It is that time of year – the holidays are upon us. This season can be a wonderful time, but it can also be highly stressful. Holidays bring many demands – shopping, preparing for gatherings, travel, and visiting with extended family. Emotionally, the holidays can trigger a range of emotions, both positive and negative. For many, it can be a time for reflection on what you have or do not have in your life. When spending time with extended family members, it can even be a sort of benchmarking against where you are at in your life compared to others. For this reason, if you are struggling with infertility, the holidays can be particularly difficult.
It is important to manage your expectations of how the holidays might go. Along with the hope of things going well, also allow yourself the expectation that there will be some low times too. You may feel sad around everyone else’s little ones, or become worn down by the bombardment of family photos as holiday cards begin to arrive. And that’s ok.
It is especially important during the holidays to plan time for self care. Time alone, mindfully eating healthy, getting regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep can all help to boost your mood and give you the strength to handle the more difficult situations.
Handling Intrusive Questions
One of the trickiest situations for people struggling with infertility is how to respond to questions and comments from others regarding family planning. What do you say when intrusive family members start asking you when you are going to have kids, particularly when you do not want to share information with them about your situation? Maybe you have just had a failed cycle and it is private news, or maybe you are pregnant but afraid to share it yet until the pregnancy is further along. Prepare yourself ahead of time. These questions can be the worst when they catch you off guard.
Before going in to a holiday gathering, think about what questions you are most likely to get from family who you may not have seen in some time. We all know the family members or friends who are most likely to ask such questions. Have you shared your fertility struggles with family members? Then they might ask you about your treatment progress or press unsolicited advice on what you should do to “solve” this problem. Have you been dealing with infertility in the closet without telling others? Then you may get questions about when you are going to start a family and they may try to “convince” you as to why you need to start soon (“You are not getting any younger…”). Maybe you have had a miscarriage and people are asking how you are feeling or when you are going to start trying again.
First, take some time before the holiday gatherings to ask yourself how much you are willing to share about your struggles. Are you ok with others knowing some of what you are going through or do you prefer to keep this private? There is no right or wrong answer to this question.
Next, consider the intent of the question you might receive and how you could alter your response given the tone of the question. If the remark is hurtful to you, was it intentionally or unintentionally hurtful? If it was unintentionally hurtful, and you are comfortable with people knowing some of your fertility struggles, you might plan a response that attempts to educate the person while also helping them to understand the need to be more sensitive to your needs (and others’ needs) in the future. If you feel the remark was intentionally hurtful, then you might want to communicate how their remark impacted you and your hope that they would be more sensitive in the future.
Finally, come up with an arsenal of potential responses and practice them with your partner or a close friend. Some responses to get you started include:
- For people who know about your struggles and continue to ask for updates: “We appreciate that you are pulling for us, but we will let you know when we have something to share.”
- For people who do not know about your struggles, but are asking you when you are going to have children: You could try being vague, by saying, “It’s complicated,” or, “If only we had a crystal ball, then we would know!” and quickly change the subject. If you feel like educating them about the inappropriateness of the question, you might say “For a lot of people, it’s not always a matter of choosing to have a baby and then it just happening. I’m not saying that we are in that situation, or not in that situation, but I just wanted to mention that to you so that you can be more careful about asking in the future.”
- For people who give you advice or share a story about a friend who got pregnant by doing X, Y, or Z after infertility, you might say, “I’m glad that worked for your friend” or “If only it were that simple!” and then change the subject.
In any case, it can be useful to brainstorm some other topics of conversation to have at the ready if you need to change the subject quickly after your response to the intrusive questions.
If you are struggling to start or grow your family, the holidays can provide painful reminders of what you are working to achieve. While nothing can completely take away that stress, being prepared for intrusive questions can lessen some of the anxiety or awkwardness of holiday gatherings, leaving you more time to enjoy the season with loved ones.
Dr. Ryan Blazei is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Cary, NC. She is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and counsels on infertility and family building options. Dr. Blazei can be reached at Ryan.W.Blazei@gmail.com (919) 720-1452 www.RyanWBlazeiPhD.com. She also facilitates a free drop-in support group on the second Wednesday of every month from 7pm-8pm in the lobby of Carolina Conceptions. All are welcome to attend.