For a couple that has been struggling with infertility, the holidays can be a particularly painful time. Family gatherings that may be filled with babies and children can serve as bittersweet reminders of what didn’t happen for you this year. You may have had one or more failed cycles or even miscarriages over the past several months. While you and your partner tried to avoid getting your hopes up, it is likely that with each embryo transfer you found yourself daydreaming of holding your precious little one at holiday family gatherings. Whether you’ve been private about your fertility journey or an open book, you can depend on the fact that you are bound to be subject to some uncomfortable conversations about your ability to bear children.
One woman described a horrific episode early in her fertility journey. Her first retrieval had gone very well and the couple had gotten pregnant on the first embryo transfer. The elated couple shared the good news with both sets of parents and several friends only to learn that they had miscarried at eight weeks. To the woman’s mortification, her husband’s parents had shared the news of their pregnancy with friends who were eager to offer their congratulations at the family’s annual holiday party. She was faced with the task of glumly informing virtual strangers about the miscarriage throughout the endless evening.
Here are some things to keep in mind as you face gatherings and celebrations with friends and family this holiday season.
Discuss who you will share information with and be specific. Prior to discussing your fertility journey with anyone, it is important that you and your spouse clearly designate who is allowed to be in the know well as any particular details either of you would prefer to keep private. Key to avoiding situations such as the one described above is to tell the people that you confide in that you’d prefer to remain private about you efforts to conceive.
How to handle booze. You might find yourself mid-cycle during the holidays and abstaining from alcohol. This can lead to eyebrow raises and even pointed questions about possible pregnancies. It can be helpful to plan how you are going to handle these situations. Some couples prefer to abstain from alcohol together, while some women feel more comfortable nursing a Sprite to blend in. Whatever your approach, it helps to think about what you’ll say and do when asked about your drink preferences so you aren’t caught off guard.
Plan for invasive questions. It seems that almost every family has that person that asks the awkward and intrusive questions. It can be very difficult to graciously field Aunt Sally’s third degree about your sex life with your partner. Thus, it is essential to anticipate some common situations and plan some responses. Remember, you do not OWE anyone information about your private life and, conversely, the people who are prying are likely well-meaning. By thinking of pithy ways to handle questions and comments, you can avoid being caught off guard.
Come up with a cue. Plan as you will to field awkward and intrusive family and friends, it is likely that one or both of you will find that you need to check in and get strength from one another throughout holiday festivities. It’s helpful to come up with a secret cue that can serve as a signal for your partner to come and give you support. A hand on the shoulder or a stolen moment in a hallway could be just what both of you need to get through a difficult moment at a party or function.
Spend some time processing losses alone. Though the holidays are typically crazy, hustle and bustle times, it is important to make space to process the losses and trials you have been through over the past year. Set aside some time, perhaps a quiet evening, to burn a candle and take turns sharing your thoughts and feelings about your fertility journey. Don’t shy away from shedding tears or expressing your hopes and fears to one another.
Give yourself permission to take breaks or go home early. Finally, it is perfectly acceptable to be choosy about where you go and how long your stay. There is no edict that says you must go to every single gathering for the entire time. Feel free to make brief appearances or choose to spend time with friends and family that are the most safe of supportive of you during this time.
Taking time to plan ahead and care for yourself and your partner can make the holidays more enjoyable. This preparation and thoughtfulness can also help you and your partner to feel closer and better supported by one another and by those you have chosen to include in your fertility journey.
Dr. Angela Williams is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in cognitive-behavioral and humanistic/existential approaches to therapy. She has extensive training in Brief Crisis Intervention as well as mindfulness based therapeutic approaches. Her therapeutic style blends strength-based acceptance with practical skill development. Incorporating mindfulness-based interventions, she helps her clients move through difficult experiences and be more present in their lives.