Nationally celebrated holidays can feel isolating when your personal story doesn’t fit into the narrative of those days. For instance, Father’s Day can be an incredibly triggering holiday if you or your family are navigating infertility.
“Days such as Father's Day can bring up varied emotions for couples dealing with infertility,” explains Dr. Lynyetta Willis, Psychologist and Family Empowerment Coach. “These holidays can feel very isolating for couples struggling with infertility - sadness, grief, and even resentment within the relationship, as well as towards couples with children may be present during these times.”
And while the isolating feelings may surface, it’s also true that those struggling with infertility are far from alone. According to the National Infertility Association, 1 in 8 couples struggle with getting pregnant or bringing a pregnancy to full term, and statistics show that “one-third of infertility is attributed to the female partner, one-third attributed to the male partner and one-third is caused by a combination of problems in both partners or, is unexplained.”
“Even though the male partner can be the main or contributing cause to infertility in 40% of infertile couples, our culture still regards fertility as primarily a woman’s issue (American Society of Reproductive Medicine),” explains Dr. Sarah Oreck MD, Reproductive Psychiatrist. “I think this has to do with our stereotypes around masculinity and the perception of male infertility as emasculating.”
Dr. Oreck adds, “Women are more likely to seek social support while men lean towards problem-solving. Problem-solving when it comes to infertility means accepting a loss of control. It can also mean guilt for medical interventions their female partner might undergo.”
While there may be very little that is controllable throughout the infertility journey, triggering days like Father’s Day can be approached with a strategic mind which may help make it easier by including fewer stressors in the day and days leading up to it.
3 Ways to Face This Father's Day
1. Get clear on what you’re both feeling
Ambiguity can make days like Father’s Day all the harder. A few days before Father’s Day, it can be helpful to start asking questions like:
- How are we feeling about this day?
- Do we want to have a plan?
- Should we stay off of social media for the time being?
- Is there anything coming up that we want to talk through or deal with together or alone?
“Have a discussion…be open to listening, but also be honest when you'd rather not talk about the difficulties inherent in the day,” suggests Dr. Willis. “In that vein, recognize that your partner may not want to discuss difficult feelings coming up for them or for you. Though this may be hard to hear from them, remember that we all process difficult emotions differently, and doing so openly when the emotions are most intense, may not be helpful for everyone.”
2. Craft multiple plans
Another way to help ease the tension, or to circumnavigate the decision to potentially not talk through feelings, is to create a series of different plans that you and your partner can choose from the day of. Instead of planning ahead for a single scenario, plan for multiple different ones and offer each other the sense of permission to choose what feels best.
Dr. Oreck suggests centering plans on the fun activities that bring you together as a couple. “Constant focus on procreation, contributes to less joy around sex,” explains Dr. Oreck. “It’s important to stay connected as a couple and continue to enjoy each other in the way you used to so trying to still have sex even on non-ovulatory days and bringing in some spontaneity can be essential for example.”
If you’re looking for grounding activities, turning to meditation or mindfulness practices can also help ease the stress of the day.
“Planning your day will decrease the likelihood that you'll find yourself in triggering situations,” explains Dr. Willis. “For instance, an impromptu stroll may unintentionally lead you to a park filled with their parents and their children.”
Creating your own couple-specific traditions on these hard days can help turn a hard day on its head.
3. Surround yourself with support
Whether you’re a friend who is wanting to support friends navigating infertility or a partner wanting to support their partner this Father’s Day, try to embrace an open mind and an open heart for the community around you.
“One of the most prevalent feelings I hear from my clients dealing with infertility is how lonely it can feel,” shares Dr. Willis. “If you know someone dealing with infertility, don't be afraid to reach out and let them know that you are there for them if they need to talk.”
Opening up these avenues of conversation and support can help reframe what could otherwise be a lonely, isolating day.
“The more we can focus on the present the less depressed and anxious we feel,” explains Dr. Oreck. ‘Cognitive restructuring or reframing is also something that can ease the pain. Thinking "everybody else gets pregnant so easily’ only causes distress. ‘If getting pregnant was so easy, there wouldn't be an entire field dedicated to assisting in fertility!’”
While there is no true way to fully anticipate what your or your partner’s needs will be on these difficult days, surrounding yourself with a supportive community, checking in with each other, and planning various options, may create a softer place to land.
Vivian Nunez is a writer, content creator, and host of Happy To Be Here podcast. Her award-winning Instagram community has created pathways for speaking on traditionally taboo topics, like mental health and grief. You can find Vivian @vivnunez on Instagram/TikTok and her writing on both Medium and her blog, vivnunez.com.