For many infertile couples, the holidays are a particularly stressful time of year. The emphasis on family and children add a new emotional burden to an already painful experience - which is then compounded by the expectation of a warm, happy demeanor at family gatherings. (The longer to-do list and kids to shop for certainly don’t help, either.)
Here are a few tips for coping with infertility during the holiday season, based on the counsel we’ve given our patients and the strategies that have worked for them.
1. Skip any family gatherings with children that you don’t absolutely need to attend.
Turning down invitations to family gatherings can be tough, especially ones you’re a regular fixture at each year - but if there is any time in your life when you need to put yourself first, it’s now.
It may help to talk to a close, trusted family member about what you’re going through, and come up with a plan for seeing your loved ones while limiting your exposure to children and relatives with probing questions.
Maybe you join your immediate family for Christmas morning, for example, but skip out on the afternoon trip to Grandma’s house for dinner with multiple toddlers in attendance.
2. Lean into your relationship and communicate your needs often.
Infertility is a battle many couples often fight behind closed doors. And even within your relationship, it's possible to often still feel isolated due to the added stress of trying to conceive.
Don’t let the extra stress of the holidays push you apart - instead, make it a reason to come together. Reach out to your partner and let him or her know how you’re feeling. Regularly make time after your busy days to connect, so you can present a united front when the time comes to either attend or turn down certain holiday gatherings.
It may also help to think ahead of ways you would like your partner to help and support you, like a hug, massage, or letting you have a good cry, with no advice - then be direct in asking for it. Whatever you do, don’t ask your partner to read your mind - this usually only leads to disappointment.
3. Be ready with a quick, deflective answer to the questions that are coming.
The kinds of intrusive questions that arise at family gatherings can often take us aback because they seem to come out of left field. If you plan ahead, it may make you feel less anxious about having to walk through that door, casserole in hand.
To the distant relative who thinks it’s appropriate to ask, “So, when are you having kids?” try a casual shrug and “when it happens, it happens,” or “great question!” It’s no one’s business when you do or don’t have children, but feigning indecisiveness or a casual attitude may help convey that they didn’t exactly hit upon a fascinating topic of conversation.
In response to unsolicited advice, the more assertive among us may want to shut the conversation down with a gentle reminder that fertility is a sensitive subject for many, and those struggling with it are not helped by probing questions.
And don’t be afraid to throw out a simple, “I’d rather not discuss it” and change the subject. Having a few questions handy to ask others as a quick deflection may help too.
4. Attend or host a fun, intimate gathering with friends, adults only.
Make a point of spending some quality time with your friends in a kid-free zone. Go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant, or host a dinner party. Get your partner on board with the idea and enlist their help with planning and preparation.
Having something kid-free on the books will give you something to look forward to, and be a welcome and fun distraction.
5. Treat yourself.
Tis the season to treat yourself! Consider this your official permission to schedule that massage, mani-pedi, facial, or whatever your heart desires. Even if it’s something as simple as deliberately taking an afternoon away from it all to go see a movie, shop for yourself, or even curl up in bed with a great book - be sure to make time for self-care.
6. Find strength in numbers.
You are far from alone in your fight against infertility - at least one in seven couples has trouble conceiving. And quite a few of them are online, sharing their experiences and connecting with others.
If you haven’t already, find and join a support-based community of others who are trying to conceive. Search hashtags related to infertility on Instagram to find fellow #ttcwarriors to follow and engage with. (Tip: you may want to make your account private before you begin liking and commenting on others’ posts if you’re concerned about privacy.) You can also look for relevant Facebook Groups to join.
We also recommend checking out the resources at RESOLVE, the national infertility association. Their national HelpLine is 866.NOT.ALONE.
Above all, don’t use guilt or tradition as a reason to put yourself through more stress than you have to. Squeeze as much time for yourself and your partner as you can, and don’t be afraid to say no to the gatherings your gut is screaming at you not to attend.
Just do what you need to in order to get through these next few weeks. After all, come January with all its New Year’s resolutions, everyone will be back to focusing on themselves again.
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