We have arrived at the time of year when the focus turns to the holidays: decorations everywhere you look in stores, endless Christmas music on the radio, and commercials intended to warm your heart that are focused on family and holiday gatherings. However, if you are struggling with infertility, these things can trigger sadness and depression as they become endless reminders of the happy, holiday memories you are unable to create. I know because I've been there.
What can be equally draining are the holiday events and gatherings in which you know you are going to get the hundred-million-dollar question: "When are you going to have kids?" Before you fly off into a—justified—rage, as every person with infertility would absolutely condone, I've compiled a list of tried and true strategies that have helped me navigate holiday scenarios with more ease and grace.
1. You'll be asked "the question." Brainstorm a response ahead of time.
Your response truly depends on your comfort level with your situation and what you are willing to share. If you are like me, then you will respond with swift truth and reality. I immediately got sick of this question and just put our situation out there to stop the incessant line of questioning at each event.
If you are not as comfortable or as forthcoming, which is absolutely OK, you can try giving a quick noncommittal answer to the question or stating something to the effect of "not yet" then walking away to leave them wondering.
You can also use humor to deflect by stating something to the effect of "We'll see, but until it happens we are having fun trying." Practice saying it until you can convey the nonchalant attitude needed to deliver this statement. A wink and half smile at the end really finishes it off.
Or you can use the spiritual response: "Not yet, but we know God has a plan, so when it happens it will be in his timing."
Denial, for now
If all else fails, you can go in the complete opposite direction and renounce wanting kids and listing all the reasons your life is better off without them. Although this one may throw the person asking off, you don't mean it and no matter how much you try to convince yourself internally, the pain of infertility will still be there.
But no matter what you say, know two things: First, the person asking is usually just trying to engage in a conversation with you, and more often than not it's with good, honest intent. They have no idea the inner turmoil this question causes. Just be prepared that no matter your answer, you will still get stories about how and when they conceived along with unwarranted advice. Second, give yourself permission to feel the gamut of emotions that go along with preparing to answer this question.
2. Know your triggers and find support.
The emotions of dealing with Infertility are ever present and during holiday gatherings; they can bubble over before you have a chance to settle them. So it is best to think ahead about your upcoming events to determine whether you want to go or want to skip out Four Christmases style...you know, before Vince Vaughn and Reese Witherspoon can't take their flight to Hawaii.
It's important to know your triggers. For me it was seeing Aaron's cousins who are newly pregnant, so I had to avoid their baby showers because it was just too much emotionally for me. But seeing their adorable kids during the holidays is also like a piercing knife through the heart. Thankfully, I had another cousin struggling with infertility, so we became life rafts to each other through all family events, checking in and commiserating about our feelings.
If you do go to an event, work out a code word with your partner so you have a quick out if your emotions get triggered and you need to leave. You know your family members and their varying personalities. Mentally prepare yourself for that before the event talking to your partner about how you will respond in certain situations. Then give yourself permission to leave and cry as needed but include your partner in how you are feeling. You are in this together, and chances are, they are also struggling through these situations.
3. Change the channel, literally.
Thanks to Netflix and the millions of channels available now, you don't have to torture yourself with classic family holiday shows if that's not leaving you feeling good. It's OK to change the channel to avoid sappy, holiday movies if they upset you. On the flip side, if you want to watch a sappy movie and cry it out for a release, go for it. My advice? If you really feel like you need to watch a Christmas movie, there's always Die Hard.
4. Treat yourself well.
Self-care is more important than ever during the difficulty of the holidays. Actively try to maintain a healthy mental balance. If you are feeling low, do whatever you need to reset: yoga, meditation, exercise, get a massage, buy yourself a treat, etc. This may sound hokey but is extremely important.
5. Make your own, new traditions.
In society there is an underlying implication that the holidays are synonymous with kids. It makes sense as I imagine Christmas is a lot more exciting with little ones around.
However, the holidays can mean and be whatever you want them to be. Start your own traditions. When my stepdad suddenly passed away five years ago, the holidays became devastating. My mom and I fled to her sunny condo in Florida during Christmas. Ever since then it has become a tradition to spend Christmas with friends there, lounging by a water view and palm trees. It's been a nice change of pace that helps us cope in the face of heavy grief.
This year after having a miscarriage, as well as losing the little girls we were trying to foster to adopt, I don't think we're going to continue to put up the decorations around the house, as I know it will do more harm than good. So we'll come up with a brand-new tradition to feel excited about.
The most important thing I can tell you as you navigate these holiday land mine scenarios that can cause you to emotionally explode at any given time is that you are not alone. There are many other people out there also dealing with infertility who understand your pain. To hear our full story, check out our book, Navigating the Road of Infertility.