Lots of us look forward to spending time with family around the holidays, but for those coping with infertility, the celebrating a child-centric holiday can be difficult and often painful. All of that comfort and joy can be quickly squashed with a careless comment such as, "Why haven't you had kids yet?" Seeing other couples celebrate their first holiday together as a family can be excruciating.
With one in six couples of child-bearing age experiencing infertility, according to the Assisted Conception Task Force (ACT), that adds up to a lot of silent suffering around this time of year.
But there are things those struggling with fertility issues can do to make the holiday season a time of joy, not despair. Just as you put time into planning into your holiday schedule, it is important to put time into planning how you will navigate the holidays emotionally. Take the time to think about which situations are most challenging and which provide you with hope and encouragement. Identify the events that seem too overwhelming and navigate around them. And if you know someone who is undergoing fertility treatment, take a moment to educate yourself about what you definitely shouldn't say to her around this time of year:
6 Tips for Couples Coping with Infertility During the Holidays:
1. Plan ahead. Have an answer prepared should someone inquire about your intentions to have children. Although many close friends and relatives will understand, you shouldn't feel obligated to disclose personal details about your infertility experiences.
2. Be selective with your invitations to holiday celebrations, particularly where you expect to find children or pregnant women. If it will be too difficult to attend, you don't need to go.
3. Anticipate when you might see children at family events. If it's too painful to be around young nieces, nephews and cousins, consider arriving just in time for a holiday dinner and not the night before.
4. Bond with other couples who don't have children. Plan to spend time with couples or friends who don't have children if family festivities are too much to bear.
5. Decide whether or not to hold any babies before you arrive. For some, holding a baby can bring hope while for others it can be incredibly painful. Well-meaning relatives may want to share the joy of a new family member with you, but it's important to put your needs first.
6. Start new family traditions with your partner, like getting out of town. Consider a ski trip or a romantic getaway. Approaching the holiday in a new way on your own terms can make it a lot more enjoyable.
6 "Infertility Etiquette" Tips for Friends & Family:
1. Don't minimize the problem by mentioning the hassles of parenting or say there are worse things that could happen. Coping with infertility is so, so hard, and only those experiencing it understand how difficult it can be.
2. Don't offer advice or tips on how the couple can fix the situation, whether it's exercise, food or lifestyle. If the couple has seen a fertility specialist, the physician has already covered these issues. People coping with infertility often blame themselves; asking whether they've taken certain measures can reinforce their sense that the situation is their fault.
3. Don't tell the couple to relax. While stress often appears to be a contributor to infertility, the human reproductive system is complex and affected by a number of biological and physical factors. And don't ever utter the words, "If it is meant to be, it will happen."
4. Don't complain about your own past or present pregnancy. Couples dealing with infertility hope for the day they can worry about morning sickness and swollen feet.
5. Do be supportive. Hugs and encouragement go a long way. Spend time with the couple to show how much you love them with or without a baby, and plan activities that don't focus on children.
6. Don't push adoption. Each couple has their own approach to family building and are well aware of their options. The decision to adopt or not is a deeply personal one that they may have considered or struggled with already; it's not appropriate to discuss at a holiday event.