How to cope with infertility and the holidays
With Thanksgiving behind us, we are deep into the season of love, celebration, and family. And as joyful as the holidays are supposed to be, they can be uncomfortable, awkward and painful for those navigating infertility. Reminders of family building are splashed across every billboard and advertisement this season, not to mention the conversations that are sprung on us by well-meaning family members after a glass of champagne.
In the words of Samantha Franklin, a licensed clinical social worker in San Francisco, "So many people associate children with the holidays. Once you’ve opened up the door that kids are what you want and then you have to face the holidays, it’s so much harder." The holidays can be a minefield if you're still working through your fertility journey, so how do we navigate these tricky situations? We're sharing tips and resources below.
"No" isn't a bad word
We think of the holidays as time to celebrate family, so it can feel impossible to say no to family gatherings and events - especially if your family members loudly protest your absence! But remember, your attendance is up to you and no one else, and one RSVP does not determine your love for your family members. If you are grieving or simply struggling with fertility and know a large gathering will make you feel worse, don't feel bad clicking "No" on that e-vite. This season is a time to celebrate joy, and your family's joy shouldn't come at the expense of yours.
If you decide to attend a gathering but know Aunt Sue is going to ask you all about babies, you may want to recruit some backup. Whether that's your partner, a relative, or a close friend, it can help to have someone else teaming up with you for the difficult conversations. They can help act as a buffer during awkward conversations or subtly pull you off to the side when unwanted topics come up.
Consider an elevator speech
Once you've made your decision and recruited any needed backup, it can help to prepare responses to the questions you're expecting. Whether that's a breezy, "Don’t worry, we’re trying!” or a more serious, “It's been tough, so we'd rather not get into it right now,” having some responses in your back pocket can help you maintain healthy boundaries. And if you're comfortable sharing more but don't want to nose dive into all the details, a quick pre-planned elevator speech can help you feel prepared for anything.
Plan your exit strategy
Just as there's nothing wrong with saying "No," there's also nothing wrong with telling relatives you'll be leaving early (or arriving late!). Family events can be taxing, and talk of babies while you're coping with infertility doesn't help. Talk with your partner about a strategy that might let you participate in important events while still feeling comfortable. For example, you can swing by your sister's house and leave before your niece's holiday recital, or you can come for family dinner but leave before the post-dinner baby talk.
Remember to celebrate YOU
Coping with infertility is hard, and the family spirit of the holidays can be like putting your family-building stress into a pressure cooker. On the other hand, many find the presence of family comforting and find joy leaning into holiday traditions. Whatever your feelings this season, just know that you deserve to celebrate yourself in whichever way fits your needs.
If you're struggling with grief, trauma or painful feelings this season, we strongly recommend seeking specialized support and counseling. You can find resources here and RESOLVE's tips for handling the holidays here. We're wishing you the best of luck this season, and sending all our joy and love your way.