Take Care of Yourself During This Holiday Season: A Letter to My Sisters Struggling with Infertility
The holidays stir up a host of emotions for someone going through infertility. Maybe you are hoping and praying to see your two pink lines on Christmas morning or imagining giving your partner a bag to open with a onesie that reveals he or she will be a parent, but the painful reality for many of us is that this will not be the case. Then we will go be with our families and feel like we must put on a smile to save face when, in reality, we are sad, angry, numb, and feeling like a failure.
The Christmas Eve after I was diagnosed with infertility, we had family over to try and be as normal as possible. A family member whipped out an unassuming envelope, and we opened what seemed to be a regular Christmas card. Genuine excitement ensued. Lots of “OMGs,” “so happy for you two,” “how have you been feeling,” etc. Because we were, truly, very excited. Then it hit. I wasn’t pregnant, and now their pregnancy made me feel even more less-than. It was a reminder that I could not give my husband a baby reveal for Christmas. “Hey guys, I have to run to the bathroom,” I said. As I walked up my staircase, I began to feel the weight of my current reality. The lump in my throat felt like it was the size of a tennis ball. I went into our master bathroom, curled up in a ball and cried. I tucked the card under some object on our dresser, wiped my face, and rejoined our guests as if nothing ever happened.
The next day was Christmas and, like always, we made our rounds. My anxiety grew as we approached the house where baby talk would be the topic of conversation for the day. “Okay Ashley, fix your energy and put a smile on your face.” This was my internal narrative as I got out of the car. We walk in the house and rightfully so, everyone is overjoyed, me included. Because, although I was incredibly unhappy about my situation, I was very happy for them. However, the tennis ball feeling returned. Again and again and again. I could not contain it any longer and finally made my way to the bathroom. The tears poured from my eyes like a faucet. “God, why? God, why?” That’s what I thought as I tried to control the noise coming from my cries and sniffles. This day felt like torture.
Looking back, I wish I would have made the choice to stay home that year. We were very early in our infertility journey, and I felt like I could adequately manage my emotions and mental health by being around pregnant women, engaging in baby talk, attending baby showers, and so on. However, I was not able to do that. What I’ve come to learn is that I was re-traumatizing myself, and I needed to create healthy boundaries and strategies to make sure I was okay even if that meant disappointing others. If you are struggling this holiday season, think about the following things to create healthy boundaries and to honor your needs during this time.
It is okay to skip that family event
Listen, it is okay to choose to stay home for the holidays. Sometimes being around a lot of people is not what you need at the time. Family events are notorious for being a place where people announce their pregnancies, bring their babies, and family members ask about your reproductive system. You are not wrong to want to avoid that this year. Instead, cook your own meal or make a reservation at a restaurant that’s offering a holiday meal. It’s also less clean up.
Set boundaries for engagement
It’s inevitable. There will always be someone asking you when you are going to have a child. The conversation is wildly inappropriate and tacky. Please tell this family member to never ask you about your family planning again. If you choose to talk about it with them, let it be on your terms, not theirs. This also goes for engaging with the adorable little ones. If you can handle seeing those squishy little faces, go for it! However, if holding a baby or playing hide and seek with your niece or nephew brings feelings of inadequacy and sadness, deciding to not engage for the day is a healthy decision.
Leave the gathering early
One year, my husband had a family member loudly say to him “You must be shooting blanks!” Even with my back to them, I could feel my husband’s frozen reaction of shock, embarrassment, and anger. Needless to say, things were about to escalate. I grabbed my husband and we left. Your situation may not call for an abrupt call to exit stage left. However, if you begin to feel uncomfortable and need to call a time out, do so.
Plan time to regroup
The fact is that many of us will still want to see our families and friends at gatherings during this holiday season. And that is okay. However, you never know how things will affect you, so planning time after these gatherings to regroup is beneficial. Allow yourself time to process your feelings and to love on yourself. Turn off your phone, light a candle, play your favorite calming album, and have a glass of your favorite wine or tea (or bourbon and Dr. Pepper, if you’re like me). In the words of my dear friend, “It’s a vibe!” Whatever you choose to do, make sure it refills your cup because Lord knows how draining infertility can be.