The holidays can be a difficult time for anyone. Our culture promotes an ideal of the perfect holiday season with unrealistic expectations, and when that experience inevitably falls short, it can lead to disappointment. For those coping with infertility, the joy of the holidays can seem even harder to attain.
The holidays are focused on family, with children at the epicenter. Those who long for the child that has not yet come can feel isolated, sad, and discouraged.
“The holidays tend to remind those dealing with infertility that family building has not gone the way they imagined,” says Dr. Ariadna Cymet Lanski, a clinical psychologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois. “Seeing your siblings and cousins with their children can remind you of what you don’t have, and that’s not easy.”
Dr. Marie Davidson, who is also a clinical psychologist at Fertility Centers of Illinois, agrees. “For couples experiencing infertility, there can be deep sense of alienation from the spirit of celebration. As a result, you may not want to participate in the usual family rituals, and you may search for ways to protect yourself from the distresses of social comparison.”
Yet the holidays and family gatherings can still be meaningful and enjoyable. Drs. Davidson and Cymet Lanski offer advice and techniques on how to navigate the emotions that surround the holidays.
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings Don’t judge your own feelings; they are important and real and you have them for valid reasons. It is normal to feel envious and even angry that you are “left out”. Holding everything inside doesn’t help. It actually takes more mental energy to hold your feelings back than to express them. Allow yourself time to feel the sadness, anger, and frustration.
2. Reach Out If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out support from your partner or a close friend. Talk about your feelings together. Keep in mind that men and women cope with stress in different ways. Women are more likely to express their sadness, while men tend to hold things inside. Neither way is wrong, just different. Whether it’s your partner, a friend, professional counseling, groups, or online forums, finding somewhere to talk with people who understand can help you feel less alone.
3. Choose the Gatherings You Attend Discuss holiday gatherings with your partner, and decide how much celebration to participate in. If going to that family dinner will send you over the edge, don’t go. Going to every minute of family gatherings isn’t necessary – it is important to put your needs first. Your family will move on in time.
4. Plan Ahead Plan, plan, and plan ahead. Anticipation is half the battle. People have a way of asking inappropriate questions at inappropriate times. Be ready for the nosy questions and the possible “We’re pregnant” announcements. Come up with an answer in advance that feels comfortable to you.
5. Make Special Plans of Your Own Plan for memorable events of your own. Host an adults-only holiday party, or plan a romantic evening out with your partner. For some, it might even mean skipping a family gathering and planning a holiday getaway of your own. For example, one couple we know spent Christmas at a quiet cabin with another couple and enjoyed hiking, playing board games and relaxing. While their families didn’t quite understand, both couples said it was a rejuvenating and memorable holiday.
6. Remember This is Not Forever Remind yourself that this holiday season or the way you choose to celebrate this year is not how it will be for the rest of your life. Your fertility struggles will resolve at some point and things will change.