A Different Kind of Infertility Christmas Card

January 7, 2009

Before the holiday season entirely passes us by…

A couple of weeks ago I showed you a Christmas card that had a pseudo-infertility theme, then I alluded to an actual infertility Christmas card that I received. Time to tell you about that one.

One of my best friends growing up was a guy that we’ll call Ernie. He was and is a remarkable person. Brilliant: at the very top of his class at every level, from elementary to high school to college to graduate school. Talented: a gifted artist in several fields. Kind: one of the very best people I’ve ever known, with never a bad word for anyone. Also funny and uncommonly humble. He was someone that just about every kid in school liked to claim as a good friend. A kid in junior high said to him once, “Ernie, you get straight As and you like classical music. I should beat you up, but you’re too nice a guy.” When DH finally met Ernie after hearing me sing his praises for several years, he said, “You and your other friends always described him as so perfect, and I was expecting to hate him, but he is fantastic.” You get the idea — every mother’s dream.

Ernie has a brother that we’ll call Grover, who was always a jerk and a loser, frankly. As an adult, I hear that he is somewhat less of a jerk (of course Ernie won’t say anything bad about him, so I can’t get the real story), but he has never amounted to much. In every way that Ernie was a success, Grover was a disappointment. Not smart, no talents, mean-spirited, terrible sense of humor, cocky.

Anyway, in high school, Ernie and I had been close friends for several years when I moved down the street from him. This led to hanging out at each others’ houses almost every day, usually bearing some sort of gift from one’s mother to the other. “My mother said to bring you this pie.” “Here are a dozen apples from the tree in our backyard.” Our mothers were friendly in a superficial way, but our families were never actually friends. When Ernie and I both left for college and our respective parents both subsequently moved to other houses, their only ongoing contact consisted of Christmas cards. When I grew up and had a home of my own, I got a separate entry on Ernie’s mom’s Christmas card list.

Ernie’s mom sends the kind of Christmas cards that give Christmas cards their bad reputation. Long narratives about mundane details, poorly edited and with little thought to what the reader actually wants to hear about the past year of their lives. Easily mockable — Ernie and I have spent many hours on the phone laughing as I read him his mother’s Christmas cards, since she does not send him a copy.

Most years, the letters have included extensive detail about some random family get-together, as well as extensive detail about Grover and his wife Prairie Dawn:

  • “Grover lost his job this year, so he and Prairie Dawn have moved into our basement.”
  • “Prairie Dawn is still looking for work.”
  • “Grover and Prairie Dawn got their own apartment this year.”
  • “Grover and Prairie Dawn have moved back into our basement.”

She would devote paragraphs to Grover, and literally every year, not more than a single sentence to Ernie.

  • “Our younger son Ernie will be coming for Christmas.”
  • “Ernie will not be coming for Christmas this year.”


  • “Ernie has received his graduate degree from the prestigious Sesame Street University.”
  • “Ernie has received a huge award, coveted in his field.”
  • “Ernie devotes his weekends to helping the poor, while Grover continues to watch TV in our basement.”
  • “Ernie and his partner Bert just celebrated 5 years together.”

You see, Ernie is gay, and his family isn’t too happy about it.

In my eyes, this has been the reason that Grover is put on the Christmas card pedestal and Ernie is a mere footnote.

Ernie and Bert have been together for almost a decade, and Bert’s name has never appeared in the Christmas card. Every year, I have found Ernie’s short shrift and Bert’s omission egregious. Then, last year, she really outdid herself.

  • “We love spending time with Grover and Prairie Dawn’s dog, Snuffleupagus. Our friends tell us that we spoil Snuffy, but that’s what happens you don’t have grandchildren to spoil.”

WTF, right?

But it gets worse. In addition to Ernie and Bert being gay and therefore not being able to have children without immense effort, Grover and Prairie Dawn have been dealing with infertility for years.


Their mom is not a bad person, but she doesn’t always think through her actions. DH says that if someone in our families ever sent a note like that to over a hundred friends and acquaintances (whether or not they knew about infertility, which our families don’t but Ernie and Grover’s family does), he would never ever speak to them again. My own reaction would not be quite so extreme, but I would certainly give them a firm talking-to and ensure that I had line-by-line veto rights on all future Christmas card letters.

