Living with Infertility – Coping with “the Question” During the Holidays

Living with Infertility

Holidays and family gatherings can bring forth a mixed batch of emotions. These special times include all types of families with an assortment of personalities.  Families gather together to recognize their culture, their religion, and their traditions that usually center around children

Now, you may be holding a secret that you dread to be asked about.  You and your partner have decided to keep your fertility struggles private.  It is a personal choice to share such intimate information about your family building and your health.  However, your family, and society for that matter believes otherwise. It seems “THE QUESTION” is fair game once you hit a certain age, level of commitment in a relationship, or even if you buy a roomier car.

“When are you going to have kids?”  

Now, this question comes in many different forms… And is usually followed by some type of judgment statement.  “You’re not getting any younger.”  “Oh, I didn’t realize you don’t like kids.” “Stop planning, there’s never a ‘right’ time to start a family.”   

Based on your answer, the advice is abundant.  “Just relax.” “Go out and have fun – it’ll happen.”  “Try acupuncture.”

Then come the platitudes. “It’ll happen when it’s supposed too.” “God has a plan for you.”

You just want the discussion to stop or not have started in the first place. Your well-meaning relatives have no idea that you have just begun testing because conception just hasn’t happened. Or they don’t know that your abdomen is bruised due to the hormone injections you have done this cycle. Or they don’t know that you just received news regarding the results of your last cycle.

When my husband and I were trying to conceive, I would mentally and emotionally prepare for “THE QUESTION.”  My anxiety would take on a pattern of behaviors that generally started a couple days before a holiday.  My dear husband would be present to the whirlwind of anticipation that would generally lead to a meltdown.  Interestingly, my family is quite welcoming and compassionate.  I was creating a mental scenario that most likely would not occur in the way I was imagining. Once I started to understand the pattern, I slowed my mind and developed a strategy with my husband to make it through these otherwise really wonderful days.  

Ways to prepare for “THE QUESTION”

You know your family.  You know the general atmosphere of the gatherings you are about to attend.  It’s wise to take some time to think about your personal mental story and reflect if it’s plausible to occur. Even if “THE QUESTION” does not create a challenge for the holidays, you will benefit from preparing for other special events that occur throughout the year.  Here are ways to prepare for “THE QUESTION” and begin to move through the discomfort.

1. Talk with your partner and respect for each other’s comfort level of disclosure.  It is common that the two of you will have differing ideas on how much you want to share with extended family.  The important point here is that you stick together through this and have the understanding to prevent further awkwardness or hurt feelings.

2. Know your audience and practice how you want to answer.  I am a huge proponent of role-playing or rehearsing in preparation for the known stressors in the world.  “THE QUESTION” will come up with strangers and co-workers and second cousins twice removed… Preparation is key in maintaining composure when you are faced with unwanted inquiries.  Preparation also provides the opportunity for you to be your authentic self in the situation.  Some people we may use humor or sarcasm to deflect the tension with a pushy uncle whereas a sincere and simple response is spot on for your grandparent. Stay true to your personality.

3. Know your initiating circumstances and emotional boundaries.  We all have soft, tender spots that are activated during the holidays. It’s really tough when we are not ready for the emotional response… Knowing your initiating circumstances simply means to know what surrounds those tender points – will you respond to your cousins newborn or your sister-in-law’s pregnancy?  If a new baby is at the event, how do you want to handle when you are offered, asked or simply handed the baby to hold?  It’s times like those when “THE QUESTION” naturally becomes the subject of conversation.  I’m here to tell you – hold the baby if you want… or don’t if you don’t… both are perfectly acceptable responses. Be aware of your personal limits and try to plan as best as possible

4. Have an exit plan. Some families stay together for days while others will gather for a few hours.  Plan for times to step away if needed or you may want to limit the duration of your stay.  Remember, you have shared in the festivities and you have to leave at some time.  You just may leave a little earlier than your usual.

5. Release the guilt.  However, you choose to recognize or participate in these special days is completely up to you.  You have the right to celebrate differently every year if you choose or stay true to your traditions.  You have a right to privacy about your health and your relationship, you have a right to your feelings about the discussions of the day, you have a right to participate in the family to the level of your comfort and you have a right to attend and leave as you need.  The holidays generally come with a variety of expectations and you can decide how you want to participate.  You will feel differently next year after a year of life experience.  If from no one else, offer yourself the compassion and understanding that you seek.

I vividly remember the year I disclosed our struggle with infertility to my family. I appreciate this may not be where you are this year.  I experienced such relief by the gift of acceptance and care from my family.  I did feel vulnerable and I also knew my family would embrace me.   I encourage you to trust your heart. You have many options in how you can respond. Remember to be kind to yourself and find a way to respond that matches your personality and comfort level of sharing.

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Julie Blackburn
Counselor, LCPC, NCC, ATR
Julie is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor and a Registered Art Therapist. Since 2009, Julie has provided counseling and art therapy for hospice patients and the bereaved whose grief is due to the loss of a loved one or loss through a long term illness, sudden death, miscarriage or still birth. She has experience working with children, teens and adults with a variety of life and loss issues. She has a dual Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and Art Therapy from Adler University.

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