For those on the IVF journey, this overload of child-centered images can be a painful reminder of the only ‘gift’ they want but haven’t got – a baby.
The festive season is also regarded as a time to reflect on the old year and look forward to the new one with optimism. The challenge for infertile couples is how to continue with hope for another 12 months (perhaps yet again) as they continue their IVF journey.
Studies show that those seeking assisted reproduction often experience mental health issues such as anxiety or low mood. Some have estimated that depression affects around 41 percent of women having fertility treatment, with the figure similar for men. Women who remain childless may also be at risk of psychological issues long term according to research. Without the right mindset or coping tools, their mental health and feelings of isolation can get worse, especially at Christmas when children are often the focus.
What is the best advice then for navigating the minefield that lies beneath all that glitter and sparkle? The first important point to remember is that you’re not alone. One in six couples in the UK struggle with fertility issues. So, others in your neighbourhood or network will be confronting similar emotions as they gather round dinner tables on Christmas Day and at New Year. The signs may be different – they may appear angry, sad, depressed – but the experience is universal for infertile couples.
The story of Christmas may centre on a miracle birth. However, it’s also about love, kindness and shining a light in the dark. Self-compassion – the ability to care for your needs – is paramount according to the UK fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). If you do feel profoundly sad, the HFEA advises against pretending to be happy to make others feel better. Another tip is not to make a New Year resolution to ‘be positive’– this could make any bad news around IVF treatment seem a lot worse. Instead take each day as it comes and aim for a balanced attitude.
Intrusive questions or unsolicited opinions from well-meaning relatives can exacerbate the grief of failed IVF. Comments like “Why don’t you consider adopting?” or “Do you not want any little ones?” can feel hurtful or upsetting. One way of dealing with these situations is to have some responses prepared in advance or to alert the host to how you’re feeling so they tell others to be tactful. And don’t be afraid to smile while telling people politely the topic isn’t for discussion.
Couples who have become pregnant but miscarried or had a still birth may want to remember their baby at Christmas. Charity Tommy’s suggests a visible symbol – a candle or angel on the tree – can provide comfort and soften the pain. And they say not to feel pressured to celebrate – do what you need and want to do, even if that means turning down or cancelling invites. Or spending Christmas away somewhere with just you and your partner.
* Think of answers to intrusive questions in advance. Or politely say you don’t wish to discuss the issue.
* Take a trip as a couple instead of spending it with family.
* Light a candle, hang a Christmas decoration or start your own tradition to symbolise your loss and hope.
* Be kind to yourself – treat yourself like you’d treat a close friend. And remember you’re human with all the associated emotions and complexities.
* Try and stick to your usual sleep routine.
* Allow yourself to say ‘no’ to events especially if you’re not in a good place.
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