Tips for Facing Infertility During the Holidays

Filed under: Infertility, Expert Advice: Just For You

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As a person dealing with fertility issues, Lori LeRoy finds the holidays especially difficult. Credit: Kevin Foster

Every bit as much as she embraces sharing the holidays with family and friends, Lori LeRoy says staring at the cards already arriving in her mailbox featuring the faces of smiling babies delivers a gripping sadness.

It is a silent grief, she tells ParentDish, and one she will wear just beneath the smile she brings to the holiday table.

For six years, the Indianapolis public relations director and her husband, Nick, have been through the grueling process of infertility treatments. Despite being able to belt out a whooping 22 eggs, oral hormones, in vitro fertilization and myriad treatments, which she ticks off like they were items on a menu, the couple has hit a fertility wall.

"I was strolling around Target last weekend, wiping away tears after seeing the cutest Santa onesies, stocking and toys," the 30-something LeRoy tells Parent Dish. "I think this season, I'll shop online to avoid a lot of potential heartache."

This year, even though LeRoy began her day running in a 5K Turkey Trot with close friends and will be surrounded at the table by her parents, aunt and uncle, nieces and nephews, her sister's family and her husband at her side, she says she feels utterly alone.

"We're calling them the 'hellidays,' " LeRoy says, referring to a pact with a friend who also is facing the holidays without a child.

Lori and her husband Nick have been dealing with fertility treatments for six years. Credit: Darren Ho

Infertility is a painful reality for 6 million women and men across the country, who find themselves in the midst of a holiday season that signals a time of celebration when their own uncertain futures seem sad, says Kristen Lohman Burris, an Idaho acupuncturist who treats hundreds of women facing infertility at her center.

Burris, who struggled with her own fertility issues for years, now has twins, and tells ParentDish she wants to send a message of hope to infertile couples: "You are not alone."

One out of every 10 couples in the United States is infertile, according to the American Fertility Association.

"One of the most painful experiences of one's life is the inability to conceive or stay pregnant," Burris tells ParentDish. "During the holidays people love to tell stories about their children -- what their children are doing in school, athletic achievements and funny anecdotal stories."

To help ease the heartbreak and tensions throughout the holiday season, Burris and other experts offer key survival strategies:

Smooth talk: Find a subtle way to let family members know that, yes, you are trying, but you'd rather focus on enjoying the holiday instead of talking about it right now, Elan Simckes, M.D., for Fertility Partnership of St. Peters, Mo., tells ParentDish.

"If your relatives don't get the message -- we all have that sweet-but-a-little-obtuse aunt, right? -- think of a short answer to the question before heading to the party, so you won't be put on the spot with nothing to say," Simckes says. "Be armed with other interesting news or information to share with your relatives, so you can give your answer to the baby question and then quickly turn the conversation in another direction."

Ban the baby department: During shopping treks to the mall, steer clear of the baby section, Burris advises.

Home alone:
Staying in is not always a bad option, as holiday gatherings typically revolve around children, says Iris Waichler, author of "Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire."

"Give yourself a break from the ongoing parties and celebrations that you are not ready to participate in," she tells ParentDish.

Start new traditions. Create a new or different holiday ritual with your partner or close friends or family members as a way of acknowledging the holidays in a lower key, comfortable manner, Waichler says.

Create mantras: Burris suggests couples struggling with fertility should create an arsenal of internal mantras: "I will not be childless forever." "I will have stories to share like this one day, too."

Cry, baby: If all else fails, Burris recommends fleeing to the bathroom "for a good cry."

Like many couples, LeRoy has employed her sense of humor as a secret survival weapon. On behalf of other couples facing infertility this holiday season, she is launching her own Internet campaign: "National Don't Send Me Christmas Cards with Photos of Your Kids on Them Month," on her blog, "Fertility Foibles."

There, she chronicles the lighter side of infertility, "trying to find funny or awkward moments throughout the process of trying to get pregnant and pointing out the absurdity of some of it," she says.

"Getting cards with kids playing in the snow or dressed in matching sweaters is usually enough to send me and many other 'infertiles' over the edge," LeRoy tells ParentDish. "So, this year, snarky and bitter though it is, I am hoping to save some friends 44 cents by asking them not to send me a card. If that doesn't work, I'd advise people to just throw them away before they open them."

In an effort to tap into their parenting instincts, LeRoy and her husband have four rescued pets (three cats and a Labrador) and are adopting a second English Lab this Thanksgiving. They've also been mired in red tape in an effort to adopt a 3-year-old boy from an orphanage in Vietnam.

She says that sometimes what helps most "is to know that I am not alone."

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