Family Gatherings and Infertility

Couple holding hands at dinner party, supporting each other during infertility
Having your partner or someone at the dinner be a knowing supporter can help you get through stressful family moments. / Digital Vision / Getty Images

Family holiday gatherings can be emotionally difficult when you're coping with infertility. The holidays may remind us that our family building has not gone the way we imagined. Seeing your siblings and cousins with their children can remind you of what you don't have. That's never easy.

If you're feeling stressed out just thinking about your next holiday get-together, here are some coping tips that may help.

Don't Go

You're probably thinking that is the most negative tip to start with, but it's an important one. When it comes to family, saying no can feel impossible. If you don't go to the holiday dinner, your parents and family may protest—loudly, in fact.

However, they can't make you go. You should do what is best for you. Maybe you've had a really difficult year and being around babies and children is the last thing you need for your mental health. Maybe that means skipping Thanksgiving or Passover at your parent's this year.

Instead, you can make dinner at home, get together with some adult friends (without children), or even take vacation days and spend them with your partner on a short getaway.

Your family may get upset, but they'll eventually get over it. Most importantly, you'll be calmer in the long run.

Come Late, Leave Early

A bit of a compromise, another option is to come late to the holiday gathering and then leave early. If you really can't say no—or maybe you don't want to say no, but you also don't want to be there long—you can just limit your time.

Coming late and leaving early can also allow you to plan other things that same day: perhaps a dinner out with just you and your partner, or to decompress after the event at home with popcorn and a movie. Whatever feels best.

You might need to make up (or create) excuses to why you can't stay long. Don't be afraid to either purposely schedule something (so you have an outside excuse) or just lie and claim you have somewhere to be. If you're a badass and great at setting boundaries, go ahead and tell the truth—family get togethers are overwhelming and you need to limit your time there. Honesty is also an option!

Don't Feel Like You Have to Hold Any Babies

Being around children can be difficult when you're trying to get pregnant. Sometimes, especially if your arms are empty, family members may plop a baby onto your lap while they attend to other matters.

For some, holding babies reminds them of what they don't have. Don't be afraid to say no.

You can quickly pass off the baby to another pair of empty arms, make yourself busy, or just be honest and let your family member know that holding babies is too painful for you right now. (Be careful, though, with sharing how painful it is to hold a baby. It depends on how understanding your family is.)

Alternatively, Soak Up the Baby Love

On the other hand, not every woman with infertility struggles with holding babies. Maybe you love holding other people's babies. Perhaps it's how you get your dose of "baby love." 

If this sounds like your style, take advantage of the abundance of children at the holiday dinner. Go ahead and live vicariously through others. Take the time to get down on the floor and play with your nieces, nephews and cousins. Volunteer to burp the baby or change a diaper.

Embrace your Auntie role

You may cry when you leave, knowing you can't take the baby home with you. Still, that's no reason not to soak up all the baby love while you can, if you want to.

Be Ready for the "When Are You Going to Have Kids?" Questions

Especially if others don't know about your infertility or trying to conceive efforts, questions about why you don't have kids (or why you haven't had another) are bound to come up.

It can help to be prepared to answer this question.

Consider Whether to Tell Your Family or Not About Your Infertility

This brings up another sticky topic: should you tell your family about your infertility? There are advantages of "coming out" about your infertility. For one, family members (and friends) can offer support. 

If you do decide to tell your family, you may want to think twice about doing so at a holiday dinner. On the one hand, you have everyone together, which may make it easier. On the other, if you don't want it to be the topic of the night, you'll want to bring it up at the very end or work hard at establishing boundaries right up front.

(In other words, you might say, "I want you all to know, but I really do not want to talk about it now.")

Don't Be Afraid to Cut Off Uncomfortable Conversations

Uncomfortable conversations are almost a tradition for family dinners. You may find yourself the target victim of unwanted advice. Anything from "fertility diet" tips to why you shouldn't "wait any longer" to have kids is common. 

Also, conversations that focus on the negative aspects of pregnancy or parenting can get really upsetting. Listening to your sister whine about her morning sickness can feel unbearable when you would give anything to be pregnant and throwing up.

If you find yourself in the middle of an uncomfortable conversation, don't be afraid to switch the subject. Be direct if that doesn't work. Say you really don't want to talk about this right now. It helps if you do it all with a smile and without any blame. 

Be Ready to Cope with Pregnancy Announcements

Family gatherings are the place for pregnancy announcements, whether direct (literally announcing the pregnancy) or indirect (walking into the house in maternity clothes and a big tummy). It is far from easy to cope with pregnancy announcements when you're trying to get pregnant.

Even if you are happy for your friend or family member, it can still hurt. An unexpected pregnancy announcement may have you offering strained congratulations and fighting the urge to cry. Don't feel guilty for your feelings of sadness, but do be prepared for the possibility.

Hide in the Bathroom for a Few Minutes

If you've had enough, or just need a place to cry or breath, consider hiding in the bathroom for awhile. No one knows why you're there, and the door locks, making it a perfect spot.

You can run the water in the sink if you don't want anyone to hear you crying. (Though if your family is naturally loud, this won't be a problem!)

Sometimes, you just can't hold back the tears. So let it go. Have a good cry, wash your face, and then go back out. 

Plan Your Post-Event Recovery Time

If you already know that attending a family get together is going to have you emotional and upset, plan how you're going to cope afterwards before the event. It's much easier to carry out self-care practices if you've put them into your schedule when you're feeling okay.

Some examples may include...

  • Prepare a self-care routine to carry out that night—like a long, relaxing bath
  • Put your best friend "on call" to know you'll be calling after to talk or vent
  • Schedule a massage for the next day
  • Plan to go home after and do some yoga, journaling, or engage in "therapeutic" cleaning of the house
  • Plan a visit to the gym, workout your frustrations
  • Skip dessert with the family and decide together with your partner on a late night, post-event date
  • Schedule an extra therapy session for the previous or following week

A Word From Verywell

You might feel guilty for feeling sadness when your sister gets pregnant. You may feel like a jerk when you ask your cousin to please stop talking about her birth story. But you shouldn't feel guilty. These are all normal feelings.

Coping with infertility is extremely difficult. You'll be lucky if you have any friends and family that really understand. For the most part, people don't mean any harm. They simply don't get it. They may want to support you but not know how.

If you need to skip the holidays with family this year, skip it. If you need to leave early, or come late, do that.

If you need to hide in the bathroom and cry, or avoid holding a baby, don't feel like it makes you into a bad person.

All it means is that you're human, with real feelings—feelings that just about every couple who has gone through infertility understands.

1 Source
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rooney KL, Domar AD. The relationship between stress and infertilityDialogues Clin Neurosci. 2018;20(1):41–47.

By Rachel Gurevich, RN
Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.