The days are getting shorter and our to-do lists are getting longer as the holiday season unfolds. Many people-- if they were being honest-- find the holidays challenging. The pressure to cook delicious food, decorate our spaces, spend money, attend parties, and (above all) be merry and bright is a very tall order. If you are also longing for a child, the holidays may be especially hard to manage. Not everyone can escape to Aruba (the solution for one infertile couple we knew), but you can add luster to the waning days of the year if you put your mind to it.
The first step is to consider what your typical holiday season is like and plan modifications that will make you feel good and more in control. You may even “repurpose” the holidays entirely, and follow the example of our ancestors who created rituals to encourage the return of the light. Plan a winter solstice party! Express gratitude for the return of the sun and notice how each day after December 21 is just a little bit longer. Our ancestors saw this season of the year as a time for reflection, giving gifts, and sending greetings to loved ones. Sound familiar?
Think of the big picture and see where you can omit or add activities. Your goal is festive yet not stressful. The Christmas Eve family gala where you think your cousin will be announcing another pregnancy? Drop by early to leave gifts and have eggnog, then go have a quiet evening at home, watching “A Christmas Story” with your partner. The boisterous, child-oriented Hanukkah party your brother hosts? Arrive late, in time for dessert and dreidl spinning. Write holiday cards only if you feel like it. Plan a fun, holiday-themed outing that you have never done before—caroling at the zoo or attending a holiday play. Pick one outing that isn’t related to the holidays but you have always wanted to do or want to do again—visit a museum, go to high tea with a friend, or try cross-country skiing (snow necessary, of course). You need to break the mold a bit to avoid being weighed down by the sense of obligation to over do it that the holidays can impose.
Take good care of yourself and your partner. Get enough sleep and avoid overwork. Eat regularly and sensibly. Make soup. Try to steer clear of the sweets at the office. Exercise and stay active. If you are traveling, plan very carefully where you will stay and choose to be comfortable. Promise yourself that you will let guilt-inducing remarks (“What do you mean you can’t come for all of Christmas Day?”) roll off your back. Be a little self-indulgent. Get a massage or pedicure, or go to a yoga class. Know your limits and be realistic about what you can do.
Work on your expectations. Maybe you can’t be merry and bright 24/7, but who can? You can choose not to be disappointed or feel put upon. Figure all this out with your partner. Expect that you won’t agree on everything; engage in compromise. Your goal is to enjoy the holiday season in small ways, and be with people whom you care about and who care about you.
Marie Davidson, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist on staff at the Fertility Centers of Illinois in Chicago and is a member of the Mental Health Advisory Council of the American Fertility Association. She can be contacted at ';h2032342843='integramed.com';document.write('' + linktext + ''); .
Jan Elman Stout, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in infertility counseling who has recently relocated from Chicago, Illinois to Houston, Texas. She is a past Chair of the Mental Health Professional Group of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine and currently serves on the Mental Health Advisory Council of the American Fertility Association. She can be reached by email at ';h1015990503='aol.com';document.write('' + linktext + ''); .