The holiday season is an emotional minefield when you don’t have a baby - but you crave one with every fiber of your being. All of a sudden, gatherings, dinners and events that filled you up with love and joy can feel empty, meaningless or downright depressing. Worse yet, they can bring out the worst in you.
I know, because I’ve experienced it myself. I understand exactly what it feels like to dread the large family get togethers that used to feel like secure (and entertaining) respites from the world. But here is what I know; if you want to be a parent, you will be a parent- it’s simply a matter of time and whatever options you ultimately choose as your pathway to family building.
One little note before diving into this survival guide: Remember that every friend and family member that asks you all those unwanted questions, are doing so with love and with the best of intentions in mind. They don’t know what they don’t know. Unless you’ve been oh those shoes and walked that path, it is hard to identify if something you are saying or asking can be hurtful to someone else. So keep that in mind whenever your second-cousin once removed asks you about when you’ll have children. But when she does, here’s how to survive!
Surviving The Holidays Means Remaining True To Yourself
In the meantime, the following can serve as a Holiday Survival Guide, helping you cope with the persistent strings of personal questions, unsolicited advice, adorable nieces and nephews and all of the unbridled feelings that well up between November through the new year.
Handling the impertinent and personal questions that should never be asked
First, it’s time to prepare yourself for all those personal (and impertinent) questions that should never be asked. I know that ever since I tried to get pregnant - and tried and tried some more - I have never asked a single person, “Do you plan to have kids?” Or, “When are you going to start a family?” Talk about loaded questions.
Those, and other infamous “biological clock” questions and advice are so personal, and they are complicated for both women/couples who never plan to have children as well as women/couples trying desperately to get pregnant.
Here are some survival tactics:
● Sic your partner on them. Sometimes, the best course of action is to sic your partner on the offender, especially if s/he isn’t as sensitive as you about the situation. A simple code word, phrase or gesture (something more slick than a frantic wave of the arms) will have him/her by your side in a heartbeat to take over.
● Rehearse a boilerplate answer. It could be time to go in automaton-mode; allow your eyes to glaze over and repeat whatever boilerplate answer you/your partner have created to address the most predictable questions. If you’re feeling particularly vulnerable, do it in a monotone voice and deadpan face to send the “mind your own business” more directly home.
● Tell them to mind their own business. Other times (especially with particularly pushy relatives), you have to be blunt and tell them that your personal information isn’t their business - and walk away. This is especially true for well-meaning relatives who feel entirely justified in sharing sex tips that are “proven” to help you conceive…”My sex life is private and I prefer not to talk about it,” is direct and to the point.
● Hand them a pre-printed card. Some of us aren’t as adept at direct or abrupt responses as others. In this case, consider printing up small cards that express concisely where you’re at (really wanting to get pregnant but so far unsuccessful) and how you feel (completely uninterested in talking about it, but thank you for caring anyway). Hand them out and walk away. You can always circle back later and ask about something non-related - nosy offenders are typically compassionately respectful after that.
Avoiding Events or Traditions Threatening to Send You Over the Edge
Holiday traditions are just that: traditions. That means they happen more-or-less the same, year after year. Hurray! That frees you up to take a Holiday Pass this year and skip out on any events you know will trigger you emotionally.
Do not feel guilty about using a Holiday Pass. Remember that surviving the holidays with your emotional self intact requires remaining true to yourself. I promise that future holidays will be a joyful and heartfelt experience again - just not this year, that’s all.
There are several versions of “The Holiday Pass:”
The Complete Pass
The Complete Holiday Pass option may be difficult for immediate family to grasp at first, but I assure you they will get over it. If there are extra-special people flying in from out of town, or who you don’t see regularly, contact them separately, explain your situation and make a plan to get together for coffee, tea, a meal or a phone chat separate from “The Big Holiday Get Together.”
Or, take a warm tropical and sexy holiday somewhere really fabulous!
The Partial Pass
The Partial Pass can happen in one of two ways. In the first version, you selectively choose to attend one event here or one there, but you never attend the entirety of the planned festivities. This allows you some time and space to recoup from the general, emotional onslaught.
Another version of Partial Pass is to attend part of an event, but not all of it. So, perhaps you attend Thanksgiving, but only for Pie and coffee. Or, you visit the religious services with family, but skip the meal afterwards. In this version, you’re present and sociable - but you aren’t a sitting duck for prying relatives and you only have to fawn over adorable nieces and nephews for short spans of time.
The 9-1-1 Pass
This is one that’s used often by couples navigating infertility and - like the aforementioned survival tactics for avoiding nosy questions - it utilizes some code language or secret signs between you and your partner. This is great for those of you who are caught between desperately wanting to attend holiday functions but who know you can’t control your emotional state from one day to the next.
Once your partner hears the code words, or sees the code gesture, it’s the 9-1-1 “Get me outta here…” Pass, and you can prepare any number of reasonable excuses to get the heck out of Dodge and “feel better later...” Wink wink.
Practicing Self Care
Ultimately, taking care of yourself over the holidays requires a commitment to taking care of yourself. Self Care can be defined in a range of ways, from treating yourself to a mani-pedi or massage or taking that yoga class you’ve been meaning to get to. It can also include practicing mindfulness or using guided meditations or visualizations (there are great online apps for this) to process your sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger, grief, etc., in a healthier way.
Start (or Resume) a Gratitude Journal
Hey, spiritual teachers around the globe, mental health professionals and Oprah all swear by the benefits of a Gratitude Journal to help relieve stress and anxiety, remain present and to nourish a sense of abundance about yourself and life in general. Who are we to argue with that?
The holidays are a rough time for anyone who’s struggling, whether from depression or the loss of loved ones to those of us struggling to start a family. Hopefully this Holiday Survival Guide will help you weather the emotional storm with a little more grace and courage - or help you bunk the holiday madness altogether.
From the bottom of my heart I wish you a happy Thanksgiving, and here’s to a brighter 2019 holiday season!