When you’re on a fertility journey, holiday stress can leave you with a lot of emotions to unwrap. The joys of the season may be put on ice by overwhelming feelings of anxiety and sadness. Under the best of circumstances, trying to conceive (TTC) can cast a gloom over all things merry and bright, but during the “most wonderful time of the year,” additional pressures, isolation, and commitments can diminish your holiday cheer.
Managing fertility expectations
When you’re dealing with fertility challenges, the fragile state of uncertainty can lead you to put your life on hold, which can be terribly difficult to navigate. There’s a common myth that when you put in a solid effort, you experience the desired outcome, so this challenge shouldn’t be so difficult. It defies expectations and hurts your ability to stay hopeful. The emotional roller coaster can leave you ill-equipped to cope with the up-and-down feelings of optimism and suffering.
When TTC, it can be hard to celebrate and surround yourself with revelers. You may believe that life is on hold until you experience a positive pregnancy test. It’s easy to get lost in the wish that implantation is a few days away, so you persevere despite the pain.
You must face your emotional hardship before you can heal it. Try gently embracing your feelings and reflecting on your strengths. Let yourself feel scared or sad, but remind yourself that you’re trying your best, which given the circumstances, is all that is possible.
Enjoying holiday parties
The thought of attending a holiday event during a fertility journey can bring up lots of feelings. Deciding whether to participate should be based on a delicate balance of your emotional state and coping skills. These festivities can be a joyous way to celebrate with others, but they are also often loaded with emotional land mines. It can be traumatizing, and not uncommon, to be caught off-guard if confronted about when you’re going to have kids. Instead of feeling defenseless and vulnerable, have some de-escalation strategies at your fingertips.
Give yourself an out, free of guilt—an escape plan can make participating in the festivities easier. You may even lessen your anxiety by providing a sense of agency over your options. You may feel disappointed to leave a holiday party or family gathering early, but remember that there is no perfect solution, only those that are good enough for the moment. By knowing your limits, you can protect your privacy and choose to leave without feeling overexposed.
You can also plan an event that serves others in need. Research shows that giving to others, whether through your time, talent, or treasure, can be good for your health and wellness. Come up with a holiday event that gives back to your community or a cause close to your heart, and you’ll increase feelings of happiness and gratitude. You may also increase your capacity to tolerate frustration and irritation, while deepening social connections.
Getting enough sleep
When you were young, holidays probably meant drifting off to sleep and dreaming of sugar plum fairies, but when struggling to conceive, your nights are often fraught with your fertility woes. You may constantly scan your body, physically searching for signals of embryo implantation, or experience thoughts that bounce between pregnancy, future fantasies, and worries.
To interrupt the insomnia, try a progressive muscle relaxation technique. Begin at the tip of your toes, and tighten the muscle for 5 seconds, then slowly relax it. Move your focus up your legs, into your hands, up your arms into your core, toward your neck, and finally your face. Keep your thoughts free of judgment and distraction. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your body, keeping your attention on the sensations you’re feeling and a slow and constant breath.
Dealing with social media
The holiday season may be the right time to take a healthy break from social media. People post things that are especially triggering at this time of year, like a pregnancy announcement, often serving as a painful reminder of what you’re going through.
Know that it’s normal to feel jealousy and anger—maybe you had your own fantasy of surprising your family members with a similar announcement at this year’s holiday gathering. Remember that you can close, or even delete, the app (at least temporarily) to avoid any extra stress. Try to shift the focus to the future you know: “At least tomorrow I’ll be one day closer to my family-growing plans.” Then try to close your eyes and get the restorative rest you need during this stressful time.
Feelings can come on abruptly, so when you find yourself unexpectedly angry or emotional, try taking a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose and exhale your anger through your mouth—unfortunately, stress and trying to get pregnant isn’t the best combination. The relaxation breathing will hopefully help, and soon you’ll regain perspective. You’ll be able to understand that much of your frustration is misplaced and find a more constructive outlet for your feelings. It can be hard to make sense of the journey, especially when fertility experts have no clear explanation as to why you’re not getting pregnant.
Connecting with my partner
The holidays tend to shine a light on the closest of your relationships and may cause you to “romanticize” the romance between you and your partner. You may also be missing the spontaneity of intimacy. It’s hard to feel romantic when sex and your body become so “utilitarian” while TTC. To rekindle your connection, you may want to try couples counseling. You may learn that people respond differently to fertility challenges—some have a more emotional response, and others are more functionally focused. Just because your partner’s feelings don’t match yours doesn’t mean they don’t care.
There’s no time like the present, and giving each other the gift of carving out weekly talk sessions with one another can help you process your feelings, inadequacies, fears, and wishes. Helping each other feel seen and heard can thaw any iciness and isolation when it comes to stress and trying to get pregnant. You may even try sparking some spontaneous affection. It can be a fun challenge to give a daily compliment or share romantic memories. These scheduled check-ins will allow you to reflect on your feelings and help with talking about infertility out loud.
Celebrating with friends
Quality time with friends and loved ones may be hallmarks of the holidays, but this year it’s okay to scale back the merriment. It’s normal to feel conflicted about seeing people. It’s tough to figure out whether to share or conceal any family-building challenges. Not so much because it’s a secret, but because you may not want to have to educate everyone and then end up consoling them over your loss. You also may not want to “lie” and say you’re doing great.
Learning to tolerate psychological discomfort and set healthy boundaries is a gift that keeps on giving. Create limits when talking about infertility that honor your authentic experience and prevent you from feeling overexposed. Before sharing an update or discussing any details, check in with yourself to assess your emotional health, comfortability, and coping tools. Decide if it feels like the right time to go out, or if you’re better served staying home.
Try to identify a few close emotional support people who reliably respond with compassion and empathy. Explain to this “support group” that most of the time you’re not looking for strategies or a cheerleader, but a judgment-free space to process your emotions. You may also want to develop a polite but firm way to compartmentalize your headspace. Something like, “I’ll share when there’s more to share,” then redirect the conversation back to your friends.
Three gifts for yourself
When the holiday lights are brightest, a fertility journey can feel its darkest. The pressure to experience the most wonderful time of the year magnifies the intensity of any losses.
Take these gifts and use them as often as possible. Not everyone is radiating holiday joy, despite what they post on social media. There is no right way to emotionally navigate the holidays while trying to conceive, so be as gentle and patient as possible.