Houses are carefully adorned with perfectly placed decorations, familiar holiday tunes are making their way into our suggested music on Spotify, and our calendars are full with plans for holiday shopping events and family gatherings. For many, this time of year is full of excitement and connection.
But if you are in the midst of an infertility journey, you may find that the holiday season, a time you used to look forward to, now illuminates your loneliness and amplifies your grief.
When this kind of grief collides with the bright, twinkling lights on houses you drive by and the familiar sound of Mariah Carey’s voice as she sings, “All I Want for Christmas is You,” these simple holiday traditions that fuel the joy prescribed during this season feel almost cruel. It seems like the entire world around you is shouting that this is the most wonderful time of year. And while you have days where it feels valiant to simply get out of bed, those around you are expecting you to (cheerfully) decorate your porch with lights, talk and laugh your way through work holiday parties, and share in the buzz of excitement that pulses throughout all of the season’s festivities.
This isn’t only unrealistic; at times during your journey, it simply is not possible.
Navigating Infertility through the Holiday Season: There Isn’t One Right Way
The unfolding of my own infertility journey shook me to my core – the confusion, isolation, fear, devastation. I continue to learn that there is not one ‘right’ way to navigate the onslaught of emotions infertility brings during the holiday season. And by no means do I share parts of my personal experience as an attempt to represent the experiences of all who find themselves face-to-face with infertility. I recognize that there is nuance in each infertility journey, and that each person’s story comes with its own mix of challenges and emotions. I share in hopes that there are fragments of relatability that help you to feel seen, understood, and validated this holiday season.
Admittedly, I cringe when I see headings like, “Finding Joy in the Midst of Infertility,” or “Ways to Practice Gratitude While Facing Infertility this Holiday Season.” While finding joy and practicing gratitude may be practical and attainable for some in the throes of this struggle, there have been points during my own journey where the goal has been mere survival. Where the measure of success for each day was not the amount of joy I felt, but rather how many pieces of myself I was able to keep together.
So, I believe a more tender set of tools may be helpful. With that being said, it is important to note that there will never one piece of advice, series of steps, or list of to-do’s that take away, or even begin to touch, the pain of being on an infertility journey. When joy doesn’t feel possible and practicing gratitude feels forced, a more attainable effort during the holiday season is the effort to simply cope and protect your peace as you face each day:
5 Ways to Protect Your Peace During the Holiday Season While on an Infertility Journey
1. Choose Social Events Intentionally
For a lot of people, this time of year is jam packed with commitments. Even if you’re generally a social person, your social bandwidth can only take so much, and if you are in the midst of an infertility journey, this social pressure of the holidays can be downright depleting. If you have several social obligations vying for your time in the coming weeks, consider closely vetting your calendar. Determine which of these plans may be too much for you, and decide to opt out of the ones you find yourself dreading. And as new social opportunities arise, take time to consider whether this opportunity will be life-giving or draining for you while in this season. If you think it may drain you, protect your peace by declining this time (and allow yourself to do so without feeling guilty).
2. Be Selective When Sharing Details About Your Story
The holiday season puts you in closer proximity with more (and potentially different) people than you are around on a day-to-day basis, so it can be helpful to consider the parameters that you will put around what you are willing to share and with whom.
You do not, I repeat, do not owe anyone information about your infertility journey. Period. These are vulnerable details of your life story – a story you have the power to share all, some, or none of at any given time to any given person. I find that sharing the intimate details of my experience (especially while in the midst of it) often leaves me exhausted and disappointed. Even those who are well-meaning tend to start with responses that are dripping with toxic positivity. And even when toxic positivity is not part of a response, you may find that continually recounting the details of the story you are currently living is more futile than it is healing.
By safeguarding the details of my own journey, I field fewer hurtful comments, questions, and pieces of unsolicited advice. So, consider who you share your journey with and when this holiday season. You are in control of who has access to information about your story.
3. Release Yourself from Expectations to ‘Educate’ Those Around You About the Circumstances Surrounding Your Infertility Journey
If you do choose to share parts of your story, you will likely find that you are met with several questions. While those who ask questions may genuinely be trying to support you through attempting to understand more about your journey, the questions about unexplained infertility, hormone levels, tests and treatments, IUI, IVF, surrogacy, recurrent pregnancy loss, etc. can be triggering, and the expectation to provide this education can be incredibly taxing.
It’s important for you to know that you do not need to carry the burden of both experiencing infertility and educating those around you about the details of your situation. If you begin to feel this pressure or expectation, telling someone that you would rather not go into any further detail about the circumstances surrounding your journey is a sufficient response.
4. Give Yourself the Permission to Grieve
In the face of a holiday season that boasts joy and gratitude, it can be hard to feel like you are allowed to grieve. Experiencing grief can leave you feeling out of place, like you need to tuck it away and save it for “after the holidays.”
I’m here to tell you: whether you are grieving the idea of what you thought your life would look this at this point, the loss of hope in the face of repeated tests and treatments, the loss of a child through miscarriage, or some other element of your journey, your grief has a place here, amidst the lights and decorations, gatherings and songs.
Grieving for you may look like crying, journaling, talking to a therapist, or giving yourself permission to do whatever honors your body and mind on a given day. It may mean taking a day off of work (if possible) to sit on the couch and watch your favorite show for eight hours straight. Or maybe it’s taking a few steps back from social circles during the holidays to allow yourself to simply be.
This is not to suggest that the grieving process fixes or attempts to fix your infertility journey, but it provides the space for you to be honest about what you are going through, even if that honesty is just with yourself. Grieving allows you to connect with the reality that this journey is hard, really hard, and that you are able to, unaccompanied by guilt or explanation, feel the devastation that it brings.
5. Consider Joining a Support Group
If you do want to connect with others who are on a similar journey this holiday season, you may consider joining a local support group through a fertility center or specialist you are working with or a support group like the ones offered through RESOLVE, the National Infertility Association. Some I know have also found support and comfort through online Facebook groups if you are looking for a more informal, less structured medium for connection.
Support groups are not for everyone, but there have been points in my own journey where it has been cathartic to connect with people who genuinely understand the level of pain and isolation that comes with infertility. During the holiday season in particular, you may find that being connected to a group of people who are going through a similar experience will provide you the space you need to ‘take the mask off,’ exhale, and find freedom from the pressure to pretend or explain.
There is Room for Your Feelings, Even Here in this Season
As you move through the rest of the holiday season, I hope that, even if you don’t presently feel joy, if you don’t feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude, that you know that your grief, tears, frustration, and despair all have a place in this season, too. And if no one else tells you today or this season: I see you. I hope that, whether it is through establishing boundaries, journaling, tears, the arms of a partner or friend, or through the connection you forge with someone in a support group, you are able to find a place where you experience moments of stillness and peace in the days and weeks to come.
If you’re looking for someone to come alongside you to help you navigate and process through your own infertility journey, our therapists would be honored to help! You can get to know a little bit more about them here and book a free consultation here.
By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC
Other Mental Health Services Provided by Wildflower Therapy, Philadelphia, PA
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