By: Claudia Pascale
“Ohy Vey! It’s that time of year again.” I begin to hear this from fertility patients starting on or about Halloween, moving into Thanksgiving and then, of course, the December holiday season. Why is this time of year so difficult for those who are struggling to conceive? Because these holidays are all about the children and family not yet had. You see, everyone has a dream about fertility, whether it is to have or not have children. For those who decide they do not want children, their stress is to deal with a world that expects them to procreate. For those, however, who want children but struggle with achieving this goal, their stress is to deal with the delay or loss of this desire. Holidays that focus on children make it especially hard. This time of year being the hardest with so many celebrations in such a short time span.
Holidays can be stressful to begin with as expectations to celebrate, be happy and enjoy life are high from within yourself and from those around you. The problem is that the pain of infertility doesn’t disappear just because you want it to. It takes real hard work to put it aside even for only a short time.
Doing the work to “cope” with this season, the best you can does feel better than letting despair be front and center all the time. So what do I mean by that? The first step is to acknowledge how difficult infertility actually is. All of those feelings you have, you have a right to them, anger, sadness, sometimes nervous and fearful. Some may feel depressed and anxious. Knowing that infertility is as difficult and knowing you have a right to these feelings helps you also realize that you don’t have to live there 24/7. So here are ways to move these feelings to the background for periods of time during this time of year:
Planning has always been an effective tool in managing discomfort and difficult feelings. Planning also helps in finding ways to “hurt less” by creating little ways where you can feel in control.
Don’t Read All Cards
Holiday cards from snail mail, and electronic. You don’t have to open them. If you want to, do it with someone who “gets it”. If you think you may want to open them, save them, open only once and be selective of which one you want to see. The same goes for the electronic versions. Be selective and view them with a comrade. A comrade is someone who knows and understands what you are feeling. Sometimes it’s your partner and sometimes it’s a friend. Just don’t go it alone. This goes for Facebook too. Do a digital detox, if you can. Stay off social media as much as possible, maybe for the whole season.
Think before you RSVP
The holidays are filled with invitations to parties and celebrations where there will be pregnant women and either children or talk of children which will trigger those feelings that are hard to contain. You DO NOT have to attend any or all of these parties. Be Selective. Family events, where there are those around that love and care for you, may be easier for some and harder for others. And if you feel you must or want to attend, have a plan, maybe arrive late and leave early if you think there will be “just so much you can take.” Create an “escape plan” that you and your partner can agree on. Also have a “secret signal” between the two of you, something that indicates a change in the plan, to leave earlier, stay later, or take a break. Be mindful of your partners needs as well. And remember, you can always decide at the last minute whether you will go or not.
Be open, to the extent that you’re comfortable.
Decide what, if anything, you want to share. During this period of time, you may see people you haven’t seen in a while or just those who think that asking reproductive questions are appropriate. Prepare. Imagine that happens. What would you want to say? What would you say? Think about your response that would help you manage and control the communication. For some, sharing your true feelings with those you know can be supportive, may help. But it is not necessary. Think about it ahead of time and know what you decide is best, is best. You can even practice with your partner.
For some, the best way to spend holidays is to do so differently than you have done in the past. If it feels good, maybe a trip away or a change of scenery will help.
Find your Tribe
This is a great time to join a support group if you’re not already a part of one. It is always helpful and healing to be able to share and receive with those who understand. Check with your clinic or Resolve.org for local support groups. There are also some video support groups that have recently sprung up that you might find helpful.
Think of yourself and your partner, be selfish.