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How to survive the holidays when you’re coping with infertility

I remember one holiday season early in my marriage, before anyone knew my husband and I were having fertility struggles. I was at a family holiday gathering and one woman in my family decided to show me pictures from a recent get-together with her college girlfriends. As she showed me each picture, the only information she gave me about the women was their name and the children each one had. All she said was:

“Here’s Susie, she has a six-year-old boy and a four-year-old girl. And here’s Jodie, who is a stay-at-home mom to her five-year-old twin girls…”

This family member chose to define these women, not by her memories of them in college or their personality traits or even their careers, but by their children. During this emotional time, it left me wondering how she would define me to others. Or, worse, how I would define myself. Was I nothing without kids?

Now as an adoption consultant, I hear all kinds of stories from my clients about how they spend the holiday season coping while waiting for a prospective birth mother to choose them or to have a child placed with them. This is the same struggle that so many couples go through when trying to conceive during the holidays, especially if they’re going through in vitro fertilization, intrauterine insemination or other infertility procedures that can wreak havoc with their emotions, schedules and finances.

The holidays are known as a joyous time, but often those struggling trying to conceive or waiting for adoption spend the season coping. The stress and anxiety during this time has little to do with gift shopping or appetizers for parties and so much to do with the many issues going on in their personal and family lives.

Everyone has that crazy cousin, drunken uncle, overly concerned parent or blunt friend who might say or do something this holiday season that will make them cringe. Through my own experiences and what I hear from my adoption clients, I have a slew of tips to help people cope during the holidays.

1. Think ahead

Make a plan ahead of time, such as practicing responses to probing questions that you know you’ll be asked. Or create a signal to your partner that it’s time to fake a sickness and leave. It can also involve recruiting and educating trusted family members on how and when to redirect inappropriate dinner table conversations so that you don’t have to.

2. Take some “me” time

The most effective tip for me was to step away. I would just take a few minutes in the bathroom to myself for some deep breaths and refocusing. Once I had gathered myself, I would have the strength to rejoin the group, at least for a little while.

3. It is OK to say “No!”

Say no to invitations that will be too difficult for you. It’s OK to not accept every invitation you get, even if it’s for your family’s traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Creating an urgent trip that you need to go on that week may be difficult to do, but if it’s easier than attending the event, don’t hesitate.

During the holiday season this year, The Adoption Consultancy and Beyond Infertilty are inviting you to share your holiday coping stories via @AdoptConsultant and @BeyondIF with the hashtag #holidaycoping. We would love to hear your stories, whether they are funny, sad, frustrating or heartwarming. Everybody needs a place to vent to an audience that truly understands. Some of your best stories will be shared in another article at the start of the new year.

Nicole Witt is the owner of The Adoption Consultancy, an unbiased resource serving pre-adoptive families by providing them with the education, information and guidance they need to safely adopt a newborn, usually within three to 12 months. She is also the creator of Beyond Infertility, a community support site and online magazine geared towards families who have gone through infertility. You can visit that website at Beyond Infertility.

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