Your Fertility Journey & The Holidays | Fertility Out Loud

Navigating the Holiday Season During Your Fertility Journey

By Kerri-Anne Brown, Licensed Mental Health Counselor

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and should not be considered medical advice. Always consult your doctor for the most appropriate treatment.

Holidays can be stressful even under the most well-planned circumstances. There are often expectations we have of ourselves and others that can create pressure and added stress. Being on a fertility journey can increase that stress and make it harder to navigate the holiday season.

Knowing holidays may be more challenging, you can plan in advance to help prepare yourself to get through the “most wonderful time of the year” with more ease. Here are a few tips for managing stress while attending friend or family gatherings during the holidays.

1. Have a communication plan

Many people struggle with how to talk about infertility with friends and family members. Know that you are not alone. It’s important to have a communication plan and set your boundaries when talking about infertility and family-building plans. According to RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, those experiencing infertility should plan ahead, acknowledge their feelings, and prepare emotionally to handle questions and comments from loved ones. Although well-meaning, friends and family may ask insensitive questions about your fertility journey that can feel intrusive, so knowing ahead of time what you’re comfortable sharing and discussing is important.

It’s okay to let your loved ones know how they can support you. Ask for what you need from them and share what would be helpful (and unhelpful) to you on your journey. Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself, as this increases your chance of getting the type of support you need and deserve.

2. Manage your social media use

Social media can be a helpful tool in accessing resources and finding connection and support through community when going through fertility struggles. It can also be a source of pain and should be managed with intention and care, particularly when experiencing holiday stress. Because of this, remember that you have the ability to control potential triggers or any painful reminders of what you’re going through. The holidays might be a good opportunity to take a break from social media until the new year. 

Dr. Erin Vogel, a social psychologist, says that a “social media fast” provides disconnection from the highlight reels of other people’s lives, which can help us feel better about ourselves and our own lives.

If you decide not to take a break from social media, try to be more intentional about your use. Consider muting accounts that are triggering for you. The mute feature allows you to edit accounts out of your feed without having to unfollow or unfriend them.

Infertility sometimes feels like everything in your life is out of control. Remind yourself that you are not powerless, and you still have control over many things.

3. Manage your activity level

Holidays can mean more events, outings, and activities than usual. Don’t overschedule or overcommit yourself.

Booking a holiday when trying to conceive can be stressful on its own. Decisions need to be made, like whether to stay with family or friends, or have separate accommodations for more privacy. Try to anticipate your needs ahead of time so you can plan accordingly.

Fertility treatments often take both an emotional and physical toll. So even if you want to do more, your body may tell you it’s not up to the task—and that’s okay. Give yourself permission to rest. It’s important to listen to what your body needs and respond accordingly. Also remember that you don’t have to attend every family event or holiday party you’re invited to, or any for that matter. Limits and boundaries are healthy for everyone.

4. Acknowledge your grief

Wherever you find yourself on your fertility journey, know that grief is common. It’s a normal response to loss and change. Dr. Janet Jaffe, a clinical psychologist at the Center for Reproductive Psychology, says, “Unlike one-time traumatic experiences, infertility can last for years, and it can wear away at a person’s emotional, financial, and physical reserves.”

Understanding and acknowledging your grief is important for your overall mental health. Remember that there are different types of grief associated with reproductive issues. Less obvious losses that result in grief are just as significant and impactful as more obvious scenarios. Grief may not only manifest in losing a person or a pregnancy, but in many other ways like losing the dream of the life you envisioned, losing hope for the family you imagined, or a myriad of other different feelings and losses. Remember that loss and grief can be different from one person to another, and that’s ok.

There are many complexities when it comes to trying to conceive. Any grief you’re feeling is valid and deserves to be acknowledged. Identifying and articulating your feelings can help you better understand and process your grief. Coping with loss is a process, so be gentle with yourself and honor wherever you are in your journey.

5. Practice self-care

Fertility struggles can take a psychological toll, so a good self-care practice, even during the holidays, can be beneficial. Stress-reducing techniques could include acupuncture, journaling, listening to music, massage therapy, meditation, mind-body programs, mindfulness, psychotherapy, support groups, walking, or yoga. Infertility can be a stressful life event and learning how to manage your stress is key, especially during the holiday season. An infertility diagnosis is often unexpected, and research has shown that those experiencing infertility report significantly more symptoms of anxiety and depression than those without fertility issues.

Whatever your fertility journey entails, be sure to pay close attention to how you’re managing holiday stress.

6. Create your own traditions

Having traditions and rituals of your own can be a helpful way to honor your experiences. It can also give you something meaningful to look forward to next year. If the holidays tend to activate feelings of stress, nostalgia, or sadness, create new traditions with things that lift your spirits.

It may be hard to be around family and friends who have children during the holiday season. This year can serve as a new opportunity to instead spend time doing things you like most.

7. Connect with your partner

Nurturing your relationship with your partner is crucial. The heightened stress and emotional turmoil of the holidays can put a strain on your relationship. Make time for play and laughter as these are natural stress relievers. Do special things that make your partner feel prioritized, cared for, supported, and understood. You are on this journey together and need the support of one another.

8. Be kind to yourself

You are not to blame for anything to do with struggling to conceive, so be gentle and kind to yourself. Give yourself permission to feel all your feelings. Know that nothing you feel is wrong or bad. Your feelings are all valid. Neuroscience has shown us that the brain doesn’t differentiate between physical pain and emotional pain. So just like you would take special care of yourself if you had a broken arm, your emotional health is no less deserving of some extra tenderness and care now.

The future is unknown, and all that we’re certain about is what’s happening in the here and now. Know that even during times of high stress, like the holidays, it’s still possible to find ways to cultivate connection, joy, and peace. Take care of yourself and be open to finding new ways of coping and enjoying the holiday season.

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