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Dealing with Infertility and Holiday Stress

November 15, 2012
By Dr. Randall Loy

The holidays are all about family gatherings, religious observances, shopping, parties, entertaining, familiar traditions and high expectations but the "hopes and fears of all the years" inevitably bring stress. The other family members with babies and friends with their children and the not infrequent, painful question "When are you two going to have a baby?" are separate and additive stressors. Many infertile couples feel marginalized or incomplete and suffer in silence. Signs of this stress may include feeling anxious, worried, irritable, and, possibly, sad or depressed. Some might experience eating or sleep disturbances, or other physical complaints such as headache, fatigue, muscle tension and abdominal pain and there may be the urge to self-medicate with excess alcohol or drugs.

Seven Tips for Couples Coping with Infertility During the Holidays:

1. Dignify your feelings - It is normal to feel sadness or grief. You should express your feelings to loved ones and it is OK to cry. Opening up to others and telling your story is good for the heart. Let your family and friends know what you need from them.
2. Simplify - Do not be concerned with others' expectations of you. You do not have to attend every holiday function to which you are invited, especially if there will be pregnant women or children present. Invest your time wisely.
3. Maintain Boundaries - You do not have to disclose the details of your infertility journey to anyone who asks. Have a standard answer prepared for the sincere, inevitable question about your beginning a family. If you feel uncomfortable with further infertility questioning, change the subject of the discussion or excuse yourself to get more food or beverage. Decide how you will respond to the children and babies at the parties and family gatherings you will attend.
4. Remember the Reasons for the Season - Recall what the holidays have meant to you and what you are celebrating. Think of less fortunate others and how can you can focus on them and their stories, their pain, their problems. Helping others will help you. Consider what you have enjoyed in past holidays and invest your energies in those activities. Participate in those rituals that have the most meaning to you and your family.
5. Make New Friends - Socialize with friends who do not have children. If being around the children among your family and friends is too difficult you may want to take a year off from the usual traditions and take a holiday vacation. Consider a ski trip or cruise with other couples from your support group, or a mission trip with your church or synagogue.
6. Take A Breather - While spending time with people who really care about you, take some time for yourself. Take at least undisturbed 15-30 minutes per day alone to refresh. Find something that reduces your stress (meditation, prayer, exercise, soothing music, a pet, deep breathing) by clearing your mind. Attend religious services and community gatherings (concerts, plays, tree-lighting ceremonies). If stress becomes overwhelming, get professional help. Speak to your physician, mental health counselor, minister, priest or rabbi.
7. Develop a Plan for the New Year - All of the festivities will soon be over and January 2, 2013 will be here. Decide that you will avoid the post- holiday let down by daily aerobic exercise and a healthy lifestyle. Make some clear decisions regarding your fertility care for the new year and consult with your doctor to discuss your action plan.

One final word about the holidays. There may, in fact, be well-meaning family and friends who will breach etiquette and who will give infertility advice, e.g., "Just relax!" or "You need to take these fertility supplements I heard about" or "I've been 'researching' infertility on the internet, have you tried taking _____?" Politely tell them that you are already seeing an infertility specialist and that they will be among the first to know when they can buy you some baby booties!

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