Trying to Figure out How to Cope During the Holidays? | Ask Dr. Domar

Q: One of my main triggers are holiday cards. Opening them and seeing these happy family photos is so hard, yet I don’t want to miss seeing the other accomplishments of family and friends. Any good ideas?

A: Most people experiencing infertility have a tough time with pregnancy announcements, gender reveals, Santa lap sitting photos, etc. So holiday cards can be bittersweet. Here are a few coping suggestions:

1. See if someone you trust (partner, family member, nice neighbor) can open them for you and screen out baby announcements, newborn pics, and any other photo which would be hard for you to see. You then just display the ones which you feel comfortable with and put away the ones unread that would be hard to see.

2. Create a crazy great one yourself (you know, wearing ridiculous matching pj/s including your pets).

3. Email those who know what you are going through and ask them not to send you their card if it contains baby bumps, babies, or cute siblings. It is easy for anyone to send a generic storebought one instead.

Q: I grew up loving the holidays and was at my happiest in December but this year, not so much. How can I ever recapture those feelings?

A. One of the problems with this month is how much of the focus is on children- toys for Christmas and Hanukah, the baby Jesus in churches, and multi-generational family gatherings. Maybe we all need to reframe what the holiday season is about, for all religions, races, ethnic backgrounds, and cultures. One of the best ways to decrease one’s own sadness is to focus on helping others who are less fortunate than we are. It sounds odd, but research shows that doing things like volunteering at a homeless shelter, raising money for those in need, and helping out at an animal shelter reduces depressive symptoms. My mother died in the fall and the holiday season was looking pretty bleak for me so I offered to “adopt” a foster child and bought the things on their wish list. It truly lifted my spirits and I still do it every year. Since buying things for a baby or toddler could be tough for anyone going through infertility, help out a homeless teenager instead.

Q. How can I cope with intrusive friends and relatives? If one more person asks when we are going to have a baby, or tells me to just relax, I will scream!

A. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge believer in “snappy comeback lines”. Which means thinking about the things people say to you which make you crazy, and then memorizing what you can say in return, being as self-protective as possible. These responses can be polite, educational, or a zinger.

“You’ve been married for so long! When you are the two of you going to have a baby?”

1. Polite response: “When we have news to share, we promise that you will be one of the first to know.”

2. Educational response: “Getting pregnant can be complicated for some people, and we are getting a bit of help.”

3. Zinger: “I don’t know why this is any of your business. Building a family is very private.”

Q. I tend to be very aware of my triggers and have been working hard to learn new stress management skills, but it seems as if every event I go to, I end up a mess. How can I be better prepared?

A. Rehearse (see “Snappy comeback lines” above), and make an escape plan. If you are going solo, have numerous excuses ready if you feel the need to vanish. If you are going with someone else, have a prearranged signal or code word. Always plan for what to do if you feel overwhelmed, especially at an event with new babies or expectant parents. You don’t need to play with children or hold newborns if you don’t want to. In some cases, offering to wash dishes or check the score of the football game may give you enough reprieve. You may also want a larger exit strategy; say you have a headache and need to go home and rest. If the idea of even attending an event is too much to bear, excuse yourself without guilt. And “suspecting” you have covid or are coming down with a stomach bug work wonders!

About Dr. Domar

Alice D. Domar, Ph.D., is a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine and a best-selling author. In addition to serving as Chief Compassion Officer for Inception Fertility, Dr. Domar is a part-time associate professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School. She has help hundreds of aspiring parents through her practice as well as through her books, which include “Conquering Infertility”.

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