We all know that the holidays can be difficult, for many different reasons. On the best days, there is joy, there is comfort and love, there is getting together with family and friends for parties and good food. There is faith. There is community. But on the worst days, the days that make you want to crawl under the covers and hide, there is often sadness and grief.
For those dealing with a fertility struggle, including secondary infertility, the holidays can be the pinnacle of this grief. Anyone who has dealt with infertility knows exactly what I mean. There are so many triggers, everywhere you look. Infertility, by nature, is lonely. It can feel extremely isolating; especially when it feels like everyone around you has what you want.
There are reminders of what you don’t have, everywhere. There are the stores you have to go to for holiday shopping, with toys and adorable baby clothes lurking around every turn. There are the holiday cards, with pictures of smiling young children sitting on Santa’s lap or, worse, a pregnancy announcement as the holiday card. There are the Facebook photos of adorable babies bundled up in elf or Santa costumes. The in-person “stuff” might be even harder because you can’t hide- the holiday dinners and parties with family members or friends who are pregnant, or who have tiny new babies to celebrate. New babies wearing cute little bibs with things like “My First Hanukah” written on it.
During these get togethers, there is a lot of trying hard not to be your authentic self. When your authentic self wants to just crawl into a hole, or, worse, scream “This is so unfair! I have tried to get pregnant every month for 2 years. I have spent countless energy and money on ovulation tests, pregnancy tests, vitamins, and assisted reproductive technology, and you, cousin _________, got pregnant the first try on your honeymoon! And you’re having twins!” You feel sadness, but you may also feel anger, envy, and resentment. And then guilt, because you don’t want to feel those things about people you love.
It feels unfair. Especially in a society that celebrates “hard work”. You’ve put in the work. And it’s still not happening. It feels like the universe is conspiring against you. It feels like maybe, you’re not supposed to have that joy, for whatever reason. It feels like you’re being punished for something.
Every get together, every holiday party, can feel like a landmine. Where, at any given moment, some well meaning guest will come up to you and say something like, “So when are you going to have a baby? You know, you don’t want to wait TOO long!” Or, if you already have a child, “Don’t you want your son/daughter to have a sibling? That would be so sad if they didn’t have one!” As if you didn’t already know that. As if you didn’t feel it in your bones.
So, how do you get through the holidays? With determination, and as much grace as you can muster. And maybe some of these tips:
- Pick your battles. You do not have to attend EVERY holiday party. You can do an internal check-in, talk to your partner if you have one about which ones feel the most important, and then determine if you have the energy to go. If the focus at a party or dinner will most likely be centered on the person who is pregnant or just had a baby, don’t go. This is not you being selfish; this is you taking care of yourself. If you have to go, you can set a time limit, such as “we will go for one hour, and then give ourselves permission to leave”. And…
- Pick your topics of conversation. Have some topics, some NON-baby topics, ready to go at any given notice. Steer yourself towards the person in the room who doesn’t have kids, or who’s kids are grown up.
- Protect yourself as much as possible. It’s ok to stay off Facebook or other social media during the holidays. It’s ok to avoid following certain people on social media.
- Remember that this is just ONE holiday. There will be other holidays and, hopefully, you will have conceived by the next one.
- Don’t be afraid to speak up. If someone says something well meaning but hurtful, and you have the energy, don’t be afraid to tell them what you need. Say something like, “Actually, my partner and I have been trying to have a baby, but haven’t been successful yet.” Especially if that is a person you care about and feel close to, and would love to have some extra support or understanding from. It’s also ok not to speak up, and to politely just change the topic or mingle somewhere else.
- Surround yourself with support. Whether this means meeting up with friends who know what you’re going through and feel safe, scheduling extra sessions with your therapist, or going to a support group like the ones offered through Resolve. It also means connecting/reconnecting with your partner. Infertility has a way of either pushing partners apart, or bringing them closer together. So reach out to your partner if you have one, schedule in date night and focus on those things that brought you together in the first place. Which brings me to my next point…
- Focus on the REST of you. You are not infertility. You are dealing with infertility. Sometimes it can feel like this is who you are, and who you will always be. But that’s just not true. There was so much more to you and your identity before you started down this path, and that is still there, even if the focus has been shifted. What is it that you and your partner used to love doing before trying to get pregnant? Make a date night and schedule that thing. What is a project you’ve wanted to start, or a hobby you’ve been neglecting? What kinds of things did you love doing for self-care before dealing with infertility? Yoga? Knitting? Massage? TREAT YOUR SELF. Even if you’re not really feeling it. Sometimes you have to “fake it till you make it”.
- When all else fails: DISTRACT DISTRACT DISTRACT. It’s ok to binge watch something, while not attending that land-mine of a holiday party, if that’s what you need in this moment. Pour a glass of wine (because you can), make some popcorn, snuggle up with your partner, and watch every single Harry Potter movie. Or whatever you like that has nothing to do with fertility and babies.
And for the supporters out there:
- Remember what your friend might be going through. Like I said, dealing with infertility can feel super isolating. If you have a friend who is struggling with infertility, remember that the holidays (and other days, like Mother’s or Father’s Day) can be especially hard. Give them a break if they can’t make it to an event. If you’re sending out holiday cards with babies on them or an announcement of pregnancy, reconsider sending one to that friend- send a different one.
Offer your support, but don’t expect anything. You can shoot your friend a quick email or text, telling them that you know they might be struggling right now, and that you’re here for them. Or you can just simply ask, “How are you doing?” They may reply, or they may not, and that’s ok. And, for ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY IN THE WORLD, PLEASE don’t offer unsolicited advice. As in, “if you just relax, it’ll happen”, or “I had this friend who took this one vitamin and POOF, pregnant” or “why don’t you just try IVF?” (spoiler alert: not everyone can afford IVF, in fact, most people can’t) or “why don’t you just adopt?” (they might not be ready to go there). I know you’re trying to help. But trust me when I say, your friend has already done or thought of anything you could possibly offer.
Are you dealing with infertility during the holidays? What are some tricks that you’ve used to get through? Tell us in your comments below!
Ariel is a therapist at MAHEC in the OB/GYN department, and in part-time private practice at Porch Light Counseling. She specializes in infertility, perinatal mood disorders, couples’ counseling, and women going through challenging life transitions.