How To Cope With Infertility During The Holidays
The holidays are a time for gathering with family, but the season isn’t exactly merry and bright for couples experiencing infertility, or secondary infertility. We sat down with fertility specialist Jan Silverman to discuss some strategies for couples who are having fertility issues to cope with infertility during the holidays.
1. What is infertility? What is secondary infertility?
Jan Silverman: There are different ways to describe infertility. A medial description is an inability to or difficulty to conceive after a year of unprotected intercourse, or for six months, if you’re over 35 years old. From a counseling perspective, however, I tend to describe infertility as a frustrated desire to have a genetically linked child because if you’re doing everything right and on time and it’s been four months or maybe a year, your desire to have a child is frustrated. Secondary infertility is an inability or difficulty conceiving a second, third or fourth genetically linked child.
2. Why might couples who experience infertility, or secondary infertility, find the holidays particularly stressful?
JS: The holidays become associated with family. Some relatives might bring their brand new baby to family gatherings, or announce a pregnancy, or something that’s going to be particularly difficult for a couple who is having fertility issues. A husband might react and tell his wife to ignore it, but it’s killing her to watch everyone fussing over a relative’s baby–something she and her husband have been trying desperately to have. Women tend to isolate themselves and might not want to go to family get-togethers, while husbands might take more of a “it’ll be your turn soon” approach.
3. What should couples do when relatives make comments over the holidays like, “You’ll be next!” or “When are you going to have another?”
JS: It’s important to recognize that people don’t say things like that to be mean or cruel. The one thing that I suggest is to be prepared with your answers ahead of time, so that you’re not caught off guard. You kind of know that they’re going to say, “So, any news? Anything new yet? Thinking of having a family?” Prepare an answer ahead of time that you and your partner can both live with.
4. Can you give an example of an appropriate answer?
JS: An appropriate answer might be something like, “We’re hoping (or trying), and when we have good news to share, we promise we’ll include you in the news.” I think it’s also great, where possible, to use humor. Sometimes people will answer with things like, “Why do you want to know?” But I think that can come across as rude. You don’t mean to be rude, but you’re hurting so much. And I think that’s the interesting thing about infertility is that the general population doesn’t realize how much you’re hurting. Everybody has their adorable baby when they choose to have it, except you. It’s not just you, but that’s how you perceive it. It’s important to protect yourself as much as possible.
5. Any other suggestions for couples?
JS: The other thing I would say to people around the holiday period is that you don’t need to be the first one at your family gathering on Christmas morning. If there will be kids there, let them open the gifts without you and arrive a little bit later. Another strategy I suggest is that partners come up with a signal that they can use if them of you is feeling that they’re going to fall apart. Something like, “I think we’ve run out of milk, let’s take a walk.” A signal that says help me to get away from this at this particular moment. You don’t wish harm on other people, especially not your sisters and your brothers and their kids, but it’s hard to balance sadness for yourself and joy for them. Especially during the holidays.