Holiday Support Guide: The Winter Months
Sometimes, the holidays can be challenging, especially when you are trying to conceive. Families often gather together to catch up, and children are typically the focus of attention (either the ones physically present, or in the form of the typical ‘So when are you going to start trying?’ question). It does not matter if you welcome the holiday as a celebration, or you experience more solemn emotions. They are your emotions; they are perfect, and normal. (Grief is a common emotion and process around the holidays, at the bottom of the article I have also posted a second one, focusing on the grief process specifically.)
The winter holidays focus on gifts of family, heritage, and faith. While this is a time of reflection and celebration, some of the traditions may cause sadness and anxiety. Exchanging gifts with children, and watching them celebrate such a festive season can trigger many unexpected, and unwelcome emotions. While we cannot eliminate the sadness and anxiety completely, we can prepare, and create new traditions that are a bit more conducive to your situation.
Here are some brief suggestions to help prepare and cope with the holidays (while they are similar to the Thanksgiving suggestions, please consider trying all of them again as the focus on these particular holidays tend to be a little more child oriented).
- Be your best friend: You are not required to be anywhere or do anything you are not comfortable with. You have to listen to yourself, and protect yourself. If you feel that going to your cousin’s house with 15 children running around will be too anxiety provoking, then graciously thank them for the offer but let them know you have other plans. You (and your partner, if you have one) must have a discussion before, outlining the most enjoyable and least stressful holiday scenario: where will you celebrate? How long will you stay?
- Prepare your script: This does not mean you will have each conversation planned out, but come to a consensus beforehand. How will you respond to the inevitable question, ‘so when will you have children of your own?’ If you have a couple of planned responses that you feel comfortable with, it will make the conversation a lot smoother, and quicker. When we become anxious about answering a question, it can often lead to us revealing more than we would like, but if we are able to calmly deliver our planned responses, we can guide the direction of the conversation to another topic rather smoothly. If you have told your family you are trying and seeking treatment, this tool also works. They may ask ‘how are your cycles going? What is new at the doctor’s office?’ and instead of giving them a play-by-play of your last blood draws, you could have similar, planned responses.
- Throw yourself into the holiday: What better way to focus on the positive, than to enjoy a beautiful holiday? Try cooking, or decorating the house. Find a way to volunteer, or give back to the community. If you are spending a quiet night with your partner, make a special meal and have a nice glass of wine (one or two won’t hurt!). Get outside and take a walk, it is prime bird watching season as the chickadees are feasting for winter – just like us!
- Create a new tradition: If being surrounded by children opening gifts is too much at this point, create a new tradition with your partner/friends. Do something more adult-oriented that is festive, but not necessarily revolving around gift opening. This is a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with the ones you love, while also receiving a bit of extra support.
- Recognize and honor the emotions, but celebrate with family: This may be an opportunity to use as motivation for your cycles. Try to take it all in. Take a mental image of the smiles and laughter, and when you are experiencing a challenging moment later on, remember those smiles and what it is that you are working towards. You are doing all of this so that you can have those moments, those smiles, for yourself.
Please remember it is incredibly important to protect your emotions, and if that means removing yourself from a situation that could be too challenging, then do it! We just need to get a bit creative, and open ourselves to new traditions and opportunities!
We often experience many moments of joy with the help of Dr. Rob and the rest of the CNY Fertility Family, whether it be in Syracuse, Rochester, or Albany. However, sometimes there are low moments of pain and grief. This is unfortunately natural in the world of fertility and creating families. Although we would love for the joy to stay, we unfortunately cannot control what happens. So what do we do when we experience a loss? We have to grieve. (Please note this is not just for those who have experienced a miscarriage, grief can occur with everything from the initial diagnosis, to a negative pregnancy test.)
