The holidays can be stressful for so many reasons. What’s meant to be a time of joy and celebration can be challenged from a variety of places: differing political beliefs between relatives, abuse of alcohol during family gatherings, conflict over vaccination status and other sociopolitical issues. Those of us who’ve recently experienced a life transition such as divorce, announcement of our sexuality, gender or a faith different from their families can feel a strain as we adjust in our identities.
And for those of us in the midst of a trying-to-conceive (TTC), infertility or IVF journey the holidays can be an especially stressful time. Robyn Birkin from “The Fertility Warriors” podcast outlines beautifully why the holiday season can be just so tricky for those in the midst of IVF and infertility. After listening to her episode “Infertility And The Holidays” we were inspired to share and expand upon Robyn’s excellent recommendations.
In today’s blog we want to talk about how you can support yourself this holiday season as you balance Christmas traditions and infertility stress. Are you ready to begin?
How Do I Deal With Stress And Fertility?
This first step applies not only to the holiday season and its inherent stress but to your entire year. Actually, it applies to your entire fertility journey. We must strengthen ourselves mentally.
As a mental health therapist, this means to consistently explore and be mindful of your Self. What is Self? Good question. You are with your Self when you are being honest, authentic, vulnerable and open. So, put down the people pleasing and self-judgment and find a way to tap into these four questions:
- What do I think?
- What do I feel?
- What do I want?
- What do I need?
When we have honest answers to these questions we can start to mentally strengthen ourselves.
For example, with these questions I may realize that I need more rest. But the response to this is not simply to take more naps. Rather, I have to do the hard, consistent work of releasing the shame I have around being perceived as lazy or not working as hard as my partner.
As another example, I may realize that I want a community of women to support me. The answer is not as simple as enrolling in a support group. Rather, I have to do the challenging and consistent work of showing up daily in my online fertility community and building enough trust in others that I might cry in front of them.
What Kind Of Self Care During IVF Is Strengthening?
As we discuss being mentally strong it’s important to pay attention to self care. Different acts of self-care have different results. For example, self care can look like reading a novel. But how do you feel after reading that novel? Strengthened or relaxed? Personally, I feel relaxed after reading a novel.
Now consider how you feel after practicing affirmations or listening to a fiery podcast. After these acts I feel strengthened – like I’m pumped up, full of hope ready to face the world for another day. Pay attention to what acts of self care give you that fired-up, strong, certain-of-my-Self feeling.
IVF Coping Strategies and People Pleasing
Something that makes the holiday and Christmas season unique is the sense of tradition and expectation. Ugly sweater parties, company Christmas gift exchanges, Christmas Eve family dinners, champagne toasts at midnight… The list goes on and on.
If you’ve been working on the first suggestion (mentally strengthen yourself) then you’ll be well prepared for this second suggestion. Release yourself from people pleasing. That’s right. If only for a moment I want you to put yourself first before you make any more decisions this holiday season.
Let’s start by getting out your journal and asking yourself these questions:
- If nothing bad would happen, what would I do this holiday season?
- If everything worked out fine, what would I want this holiday season?
- If no one would be mad, what would I do this holiday season?
If you took a moment to answer these questions – good job and congratulations! You’ve been honest with yourself without the fear of repercussions and being responsible for other people’s reactions. You’re in a much better place to make a plan and care for yourself during the holiday.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll do exactly as you journaled. For example, you might have found that if no one would be mad you would stay at home, order pizza and watch movies with your dog for Christmas. But in the end you might decide to prioritize just one family function and cancel plans for school or business events to better protect your energy.
Boundaries, IVF and Family Planning
“So, are you pregnant yet?” “When can we expect our first grandchild?” “You know, my cousin’s step-sister adopted… and then she got pregnant!” “Why aren’t you drinking?”
Oh my. If only our well meaning family knew how heartbreaking these questions and statements can be. In case no one has told you lately – you are not crazy, broken or “being so sensitive” if these kinds of statements make you want to cry or punch someone (but please, don’t punch anyone – really).
One thing we can do to manage IVF stress and questions from family and friends is to pre-set our boundaries. Take a moment to brainstorm how you want to respond so you don’t find yourself stuttering or stumbling for an answer.
