Navigating Family Gatherings

Navigating family gatherings shown as 3 photos of various family gatherings

Fertility treatments can be stressful and emotionally draining for couples trying to conceive. Failed ovulation cycles, failure to fertilize, repeated IVF cycles, and miscarriage can cause severe emotional fatigue, and before you know it, you are touching the boundaries of depression; maybe you have already stepped over that line.  Family gatherings, such as holidays, baby showers, and weddings, can be challenging for those undergoing fertility treatments due to the constant questioning, comments, and unsolicited advice from family members and friends.


Here are some tips that may help you:


Set Boundaries

Establishing clear boundaries with family members before attending any family gatherings is important. Let them know what you are comfortable discussing and what topics are off-limits. Be firm but always be polite when communicating your boundaries.  Make it clear that you are not seeking advice or opinions on your fertility treatment at a family gathering.  It may be helpful to have a rehearsed response ready for when the topic arises.  Remember that they do not know what you are going through, so it is up to you to communicate the arduous journey and that setting boundaries will help you cope.  Remind them that you need their cooperation and understanding to manage.


Manage Expectations

Family members may have high expectations for you and your partner to announce a pregnancy because many think that fertility treatment always leads to a pregnancy.   They may also be innocently curious to know about your fertility treatment.  It is essential to manage these expectations and their questions to avoid disappointment and further stress.  Communicate clearly with your family about your treatment progress; this can be done in person or via texting.   You can even choose one person to tell, and they will then forward the information on your behalf.  If you feel uncomfortable discussing your treatment plan, politely let them know it is not something you want to discuss.


Take Care of Yourself

Fertility treatments can be physically and emotionally exhausting.  It is essential to prioritize self-care during this time, especially when attending family gatherings. Practice self-care techniques like meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness to help manage stress and anxiety.  Ensure you get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly to improve your overall well-being.


Have an Exit Strategy

It is essential to have an exit strategy in place if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed.  Plan and arrange transport or a valid excuse for leaving early if necessary.  A planned exit strategy can help alleviate stress and anxiety associated with attending family gatherings.


Consider Support Groups

Support groups can be a valuable resource for couples undergoing fertility treatment. These groups offer a supportive and understanding community that can provide advice and guidance on navigating difficult situations.  Consider joining a support group to connect with others who know what you are going through.


Be Honest

It may be tempting to avoid family gatherings altogether, but this can lead to feelings of isolation and further stress.  Family members will likely call you more often to find out why you are avoiding them, or they want to express their hurt that you did not come to their baby shower.  Instead, be honest with your family about how you are feeling, what you are going through, and how emotionally drained you feel.   By being open and honest, you may find that your family is more understanding and supportive than you initially thought.


Sample Script


So, you have a family get-together coming up, and your parents, sister, and Aunt Linda, your dad’s sister, will all be in attendance, and the conversation goes something like this:


Aunt Linda: [Cheerfully] Sarah, dear, it is so good to see you! How is everything going with you and John?


You:                Fine, Aunt Linda, thank you for asking.  



At that moment, your sister intervenes.


Sister:            “Aunt Linda, guess what? Sarah and John are starting fertility treatment next month! We might have a little niece or nephew soon!”


Aunt Linda: Oh, that is fantastic news! I cannot wait to see your mom and dad become grandparents! You know, your cousin just had her third child last week. It’s such a blessing.  And cousin Paul and his wife just had their second child, and my grandson, who has been married just short of a year to Sue, well, they are expecting”.  


[And Aunt Linda continues to talk about babies and pregnancy.]


You do not have to sit there feeling overwhelmed.   Either you or your partner needs to open communication on this issue.  For example, you could say:


You:                “Aunt Linda, I appreciate your excitement, but John and I struggle with our fertility journey. It’s been challenging for us.  All this talk about pregnancies and babies is a little overwhelming for me right now.   I appreciate everyone’s concern and interest, but I would prefer that we close this conversation for now.   When I have news that I want to share, I promise to call you.”


[Now your Aunt Linda and your sister look hurt, surprised, and embarrassed.] 


Aunt Linda:  “I am sorry.  I did not mean to be insensitive.  I understand it is a sensitive topic. Please know that we are here for you and will support you in any way we can.”


You, gracefully: “Thank you, I appreciate your understanding.”


[Please do not leave it there. Proceed to share with the family by setting expectations for this journey. ]


Another scenario may be your response:


Aunt Linda: {annoyed voice] “I was trying to be supportive and show interest.  There is no need for your rudeness.”


You:                “We know you care about us and value your support.   However, infertility can be a complicated and emotional journey, and we are navigating it as best as possible.   We may need some space and understanding during family gatherings.   We are still the same Sarah and John you have always known, and we hope our family will grow in its own time.   We will share information when we feel we are emotionally able to.   This journey may take some time, perhaps a few years.   We are looking at many options and choosing the treatment plan that we are most comfortable with.   I do appreciate your support and kind thoughts. “




Attending family gatherings during fertility treatment can be challenging, but navigating these situations with the right mindset and preparation is possible.  Be honest with your family and friends while being polite and kind, but ensure you are expressing your wish list and what you need them to do so you can better cope.  Please consult a mental health counselor with experience in infertility, as they can share tips and suggestions on dealing with these situations.


Author: Karen Synesiou, Infertility Portal, Inc.