The holiday festivities are here, and you may soon find yourself traveling home to see family or welcoming loved ones into yours. For many, this time of year is full of wonderment, cherished traditions, and joy, but a lot of family members under one roof almost ensures some boundaries will get crossed.
You may feel anxious as holiday parties draw near if you're on the fertility journey. Family get-togethers can be a painful reminder of what you want but don't have. Seeing your nieces and nephews or meeting your sibling's newborn baby for the first time is exciting, but it's also a reminder of what you want and don't have.
Then there's the well-meaning aunt who asks too personal of questions, the uncle-in-law who wants to know, "is it a-you problem or a-him problem," and you can't forget the cousin who seemingly gets pregnant just by thinking about wanting another baby.
If you're anxious about facing these potentially triggering situations this holiday season, know that you're not alone. While the fertility journey is lonely, personal, and unique to each couple, know that 1 in 8 couples have trouble conceiving or sustaining a pregnancy. Statistically, you or someone you know is likely struggling to conceive.
So, how can you and your loved one best prepare for these moments before you step foot on the plane, gas up the car, or deck the halls?
Our loved ones sometimes blur the lines between what's okay to ask and what's not okay to ask. Remember, these are people who probably changed your diaper when you were a baby, watched you take your first steps, and saw all your awkward teenage phases... so why shouldn't they feel comfortable asking questions?
Just as we learn never to ask a woman when she's due without knowing with 100% certainty she's pregnant; there are questions we should be sensitive to ask someone in their childbearing years.
Alright. Not off to a great start here, are we?
But the aunt you haven't seen in 5 years really wants to know when you two kids will have a baby! This question might seem completely normal and like casual small talk, but it carries a heavy punch for those struggling with fertility.
If you're on the receiving end of this question, consider responding with:
"My (husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, S.O.) consider ourselves a family! And we're thankful to be here and have time to play with our nieces and nephews, too. If we decide to add to our family dynamic, we'll be sure you know."
This answer helps solidify a boundary by letting the questioner know you'll communicate to them if you decide to grow as a family. Hopefully, that holds them over from asking for a bit!
And if you are actively in the process of trying to conceive, this response can also set the boundary if you do not want to discuss your current situation.
However, if you're willing and open to discussing your fertility situation with family, consider being honest with them. As Life Coach and Fertility Support Coach, Jeanette Esquivel says:
"When I was on my journey to conception, after about a year and a half of feeling guilty and shameful about it, I decided I was going to be open about it, regardless of how my honesty made other people feel. It ended up leading to more open dialogue, educating others, AND I actually got LESS questions about it from those asking simply to ask, which was a great perk!"
If you've been open about your fertility journey, you may come across this question, asked by those who want to ease your pain. Unfortunately, the question instead comes across as a "simple fix" to a complex problem.
Adoption is often an arduous, lengthy, and costly process, with a private adoption ranging anywhere from $20,000 to $45,000, making it a non-viable option for many families. Plus, it's completely okay not to want to adopt!
On another note, people often confuse adoption with a one-to-one "fix" for your fertility issues. It's not the same and will not be the answer for all people wanting to start a family.
If you're asked this question (and you feel like you want to respond), consider responding with:
"Yes. We actually have considered it, but we're simply looking to do all we can to have our own biological child. It's not out of the question."
Or simply leave it at...
"Yes. We have considered it."
At the end of the day, it's up to you who you choose to share your journey with. You have no obligation to give details on any of your life OR family planning choices.
Just as you might be struggling with the guilt of not giving your partner what they want - a baby, knowing your parents or in-laws are also eagerly awaiting a positive pregnancy test adds to the pressure.
If your parent asks this question, consider answering with:
"I am aware of how much you wish to be a grandparent, but I'd much rather not talk about that now."
There's nothing wrong with shutting the conversation down and letting them know you are not interested in discussing your fertility. If you feel pressured to continue the discussion, try changing the topic or moving to a private location, where you can be more comfortable asserting your boundary.
It's worth noting the above questions often come from a place of love, curiosity, concern, and maybe a bit of naivety, but that doesn't mean they don't cut deep. Just remember, there's nothing wrong with setting boundaries to protect your energy!
There's a chance that the cousin mentioned above who gets pregnant just thinking about getting pregnant will announce, well, that they're pregnant this holiday season.
The surprise news may leave you feeling like a deer in the headlights, and the pressure to react positively can be overwhelming when all you want to do is cry.
It may help to mentally and emotionally prepare by planning what you would say if an event like this happens, even if you don't expect anyone in your family to announce they're expecting.
Just how can you prepare?
Take some time to sit with the charge that comes up when you see ANOTHER pregnancy announcement. Ask yourself:
"What emotions are coming up for me?"
"Where do I feel them in my body?"
"Do I feel safe to release these emotions?"
What can releasing these emotions look like?
We're not saying that after doing all the above you'll feel like you DON'T hold a charge anymore, but it might lessen the load you're carrying in your body, especially if you haven't allowed yourself to sit with these feelings.
Yes, you might still encounter some anger or jealousy when you hear of another pregnancy announcement, AND you can go back to these tools to release more. Because your feelings are valid and it's important to regulate your body through these emotions and release them as they come up, every time if possible.
After you take into account some of the tools above, you may feel more equipped to handle these announcements and family gatherings that create the space for them. We'd love to invite you to consider some of these responses. You can definitely keep them short and sweet.
Consider these responses:
"Wow! Congratulations. This is wonderful news."
"I am so happy for you. You're going to make a wonderful mom."
"That's terrific news for you and (insert name)."
It's okay if the statements above don't feel genuine as you cope with jealousy or anger, but remember: your loved one is sharing joyous news. Having that Poker Face is a challenging but kind gesture.
If necessary, excuse yourself to the bathroom or take a brisk walk to have a moment alone (or with your partner) to process your emotions in real-time.
Remember some of the tools above to help you regulate your emotions until you're comfortable enough to return to the party. You can even try Googling grounding techniques or breathing exercises to help center yourself and feel safe and comfortable to return to the party.
Just know, it doesn't make you a bad or selfish person, friend, or loved one if you feel anger and jealousy at someone's pregnancy announcement.
If you're reading this blog wondering how you can best support your loved one struggling with fertility this holiday season and beyond, ask them. Don't guess what they need.
Whether it's attending doctor appointments, babysitting their older children, or listening to them vent, assure them they can lean on you in tough moments. Sometimes this may just look like sitting with them in silence with their pain. We know this may feel uncomfortable, but trust us, it's truly a gift to just BE with someone when they're suffering.
If you're looking for some statements to say, try some of the following:
You can also consider doing something nice for them without them asking. Let's say your friend recently had a loss or an unsuccessful transfer; try sending them their favorite meal or mailing them some flowers. Any nice gesture can certainly add some sunshine to their day.
Just remember that you never want to offer:
Additionally, if you're pregnant and your friend is struggling to conceive, be mindful not to complain about your pregnancy. What's an everyday annoyance to you, like lower back pain or morning sickness, would be a welcomed struggle for them.
If you or your significant other are on the emotional rollercoaster that is your fertility journey, consider joining our newest peer support group, Emotional Fertility Support, to connect with others like you.
Life Coach and Fertility Support Coach, Jeanette Esquivel, leads this group on the MentalHappy platform for only $10 a month. Jeanette's own experience with fertility enables her to relate to group members and provide a safe environment to share frustrations and personal stories without judgment.
In this group, you'll learn how to:
Come find a place to share your story, learn from others, and be heard. This group is open to women and men (with anonymous participation optional), so you can feel safe in being vulnerable. Because the fertility journey can be lonely, but you're not alone.