The stress of the holidays can get to anyone, at any time. Shopping, cooking, crowds, entertaining, travel, family dynamics, the end-of-year push at work: it all adds up. If you’re dealing with infertility, however, things can get even more complicated. Emotions are running high, and triggers are everywhere. Sometimes, everything seems to be aimed at reminding you that you’ve just spent another year struggling to get pregnant without success. Getting through the holidays with your sanity intact is possible. It just takes a little planning and a lot of self-compassion. Boundaries are especially crucial at this time of year. Here are five ways to take very good care of yourself over the holiday season.
Give yourself a break with holiday shopping.
There are two main ways that shopping for presents can trigger negative feelings over the holiday season:
- Gifts for kids: Buying gifts for the babies or children in your life can be a bit of a gauntlet. Whether you’re scrolling through choices online or braving the mall, being surrounded by reminders of something you want so badly yourself can be surprisingly painful and can suck all the joy out of an experience that is supposed to be lighthearted and fun. The solution: make it easy on yourself. A gift card or a little cash for the college fund is a wonderful present, and it means you don’t have to force yourself into a baby store or into the infants’ section of Amazon.
- Holiday spending: Give yourself permission to scale back your holiday budget. The cost of infertility treatment can stretch your bank account beyond comfort, and the added expense of celebrations and shopping just adds more stress to the situation. You have no obligation to meet the materialistic expectations that every holiday advertisement tries to reinforce. Decide ahead of time on a budget that’s comfortable and doable for you right now and stick to it. You never need to apologize for making smart financial decisions. Heartfelt sentiment means more than spending, at this time of year more than ever.
Be selective about accepting invitations.
You don’t have to say yes to every party. It might be that you don’t feel up to being around a family celebration full of babies and pregnant friends. It might be that you’re just too tired and worn out to deal with shop talk at the office get-together. You don’t even need an excuse or reason, so do not stress about explaining your absence. People understand that this is a busy time of year for everyone, so keep it simple: “I’m so sorry we won’t be able to make it. Have an amazing time!” will do in almost every situation.
When it comes to family obligations around the holidays, consider planning your visits so that you have the time and space you need to retreat if things feel too intense. Whether that means staying at a hotel instead of in your childhood bedroom, visiting for a shorter time, or even not going at all, you have the right to put your own needs first.
Have a plan for dealing with questions.
For a lot of people, the holidays are a time when you’ll be seeing friends you don’t see often, particularly insensitive family members, and all sorts of people who might not know what’s going on. The focus on children at this time of year can prompt a bumper crop of awkward questions. No one wants to be caught off-guard over the turkey and cranberry sauce. You might want to rehearse your responses to different types of inquiries before they happen. You could even consider giving key people a heads up over email or social media to spare a fraught in-person conversation. Remember that you’re always in charge of how much you want to share (or not). This post on talking about infertility with your loved ones has some strategies you might find helpful while navigating the holiday circuit.
Line up your support systems ahead of time.
A shoulder to cry on or just an opportunity to vent can be a lifesaver, but finding one over the holidays can be tough. Your therapist may be on vacation, your friends may be caught up in their own plans, or you may be traveling to a place where there’s no one who gets what you’re going through. If you’re going through infertility with a partner, make sure to create some time and space where you can comfort each other and talk about the triggers and emotions you’re experiencing. It’s easy to lose sight of each other in the blur of holiday busyness, but you should make an effort to lean on each other.
Online community support can also make a huge difference. Having a group of friends in your phone and on your laptop who understand exactly what infertility feels like and who are dealing with the same issues at the same time is priceless, and you can access them anywhere, any time. We have put together a post full of community resources which can help hold you up even if things get tough over the holidays. Sometimes just hiding in the bathroom for ten minutes typing a post on your phone about what’s going on and reading the empathetic responses is enough to get you through the rest of dinner in one piece.
Give yourself time to feel your feelings–and create a self-care strategy.
The societal insistence that everyone has a holly jolly merry old time every minute of the holiday season can be exhausting. For anyone going through a hard time (and infertility certainly qualifies) it can be devastating. You are entitled to your emotions, and it’s okay if the holidays seem to magnify your feelings of grief, stress, and loss. Do not put yourself under pressure to feel any specific thing or to present an unwavering brave space. You feel what you feel, and your feelings are valid. Schedule breaks for yourself where you can cry or rage if you need to but forgive yourself if you have a breakdown in public. Look for opportunities to pamper yourself and feel good, whether that’s visiting a random yoga class in your hometown YMCA or just escaping the hustle and bustle for a quiet cup of tea in a cafe all by yourself.
Above all, try to pay attention to the basic self-care things which can fall away when the holidays disrupt our schedules. Healthy food, enough sleep, some gentle exercise: they matter much more than we usually remember. Trying to keep yourself on an even keel is much easier when you’re well-rested, well-nourished, and enjoying the benefits of some natural endorphins.
Infertility is painful at any time of year, but there is something about the way holidays highlight our memories and hopes which can make the pain sharper. Know that you are not alone in this struggle and that there is support and help out there. Focus on the parts of the holiday that bring you joy right now, and let the rest go. Be gentle with yourself as the year draws to a close. Do whatever you need to do to be okay right now, and know that new beginnings and new possibilities are right around the corner. May 2019 be the year when all your dreams come true.