By Carol Frost Vercollone, LICSW  (Orginally posted 12/19/12)

christmas decoration

Anticipating Your Issues

If fertility treatment is getting to you and you’re feeling frustrated with its uncomfortably large effect on your daily life, you may hate to see an article on coping with the holidays. Why should you be reduced to “coping” when everybody else seems to be “celebrating”? Holidays are supposed to be joyous, full of parties, family connection, finding the perfect gift – right? You do occasionally hear mention of the holiday blues and Scrooge, but you may not be happy applying those concepts to your life!

I think that conflict over how you’re supposed to feel and behave versus how you might actually feel this year is a source of great frustration. And even more difficult is when you and your spouse have different “shoulds” or different levels of pain over infertility during this holiday season.

In this post, I will offer some questions that will help you guide your thoughts about how to best cope with the holidays. I hope you wil examine your options for nurturing yourselves in the coming weeks – and maybe even incorporate these options in your list of resolutions for the New Year.

Tough Questions

  1. What stage of infertility treatment are you at? It this a very difficult time or optimistic time? What do you predict will be happening medically and emotionally on each of the upcoming important dates?
  2. Are you and your spouse reacting very differently to your current stage of infertility? Are your holiday season needs different, too?
  3. How supportive has your family been during your infertility? Has visiting your family been a positive experience, or is there a history of tension and disappointment? How understanding are they of individuals taking are of their own needs versus meeting family expectations?
  4. How supportive have your in-laws been during your infertility?
  5. Do you have friends who know of your infertility and have been of support? Can you include time with them in any of your plans for the holiday season?
  6. How child-oriented have your holidays usually been? How are you feeling this year about time with children?
  7. How many pregnant women will be celebrating the holidays with you?
  8. How overwhelming are your shopping lists? Entertaining responsibilities? This is a good year to limit obligations, even if you usually could out-do Martha Stewart and a professional shopper!
  9. Do you have a fantasy of what might sustain you best? Will your spouse still love you if you stay in bed with the “flu” on Christmas? How about giving each other the gift of a ski getaway for the holidays?

Gentle Suggestions

  1. If infertility is a roller coaster, you may not be sure on any given day how high or low you’ll be. When you make social plans, anticipate how you might gracefully excuse yourself if that day ends up to be a low point.
  2. Setting limits can help too: only do dessert with the family all excited over pregnancies; if travelling, stay at a hotel if relatives round-the-clock would be too much; arrive after the adorable toddlers have opened their gifts or the difficult sister-in-law has gone home.
  3. Infertility is a time of depleted energy; simplify all you can. In future years you can find all the perfect gifts, come up with new recipes, deck the halls perfectly, etc.
  4. Your parents and grandparents formed their rituals. You have a right to form yours, even if you are “just” a family of two right now. (This is a fact that is true, too for those dealing with secondary infertility and stepfamily complexities.) You can always take a break from family rituals for one year and embrace them again next year.
  5. It won’t always be this bad. People who know of your infertility have every reason to hope that next year you’ll truly be celebrating.
  6. Being happier next year, however, doesn’t necessarily mean being more oriented to meeting others’ expectations of you. This may be the year you find it necessary to declare your independence.
  7. You may feel that you need your spouse’s support but that doesn’t mean you need to be attached at the hip. You can decide to divide up some of the obligations or let the more social, motivated one go have a good time, while you curl up with a book or movie. If no graceful excuse is possible, there’s always the flu.
  8. Do respect the reality and power of infertility. You can put on a happy face at times, but also need to private (or even publicly with some loved ones) acknowledge the anxiety, tension and sadness that you can only pray will pass by the next time of major celebrations.
  9. Speaking of which, expect that prayer may be a painful issue. There may be anger now that the simple and holy wish for a child hasn’t been answered. Expect to be annoyed with anyone who wants you to be charged up over any lesser reasons to be thankful or celebrate when all you really want for Christmas or Hanukkah is a baby.

And always, try to keep in mind that next year is a New Year. Your best and most sustainable hopes should focus on a new year being easier than this year – and maybe the last few years!

This article originally appeared in our Autumn 2001 Newsletter.