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Family Functions and Fertility

For people experiencing infertility, the holidays can be a particularly challenging time. They may have expected to have a child this year. A fertility treatment or a pregnancy may have just failed. This may be the first Christmas since learning they are unable to have children. Or the conclusion of the year is a reminder that time continues to pass. “There is added pressure to be happy and just enjoy the holidays — to hide the pain of infertility and the struggle to build a family,” said Betsy Campbell, director of constituent engagement for RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association. “Infertility is a major life crisis, and it is natural to feel sad. Rather than pretending that there's nothing wrong, couples need each other's comfort more than ever.” With party after party, function after function, the pressure to celebrate is intense. The Christmas holiday revolves around birth, and many traditions — like Santa and Christmas pageants — focus on children. “It’s hard to see,” said Jamie Leonard, an INTEGRIS infertility nurse who also leads a RESOLVE support groups for people experiencing infertility. “People are out with their families and … it’s really, really hard.” Leonard works as a nurse at the INTEGRIS Bennett Fertility Institute in Oklahoma City. She briefly worked in intensive care before switching to infertility. Then she and her husband had trouble conceiving and went through fertility treatment themselves. They are now the proud parents of a 9-year-old boy and 7-year-old twin girls, and Leonard said she will forever be dedicated to the cause of fertility. Volunteering as a lead for monthly RESOLVE meeting is one way she can help others. “It’s my way to give back because I’ve been there, and I understand,” she said. “Every time I leave there, I feel so fulfilled. I was able to pay it forward. I really love it.” RESOLVE meetings are designed to be a way to support one another. Some people tell their stories. Others come just to listen. Participants are welcome to come alone or as couples. “Everybody can relate,” Leonard said. “We just have this open dialogue, and it’s really nice.” Even though Leonard is a nurse, the group doesn’t discuss medical topics. None of the RESOLVE support groups do. Leonard said she lets the group steer the conversation. “I just let them talk, and then I share my infertility journey,” she said. “We talk together because we all relate.” The group is particularly helpful because everyone is dealing with similar challenges. “You don’t feel like you have to make excuses or explain yourself because people just really understand,” she said. “You have to be brave to come because you don’t know what to expect. When they come, they realize nobody’s there to judge them.”

Infertility is the inability to conceive after 1 year of unprotected sex

Holiday Tips for Those Experiencing Infertility

We often feel pressure from our families during the holidays, and fertility challenges can add to that strain. RESOLVE offers several tips for taking care of yourself during the holidays.
  • Don’t attend everything. If you sense a particular family event will be painful, don’t go. If you’re worried children-centric events, like baby showers, will be a disaster, it’s perfectly OK to pass.
  • Plan for events you do attend. Skip Christmas morning presents with the children and show up for dinner. Go to a midnight service. If being around children is painful, it’s OK to modify your schedule. And if you want to leave early, do so.
  • Practice your response to questions. As a couple, you can share as much or as little as you want. It’s easier to answer (or deflect) questions if you know what your response will be. Decide as a couple what you both are comfortable with, and go with that. The bustle of a family event isn’t the ideal place to decide whether to keep your fertility challenges private. “Some people ignore it. Some people play it off,” Leonard said. “You have to find whatever the best coping mechanism is for you.”
  • Recruit an ally. Whether it’s a relative or friend, recruit someone in addition to your partner to help steer the conversation if you need help. If you feel uncomfortable setting boundaries, ask a parent or sibling to remind Aunt Jane that your fertility is none of her business.
  • Celebrate as a family. Enjoy Christmas, Hanukkah or whatever celebration you choose as a couple. Create new traditions. Trying new things can be daunting, and you may get some backlash from family, but do what’s best for the two of you as a couple.
  • Do things with other adults without children. Reach out to friends or other couples without children, and schedule fun activities that have less pressure than full-blown family functions.
  • Volunteer. The holiday season can be emotionally difficult for any number of reasons. Consider supporting others by volunteering.
  • If the time is right, share about your infertility. Depending on your family support structure, a holiday gathering may be the right time to talk to loved ones about your infertility and to solicit their support.
  • Focus on gratitude. Even in tough times, what is there to be thankful for? Take stock of what you have in life. Reflection can help switch gears from the negative to the positive.
  • Feel your grief. When we attend festive events, we can feel pressure to cheerful and charming, even if we don’t want to be. Ignoring feelings of frustration, anger or sadness doesn’t stop the pain. However you feel is OK because everyone grieves differently.
  • Ask for support. Attend group support meetings and lean on those around you. “Just having a place to go where everyone gets what you’re going through is a gift, not just during the holidays but all year long,” Campbell said.

12% of U.S. women experience infertility

Tips for Those Supporting Someone Experiencing Infertility

Each couple experiencing infertility handles their journey differently. Some people are private and only talk about their situation to a tight inner circle — if they tell anyone at all. Others are open and find comfort in sharing their story. Regardless of how they are navigating their journey and the holidays, “The best thing you can do is let the couple know that you care,” Campbell said. “Instead of asking questions or offering unsolicited advice about their infertility, ask how you can support them. Just knowing they can count on you to be there for them lightens the load and lets them know that they aren't going through this alone.”
  • Offer support. Let them know you’re there for them, whether it’s starting new traditions together or giving a shoulder to cry on. “Reaching a resolution can take years,” Campbell said, “so your infertile loved ones need your emotional support during this journey.”
  • Don’t offer advice. Chances are they’ve already tried it or their doctor has already recommended it. “If it were that easy,” Leonard said, “we would have already done that.”
  • Don’t take their decisions personally. If they can’t attend your meal or party, don’t take it personally. Allow your loved ones to practice self-care without guilt. Some events can be too emotionally difficult for couples experiencing infertility. “Just be understanding of their situation, and if they don’t come to things, they're not at events, don’t prejudge them.” Leonard said. “It may just be too painful for them to go.”
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Infertility graphic 3

Infertility support groups in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has two RESOLVE support groups. The group Leonard leads meets from 6 to 7:30 p.m. the second Thursday of the month at the James L. Hall Center for Mind, Body, Spirit at 3366 Northwest Expressway, Building D, Suite 180, in Oklahoma City. To reach Leonard, call (512) 656-0983 or email jamie.leonard82@yahoo.com. A second group, Oklahoma City Connecting Hearts, meets from 6 to 7:30 p.m. the first Thursday of the month at Pioneer Library, 2201 SW 134th St. in Oklahoma City. The group is led by Jessica Hodges, connectingheartsinfertility@gmail.com.

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