Navigating the Holidays with Infertility

The holiday season can be a difficult time if you are experiencing infertility, need fertility support, and/or are undergoing fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). Family gatherings, holiday mail, and changes in your schedule can add more stress than joy. It’s okay if the holidays feel different this year, and if you’re wary of the social interactions and traditions that you usually participate in. To help you navigate this season, here are some tips to help you prepare so you can feel more comfortable and confident throughout the holidays.

To Open or Not to Open?

As the holidays approach, you may find that your mailbox is more full than usual with brightly colored envelopes. Though it’s nice to see the smiling faces of loved ones on holiday cards, it may bring more pain than happiness to hear news about children, babies, and pregnancies. If that’s the case for you, here are a few things you can try:

  • Don’t open the mail! Holiday cards don’t require a response. You can always open the cards later. For now, you can feel glad that your friends reached out with holiday cards and put them aside to open at another time.

  • Open the mail with a friend or family member and put it away afterward. There’s no need to display cards openly during the holidays.

Make a Plan and Check It Twice

Holiday events and social gatherings can be tough since people may expect a certain level of enthusiasm and cheer. It’s completely okay to have complicated feelings around these gatherings, or to not want to attend this year.

If you feel unhappy or uncomfortable about attending holiday gatherings, it’s okay to do something different. If you are able to, perhaps this is a year when you go on a trip during the holidays to get away from triggering people and events. You can also form new traditions that are better suited to how you are feeling. The most important thing is to concentrate on your well-being and take care of yourself first.

If you do feel able to spend time with family and participate in holiday traditions, here are some tips to help you plan ahead:

  • Shop light or shop from home to avoid crowded stores and (occasionally excessive) holiday decor.

  • Ask a trusted friend, family member, or your partner to prep your family before a gathering so they know not to ask intrusive questions or bring up painful topics.

  • Decide what you are comfortable sharing about your fertility issues, then formulate answers ahead of time on questions and topics that are difficult for you. If someone offers medical advice or asks insensitive questions, some potential answers include: “Thank you, but we’re following the advice of our doctor” and “That’s pretty personal, I’d rather not discuss it right now.”

  • Choose a few events you would like to attend rather than attending all of them, and give yourself permission to leave whenever you want!

  • Say “no, thank you” to holding new babies or playing with children. Or, if this feels better to you, allow yourself to cuddle babies and play the whole time!

  • If you have a partner, communicate how you’re feeling and form a plan together. It may help to unite on how you will answer intrusive questions and comments. You can decide on a signal to show that you need particular support, or are ready to leave. You can also plan to connect after a social gathering to talk about how you felt.

  • If you have a therapist, ask to schedule a session before or after an event to help you prepare or debrief.

Give Yourself a Break (from Social Media)

Scrolling through photos of happy families and gatherings during the holidays can contribute to feelings of sadness or missing out during the holidays, especially if you don’t feel able to attend those gatherings this year. It may help to do a social media detox until the new year so holiday pictures can finish running through the feed. Here are some tips for a social media detox:

  • Change your passwords and put your the new ones someplace safe to prevent yourself from instinctively clicking on a social media app or scrolling late at night. This keeps it from being an option when you know it’s better for you to skip the scroll.

  • Plan to fill that time with something else, such as watching a beloved or new TV show, engaging in self-care rituals such as journaling or yoga, or tackling a home improvement project.

  • Meet up with a close friend or family member one-on-one to get some meaningful social time. Perhaps you go for a walk, bake, do a holiday craft, or just sit together with some hot cocoa. Making time for deep connection can fill the desire for social interaction while nurturing the strong network that will help you as you navigate infertility.

Listen to Yourself and Lean on Your Support System

Having a plan is helpful, but listening to yourself and caring for your mental health is too. If your plan isn’t working, it’s okay to change it and do something more consistent with how you’re feeling.

This is a good time to lean on the people you use as support, communicate what’s hard, and let them help with the tough work of managing these challenging moments.

With a little planning ahead, your holiday season can still be special, and better suited to what’s right for you right now.

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