The holiday season can be a mixed bag of joy and sorrow when struggling with infertility. Of course, you anticipate precious time with friends and family, engaging in cherished traditions and all the special holiday goodies that go with those times together. However, this time of year can also be quite painful. You dread the intrusive questions, the hyper-focus on children’s activities, and even the adorableness of friends celebrating Baby’s First Christmas. So how do you survive the holidays when you are struggling with infertility?

Where Do You Start?

You know that you will engage in those “once a year” catch-up conversations with Great Aunt Sarah and that she will ask (again) when you are going to start your family. Before you attend those family gatherings or other holiday events, it helps to plan how much information you want to share and with whom it is appropriate to share. If you are part of a couple, it’s also helpful to hammer out that plan together. You’ll feel comforted by the strength of your united front.

Tips for Surviving the Holidays During Infertility

During family gatherings, company holiday parties, and faith-community events, you will probably spend much of your time surrounded by kids. That is, other people’s kids. Let’s face it, even when the kids are not there, typical holiday small-talk often centers around them.

  • How many kids do you have?
  • Where do your kids go to pre-school?
  • Did you hear about the holiday play Joe’s grandkids were in?
  • I think your niece plays soccer with my daughter, Janie!
  • Let me tell you about the cutest new milestone Baby did this week!

You want to engage and share their joy over the latest anecdotes of child-like wonder of the season. But you also know that too much more adorableness, and you’ll end up sobbing in the bathroom. Everyone else will continue in their merry ways, unaware of your pain.

We can’t offer you complete relief from that pain. But we can share these tried-and-true tips to create your plan for surviving the holidays this year.

1. Self-Care is Crucial

Take excellent care of yourself during this time of year! Start by prioritizing healthy sleep and exercise routines. It’s okay to enjoy all your favorite holiday foods but choose healthy eating when you aren’t at a holiday-focused table. Be especially careful not to overindulge in alcohol! Too much alcohol can make you melancholy, too talkative, and possibly even hungover – none of which will help you cope well in this holiday season.

2. Learn from the Past

Take some time – maybe with your partner, if you have one – to review previous holidays. Look for where your major stressors occurred and proactively address them beforehand they happen this year.

3. Talk with Your Family.

Your parents or your in-laws need to know how hard this season is for you both. Assure them that your feelings about holiday gatherings are not their fault and that you are not asking them to “fix” things for you. Try to use “I” statements, such as “I find it painful when most of our conversations around the table focus on the grandkids.” Or “I am feeling dread knowing Cousin Betsy is seven months pregnant and she’ll be at the family dinner. And then I feel guilty about feeling dread.”

4. Consider Some Limits.

As hard as it might be, think about how to limit the amount of time you’ll be spending with friends or family – if time with those people is a trigger for your infertility grief. If you cannot avoid the events altogether, consider setting a shorter timeframe for your attendance. Agree about how you will stick to the plan if you are part of a couple. Follow that stressful activity with a soothing, refreshing self-care ritual.

Have you played Holiday Infertility Bingo yet?

5. Change the Way You Celebrate.

It’s important not to isolate yourself completely. After all, these folks will still be your friends and family regardless of the outcome of your infertility struggle. But maybe you could take a year off from your family’s traditional celebrations to go camping or rent an Air BnB in Portland or Paris instead? Invite friends over for a non-traditional dinner or brunch instead of the big family celebration at Grandma’s. Invite your parents out for a special dinner after the holiday.

6. Give the Gift of Service

Check out the community services that need volunteers during the holidays. Many homeless shelters, food banks, and nursing homes will welcome the help. Or, if your employer has staffing openings during the holidays, think about signing up for extra hours. Serving others this time of year feels good, meets the needs, and it’s just an all-around nice thing to do if you can work it in. Plus, if your employer takes note, it can come in handy when you need some flexibility for appointments with your infertility specialists.

7. Create Something to Look Forward To

Whether it’s scoring tickets to a show or dinner reservations at the newest hot spot, plan for at least one big thing during the holidays to which you can look forward. If you are struggling more than expected with the “holiday happiness” everywhere, maybe consider scheduling one thing a week leading up to the start of the new year. The anticipation of a weekly massage, guilt-free shopping day, or a trip to the spa can help you get through the hard days.

8. Get Sibling Time on the Calendar.

You love your sweet nieces and nephews, but during the holidays, time with them might be a reminder of what you don’t have. Acknowledge that and then do something positive for yourself as an alternative. Start a new tradition of a sibling date that allows you time with your siblings (and spouses) without kids. If you don’t have siblings, tweak the plan for memory-making time with other adult family members or friends.

9. Enlist Accountability for Your Plan

If you know how stressful the holiday season can be in this struggle, and you know that you can tend to react badly under that stress, decide in advance how you want to behave. Then tell someone (your partner, parents, sister, etc.) who will commit to holding you accountable to control your tongue or behavior. It bears repeating; please remember to avoid excess alcohol when you are at events where stress can rise.

10. Prioritize Joy!

Make sure you intentionally add the events to your calendar that are most meaningful to you. Seek activities that bring you joy. Do not let infertility rob you of these joys even in your struggle and grief.

Drop a note in the comments: What do you do to survive the holiday season in your infertility journey?

Originally published in 2010; Updated for 2021

Image Credits: Andy Atzert; kcxd; Caitlin Regan