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How to Cope With Mother’s Day When You’re Still Not One
In Psychology Today, Dr. Georgia Witkin Ph.D., author of The Chronicles of Infertility: How to Strive and Thrive, discusses ways to cope with Mother's Day while dealing with infertility.
No matter how fully you immerse yourself in your work, your marriage, your friendships, your hobbies and every other part of your daily life that gives you feelings of accomplishment or a sense of control while you deal with infertility, Mothers’ Day usually requires special handling.
It’s all about the fantasy of motherhood. It’s about cherubic children and fabulous families. It’s about past memories, posted pictures, and greeting card poems. It can be a problem, a big problem because you can’t avoid it completely.
But this year, you can deal with Mother’s Day differently and with a new lens. Here are some strategies on how to cope with this holiday. Feel free to mix and match in any way that suits you, your style and circumstances.
Be a Daughter. Focus on your Mother - A good way to focus your energy is to channel it towards your mom. Make it her day if you will be with her or make it about memories of her if she is no longer with you. Participate in Mother’s Day like you did when you were young and gather all the love and affection she may have given to you.
Get Real. If a restaurant packed with mothers is too much for you, celebrate with your Mother quietly earlier in the day. If scanning the Mother’s Day cards are too much, write her a note or call instead. Don’t pretend ‘it's all fine’ if it isn’t. Don’t expect yourself to be selfless because expecting too much of yourself can do more harm than good. You’re already coping with infertility, which may be a handful.
Plan Ahead. I’ve given my patients this tip and I say it to myself and I say it to you – don’t let difficult holidays, anniversaries or occasions sneak up on you. It’s so easy to put them out of your mind before they arrive, but it’s also difficult to endure when they do. Gather your support group, your resources and protect yourself. You would help your best friend through this time, so be your own best friend.
Talk Up. If you decide you do want to celebrate Mother’s Day with your family, don’t go silently into the day. If you are asked questions about your plans to become a mother and it makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to answer. You can also tell others a phrase that lets them know to end the conversation – for example, you can say, “let’s focus on Mom today.” If you’re getting advice you don’t need or want, don’t expect your family to read your mind. Make their job easier and just say something like “I’m on advice overload but thanks” or, if it’s someone who is close to you, “I just need some comforting today.”
Don’t Make Dates with Downers. Spend the day with optimists. If you want to spend the day with friends instead of family, that’s ok. Attitudes are very contagious, and you need “up” moods surrounding you. Even if you haven’t told friends about your fertility problems, it will still give you a lift to be with people who are generally positive and relaxed about life rather than stressed themselves. There is a two-way street between what you think and what you feel. Your feelings are influenced by your thinking and vice versa, so switch to a positive attitude and give yourself some positive feelings. Today may not be the day to spend with others going through the same fertility journey even though they will understand your reactions to Mother’s Day.
Take Control. One of the most stressful aspects of infertility is the inability to predict what is coming next. Whenever our sense of control comes down, stress goes up. So bring up your brain’s sense of control on Mother’s Day. You can increase control by, cleaning your closet, filling your refrigerator with healthy and delicious food, joining a non-profit infertility lobbying organization, taking an exercise class, or even updating your phone or email contacts. It all works. The trick is giving yourself permission to do it.
Change Your Label. Redefine yourself as someone in ‘pre-motherhood’ rather than someone who is infertile. There are so many options for treatment and family building (IUI, IVF, genetic testing, donor egg, donor sperm, adoption, etc.) that in most cases, “there is always a way”.
Escape. This day can be the perfect day to escape from all the noise you have going on in your life. Make Sunday your personal day, not a national holiday. Take a car ride, watch a movie, see a play, shop till you drop, take a spa day - you get the idea. Don’t feel like you’re taking the easy way out, you’re taking the self-supported way out and preserving your emotional strength.
At the end of the day, no matter where you are in your fertility journey, Mother’s Day can bring a variety of complex emotions. It’s important for you to be selfish on this day and only do what you can handle and not what others want you to do.
Georgia Witkin, Ph.D., is the Director of Patient Services Development for Progyny and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Ob/Gyn and Reproductive Sciences at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.