How to navigate infertility at the holidays? | Ask Dr. Domar
Holiday celebrations often bring mixed emotions for those experiencing infertility.
The holiday season can be magical — and overwhelming. Along with cherished memories of years past, each December brings moments of joy, chaos, happy shopping, purchase regrets, baking successes, epic baking fails, and of course the potential to eat and drink far too much. The highs and lows of this already intense time of year can be exacerbated when trying to conceive.
It’s completely normal to experience strong emotions while struggling with infertility, especially when outside your everyday routine. Still, there are some things you can do to help minimize your stress levels through the holiday months. The most important steps are to identify potentially fraught situations, prioritize your needs, and make a plan to take care of yourself.
Set boundaries to protect your emotional wellbeing.
As you make your usual holiday preparations, consider how certain traditions may affect you differently than perhaps they have in the past. It may seem as if children are at the center of everything, from religious services that focus on families to gatherings with pregnant women and children present — even the baby Jesus himself. Approaching the new year can also be a painful reminder that yet another year has passed without a successful pregnancy.
Respect the fact that for you, this year is different. If you don’t feel up to doing some of your normal holiday routines, that’s okay. Instead of spending hours browsing toy stores for the kids on your gift list, order some books you loved as a child online and have them delivered. You can save yourself some unnecessary pain while still bringing joy to those you love.
Preparing for Difficult Conversations
The opportunity to see family and friends who you haven’t visited with in a while may also feel like a double-edged sword. Let’s face it, people sometimes say insensitive or careless things on these occasions. Rather than spending holiday gatherings anxiously wondering whether the topic will come up, walk through some specific scenarios ahead of time. Think about which kinds of comments bother you the most, and memorize appropriate responses.
“Appropriate” in this case doesn’t need to mean demure. The same question may deserve a different response, depending on who it’s coming from. I advise my patients to come up with three different responses: one polite (for example, to your husband’s grandmother), one intended to educate (for your aunt), and one of what I call zingers (to your mother-in-law or competitive sibling). Here’s an example:
“You’ve been married for so long! When you are the two of you going to have a baby?”
- Polite response: “When we have news to share, we promise that you will be one of the first to know.”
- Educational response: “Getting pregnant can be complicated for some people, and we are getting a bit of help.”
- Zinger: “I don’t know why this is any of your business. Building a family is very private.”
It’s also good to make a plan for what to do if you feel overwhelmed while attending a holiday event, especially one with new babies or expectant parents. You don’t need to play with children or hold newborns if you don’t want to. In some cases, offering to wash dishes or check the score of the football game may give you enough reprieve. You may also want a larger exit strategy; say you have a headache and need to go home and rest. If the idea of even attending an event is too much to bear, excuse yourself without guilt.
Beyond the holidays.
Of course, the holidays aren’t the only time you may experience these emotions. It is entirely normal to feel stressed, anxious, and sad while experiencing infertility, no matter the season. Many of the tips noted above will work in other situations involving families that are not your own. One final tip: The next time you learn of someone’s pregnancy or witness a sweet parent-child moment, remember that they may also have struggled with infertility at one point. Their journey to parenthood may have involved multiple IVF treatments, losses, or donor tissue. You never know what someone else has gone through; you can only do your best to take good care of yourself.
About Dr. Domar
Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., is a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine and a best-selling author. In addition to serving as Chief Compassion Officer for Inception Fertility, Dr. Domar is a part-time associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School. She has help hundreds of aspiring parents through her practice as well as through her books, which include Finding Calm for the Expectant Mom.