The holidays can be a wonderful time with family and friends, but the season can also be difficult for those struggling with infertility. Regardless of culture, religious affiliation, or socioeconomics, most holidays conjure up media-fed images of happy families gathering together. For anyone who is having trouble conceiving or maintaining a successful pregnancy, these images can dredge up emotional pain.
The holidays tend to remind us that our family building has not gone the way we imagined. Seeing your siblings and cousins with their children can remind you of what you don't have. That's never easy.
Yet there are ways to minimize the stress that accompanies the holidays. You may even end up enjoying the holidays more than you thought you would.
Here are 12 tips and strategies to make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable for you and your partner.
1. Acknowledge your feelings. Realize that it's normal to feel sadness and grief. It's OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can't force yourself to be happy just because it's the holiday season. Holding everything inside also does not help. It actually takes more mental energy to hold your feelings back than to express them. Allow yourself time to feel the sadness, anger, and frustration. “The more you hide your feelings, the more they show. The more you deny your feelings, the more they grow.” Unknown.
2. Reach out. If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out support from your partner or a close friend. They can offer support and companionship. Volunteering your time to help others is a good way to lift your spirits and broaden your friendships.
3. Stick to a budget. Fertility treatment can be expensive and many couples feel stretched financially already. The holiday season can bring a lot of expectations, but before you go gift shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Then stick to your budget. Don't try to buy happiness with an avalanche of presents.
4. Plan ahead. People sometimes ask inappropriate questions at inappropriate times. So plan ahead. See if you can come up with an answer that feels comfortable to you. Some examples include: "Not sure. So, how's your new job?" or "Ask the powers that be, because I don't know." A simple response might be: "I'd rather not talk about it, thanks." Or, if you want to go for something gutsier, you might answer: "That's a rather personal question, don't you think? Anyway, how's your new job?" Remember: “Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” Mahatma Gandhi
5. Learn to say no. Saying yes when you should say no can leave you feeling resentful and overwhelmed. Friends and colleagues will understand if you can't participate in every project or activity. If it's not possible to say no when your boss asks you to work overtime, try to remove something else from your agenda to make up for the lost time. If you don’t have the desire or strength to attend a family party or holiday event, just say no.
6. Be smart when buying gifts. You do not need to shop for your young or infant nieces and nephews, or good friends' children at baby stores. Instead buy gift cards for them.
7. Avoid emotional triggers. Don't open Christmas cards from people you know will include photos of their happy, smiling family. You can always say “I got your lovely card thank you for thinking of us” and quickly move on to another topic of conversation.
8. Only adults. If you want to throw a holiday party, make it "adults-only." You can take this further if you've had a really difficult year, and being around babies and children is the last thing you need for your mental health. Maybe that means skipping the holidays at your parents’ this year.Instead, you can make dinner at home, get together with some adult friends (without children) or even take vacation days and spend them with your partner on an adults-only getaway. Your family may get upset, but they'll eventually get over it, and most importantly, you'll be calmer in the long run.
9. Practice relaxation: Learning how to relax and calm yourself can help when feelings become too intense. Relaxation and breathing techniques are all possible ways to calm yourself.
10. Talk to your partner: Talk about your feelings together. Keep in mind, though, that men and women cope with stress in different ways. Women are more likely to express their sadness, while men tend to hold things inside. Neither way is wrong, just different. “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” Lao Tzu
11. Don't let infertility take over your life: Make sure you fill your life and your relationship with other things. If it seems like infertility is all that you discuss, set a specified time each day for the topic, and use the rest of the day to talk about other things. Do something fun over the holidays like taking a trip or taking a new class at the gym or the local art studio.
12. Take good care of yourself: Makes sure you are eating and sleeping well. Sleep can make a big difference for our mood and our emotional strength. “With the new day comes new strength and new thoughts.” Eleanor Roosevelt.
Remind yourself that the holidays and the way you choose to celebrate them will soon pass. This is not how it's going to be for the rest of your life. Your fertility struggles will resolve at some point, things will change and you will be able to celebrate again.