Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Infertility and the Holidays--It's Christmas and my arms are empty. Again.

This post was written by our Clinical Directory,Whitney Barrell, LCSW. The original post can be found on her website, here.
Last year you were sitting in the same spot in your home, looking at your tree and thinking to yourself, maybe next year I’ll be sitting here holding a baby. But, then the year goes by and it’s Christmas again and your arms are heavy with the sadness that only infertility can bring.

The holidays are child-centric. Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas engender images of rosy-cheeked children with their families. Because of this, it can be a difficult time for those of us trying to conceive. It can feel lonely. It can feel sad and isolating, in particular when there is an unsaid expectation that this is “the most wonderful time of the year.”



The questions you know they’ll ask
Holidays can be tricky with family members. Infertility is rarely understood by those who don’t experience it. Everyone has a version of great-aunt Sue who always asks “when are you going to give your parents some grandchildren?”

If you haven’t discussed your infertility with family members you are bound to get some of these questions. This doesn’t mean that you are required to let your family know the details of every last test you’ve undergone. But, it is useful to have a response ready such as “that’s something were looking forward to in the future” or “it’s not as easy for everyone to get pregnant as you may think. We are working on building our family with the help of a reproductive endocrinologist.”

Likewise, you aren’t required to share information with family members if you aren’t comfortable, discussing with your partner what you’d like to share and with whom may be helpful.

New traditions, and opting out of old ones
You may consider getting out of town or doing something alone with just your partner. If it’s painful to go to your sister's house and watch your nieces and nephews open presents, don’t do it. You could suggest just arriving for brunch or dinner. Before the event occurs picture yourself at the family party and feel it out: Does it feel forced? Are you holding back tears? Give yourself the gift of permission and self-acceptance this year. If it’s painful to try to carry on like nothing is wrong, don’t do it.

Gratitude and service
Remember the reason for the season. Although cliche, it does change our perspectives when we are able to provide service or time to someone who needs it.

Infertility is all-encompassing and it’s easy to feel enveloped in grief. Consider spending some time with an aged relative or volunteering in your community. Not only will it help others, but it will also provide you with the realization that although you are struggling to build your family, you have a house over your head, food and access to health care.

If you are passionate about infertility and have an interest in advocacy, UIRC is seeking volunteers.

Give yourself a break, you are grieving
This one is most important. All of the clients I see need to be reminded that perhaps they don’t feel as happy as they used to or don’t have that sparkle in their eyes because they are grieving.

Infertility isn’t seen, you can’t point to a broken arm and say “this is why I’m upset,” but it’s there. You are grieving the loss of a dream. You are grieving the idea that your life would be a certain way.

Many of my clients say that they always imagined themselves as parents and with infertility it’s out of your control. No matter how hard you work at it, how much you want it, those things don’t calculate like they might when you’ve worked toward other goals. This is frustrating and makes us feel helpless and beaten down.

Now is the time to practice good self-care, to be aware that you might not have the emotional strength to hold it together like you normally can. That’s OK, that’s honest. Be kind to yourself.

Lastly, the holidays will eventually come to an end. The best thing you can do is be prepared, know what your limits are and set a calendar in place that honors where you are emotionally this year. And somehow, hold onto hope for next.
Whitney Barrell, LCSW is a mental health therapist who has both clinical and personal experience with infertility. She works with couples and individuals to navigate difficult treatment decisions, improve communication about family building and heal from the grief and loss that is often profound in infertility. Find out more: www.whitneybarrellcounseling.com

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