This post was contributed by Laura Oliver, one of Newlife IVF’s counsellors.
Christmas often symbolises a time of joy and happiness. We plan celebratory events with family and friends, and take time to reflect on the end of another year. But this time of year can also be very difficult for women and couples who have been struggling with infertility and going through assisted reproductive treatment (ART) like IVF.
The focus at Christmas time is often on children and families, with Christmas cards and social media posts typically displaying pictures of family events or children with Santa. There can be a real sense of pressure to deliver good news at a time of year when many people are celebrating. However, if you’ve been struggling to fall pregnant or undergoing fertility treatment, the end of the year can serve as a painful marker that you have not achieved what you had hoped for this year, and for some of you, a reminder that yet another 12 months have gone by without a successful outcome.
All of this can bring up unwanted feelings of sadness, frustration, jealousy, anger and grief – and with a barrage of festive mementos and occasions around you to remind you that you’re not pregnant, it’s no wonder you feel this way!
Below are some tips on how you can manage the festive season while coping with fertility issues and undergoing treatment.
Pre-plan and be selective about which events you attend at this time of year. If you do attend an event, consider how long to stay there for, and what you can do while there to minimise any feelings of stress or discomfort – for example, helping cook or wash up can help keep you busy and distracted, and may assist you to avoid topics of conversation you don’t want to be involved in.
Warn people in advance that you may find Christmas difficult – this doesn’t mean having to disclose information about your fertility; you can make more general references to having had a stressful or difficult year instead. Try to give your hosts time to understand that this year might look a little different for you, and to not be offended if you decide not to attend or only stay for a short while.
If you have a partner or a support person with you, plan a code word or signal to give when you need them to rescue you from a difficult conversation, or when you want to wind up and go home.
Celebrate how you want. Sometimes, this might feel a little selfish at a time when there are often traditions to uphold or family events to attend, but give yourself permission to celebrate in a way that is comfortable and meaningful to you at this time.
This could mean going away with a friend or just your partner (or staying home) and avoiding big family gatherings. Or starting a new tradition for this time of year. Do something that you know will bring you joy, no matter how small.
Use some of this holiday period to re-charge and take a break from treatment (if you feel you can). Take advantage of your time off work and prioritise self-care – pamper yourself! Get a massage, go away for a few days, plan some day trips to the beach or the countryside, or curl up with a good book.
Take some time to reflect on your IVF journey so far, and perhaps think about your plans for treatment moving forward. Is there anything you could do differently next year? What are your expectations, and do you need to adjust these at all? Do you have questions to discuss with your specialist? Perhaps even think about how much longer you think you can continue with IVF treatment before needing to pause and reassess again.
Reflect on your own, with your partner (if you have one) or a support person. You could try using a journal to write down how you’re feeling, record the questions you may have, or come up with a list of pros and cons to aid future decision-making.
Use your supports (partner, family, friends) to help you work through any difficult feelings as they arise. Be open and honest with your networks about how you feel and the ways in which they can be of support to you. Be reassured that the way you are feeling, and the different types of emotions and thoughts that may be triggered at this time of year, are very normal. But we all cope in different ways, so make sure you do whatever it is you need to do to keep your heart, mind and body strong for the year to come. And above all else, remember to be kind to yourself!
Lastly, remember that the Newlife IVF counselling team is here to help. We can help you navigate and unpack your experiences and emotions. If you feel that you could benefit from the support of our counselling team, please call the Newlife IVF team on (03) 8080 8933.