While the holidays can be a wonderful time to gather with friends and family in celebration, let’s be honest, they can also be anxiety producing. This is especially true for people and couples who are struggling with infertility and pregnancy loss. I speak from my own experience, as my husband and I are currently grappling with secondary infertility. If you’re looking towards the upcoming dinners and parties with a slight sense of dread, you're not alone.
When you’re grieving the absence of a child who was expected or hoped for, simply continuing to smile and chat while being around babies and kids can take an enormous amount of emotional energy. Not including being cornered by your in-laws asking when they’ll be getting grandchildren. Or being required to compliment your glowing pregnant relative. In my experience infertility is a straw on the camel’s back situation. It takes so much work to continue to “be fine” on the outside, but one more facebook post of a friend’s newborn, one more comment about “all you need is a relaxing vacation” and then the first gush of your period and boom, the “we’re good” façade collapses and it will take at least a week or two to rebuild. I recommend preparing yourself now for some of the inevitable situations you’ll encounter. Here are 5 things you can do.
1. It’s OK to say “Thanks for the invitation, I’m sorry to miss it. I’ve already got other plans.”
Take a peek at your calendar. Is it packed with social gatherings? Go down the list, consider each item and ask yourself, does the thought of attending bring you a sense of excitement or apprehension? If the latter, prepare your words for how you’ll bow out. You can also consider going to part of the event but not the whole thing. If you absolutely have to go, have your partner or supportive friend help you come up with a get away plan. Whether this means using a secret signal with your partner or texting a friend to call you, “What’s that, you need me to let your dog out?” This is about protecting yourself. Remember, saying “no” to one thing means saying “yes” to something else, even if that something else is a Netflix binge with hot cocoa. On the other hand part of dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss can include feeling isolated. Look at your schedule again and see if there are a few get togethers (maybe adults only) that will bring you around friends with whom you can share a good meal and a good laugh, without having to be on the defensive.
2. Prepare your answers for the question
Chances are, that without fail, someone will find a way to ask you when you’re going to start having kids. Think about your response now. Maybe even practice saying it out loud. If you’re not ready to talk about your situation you could say something as simple as, “We’ll see.” And be ready to switch to a different topic. In my case I’ve started saying, “Well, I have secondary infertility so I’m not sure if we can have more kids on our own, we’re working on it, but I’d rather talk about our plans for …seeing the Christmas parade together.” For people who just won’t drop it I’ve had to say “Thanks for your concern, I’m not seeking advice right now.” If you’re ready to break the news, definitely share this “infertility etiquette guide” in advance and let it do some of the talking for you. If you find someone who seems like a great caring listener you might want to share some of your experience. I’ve been surprised to realize people sitting at the table with me are going through the same things.
3. Make time for the things you love
What do you enjoy doing in the cold weather? Long walks? Good books? Baking cookies? You don’t have to hide under a rock from the holidays. Think about your favorite parts of the season and make time for them. Put up lights with your honey; pull out your favorite holiday music, start heating up that apple cider, go ice-skating… This is all self-care!
4. Consider putting baby making on pause
I don’t know about you, but November/December is a crazy time for my family, where the stress and busyness go up a notch. Not only do we have to do life per usual, but also send cards, make phone calls, decorate our home, buy presents and travel. On top of that trying to time sex, do OPKs and chart my cycle, it just feels like too much. This can be a good season to take a short rest from focusing on conception, take a break from going down the research rabbit hole and just have sex when and if you feel like it.
5. Allow yourself to feel the ups and downs
In my experience, infertility in a nutshell is constantly being on a roller coaster of the grief cycle: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. (I saw a diagram online that also included guilt and obsession, which seemed accurate). Unfortunately unlike other types of grief and loss, there’s not necessarily a clear end in sight. Make sure to be checking in with yourself and with your partner and congratulate yourself on the little successes (eg making it through the day).
While it might be impossible to avoid tough questions about your family planning, I hope that this guide gives you a little inspiration. I hope you find time to do things you enjoy with people you love.