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For most people, Christmas is a lovely time of celebration and family get-togethers and is especially focussed on children and the excitement and pleasure that parents and grandparents associate with it.

But if you’ve been trying unsuccessfully for a long time and are not yet lucky enough to have the baby you long for, then this time of year can trigger a range of painful feelings. It can be a heart breaking reminder of your lack of a baby, or a second child that you’ve always wanted.

The whole Christmas period goes on for such a long time. Ads on TV and social media start early, extoling the virtues of Christmas as a wonderful time for children and families. The conversations with family members about plans for meeting up start weeks, even months in advance, sending chills in your heart if you know there’s a new baby or pregnancy in the family. Friends and colleagues soon start discussing their children’s nativity plays and what they’re going to buy them for Christmas. All of these can be painful reminders as you worry about how you’re going to manage this challenging time ahead.

If you have a family member who is pregnant or who has a new baby, or siblings who have little children, you may be finding it especially tough to face seeing everyone’s joy and happiness. For many, the idea of grandparents cooing over a new arrival, or making a big fuss of a pregnant sibling or sister-in-law, can be almost unbearable.

You need to take care of yourself and work out what’s going to be the best way for you to cope. Think about it in advance and talk through your fears and concerns with your partner or a close friend. Plan how you might best manage Christmas and be realistic about what you can and can’t do.

It may be hard to avoid the big family gathering so you might need to think about it beforehand and work on how you’ll cope with this highly emotional situation.

Here are some tips from Wendy Martin, BICA Accredited Fertility Counsellor and B CRM Patient Support Therapist :

  • Minimise the length of time you stay on Christmas Day
    If your family knows you’ve been struggling to have a baby, you could explain to them that you might be understandably sensitive and that you may not stay as long as you normally would. Maybe you can consider getting there later than expected. Arriving late and leaving early can also allow you to plan other things that same day, like a special breakfast together or an evening meal and movie with just you and your partner to decompress after the event. If no one knows about your struggle to conceive, perhaps you can discuss an exit strategy with your partner that enables you to get away early if it all becomes too much for you.
  • Perhaps stay in an Air BnB

If you are visiting family for more than a day, rather than staying with your relatives, you might think about booking a local Air BnB so you and your partner are not under the same roof as the rest of the family for the whole time. It will give you a reason to leave and the chance to get away and have some time for yourselves.

  • Be Prepared for a Pregnancy Announcement

Christmas may be the time when a member of your family decides to let everybody know their good news. You may have had a hunch that such an announcement is likely, for example, if you’ve noticed your sister or sister-in-law has not been drinking alcohol or coffee for a while, so you may be prepared for this possibility.

But, unexpected or not, pregnancy announcements are almost always painful. You will no doubt feel obliged to offer strained congratulations whilst trying to keep your face in some kind of ‘pleased’ expression, even whilst fighting back the tears. Don't feel guilty for feeling sad or jealous. This is natural for anyone in your situation.

Beat a hasty, but low-key retreat to the bathroom. You will no doubt cry. Hang out there for as long as you need to until the pain subsides, and, when ready, splash your face with cold water, take a few deep breaths and get ready to return to the fray.

  • Find ways of avoiding certain topics of conversation and divert people from upsetting lines of enquiry

Whilst you are with your family or friends, there may be a few insensitive questions about your plans to have children. These may be innocent but they can hurt or, at the very least, make you feel uncomfortable.

Remember, when asked “When are you going to have kids?”, the trick is to keep your answer short and then confidently and quickly, change the subject to divert the attention away from you and onto the enquirer. You could think about having a few stock answers like: -

    • “Oh, we’re onto it - hopefully next year! So, what are your plans for 2023?
    • "Not sure. So, how's your new job/house/puppy?"
    • “Let’s not talk about that now – but tell me, how have you been doing?”
    • “Our new puppy is enough of a handful at the moment. How’s your dog/ cat/ cockatoo?”

It will need a bit of creativity as the response to each individual will vary, but the main thing is to get the focus onto them as soon as you can. People love to talk about themselves and, if you’re skilful enough, they’ll probably not even notice you ducked the question.