If I put myself in her shoes for a minute (Easy Spirit shoes, for sure), she must feel left out that all of her siblings and friends have grandchildren and she doesn’t. She is really the grandmotherly sort, and she’s also someone who likes to fit in. She didn’t ask to have a gay son, nor an infertile son, and I know that she wishes she had two “normal” heterosexual baby-producing sons. Without mentioning homosexuality or infertility outright in the Christmas card, she thinks she can avert people’s gaze by joking about the conspicuously absent grandchildren. But I promise that it doesn’t hurt her more to be grandchild-less than it does for either of her children to be childless, especially the one who’s been actively trying for many years.

Ernie found the card funny more than anything, because he is kind and non-judgmental, and he also has come not to expect much from his mother.

This year, every day during Christmas card season I would run to check the mailbox, eager to read her newest letter. Would there be more than a single sentence about Ernie? Will Bert ever make an appearance? More infertility jabs? More pointless minutiae about recipes and bingo tournaments and trips to Florida?

Progress! Continued minutiae of course. Still not a peep about Bert, but a whole paragraph about Ernie and his fabulous career successes (now a stark contrast to Grover and his lack of success). More talk about Snuffleupagus, but nothing about the absent grandchildren. A wild success! I can’t wait until next year.

Has anyone else received an infertility card, or worse, been the target of one? Ernie’s family can’t be the only one.


9 Responses to “A Different Kind of Infertility Christmas Card”

  1. Imogen Says:

    Oh I wish! Christmas cards in Australia are boring.
    Dear X and X,
    *read printed message that came on card*
    Love X and X

  2. ^WiseGuy^ Says:

    Nopes…have been spared the joy of receiving one!

  3. kat Says:

    Fortunately for my cousins the homophobia and infertility in my aunt’s family has not come out in Christmas cards…but in many other ways. One cousin who is gay and wildly successful, travels the world…it it like he doesn’t exist. Older son who is a local football coach – it is like he is God incarnate. Before the coach’s twins (via IVF) were born, my aunt would carry around a brag book of his dog. Whenever someone started talking about babies, she would pull out the doggie pictures…I first saw the book at my baby shower.

  4. Kami Says:

    I haven’t received any. Thank goodness!! That mother needs to get her priorities straight. She must be in complete denial. Ernie sounds like a wonderful person. You’re lucky to have a friend like him!


  5. loribeth Says:

    Not that I can think of (thank God!!). The closest I can think of is the handwritten notes on my godmother’s cards. Her mass-produced letter is full of the usual stuff. However, in her handwritten notes, her dissatisfaction with her two daughters’ lives is obvious. The older one (my age) is unmarried & childless, but has a good job — and two rabbits that she lavishes money & attention on. The younger one got married & then divorced from a guy her mom disapproved of, & is now a struggling single mother. My godmother is a wonderful person & has always been incredibly generous to me, but her thinking seems to be stuck back in 1955 — she is 71, has never worked (plays bridge three times a week) & clearly expected her daughters would follow in her footsteps — & the fact that they haven’t obviously eats away at her.

  6. I just want to say I love the way you tell this story!

    This comment was brought to you by the letter L.

  7. Danielle Says:

    lol @ Lori’s comment. Ernie’s mother sounds a bit like my father in-law. Completely clueless and never sees things the way they are and why. He always sees how they SHOULD be. And in turn, makes ignorant remarks to others. *sigh* some people….

  8. Shinejil Says:

    Fortunately, only one unit of our extended family does the Xmas letter nonsense, and they are too busy writing about my DH’s step-sisters’ kids to note our infertility (though they know about; I’m pretty open with people).

    I think Ernie sounds awesome! Glad he got his Xmas shout out!

  9. April Says:

    i haven’t been the subject of an infertility card to my knowledge…but i think that people know better than to tell me about it. i would flip my lid.

    ernie is lucky to have supportive friends…and a family that seems to (maybe) be moving in a more positive direction!

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