How to Deal With Fertility Speculation During the Holiday Season

Zara Hanawalt • Dec 14, 2023

The holidays are upon us, which means it’s time for parties, family celebrations, lovingly selected gifts, and…awkward conversations.

We all know that the holiday season can bring up some uncomfortable topics. But while most are bracing themselves for controversial political or religious discussions, people who are struggling to conceive or facing infertility may be terrified of conversations that are uncomfortable at best, deeply triggering at worst. 

If you find yourself in this boat, you’re not alone. Navigating infertility has a way of taking over your entire life. Sometimes it feels like every outing, every conversation, every interaction you have is colored by the experience. You can’t even scroll social media for a moment of escapism without being reminded of what you’re dealing with. And in-person meetings? It feels like an absolute miracle if you can make it through one of those without facing an insensitive comment or invasive question regarding your family plans

mom talking to adult daughter

For people who are experiencing this, the holidays can come with a whole additional layer of stress. There’s the sheer volume of those social interactions, and there’s also the nature of them: You’ll likely be seeing people from generations that don’t typically have an awareness of or sensitivity around fertility issues. You may be spending time with in-laws or people you don’t feel completely comfortable with yet, and you’re probably going to run into people you don’t see often who want to know about your family plans. 

Let’s face it: All this sets the stage for questions along the lines of — let’s all say it together now — “So, when are you having kids?”.

So, how do you prepare yourself for potentially awkward fertility questions?

Knowing that any social interaction, especially the kind you’re likely to face during holiday celebrations, comes with the risk of an invasive or triggering comment is (unfortunately) the first step.

Anticipating invasive questions won’t necessarily make them hurt or frustrate you any less, but it can help you prepare for a response.

“I think preparation is key,” says Neha Darji, LPC, the founder of We Rise Therapy and Wellness

Darji advises thinking about your preferred communication style to figure out how to respond to invasive comments. “I always like using humor. The more that someone does their self-work and has kind of grounded themselves, the more they can use the style that [feels most comfortable for them].”

This may involve being more straightforward and saying something like “I’m not going to have conversations about family plans tonight”. It may involve doing the emotional labor of educating someone on why their question is so uncalled for. It may involve saying something like “We’ve been trying and unfortunately it just hasn’t happened for us.” Or, it could be something more lighthearted like “oh, I didn’t realize you could predict when you’ll have a baby!”.

Whatever approach you take, preparing for it ahead of time will allow you to choose the style you really want to go with, rather than just responding to the discomfort of being put on the spot. You know how it feels when you come up with the perfect response to a problematic statement or questions hours after the fact? This tactic will help you avoid that.

family gathering

Ask yourself a few questions ahead of time

One of the most challenging things about being around groups of people during the holidays while also navigating infertility is knowing there’s a possibility that you’ll be around someone who is pregnant or has recently had a baby. There may even be a chance someone will announce a pregnancy at the event. 

If this is a possibility, you may want to think long and hard about whether or not you can truly handle attending the event. Of course, this comes down to really weighing the benefits against the risks and is something only you can decide — but thinking about how these triggers may affect you is important.

 “The first step is doing the work and understanding how much you want to be involved in holiday events if you need to set those boundaries,” says Darji. “If you know there are certain events you are just not ready to cope with, if there are certain people that can be very triggering, certain environments or situations…you don’t have to say yes to every event.”

Practice mindfulness

Part of taking care of yourself involves identifying what you need at any given moment. According to Darji, mindfulness may be the key here.

“If you do feel really triggered or caught off guard, just practicing mindfulness skills beforehand [can help],” she says. “I work with clients on grounding, focusing back on your breath, doing a body scan and understanding what’s coming up for you in the moment and [then gauging] if you need to step away to the bathroom or somewhere to breathe and ground yourself.”

“If you feel reactive, it’s okay to take a minute to check in with yourself. Maybe it’s just changing the topic right away,” Darji adds. “Being in a place where you can feel more grounded will help you react in a healthier way [as opposed to becoming] reactive or defensive.”

Be the expert in you.

Take the Quiz

Strategize with your partner beforehand

If you have a partner and will be spending the holidays with them, making sure you’re setting the stage to support one another is important

Working with your partner ahead of social situations could even involve “practicing” the uncomfortable conversations you may find yourself in before an event.

“Preparing together helps to support each other [and] you can practice together to have an understanding of how you want to deal with it,” says Darji. “Each partner might have their own style — one might be comfortable using humor, one might want to set a really clear boundary or deflect back, so it’s honoring how each person wants to deal with it, but also preparing beforehand so you can support each other. I think it can be a helpful tool.”

couple talking on a sofa

Advocating for yourself isn’t disrespectful

For a lot of people, especially people in certain cultures, the idea of respecting elders may be deeply ingrained. That can make it hard to allow yourself to advocate for your own needs — but Darji points out that you can do so in a way that’s still respectful. Maybe that means politely saying “I’d rather not discuss my family plans” or “this is kind of a sensitive topic for me at the moment” when asked about family plans. Maybe it means having your partner step in and change the subject.

“I think a lot of [responses] can be pretty respectful,” says Darji. “It’s understanding that just because you’re responding and not being silent doesn't mean you’re being disrespectful — it’s a two-way conversation. Remember that asserting yourself doesn’t mean disrespect. It’s important to practice asserting yourself in healthy ways. It’s going to make you feel more empowered.”

Zara Hanawalt is a freelance journalist and mom of twins. She's written for outlets like Parents, Marie-Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Motherly, and many others. In her (admittedly limited!) free time, she enjoys cooking, reading, trying new restaurants, and traveling with her family.