It's fair to say that the holidays can bring up some additional challenges for people who are trying to conceive, or who have experienced a pregnancy loss. However, some of that anticipated difficulty can be avoided. Now, please don't jump to any conclusions that I am pointing the finger at you and saying you are responsible for awkward moments, insensitive comments or exclusion that you may encounter! You may not be able to avoid a social occasion completely, or anticipate what someone else will say. However, you can take actions in at least a few ways that will maximize your feeling of control and minimize your emotional upset.
Plans - We are just one toe into December, so you have a 4-week stretch of holiday celebrations and days off to plan. If you anticipate the usual celebrations giving you a bit of bother, do something about it, by planning ahead who you will see, what you will do and how you will protect yourself. I have heard many people sigh with resignation over being expected to do certain things with certain people at this time of year and having no choice. People may not like change, but nothing is written in stone. They will get over it. Keep reminding yourself that you always have choices.
Yes? No? It really is up to you. Have you been invited to a holiday party you dread attending? Are you worried about being able to abstain from alcohol while others are drinking? Lots of women are brought up to smile and go along with what is best for everyone else, regardless of how much it pains them. It's called people-pleasing, and we all do it sometimes, but it shouldn't be entirely at your expense. This is the time to ask yourself what YOU really want. If you decide that partying isn't in your best interest, smile and firmly say "Thank you so much for the invitation, but we have made other plans this year."
Storytelling - We all tell ourselves a little story about why we have to do things a certain way. Then we act it out as closely to the storyline as we can, validating our expectations and feelings about them. Unfortunately, this doesn't account for personalities, secrets and sore spots. From your mother-in-law's perspective, this may be "her year" to have you and your husband on Christmas and it may not occur to her that a family get-together will be hard for you. Your sister may think that as a new Auntie, you will want to be right there at her baby's first Christmas, not realizing that your heart is breaking. On these occasions, your own storytelling may include feelings of being different, excluded, lonely, lacking, conspicuous or jealous. Imagine how you will be acting out that story; if it's not a pretty picture, do something about it!
Options - It can be a huge relief to realize that you do actually have options and are entitled to pursue them. NOT having to do something specific empowers you to decide what you will do. If the calendar was completely empty and you had several days off, what would you do with them?
How do you decide what is a viable alternative to what's already on offer? One of my favourite ways is to play the "if I won some money in the lottery, what would I do for Christmas?" game. The way this works is that it allows both of you to fantasize about your ideal break, without constraints, since no one would blame you for taking your dream holiday just this once. Once you have decided what that would be, you can make it happen in real life, even though it won't be funded by the lottery. Maybe you will decide to move your February break to December and completely opt out of the festive season, but it does 't necessarily have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Perhaps you stay around home for Christmas Day, but plan a weekend break that will help you avoid a particular party. A Christmas gift of a Spa and Detox Day for Two, or special theatre tickets could come in handy.
If you won some money, would you put it into an extra special Christmas dinner with luxurious food and gifts for your extended family? If so, then staying put and participating in family festivities may be where you should be. The trick is to then manage the day(s) so that you get the most out of it, and avoid any unnecessary pain. More on that later.
If you decided to put your hypothetical winnings into an escape for two, far from the pressures and confrontations that a family get-together might create, prepare yourself for the reactions you may get. It may cause some awkwardness. Someone may have hurt feelings temporarily. You may miss certain people and be missed. However, if peoples' noses are out of joint over your decision, ask whether it is about their own inflexibility, their lack of independence or some other personal agenda on their part. Then balance their needs against yours on this particular occasion. We aren't talking about permanent change; just one holiday.
Selfish? You may be wondering if it's selfish to want to do your own thing around holiday time. We are bombarded with messages of togetherness, gift-giving and cheer. However, if you think about what we truly wish for each other, it's usually happiness and good health for the coming year. If you are not in a state to enjoy festivities, then the excess food and drink, the crush of Christmas shopping, the late nights and intrusive questions, certainly aren't going to be good for your happiness or health. Just remember that, unless you actually tell everyone you are trying to conceive or just had an unsuccessful IVF cycle, not everyone will know why you don't feel like joining in. If you want your privacy, you may have to put up with people drawing their own conclusions. I like the idea of a note saying; "We hope you will understand that we feel we aren't up to a get-together at the moment. Thank you for thinking of us." That's not selfish. That's smart.
Here are my top tips for deciding "Should I stay or should I go?"
- Agree with your partner that your first loyalty is to each other;
- Make a list of your priorities (ex. relaxation, fun, family time, nurturing, supporting other people, contribution to the community, spirituality, health and wellbeing, privacy) so you can tick most of those boxes;
- Each write down what it would feel like to be away on your dream holiday for Christmas and contrast that to how you anticipate you will feel at a family get-together, taking into account who will be there, past holidays and your current situation;
- Balance someone else's temporary reaction against how you feel, remembering that if you are trying to conceive, or grieving the loss of a pregnancy, you must put your needs first;
- Decide what you would like to do and then give yourself permission to do it. This does not mean asking permission of the whole family, as you will only confuse the issue with the varying opinions;
- Follow through. Once the decision is made, book your plans before discussing it with the family/friends/office.
- Decide which one of you will let the various important people in your life know what you are doing and what you will say. We often have difficulty saying "I want" or "I need" with conviction. While it's preferable in the long run to stand up for yourself and voice your own desires and needs, if this is your first time swimming against the tide, it may be easier if you and your partner announce your plans to each other's family. You could say that the time away is your Christmas gift to each other, or that you believe that your partner really needs a break. Getting involved in deep discussion about why you don't want to be at the family get-together is unnecessary, could get emotional and may result in you bending to pressure or guilt.
- Make alternate plans with family and friends to show you care. If the big get-together seemed overwhelming, try inviting just a few people over for cake and coffee, or have a gift-exchange with a girlfriend over lunch instead of spending a whole afternoon with her adorable children;
- Enjoy yourself. After all, that's what this is all about. If you spend your time feeling guilty, you defeat the purpose.
Watch for my next post for tips on how to manage the holiday celebrations you can't avoid.