The holidays are not an easy time for those struggling with infertility.
It may feel like everyone around you is celebrating their families and pregnancies, reminding you that you don’t have a family of your own yet. Spending time with family can also involve intrusive questions and extra pressure to have a family already.
As the end of the year invites reflection on the past year’s accomplishments, it can bring up painful feelings about not yet having started or extended your family.
While this time of year is sure to bring up challenges, there are tools you can use to make it easier. Here are 7 practices you can use to not just survive the holiday season, but hopefully enjoy it.
1. Prepare yourself beforehand
Unexpected pregnancy announcements and prodding questions can catch you off guard and turn a would-be-celebration into an emotional debacle. By preparing yourself for the hard stuff in advance, you can take charge of the things you can control.
First, know what triggers you, and plan accordingly. For example, if it’s too painful for you to be around mothers with babies, you may choose to avoid family-oriented events.
It’s also a good idea to pre-plan your answers to insensitive comments and questions regarding your fertility. You may not remember your script in the moment, which is totally fine. But having a plan puts you at ease and diffuses the interest of the people asking.
2. Set boundaries
When everyone seems to want a stake in your personal fertility journey, it’s empowering to remember that it’s your (and your partner’s) journey above all. You don’t owe anyone else an explanation about your fertility choices or status.
Especially in circumstances where people may overstep, it’s important to set boundaries about what you’re willing to talk about, and which topics, or in which moments, you want to be left alone. You may decide that giving basic information avoids misunderstandings or more questioning, but adding details invites unwanted comments.
Another boundary you can set is what you choose to attend. While seeing loved ones can bring needed support, you don’t have to accept every social invitation. Say no when you need to. If you feel inclined, you can explain why you’re uncomfortable attending an event; it might help family and friends better understand what you’re going through.
3. Take a break from social media
When your feed starts blowing up with family photos and holiday cards, social media can become a very triggering place. The holidays may be a good time for you and your partner to take a break from social media, or at least the apps that trigger you.
You can set a timeframe that you will spend without using certain apps, and have someone else hold you accountable if it helps. Do whatever works for you to manage your stress. Who knows, you might even find yourself deleting socials for good!
4. Practice mindfulness
Whenever your external situation becomes overwhelming, leaning on mindfulness practices can help you regain clarity, by coming back to the present moment.
Mindfulness is the act of noticing your surroundings and focusing on the present moment. It’s deeply linked to Zen meditation, the ancient Buddhist practice centered around staying present and non-judgemental.
Maintaining presence not only helps you cope with stress and pressure, but it allows you to deepen your joy. The holiday season only comes once a year, and while it comes with its challenges, it has no shortage of blessings, either. When you start to get caught up in the negative, remember to take a breath and enjoy the good in each moment, while it’s here.
You can practice meditation as a tool to become more mindful in each moment of your life. There are a number of apps, videos, courses, and books to guide you into meditation. You can also try this 10-minute Self-care During the Holidays meditation designed for the holiday season.
5. Lean on supportive loved ones
You probably already know which people in your life add to your infertility stress, and which ones make you feel more supported. Around the holidays, there may be events where you’re forced to interact with both of these people. If you can, try to find the ones you enjoy having conversations with, and stay closer to them throughout the event.
You might also want to get together a little extra with the supportive people in your life. These people can be helpful pillars to lean on for support during hard times. In particular, communicating with your partner about both of your needs, and making an effort to support them, is key to making it through this time together.
6. Create traditions
Just because you don’t have your family yet, doesn’t mean you can’t start making traditions. If you’re especially missing the rituals that make the holidays special for you, it might be a good idea to start creating new traditions, or slightly adapting your current ones.
It could be a special holiday meal, an at-home activity, or a fun outing. Just check that your rituals are cultivating self-love and acceptance, and that they bring more joy than sadness.
Creating traditions when you’re waiting to start your family can be bittersweet, but they can help you cultivate excitement for years to come and focus on hope over despair.
7. Cultivate gratitude
With all the negativity surrounding infertility during the holidays, it’s easy to lose perspective of what’s already good in your life. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, try using the holidays as an opportunity to take stock of what you do have.
You can try a journal exercise where you list the positive things in your life that you take for granted – like having a job, a family, friends, food, a home. When you’re feeling a deep sense of lack, remembering your blessings can shift your perspective and allow you to enjoy a special time of year, and an important time in your life.
If you’re dealing with infertility during the holidays, there may be no escaping the triggers. But you have the opportunity to take back your power. By preparing beforehand, staking your boundaries, breaking from social media, practicing mindfulness, seeking emotional support, creating traditions, and cultivating gratitude, you can make the holiday season a moment to enjoy rather than dread.