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Thanksgiving, Fertility Journeys, and the Pandemic Panorama

Giving thanks in the time of COVID.

Key points

  • During the holidays, those going through fertility treatment may worry about getting questions and unasked-for advice from family.
  • Laughter and play are two big stress relievers that can ease holiday tensions.
  • Having family or friends who are understanding and can distract from one's fertility journey can be helpful.
iStock/pondsaksit
Family celebrating Thanksgiving.
Source: iStock/pondsaksit

Unlike other holidays which are religious or commemorate a military/historic event, Thanksgiving is about gratitude, food, family, and fun. But COVID-19 changed everything, and Thanksgiving celebrations are no exception. Now, Thanksgiving is just as much about our concern for the health of our families as the comfort of being together, and if you are trying to start your own family and going through fertility treatment, it’s likely you have additional concerns such as:

  • Since many families didn’t gather last year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and high infection rates, it’s likely that more of us will travel this year for Thanksgiving than any other time since the beginning of the pandemic. If you’re prioritizing your health while trying to become pregnant or are newly pregnant, increased travel may be a concern.
  • Additionally, if you or your family skipped last year’s holiday party, you may be getting even more of the well-meaning yet upsetting questions from family members about starting a family than usual because they haven’t seen you in a while.
  • Family time is also “announcement time,” and after a year of separation because of the pandemic, your relatives may be announcing their pregnancies or bringing their new babies or young children, which can be devastating if you’re struggling to build yours.
  • Finally, there is the unasked-for and inaccurate advice: "Just relax and you'll get pregnant," "Just think positively," "Don't watch the news..."

If you are finding it hard to feel grateful or happy this Thanksgiving season, don’t feel guilty. You are certainly not alone. But it can help to focus on some of the ways we have changed for the better in the past year and the specific ways to travel along your fertility journey when the path leads right through the holidays.

Improvements post-COVID

Let’s start with some of the ways our perspective has seemed to improve since COVID-19 started:

  • More Americans are valuing their mental health A 2021 Sitecore survey of consumers found that 78% said that the pandemic made them more aware of their own mental health needs, and those of family, friends, and colleagues.
  • More of us (86%) said they appreciate time at home and simple pleasures more because of the pandemic.
  • Self-care has become not only a buzzword but a practice during quarantine. The same survey reported that we don’t want to give it up as the world starts opening up. In fact, 43% of respondents are planning to give themselves holiday gifts as a form of therapy.

Most of us (70%) say we are thankful for our health. A 2020 Monster poll of 1,700 Americans ("Work in the Time of Coronavirus") found:

  • More than one-third were thankful for having a job during the pandemic and 25% said they were thankful that they could work remotely.
  • The overwhelming majority of workers believe both that expressing gratitude at work helps ease stress and anxiety (97%) and receiving gratitude motivates their daily work (94%).

And finally, Modern Health’s Mental Health in the Coronavirus Era survey of 700 adults and found that more than two-thirds of those surveyed said they have been inspired by the acts of giving and kindness shown by first responders and those around them, and over half have been inspired to give back, donate, and volunteer themselves.

Navigating Thanksgiving during a fertility journey

Now let’s talk about navigating this year’s Thanksgiving festivities while you are going through a fertility journey:

  • Try to see Thanksgiving as an opportunity to play and laugh because they are nature’s stress relievers. Organize some competitive games, share old pictures and videos, tell funny stories, or find a list of Thanksgiving trivia for table talk—they all release mood-elevating brain chemicals and, according to Herbert Benson’s Harvard research, just 20 minutes a day of laughter or play can decrease your stress symptoms by 50%.
  • It can help to accept that we can’t predict or control the past or the future. The pandemic has taught us that, so make a deal with yourself to be in the present during the holiday not reliving or pre-living your life. That’s the only way we can find moments of joy when we are sad or scared is through the joy of love, of family, and of others’ joy.
  • When you are at the table, try to surround yourself with your own “first responders.” Seat yourself next to family or friends who either understand what you are feeling or are entertaining enough that you can forget your fertility concerns for a time.
  • Prepare some answers to difficult and/or insensitive questions about getting pregnant. Some suggestions from my patients are: “Thanks for asking but I have no answer yet,” “I’ll let you know when I know,” “Wish us luck,” or just give them a smile. Just remember that it’s your private medical information and it’s your choice to share or not share. What matters is that you feel ready and not taken by surprise.
  • If you are at Thanksgiving with a partner, close family member, or friend, decide on a signal for when you want them to jump in, run interference, or make an excuse to pull you away from the table or even leave. You shouldn’t have to go it alone—make sure you and your partner are on the same page about strategies before you head to Thanksgiving dinner. If you don’t have a partner, choose a trusted family member or friend who can serve the same purpose.

But suppose you don’t want to join your family or friends at all this Thanksgiving. Give yourself permission to create your own holiday this year; we’ve all been rearranging our lives and traditions since March of 2020 anyway! Tell your family you’ll miss them, plead a runny nose or possible COVID exposure concerns, do a short video call with everyone, send flowers or a special dessert, and do your own thing. To honor the theme of Thanksgiving, make up a list of things you are thankful for. Then, if you have friends who are also going through the holidays and struggling to build their family, make plans together or stay in touch. You will see that your reactions are not unusual and when they say, “I understand,” you will know that they really do.

Let’s hope that by next year we will be able to gather with less concern for our health and safety, and if your hope is to start or grow your family, let’s hope that it will come true.

References

Caspiani and Borter, 2020; Tanne, 2020; Trotta and Layne, 2020.

Bryan E. Robinson Ph.D.

The Right Mindset

A Pandemic Thanksgiving

Expressing gratitude for what we do have, not fretting about what we don't have.

Posted November 23, 2020 Psychology Today

Modern Health Jun 23, 2020, 12:00 ET

State of the Industry: Mental Health in the Coronavirus Era report. The research, fielded in May, 2020, surveyed more than 700 adults about the impact of Covid-19 on their mental health, relationships, finances and work.

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