will view your fertility coverage in the same light that they view Greg-from-HR’s knee replacement.

Here’s how you can figure out where your state stands on fertility coverage.

Make your family feel weird

When Aunt Kathy asks again why you don’t have kids, just lay it on her. Share that grief. Cry. Make it awkward. Invite everyone into the strange turmoil of infertility and get a tiny internal giggle as they stare and fumble through what to say next.

But also, be ready for what they will actually say. “Just be grateful.” “Have you tried IVF?” “Relax.” “Get drunk.” Though their inability to sit with you in your grief may force you into the bathroom to cry alone, be proud of yourself for opening up. This isn’t anything to keep a secret and endure alone.

Consider gifting yourself a therapist

Seventy-six percent of women undergoing infertility experience clinical depression and clinical anxiety, according to a 2018 study, and according to the American Psychological Association, our community doesn’t respond to infertility the same way they do other health crises. While you have millions of women like me in your circle, your immediate community is probably really failing you. They are unintentionally letting you endure the “invisible grief” all alone. Looking forward into 2020, give yourself the gift of a good therapist to walk you through the grief that is infertility.

Come out of the baby clothes (or liquor) section of Target. Don’t try and wrap your process in pretty bows or holiday dresses. Let your grieving exist as is — the funkiest shaped present under the tree.

Kerri Lopez-Howell is a nonprofit executive in Tucson. She is a fellow of the Op-Ed Project’s Tucson Public Voices program, and a childless thriver on a wild infertility journey.

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