As the year starts to wind down, the festivities of the holiday season take hold. This period is full of excitement and beautiful things to celebrate. Yet, it can be a stressful and sad time too. Although you experience the longing for motherhood throughout the year, something about the holiday period can intensify that longing and the sadness around it. For many people, December means lots of demands on your energy, all kinds of family dynamics and social events to navigate and the pressure of either hosting or attending various engagements. Dealing with subfertility adds another layer of stress to the mix, even more so if you are grieving a loss or happen to be going through a cycle of fertility treatment and your hormones are all over the place at the time.
It’s natural to feel extra triggered during a time when everything seems centred around children and celebrating the gift of family, especially when you are made acutely aware of what’s missing in your life and just how much you want kids of your own. And of course, many family and social gatherings make the prospect of being surrounded by lively kids, pregnant family members or friends and getting loads of intrusive questions about why you don’t have any kids or comments about your advancing age and the ever-present biological clock that is just ticking away inevitable. You’re bound to be faced with a whole host of unsolicited advice about what you should be doing to get pregnant or why you should be considering adoption. This sort of thing tends to make you feel judged and unsupported in something that is extremely personal to you. Most people are kind and well meaning, but not everyone will be sensitive to your emotional state or how their words and actions affect you. It is important to take care of your own wellbeing, something that may very well mean examining how you can set boundaries and manage your energy in a way that nurtures you.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve felt the need to simply my life around the holiday period. So, I’ve made it my priority to protect my space and keep things as stress free as possible. Instead of big family gatherings and social activities that often can feel busy, chaotic and stressful, my husband and I have taken to keeping things simple by doing small gatherings with just immediate family. It’s been a significant change for the ‘people-pleaser’ in me who in the past spent a lot of time trying to find the perfect gifts, making amazing dinner spreads and taking on a lot of work to make everyone else happy – things that left me drained and depleted. It’s been a relief to give ourselves breathing space and to just move through life at a calmer pace knowing that in doing so we are supporting our fertility as well.
If you’ve been pondering how best to navigate the holiday season in the context of your fertility journey, then take some time to think about how you can make this period of the year a little easier for yourself. Here are a few guiding points to explore as you do:
Set Boundaries around Social and Family Engagements
Try not to overextend yourself. Do an inventory of all your invitations to holiday social events and family gatherings. Which of those feel like fun engagements to look forward to? And which of them are you dreading? Knowing what to anticipate will inform your decisions around how you manage your social engagements, time and energy. You don’t have to say yes to every invitation. You may feel the need to decline certain ones when things feel too overwhelming. Allow yourself to take time out for you without feeling pressured to do what you don’t feel up to.
Ask yourself: How can I set firm and healthy boundaries in order to minimize holiday stress and foster a supportive environment that nourishes me and my fertility?
Make the most of the festive celebrations you’re looking forward to. And in cases where you can’t avoid certain events, then prepare for inevitable situations and work on reframing your thinking about them. Decide how much you are willing to discuss about your fertility experiences when probing or somewhat insensitive questions or unsolicited advice arise. Maybe you want to prepare a standard answer or simply let people know that you’d appreciate them respecting your privacy to reinforce boundaries if it’s something that you prefer to keep discrete.
Healthy boundaries empower you to protect your right to your own space. Shield yourself from harsh attitudes or judgement. You don’t owe anyone explanations or details about things that are personal to you.
Manage Demands on Your Time and Energy
If there are any draining or time-consuming activities that you could do without for the meantime because they don’t add much value to your life right now, activities that you are willing to let go of in order to create more space for you, then do so. A simple step like drawing up an “Absolute-No List” of things to take off your plate could be a great supportive tool to help you eliminate whatever diminishes you inner joy and peace of mind. Again, consider what would make your life easier at the moment. Shop online to avoid busy malls, plan a simple stress-free menu and mute your social media for the holiday period if necessary, especially if you feel affected by the loads of pregnancy announcements or baby pictures that seem to peak around this time. Free up your time for activities that make you happy and for people who lift your spirit.
Consider a Holiday Getaway: Perhaps you may even decide to skip all the holiday activities altogether and go away on vacation just the two of you instead. A change of scene is always wonderful for the soul. It may also give you and your partner the opportunity to relax and reconnect with one another. Facing fertility challenges leads to various levels of stress and emotional turmoil that is likely to put strain on your relationship as well. This makes it important to create a supportive environment in which your love and marriage can continue to thrive despite the testing time you may be living through together.
Create Your Own Traditions
This is one of the beautiful ideas that my husband introduced a couple of years ago. He has always stressed that we are our own family whether we have children or not. So when we set the intention to disconnect and create space for ourselves, we made a point of starting our own nourishing traditions that we hope to eventually share with our future children.
Are there any holiday traditions that you’ve dreamed of doing with a little family of your own?
Then why not start creating meaningful holiday traditions with your partner in the meantime. Discuss what kinds of family traditions are important to the both of you. What would you like to introduce your future child to? Then decide on how you can begin incorporating them into your life together this holiday. This will help you lay a beautiful foundation for togetherness and family, something that your children will fit into perfectly when they arrive.
[First published on ConceiveIVF.com’s Slow Swimmers and Fried Eggs blog November 2019]