Coping with Infertility During the Holidays
Gearing up for the holiday season can be difficult, especially when you're also coping with fertility issues.
The constant holiday cheer and family gatherings around the table and Christmas tree with all your relatives’ children can remind you of what you do not have. It can evoke a real “bah humbug” attitude. Dealing with being sterile or infertile during the holidays is never easy, but there are some ways to amplify the joy of the season so many of us have come to anticipate.
Some of these may or may not work for you. We offer these suggestions to get you thinking about your own lives and acknowledging that the holidays can be different for everyone.
1. Make a Plan on How to Handle Questions
It’s helpful to come up with answers to questions you are likely to get asked. You can even rehearse them. How you choose to answer is up to you. We encourage you to be honest without going into too many details about what you’re going through regarding conception.
It’s understandable if you want to keep things private, and people are often going to be very compassionate and supportive, even in that privacy.
2. Feel Free to Opt Out of Events
Don’t feel obligated to participate in all the Christmas and holiday traditions you once did. If you’re uncomfortable, or if you just don’t have the energy to deal with them... don’t. It’s OK.
Be mindful and choose only the activities that make you happy and are less likely to trigger unpleasant feelings. Show kindness when declining and prioritize your own mental and emotional health and the activities you most want to participate in.
"The Christmas season can be about sharing with family and friends, but it's also so important for patients to know when that's not right for them,” said Dr. Guy Ringler of California Fertility Partners. “Doing what's right at the time, for your own self, is so important for your physical and mental health, and you can make more traditional plans next year."
3. Find People Without Children to Celebrate the Season
Being around children is a particular sore spot for some people. If that’s the case for you, seek out friends or adult family members without children. That way you can enjoy yourself without having to worry about interacting with a child or hearing stories about someone’s children.
It’s hard to see the bright side when you want something so badly, and it's OK to make changes from your normal holiday companions to care for yourself.
4. Filter Social Media
People love to share photos of their babies and children on Instagram and Facebook.
If you are struggling with infertility, this can be tough at any time of year. At Christmas and the holidays, there might be even more posts centered on children that can sometimes make you feel lousy.
If you haven't already, the holidays are a good time to curate your social media feed. There are settings on most networks for you to mute people, even for a month, if you don’t want to cut the cord completely. And yes, unmuting at a later date can bring you right back to their regular feed.
Or consider taking a social media break altogether. You might find that is just what you need.
5. Develop a Plan for Opening Holiday Cards
Social media may be more prevalent, however, a lot of families still send out adorable holiday cards. Many cards will feature pictures of the entire family in festive matching outfits, or maybe only the children and pets. If looking at those photos makes you feel bad, don’t open them.
You can still acknowledge that you received the cards and let the sender know you appreciate them thinking of you.
6. Take Care of Yourself
The fertility journey is difficult, even at times when there is not extra societal and family pressure to be happy and have a good time.
Make a point of scheduling time to take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest and spend quality time with your partner and pets, if you have them. If you want to indulge yourself with a treat or gift, go for it. As long as you’re sticking to the medical advice of your fertility specialist, do things that bring you comfort.
7. Acknowledge Your Feelings
Give yourself permission to experience the many emotions related to fertility issues. Those may include guilt, anger, jealousy, hopelessness, and injustice.
Unfortunately, you will feel these emotions even if you try to push them aside. It is healthier to acknowledge and express those feelings as you have them, so things don’t build up and become unmanageable. Maintain good communication with your partner, because they will have similar feelings in their way.
And please, don’t beat yourself up for not enjoying time with your family and friends, or not getting into the “holiday spirit.” We can save the jolly for another year. All of your feelings are valid.
When experiencing struggles with infertility, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with emotions because we are constantly thinking about what did not happen in the past, or what will happen in the future.
When we are stuck in the past we open the door to feelings of disappointment, hopelessness, and grief.
When we spend our time in the future and wondering what “will be,” that can increase anxiety.
As someone who utilized assisted reproductive technology to build their family, I know what it feels like to be stuck in the past and the future.
Engaging in some mindfulness techniques can help decrease unpleasant feelings.
We suggest the classic deep-breathing exercise: paying attention to our breath, listening to the sound of our breath, and being mindful of what we notice.
Our narrative about infertility can impact our emotions. Practicing to shift our thought process can also help improve our mood, especially over the holidays. I know that it is easier said than done, but that is why it is important to practice these techniques, so we can get to a place where it is easier to accept where we are in our family-building process.
We are not alone in this, and many of us can relate to one another. For your long-term wellness, joining a support group can be a healthy way to process our experiences.
Joey Guzman-Kuffel is a licensed marriage and family therapist. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Counseling Psychology, with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. Joey spent his early clinical years as a therapist, eventually founding Counseling with Joey, after his own family-building journey through surrogacy. Joey currently dedicates himself to providing support and psychological evaluations for gestational carriers, donors, and intended parents.