Coping with Infertility During the Holiday

Amancay Tapia
Photo byRyutaro Tsukata/Pexels

The holidays can be an incredible time to be with friends and family, though it can also be filled with conflicting feelings and grief. For those coping with the pain of infertility, the holidays can be bittersweet, at best, or anguish-inducing at its worst. Images of seemingly perfect families celebrating the holidays with their children, friends sharing gaggles of pictures of their young kids on social media, and even pressure from well-meaning family members about 'starting a family' can create a perfect storm of holiday blues.

NewsBreak spoke to Benjamin Tee, a scientist with a PhD from Stanford University and co-founder of twoplus Fertility, "I know about navigating the complex feelings surrounding infertility during the holidays all too well. My partner and I struggled with a long period of infertility, and our search for a natural and effective fertility solution led us to a lot of dead ends."

Mr Tee told us about "the anticipation of waiting to see those two lines on the pregnancy test, and the sorrow we felt as each month passed and nothing happened". According to the scientist, this is something 1 in 5 people experience. "It's also what led my business partner and me to create twoplus fertility. One's own expectations, the expectations of friends and family, and powerful feelings of missing out and — sometimes — envy can put a definite damper on the holiday season."
Photo byPhoto courtesy of Benjamin Tee, co-founder of twoplus Fertility

The stress and infertility cycle

Benjamin says that "while stress alone doesn’t negate a person's ability to get pregnant, stress can definitely play a role in infertility. Stress-induced anxiety can also adversely affect a person's fertility which, when added to the known stressors that surrounds the holidays, can create a perfect storm for an infertile person."

Dealing with this stress can be complicated. Partners need to have open communication and talk about how they feel about the fertility journey, especially when there are heightened expectations, including ones frequently brought about around the holidays.

Educating oneself on fertility and stress relief can help ease tensions. The two plus fertility co-founder suggests "understanding one's limits and setting boundaries where necessary can help someone struggling with fertility navigate the holidays without adding unnecessary anxiety. Learning some relaxation techniques can help people deal with stress related to their fertility, as well as separate, unrelated stress."

Family matters

The holidays mean family, which can often mean stressful, frustrating situations full of prying questions or rude and misguided comments. In these situations, curbing any feelings of sadness or grief will require both some conscientious planning and accepting that your feelings are valid — there’s no need for you to be ashamed of them.

By planning ahead for family and friend gatherings, you can protect your heart and your emotions. For example, if you know a gathering is going to include pregnant guests or families with young children and you feel this may be far too triggering, it's completely acceptable to avoid them. These boundaries may be difficult for other people to understand, but being selective about what invitations you accept is about protecting yourself, first and foremost.

If you have to attend an unavoidable gathering, plan for conversations that may arise. Whether you approach responses with truth, humor, or something in between, communicate with your partner beforehand so you are both on the same page.

Benjamin Tee makes it clear that it is up to you "to decide how you want to share your fertility journey, or if it's even something that you want to share to begin with. Some people are used to leaning on friends and family for support, while others may be less vocal and wish to keep their fertility issues private. Don't be afraid to set clear and loving parameters with friends and family surrounding talk of your fertility, even during the holidays."

Approaches for support

It can all seem like too much when the holiday cards festooned with smiling babies or pregnancy announcements start hitting the mailbox.

Benjamin recommends those struggling with fertility "to seek out not only the best fertility treatment route for themselves, but infertility support, as well."

He adds that "while it may seem tempting to hop on a plane and hide on some tropical island for the entire month of December, remember that there are many support groups designed specifically for those navigating infertility. What support may work best for someone depends on their circumstances."

According to Mr Tee, options for support can include physician-recommended books, infertility groups, or even seeing a trained mental health professional, "there are several infertility groups online that specifically target people, such as single mothers by choice, men dealing with erectile dysfunction, or families that are choosing specific kinds of fertility treatments."

Sometimes, giving back can help people who are struggling as well. The holidays are the perfect time to give back, either by sponsoring a family or volunteering time to make someone else feel a little less lonely. Doing good for others can help people get back into the holiday spirit and take their minds off the infertility struggle.

Benjamin remarks how "infertility can be all-encompassing. During the holidays, it can be easy to get mired down in everything one wants and doesn't yet have. With a dose of self-compassion, planning, and support, people struggling with infertility can let a little light in during the holidays and look forward to brighter days ahead."

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