Holiday Talk with the TTC Folks in Your Life:: What NOT to Say

Holiday Talk with the TTC Folks in Your Life:: What NOT to Say

With COVID-19 surging, the 2020 holiday season will no doubt have its own distractions, provide its own novel topics of conversation, and sadly keep many families – including my own! – apart as they make smart choices to reduce Coronavirus spread {and, please, make those smart choices!}. Despite that, like every year, I’m guessing there will still be many well-intentioned yet painful family conversations, trying to probe for family-building updates from loved ones who may or may not be TTC {trying to conceive}. So, when’s that baby coming along?? You guys aren’t getting any younger!

PSA:: TTC Questions are Painful

Here’s a PSA:: in case it’s not self-evident, there really isn’t anyone who cherishes being asked when they’re planning to procreate, find a partner, or achieve any particular life update geared toward an end goal of increasing the population. Even for those early in their TTC journey, what is there to say? “Yup, we’re having lots of unprotected intercourse, hope it works soon?” But for those who might be recovering from a miscarriage {1 in every 4-5 pregnancies}, those with infertility {1 in every 7-8 straight couples, and most LGBT folx who will need treatment to grow their families}, or even those who are single and struggling to date during COVID times, these prying questions about TTC can be straight-up painful.

The Particular Struggle of the Holidays, and Now COVID

Around the holidays, as we focus so much on family, the perceived absence of those we might love to have join the family – new grandchildren, nephews or nieces, spouses – seems to take on renewed importance. This year may even be worse. With COVID, many of my patients have found themselves looking hard at their socially-distanced lifestyle and taking more proactive steps to address their family-building goals. I’ve lost count of how many couples have come in to tell me “well, we’re spending so much more time together, just the two of us, and it’s getting a bit stale. We’re wondering:: are we going to be able to grow our family?” They’re already suffering. Well-intentioned but triggering questions from family have the potential to make this angst much worse. Whether we gather in person or via Zoom this year, I know there are thousands of women or couples bracing themselves to additionally face the onslaught of questions about their baby plans.

The Burden Falls on Women

I’ve experienced my fair share of it. The lion’s share of this hurt tends to fall on women, and truthfully, I deeply envy my husband his freedom from the prying comments. I can easily recount all the incredibly painful comments that were made to me as a 35-year old married woman without human children. I was sternly admonished more than once that having a puppy “did not count”. I cried constantly and often bitterly during that phase of my life. Now, as a mother to a 13-month old, the comments have resumed. Right around my daughter’s first birthday, they started rolling in like clockwork. And even though we haven’t tried for #2 yet, those comments and the anxiety they generate made my most recent period feel like a sign of failure. Looking into the future, I also know that should we try for another baby, and have another girl, the questions will come again – so, when are you going to try for that boy?

Give Thanks and Show Compassion

 Let me set y’all straight. The scientific literature shows that women can suffer from anxiety or depression after miscarriages for YEARS. I see this all the time – those so scarred by a loss that they are terrified at the thought of trying again. Sometimes they go back on birth control to forestall the potential pain of another loss. The data also shows that the grief of an infertility diagnosis matches that of battling cancer. It’s not a lifestyle choice. It’s not a “Just relax, it’ll happen” thing, so please, just never say that. Involuntary childlessness is a disease that can sap a lot of joy from life, especially around the holidays.

My ask is this:: as Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, New Years and all the other holidays roll around, if your family is complete, give thanks for that. Pray silently for others to share your good fortune and show compassion for those that share their infertility or miscarriage story with you. A special shout-out to the would-be grandparents of single daughters:: if you’re not looking to help fund an egg-freezing cycle or help your daughter choose single motherhood, then please keep to yourself any and all tidbits of dating advice or admonitions about where she “should be” in life.

This is my professional advice as an infertility specialist who hears the side effects of these comments on the daily:: this and every holiday season, resolve to not add any additional burden to those in your life that might be TTC or struggling to grow their families. If you’re lucky enough not to have lost anyone to COVID or any other illness this year, commit to counting your blessings and leaving it at that. Consider that my mic drop. Happy Holidays!


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