The grief process is different for everyone, and there isn’t a set timeline or protocol to follow. It is extremely individualized and is completely dependant on the needs of those experiencing pain. According to the Kübler-Ross model, there are typically 5 stages experienced during the grieving process:
- Denial: This occurs with the initial shock of the situation. It may occur when you first hear ‘I’m sorry but the test was negative’ or when you first discover you need help creating your family. Naturally we will say to ourselves, or even out loud ‘No, it can’t be.’ or ‘I know you are wrong, check again’. Our mind resorts to denial initially to protect ourselves from the reality of the situation. We find ourselves grasping for any sort of flaw in what we are being told, in order to prove to ourselves that it isn’t true. Once the denial lifts and we begin to absorb what has happened, we tend to recognize our loss and the impact it will have on our lives. In the case of a miscarriage you may begin to think of what the child’s life would have been like, and the plans you had made for your family. This leads us to the next stage in grief, anger.
- Anger: After denial of the situation and the beginning realization of the loss, it is common to feel angry. Angry with yourself, those around you, and quite often God, or whatever spiritual being you associate yourself with. The anger comes when we realize our plans have been changed, and we will not have the life we imagined before the loss. During this stage it is common to feel angry towards those that are closest to you, even your spouse. You may feel they are not grieving properly or at all. This is ok, they may be in a different stage than you, or they may manifest their feelings differently. It is extremely important to realize that they are grieving, and they are in pain, it is just not the same as yours. It is also important to note that men and women often experience a drastically different grief process. After the anger subsides it is common to begin the stage of bargaining.
- Bargaining: Often bargaining occurs with the self, or with God. You may find yourself saying ‘Just let me have my child back’ or ‘Please just tell me what I can do to fix this situation’. Although we know we cannot change what has happened, this is another defense mechanism of the mind, body, and spirit to make absolutely sure there is no reversing the situation. This is similar to denial in that we are not ready to accept the loss.
- Depression: During the fourth stage, depression, we begin to realize and acknowledge the loss. This is the most painful stage and it can feel like it will never end. Often we can experience not just emotional and spiritual pain, but actual physical pain as well. This stage is the acknowledgement of the loss, and the recognition of the emptiness felt. It is often accompanied by crying, feelings of abandonment, and wanting to withdraw from others. This is an incredibly important time of the grief process and it is not recommended to ‘cheer the person up’ or try and distract them with other things. To truly mourn the loss, it is important to feel the depression, as difficult as that may be.
- Acceptance: Once the depression lifts, you may feel a lift in your spirits as well. It is not that you have forgotten what has happened, or that you are any less upset about the loss. Instead, acceptance signifies that you have grieved, and felt each step of the grieving process and now you are looking for hope and a way to remember while moving on at the same time. Common ways to describe this stage are ‘I can’t change what happened, I have to learn to live with it’ or ‘I will never forget, but I need to be able to live as well’. This is a time where you may want to be alone again, and that is OK. It can be difficult to navigate these new feelings of ‘being OK’. You may feel guilty about trying to conceive again, or about taking some time for yourself. This is a stage of balancing grief, with life. While you may accept what happened and feel a little more comfortable about moving on with your life, it does not mean that you have forgotten, or that the pain will go away. You will still feel the pain of loss, however it will not be as intense as it was in the beginning, and you will be able to place it in better perspective now that you have accepted the situation.
While you are reading through the above stages, they may appear to make sense chronologically. However, remember that everyone grieves differently and in different stages. You may experience depression before anger, or you may skip a step completely. However it occurs is right for you. The important part is that you feel each step. As painful as it is, that is the only way to fully acknowledge and accept the loss you have experienced. You will also be able to mend the relationship with yourself, your spouse, family, and God (if this is appropriate) while you grieve, because unfortunately relationships can suffer as well during a loss
If you are experiencing a loss please constantly remind yourself that your grieving process is unique, and is best for you. Also, remember that we are always here for you and you have a large family here at CNY to support you.
Please visit our online message boards at www.cnyhealingarts.com to meet other patients experiencing similar situations to yours. We also have our monthly support groups at each office location.
If you would like to talk more about loss and the grieving process, please don’t hesitate to contact me, I am available via email and phone.