Here are some ideas for how to answer common questions. We’ve included some silly or sassy options to get your own creative juices flowing (and because laughing reduces stress – and that’s why we’re here!)
Have you started trying for a baby yet?
- That’s a complicated question. I’d rather not get into it tonight
- I don’t have any news right now but you’ll be first to know.
- We’re figuring out the timing on that. [Change the topic.]
When are you going to have kids?
- As soon as possible.
- We’re working on it.
- We’re waiting to hit the lottery.
Why aren’t you drinking?
- I’m sober right now.
- I’m actually getting my health straight and not drinking this Christmas.
- I brought a punch to share instead. Did you want some?
- I heard drinking makes you age faster so I’ve decided to preserve my youth.
On a side note, if you are a woman trying to become pregnant and if you have a male partner it can be helpful to let him know that people are asking you these questions. Unfortunately, women tend to bear the brunt of family planning and trying-to-conceive (TTC) questions and comments. Your male partner might not even know that you are shouldering this responsibility.
With any partner, it can be helpful to review how you plan to answer these questions, separately or together. It helps if you can be on the same page about if, when and how you’ll share with others. And if you don’t have a partner, it can be helpful to have a wing-buddy or relative to help when you need to make an exit, take a break or simply change the topic.
Getting Creative During IVF / TTC Time And Christmas Holidays
It can be tempting to want to cancel Christmas when the stress of IVF and TTC is running full force. Holidays cards are arriving with picture perfect family portraits. Facebook stories highlight “baby’s first Christmas” announcements. And the holiday itself can serve as a reminder that “this time last year….” you had hoped to have a child of your own.
But I urge you, don’t cancel Christmas. Just edit! Get creative this holiday season. Because the truth is- it’s going to happen whether you want to participate or not. And if you try to mentally or emotionally cancel the holiday, you risk socially isolating yourself which isn’t healthy in the long term.
There’s no universal rule that says you must recreate every Christmas that’s ever happened in your life. You are responsible for managing your own holiday stress. Not other people’s.
Will people be disappointed if you do something different this year? Maybe. But if they are adults, this is not the first time they are experiencing disappointment and they will survive. Remember, we are backing off of the people pleasing.
And all those holiday cards with happy families? Bless ‘em. Now throw away the card. There is no rule that you have to hang every card across your wall and torture yourself. Likewise, feel free to mute or unfollow facebook friends for the next few weeks. Don’t worry – you’re still friends and they won’t know. You can unmute or refollow as soon as you’re ready.
So what do you want to do this holiday season? Do you want to take a trip out of town? Do you want to delegate hostess responsibilities to your sister in-law? Do you want to DoorDash Thai food instead of making a full buffet? Do you want to purchase a “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament to remember the child you lost this year but who is still in your heart?
You can do all these things and more. You have permission. And you have the responsibility to take care of yourself in a way that gives you holiday joy too. That’s right. This is your Christmas too.
IVF Support and Counseling in St. George Utah | 84790 | 84780 | 84770
Have you been thinking about how you can support yourself during this TTC or IVF journey? As any woman who’s struggled to conceive or carry to term well knows fertility, pregnancy and birth are a holistic process. It’s not enough to just have sex. It’s about hormones, nutrition, stress, age, relationship and so much more.
The therapists at Guided Wellness Counseling in St. George, UT have a unique passion for serving the diverse women of our community, at all ages and stages of life. We specialize in helping women overcome depression, anxiety and trauma / PTSD and are well trained in EMDR trauma therapy. Our small caseloads and custom treatment plans ensure that you never have to wait for an appointment and you have access to consistent therapy and care from our team.
The first step is to call or text (435)767-1424 for a complimentary phone consultation. After a few questions we personally select the therapist that is best suited for your needs and goals. Next, we’ll offer you an appointment within the next week. And, because we know weekly therapy often leads to clients reaching their goals faster, we’ll offer you to schedule your follow up appointments so you’ll never have a delay in your sessions.
We look forward to supporting your through your TTC or IVF journey. You do not have to do this alone. While we know “it’s okay not to be okay,” we also know it’s not okay to struggle day in and day out. Therapy can help. We are ready when you are.