Posted By Elana Klemm, MA, LPC, NCC 12-1-2019
It always seems as if the holiday season sneaks up on us so quickly. The holiday months consist of multiple family-oriented gatherings to celebrate, show love, and catch up with relatives you haven’t seen since the previous year. The harsh reality? Unfortunately, these times can be stressful to a family facing infertility. Regardless of where you are in your fertility journey, you deserve to feel at ease and enjoy this time with family without feeling marginalized.
Preparing Yourself Before Holiday Events
It’s inevitable—you will most likely have a holiday event to attend this season. First, remember you get to pick and choose whether you want to go. If you know something or someone will be a trigger, you can choose not to attend. If you want to go, preparing yourself before these events will allow you to enter be confident and mindful about the situation. Here are some of my suggestions.
Take Extra Care of Yourself in the Days Before an Event
Holiday events are a lot of work in general, even more so when you’re balancing your emotions. Before an event, be extra mindful of getting rest, water, and nutrients. Take a few moments to treat yourself and take a hot bath, read a book you’ve wanted, or watch a movie with your spouse or friend.
Have Conversations With Trusted Friends and Family Members
Grab a hot tea or call someone you trust and who knows what you are going through with infertility. They could help you sort out your thoughts and worries. During the event you can then think back to what your friend said over tea and take a deep breath. Just because they may not be at your holiday event does not mean they are not in your corner. If the person you confide in will be at the party, decide together how this situation could be most comfortable for you.
Make a Plan
Go into the event with the knowledge of who might be in attendance. If you know there will be some who is vexatious to your happiness or who does understand the situation you are facing with infertility—simply acknowledge them and move on. You do not need to purposefully seek out a conversation with those who may not be empathetic. If the conversation happens to occur, decide how much you feel comfortable sharing about your fertility journey. You are not obligated to share details you don’t want to. Simply saying, “We are dealing with fertility experts to begin a family of our own one day, and we ask that you respect our privacy in this matter,” is more than enough. Or better yet, have a little fun with those who always ask you when you are going to have kids. Here are a couple of my favorite replies:
“God hasn’t told me yet.”
“That is a great question; I wish I had the answer.”
“I don’t know, but I am starting my list of babysitters. Can I count you in?”
Situations During the Holiday Event
Ok—you’ve taken care of yourself. You’ve communicated with trusted members of your support circle. You have a plan. Making it this far is very courageous, and you should be proud. Yet, you can’t prepare for everything that may happen. Remember that your journey with infertility is unique to you, and some days are better than others. That is normal.
Find a space in the house where you can take a moment for yourself! If you just experienced an uncomfortable conversation or a triggering event, find some space where you can go and collect yourself for a few moments. It may be the bathroom, the basement, an unoccupied office, outside on the porch, etc. Take a few minutes. Cry if you need to. Take a deep breath. Reflect. Communicate with your friend or partner as they might be the voice of reason to help bring you back to a more peaceful state of mind. You can even create a code word for your spouse/trusted supporter that indicates that you need a moment and their help to regain your thoughts. It is critical to remain mindful in this situation. This means you are staying present in the moment, evaluating it for what it actually is, and calmly acknowledging and accepting your thoughts and feelings.
It’s Time to Leave the Holiday Event
Congratulations! You made it through! Now, you have the rest of the night to focus on you. Holiday events can be overly stimulating, so consider having a post-event event! That’s right. Have a plan for your own afterparty. It will give you something to look forward to, or it could be your excuse to leave the event.
Post-Events to Consider
Take a trip around town to check out the holiday lights or decorations. It’s a great way to calm down or vent to your partner.
Have a movie date! Maybe you watch your favorite holiday movie, or perhaps you are so over the holidays that you watch another movie on your list. Take a bath, make hot cocoa, cuddle up in a blanket, relax!
Try Therapeutic Techniques
If you had a couple of uncomfortable moments, reflect on why they made you feel uncomfortable, how you reacted, and what you learned from it. Try to let it go. In fact, try using some cognitive-behavioral strategies. When you experience worry and/or negative thoughts, picture a stop sign. Tell yourself to stop! Replace the stressful thought with a positive thought. Replace thoughts of “I cannot” or “will not” with a more positive version. Then take a deep breath or use a breathing technique to take away the anxiety. Complete these steps every time you have a negative thought.
Take a moment to reflect on the good things that happened, too! Maybe someone made a funny joke, or spilled the gravy, or gifted you something you had been hoping for. Those are the moments you are grateful for. Those are the moments that help keep you grounded and know that whatever challenges you are facing are temporary. Life has a great ability to challenge you, but you have the power to keep the goodness of the situation.
Prioritize and Consider Your Next Event
You might have a couple of other holiday events on the calendar, but just because you were invited does not mean you have to go. Always put your mental health first, and if another holiday dinner is not helpful—don’t go. The hosts may miss your company, but honestly, they will get over it. They will still have their party and mingle if you are there or not. Or if you genuinely do want to be surrounded by company during the holiday season, consider hosting a party. It’s a lot of work, but the event and attendees are in your control.
It’s not going to be easy. Recognize that the holiday season can trigger feelings of sadness, shame, guilt, and isolation, but you have nothing to be ashamed of. It’s ok to be selfish. The holiday season comes and goes, but your mental health and emotional balance while facing infertility is something that you must make a priority. Be prepared for the situations you are attending. Have a plan with your partner and stay true to your boundaries. Walk away from hurtful conversations. Collect your thoughts. Cry if you need it. Take back control and center yourself. You are a human being that is facing a difficult time, and you are obligated to take care of yourself regardless of the season. Using mindful practices can help, but don’t be afraid to reach out to infertility support groups to connect with others.