Thanksgiving is quickly approaching and so begins the official Holiday Season.
Holidays bring on a mixture of emotions depending upon how satisfied you are with your life, family, personal and professional goals and dreams. It is an annual marker where you can compare this year to where you were last year in any of the above categories. For those of you who can say yes to all of the above categories I imagine there will be much celebration. Those who are still trying to fulfill those goals may feel a sense of sadness, loss, or anger. That mixture of feelings combined with the pressure to have a good time and attend many social events during the holidays can create a lot of stress and confusion.
It is a particularly tough time of year for those who have been trying to build their families and have been unsuccessful so far. These holidays focus on family and children and being in the midst of infertility treatment or adoption with the usual media and traditional celebrations are reminders that being childless when you don’t want to be can feel overwhelming.
There are some things you can do to try and take some control over how and where you participate in your celebration of the holidays. These tips can help you survive the next couple of months and gain some sense of control.
1. Remember that you are more than your infertility. It is difficult to separate yourself from your infertility because it becomes all-consuming and a huge part of your life. The holidays create more of an artificial microscope where people feel more inclined to make judgments that may or may not be fair. Be especially kind and forgiving to yourself. It is the best present you can give yourself.
2. Pick a holiday and give it your own special touch to make it meaningful to you. Create a special dish that becomes your signature dish. Take a walk with someone special or do something you enjoy to treat yourself. Make time for yourself in a meaningful way during the holidays. Give yourself a break.
3. Don’t try to take on too much on a particular holiday. You don’t have to make the entire Christmas dinner and have everyone over to your house. You don’t know how you might be feeling both physically and emotionally if you are in the midst of your family building. Agree to do one part of the celebration if that feels right.
4. Have a back up plan. You may be invited somewhere with lots of kids or family or friends that are pregnant and that may be challenging for you. Talk with the person hosting the gathering and if it is a trusted friend or family member let them know ahead of time that you may feel overwhelmed and may need to leave early or cancel your visit. You might want to plan another time to get together with them when it can be a quieter more intimate gathering.
5. People may be more inclined over the holidays to ask you uncomfortable questions about when you are going to start your family or make insensitive remarks. Spend some time before the holidays thinking about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Discuss it with your partner if you have one and decide who will be a spokesperson. You may even want to practice responses. It will make it easier to answer when people make comments or inappropriate inquiries. The bottom line is you can share nothing or as much as you want about your family building process. Simply saying “we do not have any children” or “we will start our family when we are ready to” is all you need to say.
6. Shopping over the holidays involves seeing lots of young kids with their parents and store displays showing babies and children. If you feel you would rather not expose yourself to that type of setting shopping on line might be a better alternative for you. It is another way for you to take some control over the holidays rather than letting them control you.
7. Do whatever you can to try to limit your stress. Identify a trusted friend, family member, or therapist/ support group you can turn to over the holidays that is easily accessible and can be there to talk with you during a particularly challenging experience.
8. The holidays can also be about helping others. There may be a cause or charity that is close to your heart. If you want to work with kids programs like Boys and Girls Clubs are eager to get extra help over the holidays. There are countless programs working with the elderly, pets, the homeless, and much more. Shifting your focus can be gratifying and can offer new perspectives. This can become a new tradition and can also energize you in new and different ways.
I hope there are times during the holidays that offer you some comfort and that you have people in your life that do offer you the love and support you need as you continue the challenging process of building your family. Do whatever you can to nurture yourself each step of the way. You deserve it.
Iris Waichler, MSW,LCSW, has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.