An Infertility Warrior’s Guide to Surviving the Holiday Season

An Infertility Warrior’s Guide to Surviving the Holiday Season
An Infertility Warrior’s Guide to Surviving the Holiday Season

It happened during my brother’s going away party (he had enlisted in the Army). My aunt approached me after speaking to my (very pregnant at the time) sister and asked me,

I don’t remember what I told her, but I do remember what I did not tell her – that we had been trying to add to our family for almost one year, that we had already been blown off by one reproductive endocrinologist, that we were gearing up for another appointment with a specialist, and that I spent every waking moment agonizing over whether we would ever have a baby of our own. My aunt probably does not remember that conversation, but the way it made me feel is forever seared in my memory.

As the holiday season approaches, many of us are gearing up for the requisite family gatherings and, for those who are navigating infertility, scenarios like mine are all too common. It is unlikely the rapid-fire questions about baby-making will stop (why is this everyone’s go-to conversation topic?), but there are some things you might be able to do to make your family time a little more bearable. Here are a few suggestions I wish I had tucked in my back pocket during that time.

You know the questions are coming (don’t they always?) so know how you will respond. This may be as simple as, “Why do you ask?” Sometimes, this question is enough to stop the rest of them, as it forces the asker to think about why they are asking such a personal question (and maybe recognize this is not an appropriate small talk subject). Often, the conversation will find its way to other topics (see suggestion # 2!).

If that does not work for you, you may try a canned response like, “We are happy with our life/family/etc. as it is now” or “We are focused on ___ now.” These may work well if you have not shared your infertility journey. If you have been open with your experience, it is okay to set whatever boundaries you feel are appropriate with something like, “We will share updates/exciting news/etc. if/when we are ready.”

Maybe you don’t have it in you to make baby small talk, even if you have a prepared response. No problem! Don’t answer the question and instead counter with one (or more) of your own, redirecting to any topic you are comfortable discussing – work, travel plans, what they are currently binge-watching. Once those topics have been exhausted, excuse yourself and find someone else to talk to (or go get some fresh air).

Please read that again. Give yourself permission not to go.

If you are in a particularly difficult place this holiday season, attending family gatherings you know will be filled with babies and children or will be nothing but non-stop questions about your reproductive future may be detrimental to your emotional wellbeing. It is more than reasonable not to go. Tell your family you have another engagement, tell them you are sick, or don’t tell them anything at all. Protect your mental health and do not apologize for it. There will be other opportunities to be with your loved ones when you are in a better headspace.

Navigating infertility is never easy. All too often, we are left feeling isolated from those we love most, and holidays can just compound this.

Allow yourself to have bad days. Share what you are comfortable with and be private when you want to be. Think about joining a support group like RESOLVE; speaking with others who have been where you are can be very cathartic. And know, wherever you are on this path, I am walking with you.

About the author

Sheila Johal is a lead laboratory genetic counselor at CooperGenomics; she counsels patients seeking preimplantation genetic testing. She came to CooperGenomics after nine and one-half years at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland, Ohio, where she provided prenatal, general, and cardiovascular genetic counseling. Sheila graduated with a master’s degree in Medical and Molecular Genetics with a focus in Genetic Counseling from Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis in 2006.

Prior to attending graduate school, she also received a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Kent State University. She has a specific interest in disorders of hemoglobin, CFTR-related infertility, and is passionate about educating genetic counseling students.

When she is not working, Sheila enjoys being with her husband and children, listening to baseball on the radio, baking, and reading.

Sheila Johal MS CGC

Lead laboratory Genetic Counselor, CooperSurgical

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