  • Understand and accept yourself
    To get through this time, you need to accept that if you’re sad and miserable, and you’re finding it all really hard, it’s completely understandable for you to feel this way. Given your situation, you’re responding perfectly normally. Any feelings of jealousy, anger and resentment are not ‘bad’, they are just evidence of your, as yet, unfulfilled quest for a child of your own.
  • Accept that others may not realise just how painful this time is for you
    Some people around you (particularly family and friends with children) may find it hard to understand just how difficult Christmas can be for those struggling to have a baby. Especially if there is a new addition or a mum-to-be in the mix. Rather than fight against this and build up resentment towards those who lack the empathy you’d like, it can sometimes help simply to accept what is. Accept that those closest to you don’t mean to be insensitive or un-empathic, it’s just that they genuinely don’t get how hard it is for you. Although it’s upsetting, if you can, try to let your reaction to any judgments, comments and lack of understanding pass as quickly as you can, rather than harbouring feelings of hurt and anger.
  • Don't be afraid to end any conversations that make you feel uncomfortable
  • If members of your family or in-laws know about your struggles to conceive, you may find yourself on the receiving end of some unwelcome and unwanted advice. Well-meaning relatives might suggest all kinds of ‘helpful’ things. Like the right time to have sex; or tips on the best fertility diets (“I’ve heard that if you drink pomegranate juice/ your partner eats three walnuts every day/you eat liver once a week etc, that helps with getting pregnant”). They may even go so far as to remark on your age and your tardiness in your baby-making plans, saying things like “You shouldn't wait any longer to have kids as you are getting on a bit”. Or explain to you that you need to relax more or you’re working too hard or you’re too stressed and that’s why it’s not happening for you.
  • If such conversations begin, you might quickly say: “I’m so sorry, I’m desperate for the loo. Can you excuse me for a minute?” and beat a hasty retreat. Or interrupt with” Can I get you another sherry, aunty?” If you feel brave enough you might just gently say, with a kind smile, “I really don't want to talk about this right now, but tell me, how are you doing?” and then ask them about themselves and their lives.
  • The main thing is, this is not the time to fall out with your family and friends because of any thoughtlessness or ignorance on their part. Although it hurts and makes you mad, try to believe they mean well and genuinely want to be helpful. It’s also possible they just feel so awkward they don’t know what to say and the wrong things are coming out of their mouths. They probably mean no harm and genuinely believe they are being supportive, but just don’t know how to do it. This might be the time to try and practice tolerance and compassion, even towards those who upset and distress you.
  • If the baby is being passed around

If it looks like everyone is being given the opportunity to hold the new baby, and you dread that moment, you have a variety of options: -

  • Silently rise from your seat without ceremony or explanation and simply leave the room. You will not be noticed as all the attention will be on the baby. Go up to the bathroom and hide there for a few minutes – and no doubt have a little weep.
  • Don't be afraid to say no. This may depend on how understanding your family is, and whether or not they’re aware of your sadness at not yet having your own baby or second baby. If they are aware, you can be honest and let your family member know that holding babies is a little bit painful for you right now.
  • If the baby is dumped in your arms before you have a chance to say anything, simply pass the little darling on to someone else as quickly as you can and distract attention away from your discomfort by cheerily offering to make teas or coffees or refilling people’s empty glasses.
  • Go out for a walk at some point in the day

This may give you breathing space with your partner - and will give you time to have a moan or a rant or a good cry.

  • If you can escape from it all

You may feel that being with family at Christmas is completely unavoidable as the social pressure to be part of these festivities can be enormous. But you might consider if it’s possible for you to tell your family you won’t be joining them this year and book to go away for a couple of days instead.

  • Telling parents that you’re not going to be coming may come as a shock and be unwelcome news to them, especially for those who firmly believe that everyone should be together at this time of year. However, you could reassure them it's just this once and that you’ll be sure to see them either before or just after Christmas.
  • Hopefully, if they’re aware of your struggle to conceive, they and other members of your family will be sensitive and understand how hard it is for you to witness everyone else’s delight and pleasure in the new baby at this special time of year.
  • If not, and it causes upset and objections, you need to accept that they simply don’t get how painful it is for you that you’ve, as yet, been unable to have a baby. They may not be able to see how being around other people’s babies and pregnancies are the last thing you need or want. This may be the time when you have to assert yourself and make it clear this is what you want and that you need to look after yourself for the sake of your emotional wellbeing.
  • Look after your own needs

Instead of meeting the needs of others all the time, you might begin to put your needs first. This may not come naturally to you, but if you wait for everyone to understand why you are so reluctant to share in this family time in the way they anticipate, you could wait a long while. You need to learn to take care of yourself and say no to any emotional pleas. Some members of your family may be upset if you don’t conform to their expectations of you over this festive time, but they will get over it and will not be upset forever.

One way or another you need to be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to have the feelings you have. Remember, you are not alone. Like many others who are struggling to conceive, you are reacting normally. These are legitimate feelings. They may be unpleasant, painful and exhausting for you - and misunderstood by those around you, but, with strength and courage, and inner resolve, you will definitely get through it. Try and focus on those bits of Christmas you do love, and appreciate the positives that will be there if you look for them. One way or another, good luck with your efforts to survive Christmas!