Holiday Gatherings & Infertility: How to Cope Uncomfortable Conversations

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It’s the time of year when family, friends, and loved ones gather to celebrate. With the beautiful memories and traditions comes the not-so-pleasant side of things: prying questions. With couples announcing engagements, new jobs, resolutions, and new additions to the family, it makes sense that people will start to ask you about your plans for the future. But when those questions focus on family planning, it may put you on the edge, especially if you’re struggling with infertility.

Navigating those questions can be incredibly burdensome and drain you if you let others control the conversation. Struggling with infertility doesn’t have to be a contentious subject at family gatherings. In fact, there are many ways to take charge in these situations during holiday events and parties.

What is Infertility?

If you’re already struggling with growing your family, you know the pains and struggles of infertility all too well. However, since the subject can be taboo, others may not be as well versed in the subject as you would like them to be. It’s helpful to have a short and informative answer if and when someone asks. You don’t have to get into the details of your situation if you don’t feel comfortable. Depending on the situation, it may be best to keep the answer technical and impersonal.

If you’re willing to talk about your struggle with infertility, go in with the objective to inform and educate people who may have questions. The CDC defines infertility as not being able to conceive a child after one year or longer of unprotected sex. This can be due to a variety of causes, on both male and female end of things. Diet, genetics, traumas, hormones, and stress can all contribute to infertility, making it difficult to track down the cause and help couples get pregnant.

Here are some additional facts you can have on hand to bring people up to speed:

  • Infertility affects men and women equally
  • In roughly 40% of couples, the male partner is the sole cause or most contributing factor
  • Irregular ovulation is common for nearly 25% of women
  • 85 – 90 percent of infertility cases can be treated with medication or surgery

Politely educating others can help give them a firmer grasp on how common infertility is and de-stigmatize it. Once people realize how close to home it can become, they may stop prying or be more understanding of your emotions.

You are Not Alone

Before you step into each holiday gathering where you expect personal questions, it’s important to remind yourself and your partner that you are not alone. For millions of couples in the US and across the globe, infertility is a reality of life. The loss of a pregnancy or failure to conceive can feel isolating and humiliating, but remember that there are likely already people you know who have also gone through the same thing. On average, 1 out of 8 couples will experience infertility problems during their relationship. You may be surprised to find that a colleague or family member has also experienced fertility issues.

For some couples, there are many contributing factors to infertility, and they can be solved by medication or surgery. If those still don’t fix things, then you might find yourself wondering about using in vitro fertilization (IVF) or surrogacy to start creating your beautiful family. IVF and surrogacy are incredibly common and safe procedures. Even former first lady Michelle Obama struggled with infertility and used IVF to conceive.

Let’s Talk About It

The holidays are filled with baby announcements and engagements, so of course, people will be questioning where you are in the process of having a child. If you’re expecting baby questions this season, make sure you go in prepared and know how to respond.

Talking about infertility can be incredibly difficult for some couples and individuals. It’s a personal matter and when people start to pry or put pressure on you for kids or grandkids, it can trigger a lot of emotions. It can be incredibly helpful to open up to people close to you about your struggles and break the taboo of discussing infertility. Of course, know your boundaries and decide what you feel comfortable revealing beforehand. Discuss with your partner too, to ensure you are both on the same page.

Ask for Support

If you’re struggling with infertility, and it’s majorly affecting your health and happiness, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your family can be a shelter and help you weather the worst of days. Also, you may be surprised at what you find when you share. Infertility may be something your aunt, uncle, mother, cousin, or other family member has struggled with, and they can support you during the holiday gatherings.

Know When to Take a Break

Family can be exhausting, even in the best of circumstances. When they keep asking questions about your personal life and intimate details that you don’t want to share, it can get even more tiring. Keep an eye on your and your partner’s emotional state and be ready to make an excuse for a quick break from the conversation. Perhaps you need some fresh air, have a phone call you are expecting, or need to take a step away from the noise for a moment. Whatever reason you give, be prepared to be a champion for your mental health and personal boundaries through these conversations. If you step away, let your partner know how you’re feeling, and come back to the festivities when you’re ready.

If the event does become too much for you, it’s okay to cut the night short and head home. It’s up to your friends and family to respect your boundaries and comfort level. If that is difficult for them, it does not make you a bad person to leave the party in order to take care of yourself.

Set Boundaries

Easier said than done, but setting boundaries can make a world of difference at the holiday gatherings this year. If you know what you do and don’t want to share about your fertility situation, clearly and confidently express that. Sit down in a private place with the family members you want to tell and let them know what you are and are not comfortable talking about. If you don’t want to talk at all, that’s fine. If you want to share your whole story, that’s also great. It’s entirely up to you and your partner, and not the other way around.

Enjoy the Season

No matter the season, infertility is a hard topic to grapple with, and the holidays don’t make it any easier. Whether you’re trying to keep it between just you and your partner or you’re ready to ask your family for support during this time, you can have a joyful and happy holiday season. Remember to take care of yourself and try to make the most of the event.

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