Family Gatherings and Infertility

Tips for Surviving Thanksgiving, Christmas, Passover, and Other Holiday Meals

Couple holding hands at dinner party, supporting each other during infertility
Having your partner or someone at the dinner be a knowing supporter can help you get through stressful family moments.. / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Family holiday gatherings can be emotionally difficult when you're coping with infertility. The holidays may remind us that our family building has not gone the way we imagined. Seeing your siblings and cousins with their children can remind you of what you don't have. That's never easy.

If you're feeling stressed out just thinking about your next holiday get-together, here are some coping tips that may help.

Don't Go

You're probably thinking that is the most negative tip to start with, but it's an important one. 

When it comes to family, saying no can feel impossible. If you don't go to the holiday dinner, your parents and family may protest — loudly, in fact.

However, they can't make you go. You should do what is best for you.

Maybe you've had a really difficult year and being around babies and children is the last thing you need for your mental health. Maybe that means skipping Thanksgiving or Passover at your parent's this year.

Instead, you can make dinner at home, get together with some adult friends (without children), or even take vacation days and spend them with your partner on a short getaway.

Your family may get upset, but they'll eventually get over it. Most importantly, you'll be calmer in the long run.

Don't Feel Like You Have to Hold Any Babies

Being around children can be difficult when you're trying to get pregnant.

Sometimes, especially if your arms are empty, family members will plop a baby onto your lap while they attend to other matters.

For some, holding babies reminds them of what they don't have.

Don't be afraid to say no.

You can quickly pass off the baby to another pair of empty arms, make yourself busy, or just be honest and let your family member know that holding babies is too painful for you right now.

(This can be a sticky area, though. It depends on how understanding your family is.)

Alternatively, Soak Up the Baby Love

On the other hand, not every woman with infertility struggles with holding babies.

Maybe you love holding other people's babies. Perhaps it's how you get your dose of "baby love." 

If this sounds like your style, take advantage of the abundance of children at the holiday dinner.

Go ahead and live vicariously through others. Take the time to get down on the floor and play with your nieces, nephews and cousins. Volunteer to burp the baby or change a diaper.

Embrace your Auntie role

You may cry when you leave, knowing you can't take the baby home with you. Still, that's no reason not to soak up all the baby love while you can, if you want to.

Be Ready for the "When Are You Going to Have Kids?" Questions

Especially if others don't know about your infertility or trying to conceive efforts, questions about why you don't have kids (or why you haven't had another) are bound to come up.

It can help to be prepared to answer this question.

Consider Whether to Tell Your Family or Not About Your Infertility

This brings up another sticky topic – should you tell your family about your infertility?

If you do decide to tell your family, you may want to think twice about doing so at a holiday dinner.

On the one hand, you have everyone together, which may make it easier.

On the other, if you don't want it to be the topic of the night, you'll want to bring it up at the very end or work hard at establishing boundaries right up front.

(In other words, you might say, "I want you all to know, but I really do not want to talk about it now.")

Don't Be Afraid to Cut Off Uncomfortable Conversations

Uncomfortable conversations are almost a tradition for family dinners.

You may find yourself the target victim of unwanted advice. Anything from "fertility" diet tips to why you shouldn't "wait any longer" to have kids is common. 

Also, conversations that focus on the negative aspects of pregnancy or parenting can get really upsetting. Listening to your sister whine about her morning sickness can feel unbearable when you would give anything to be pregnant and throwing up.

If you find yourself in the middle of an uncomfortable conversation, don't be afraid to switch the subject.

Be direct if that doesn't work. Say you really don't want to talk about this right now. It helps if you do it all with a smile and without any blame. 

Be Ready to Cope with Pregnancy Announcements

Family gatherings are the place for pregnancy announcements, whether direct (literally announcing the pregnancy) or indirect (walking into the house in maternity clothes and a big tummy).

It is far from easy to cope with pregnancy announcements when you're trying to get pregnant.

Even if you are happy for your friend or family member, it can still hurt. An unexpected pregnancy announcement may have you offering strained congratulations and fighting the urge to cry.

Don't feel guilty for your feelings of sadness, but do be prepared for the possibility.

Hide in the Bathroom for a Few Minutes

If you've had enough, or just need a place to cry or breath, consider hiding in the bathroom for awhile.

No one knows why you're there, and the door locks, making it a perfect spot.

You can run the water in the sink if you don't want anyone to hear you crying. (Though if your family is naturally loud, this won't be a problem!)

Sometimes, you just can't hold back the tears. So let it go.

Have a good cry, wash your face, and then go back out. 

Be Forgiving of Yourself

You might feel guilty for feeling sadness when your sister gets pregnant. You may feel like a jerk when you ask your cousin to please stop talking about her birth story.

But you shouldn't feel guilty. These are all normal feelings.

Coping with infertility is extremely difficult. You'll be lucky if you have any friends and family that really understand.

For the most part, people don't mean any harm. They simply don't get it. They may want to support you but not know how.

If you need to skip the holidays with family this year, skip it.

If you need to leave early, or come late, do that.

If you need to hide in the bathroom and cry, or avoid holding a baby, don't feel like it makes you into a bad person.

All it means is that you're human, with real feelings – feelings that just about every couple who has gone through infertility understands.

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