Dodge the Merry Bullet: An Infertility Holiday Survival Guide

Whatever holiday you choose to celebrate in your corner of the world, the holiday season can be one of the most bitter and challenging seasons of the year for those of us who are struggling to conceive and have no little ones of our own in our arms. During the festive season, almost everything is geared toward family and children, thus some natural feelings of mourning for the things we’ve lost or never had can take a depressing turn if we’re not careful. There were many years where I just wanted to crawl into bed and hide instead of celebrate with friends and all of their adorably dressed kiddos to ring in the coming of the new year. Instead of feeling a sense of belonging and cherished memories, I felt isolated and misunderstood some days during the festive season.   But it doesn’t have to be that way or stay that way. It’s normal to have those kinds of feelings and it’s important not to deny them or suppress them. However instead of letting your sad emotions over your infertility struggles take over your enjoyment of the holiday season, you can take some constructive action to help combat these feelings! Work with your partner as a team to make the most of the holiday season, whether you have a growing baby bump or not at this time.   Here are some tips:   1) Start making a list of things that you are thankful for. Practicing gratitude can be a huge factor in being able to be positive and optimistic anytime of the year. Pick up a notebook or use an app on your smartphone and start listing all of the wonderful things in your life that you are thankful for. They don’t have to be big – any simple little thing that brings joy to your life will do. I have an app that has lists with items on it such as:

  1. The smell of pumpkin spice coffee
  2. The purring sound of my sweet kittens
  3. Another gorgeous sunny day outside
  4. The soothing sound of my husband’s voice
  5. My favorite bagel shop

Focusing on all of the things that we are blessed with will absolutely make every day better. I promise. Keep at it.   2) Regretfully decline. Remember that it is OK to say “NO” to some holiday invitations. It’s possible that right now, you may not be able to handle a plethora of babies, children and gleeful pregnant women. Also you may be leery of too many well-intentioned questions about your own family creation “status” which can drum up unwanted painful feelings. If there is an event that you MUST attend, make sure to craft a safety-net plan of leaving after an obligatory amount of time making an appearance.   3) Dodge the “So when are you having kids?” bullet. If you do attend holiday gatherings, be prepared with answers to the kid questions. Most inquiries are well-intentioned, however friends can surprise us with an awkward question especially after a couple glasses of mulled wine. Keep the answer short and simple such as: “When we have news to share, we’ll let you know” or “Sometimes it isn’t always a choice” and then change the subject graciously.   4) Create traditions. It’s natural to think “Someday, when I have children, I’ll…” and start a list of all of the fun family holiday traditions you want to do with your future children. Don’t do this! Nothing kills joy faster than wishing for something other than what you already have. Invent traditions that you can enjoy right now with your sweetie, your friends, yourself. You’ll thank me later.   Some examples: – make a special pie or cheesecake each year that becomes your “specialty” – go for a holiday lights drive seeing cheerful decorations – have a special evening annually where you have dinner at a favorite restaurant with some friends – exchange gifts or ornaments each season with a close friend   5) Focus on others. Though it is absolutely important to take good care of yourself during the holidays and throughout the rest of the year as well, remember that you’ll never be happy if you ONLY focus on yourself. Remember to focus also on things you can do just for the enjoyment of pleasing others. You can do things like volunteer at a soup kitchen or nursing home, bring flowers to a sad friend, or if you’re up for it, babysit someone’s children and make holiday cookies with them.   6) Have a plan to cope with pregnancy announcements. Family gatherings can be a time for pregnancy announcements, whether direct (a literal announcement with an eggnog toast to the new parents), or indirect (seeing a mommy-to-be in a beautiful holiday dress with a large tummy). Even if you are happy for your friend, it can still hurt. You may find yourself giving strained congratulations and fighting a lump in your throat. Remember not to feel guilty for your feelings of sadness, but do be prepared for the possibility.   7) Do – or don’t – hold babies in your arms. Decide ahead of time whether or not you will agree to hold any babies before you arrive so that you are not caught off guard awkwardly. For some, holding a baby can bring hope while for others it can be incredibly painful. Well-meaning relatives may want to share in the joy of a new family member, but remember to put your needs first when you are feeling fragile.   8) When you’re overwhelmed with sadness, don’t stifle it. Just deal with it and move on. I have experienced many holiday gatherings with gut-wrenching moments – someone might say just the right phrase, I become overwhelmed seeing three generations celebrating the holidays, or a child is all adorably dressed and runs over to their mommy and has the sweetest mother/daughter exchange. Then feelings of deep, horrible sadness came on like a wave, and I burst into tears and had to run to the restroom to hide momentarily thinking things like “I don’t have a daughter to celebrate cute little mommy/daughter memories with.” Remember at those times that it’s OK to cry and to sit with those feelings for a moment. It’s always okay to mourn (whether others understand or not). Just don’t camp out there and dwell there too long, or you’ll miss the moments of beauty all around you.     9) Call on your support system. The holidays can be an emotional roller coaster ride: You may feel like you’re rolling easily through the holidays one day, only to be in a confusing funk the next. Recognize that these back and forth feelings are a completely normal reaction. Don’t feel like you have to squash your feelings to put on a show of holiday cheer for others. If you’re having a bad day, call up a friend or family member for support. Simply say that you’re feeling low or sad, and ask for a big hug, whether in person or virtually. Hugs can help heal us more than you realize. “Cash in” on them when needed. As always, know that we are here to support you anyway that we can during this holiday season, and throughout the rest of the year as well! You are not alone.   Please join us next week to hear more about our personal journey down the infertility path. I look forward to speaking with you. And I wish you the best on your journey.   Warm regards, Cathy

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