Navigating the Social Side of Fertility Issues

B y : Fenella Das Gupta , P h . D.

holidays-and-beyondThe Holidays and Beyond

Why is it that once you are diagnosed with a fertility issue, the invitations suddenly start to show up? And why is it that you stress out over an event that you know in your heart of hearts you really should pass up? This was Cindy’s predicament.

It was December and Cindy was about to enter her second in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle with donor eggs. She was obsessing about spending the holidays with her in-laws. She and her partner had never missed any family gathering and their absence would certainly cause gossip. If she went, she felt afraid of how she might react to the “pitying glances” coming from her pregnant sister in-law (who already had another child) and the awkwardness that everyone felt. She knew she couldn’t contain her feelings very well, yet despite this, she felt that she had to go. She was insistent with herself that she could and would “manage” her emotions and guilt, swallowing them if she had to. She hated the world at times like these.

Cindy isn’t alone. Many women find themselves in the same situation. But feeling resentful doesn’t help you with the six major U.S. holidays (New Years, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and holidays in December), seven if you want to include Easter, that you have to face each year. In other words, there are at least six times that living in a fertile world will be upfront and in your face, that you will have to and can plan for.

How to Handle Your Thoughts

If you are struggling with whether or not to attend an event at the holidays, first consider whether you are buying in to these thoughts:

  • If I take care of myself, I’m being self-centered
  • If I take care of my needs, others will think I have a chip on my shoulder
  • If I take care of myself, I will be hurting other people’s feelings
  • If I take care of myself, other will disapprove and may not invite me again

These thoughts are misconceptions. Don’t believe everything you think!

How to Handle Invitations

What determines how you should respond (versus react)? How can you take part in events and celebrations your way, and without feeling like an emotional wreck afterwards? The
following guidelines are designed to help you answer these types of questions and take a more proactive stance.

When you are faced with a social commitment that you are unsure about attending, consider this advice:

  • I am not going to keep ‘should-ing’ myself
    • During this important, intimate phase in my life, it is acceptable, to let myself have the chance to just ‘be.’
    • The people that really care about me will not want me to force myself to do anything that doesn’t feel right.
  • I will be picky
    • I will be selective about which family events I choose to attend, how long I want to stay and where (perhaps next time it will be at a hotel instead of your sister’s house which comes complete with 2.5 kids)
    • I can excuse myself from baby showers and christenings (Ah! Those blessed events!)

    I can avoid natural disasters

    • I can shop elsewhere than the mall over the holidays and shop online, rather than confront Santa, the Easter Bunny, etc.
  • I will use my Limits Test
    • When I think or visualize the event, I will gauge how I feel to better understand my limits (imagining that I am a piece of Litmus paper), deciding if I feel:
    • RED (it’s 100% certain that you do not want to go);
    • BLUE (indecisive, depressed and/or overwhelmed about it)
    • NEUTRAL (no strong feelings either way).

Neutral is a good indicator of your level of readiness to attend the social event. It is likely that in the “neutral” zone the upcoming event feels safe. Trust your gut on how you feel; all is
relative. There is no right or wrong, just what feels best in that moment.

To strike a good balance between not feeling too isolated or overwhelmed on these days, find a group of friends that do not have children and celebrate with them. If all of your friends have kids, consider a cameo appearance in the latter part of the evening when things are winding down. And if you have a partner, use a secret signal code (that only the two of you know) letting the other know that you need help, are feeling bad, or want to leave. This will be your rescue plot.

Overall, throughout the holidays and major celebrations, it’s crucial that you find ways to protect yourself from potentially painful situations- especially if the undue stress is held
for days -before and after.

If you learn to listen and respond to your feelings, instead of listen and react, decision-making about social events will become easier. Natural, creative solutions will arise and you will feel more at ease.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

S. FenellaS. Fenella das Gupta, PhD, marriage and family therapist. dr. das gupta is a licensed marriage and family therapist and infertility Counselor working in the Bay area of northern California. her practice, the inner mirror, includes counseling individuals, couples and running support groups. Her professional memberships include resOlVe, the national infertility association, the american society for reproductive medicine and the California association of marriage and family therapists. Dr. das Gupta also interacts with individuals on her fertility blog at www.fertilityhelpishere.blogspot.com.