6 tips to get you through the holidays when experiencing infertility
How do I prepare, focus my energy, and find hope during the holidays?
The December holidays are when many families and friends gather. For anyone, this can be complicated - it can be a time of joy and connection, as well as challenging family dynamics and loneliness.
For people struggling with infertility, there can be added stress and difficult feelings as you navigate the many things that might trigger your pain.
We know how tough it can be, so hopefully having some tools and foresight can make things a little bit smoother for you. Here are 6 tips to help you get through the holidays when you’re experiencing infertility.
1. Choose your people wisely: spend time with people who make you feel good.
You might have no choice about who you spend the holidays with. Family obligations and commitments can dictate a lot for some people. And for others, you might not have people to spend the holidays with.
But regardless of your situation, whenever you can, choose to spend your time with people who help you feel supported and at peace.
This could mean limiting the time you spend with people who trigger you, or reaching out to people you would like to spend time with but wouldn’t normally see.
Whenever possible, put yourself first; taking care of your mental health and well-being is a top priority, and if being alone or being around certain people have a negative impact on you, it’s okay to set boundaries and make new plans.
It’s important that you acknowledge that for many people, infertility is a life crisis. If someone you know was experiencing a major health or life challenge, wouldn’t you think it was ok if they changed their mind about an event last minute, or left a bit early?
And if you think you’ll get difficult questions or comments from the people you have to spend time with, there is an activity in the Tilly App that helps you to prepare responses to triggering questions. It can help you reflect on how you want to respond and what you want to share, which can take the edge off triggering questions and help you not be caught off guard.
2. Don’t run from your infertility: feeling your feelings will help you get through.
Many people use the holidays as a marker of time. It highlights where we were last year, and where we hope to be next year. It’s also a time of year many people imagine spending with their children, sharing family traditions and having quality time together.
So for people with infertility, it can be extremely painful to feel another year passing, and not have the children you dream of at important family moments. It’s easy to get caught up in spinning thought loops around what it should have been like, and catastrophic thinking about how you’ll never get there.
Your impulse might be to stuff your feelings down and try to white knuckle your way through the holidays. But you probably know that that doesn’t usually work. The more we try to ignore a very big feeling, the louder it gets, and it often comes out in other ways.
Instead of having outbursts at your dad, or feeling your body tense up when your niece is around, find outlets for your feelings.
Journaling is a great way to get emotions out, just writing down whatever you’re feeling. You can also schedule extra therapy sessions, or dance or scream it out. In the Tilly App there are a range of exercises that help you externalize emotions when they feel overwhelming, most of them can be used in any random bathroom if you need a getaway.
3. Time travel to yourself: write a letter to yourself next holiday season.
When you think back to last holiday season, you might remember dreaming of this year, when you hoped to have your child with you or on the way. Being where you are now, you might not know how to feel as you think ahead to next year’s holiday season. Is it even worth it to hope at this point?
You may be sick of hearing that everything happens for a reason, which is rarely helpful to hear. A more constructive concept is to accept the situation we’re in. Even if it’s challenging, acceptance is essential to being able to cope. Hearing it from others might not help, but if you can find it within you, it can be empowering to learn from our past challenges and encourage ourselves to hold onto hope.
Give yourself some time to review what you learned last year, and awaken any hope you have for next year by writing a letter to yourself that you can read during next year’s holiday season. Share about how you’re feeling now, and what is helping you get through the holidays this year.
Write about your hopes for the version of yourself you’ll be next year. This can include future children, but can also be about how you hope that version of yourself feels, regardless of fertility outcomes. This can help you recognize the tools and strengths you have right now, and let you live in your hope a little bit - which can bring more joy and positivity to you today.
4. Be mindful of children: be intentional about how you spend time with other people’s kids.
Some people with infertility have other people’s children in their lives, and will be spending time with them during the holidays. There might also be pregnant people in your family or friend circle who you’ll be seeing.
Check in with yourself to understand how you'd like to spend time with children and pregnant family members. There is no right or wrong way to approach this, only what feels doable for you.
It might help to tell the children’s parents that you don’t want to do any “parenting” tasks like changing diapers or giving baths, if those are triggering for you.
You could also ask someone else (like your partner or another family member) to stay with you when the children are around so you don’t end up alone with them.
On the other hand, you might find joy in giving the children in your life the love and care you’re hoping to give your children some day. Love is not limited in supply, so having an outlet for it could be heartwarming.
Get to know yourself and what will feel best for you, and don’t be afraid to set healthy boundaries that will help you get through the holidays.
5. Treat yourself: include things that make you happy in your holiday celebrations.
You have a lot going on. Experiencing infertility is challenging and overwhelming enough - but on top of that, you might have a job, social life, family obligations, hobbies, and other life responsibilities and challenges.
With everything you are holding on a daily basis, it’s important to take time to nurture yourself. Identify the things and people that make you happy, and prioritize them this holiday season.
Love your grandma’s chocolate cake that she makes every year? Cut an extra slice and store it in the fridge for later. Have a favorite holiday song? Make sure it shows up a few times in the playlist. Wish you could have time alone to read and drink tea? Block off time in your schedule to do just that.
Tell yourself that you’re proud of yourself every single day. Go on a special date with your partner to focus on your relationship. Make sure you are surrounded by love, from others and yourself.
Even with all your responsibilities and to-do lists, your well-being is a top priority. Find ways big and small to give yourself some extra sparkle and joy this holiday season.
6. Reach out: get support for what you’re going through.
You might not have anyone in your life (that you know of) who has experienced infertility, or who truly understands what you’re going through. But there are so many people out there who share your experience.
Find people or a community who can support you this holiday season. It could be an online support community like Tilly, a Facebook group, or a therapist or local infertility support group.
There are lots of activities and exercises you can explore to help you in direct ways, like breathwork for infertility anxiety relief, guided meditations for improving self-worth, and journaling activities for coping with uncertainty.
Infertility can feel lonely sometimes, but you are not alone. Use this holiday season to build up your toolkit and support system, so you go into 2023 feeling more grounded and at peace.
Try these exercises in Tilly's app...
- Setting healthy boundaries
Did you know that setting boundaries can be an act of love? Learn how to honor yourself and ask for what you need.
- Preparing responses to triggering questions
It’s no fun being bombarded with invasive questions from friends and family. Prepare yourself with responses that can get you through the conversation.
- Move your body, Calm your mind
When you feel a need to release emotions, moving your body can help a lot. We teach you a couple of alternatives that suit different settings.
About the author
Maya Maria Brown, M.A., is an infertility mental health expert. She has a master’s in Counseling Psychology, and has worked with individuals and couples on infertility and relationships. She also has personal experience with infertility and is currently in treatment.
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