SALT LAKE CITY — This Christmas would be a little different for the Stratford family.
The presents under the tree weren’t gifts, but boxes left over from infertility treatments. The hanging ornaments weren’t snowmen and reindeer, but needles and medicine vials.
“We just kind of make light of the situation when it’s out of our control,” said Karlie Stratford, a local hairdresser.
Stratford and her husband have been married for seven years and trying to have children for three-and-a-half. After the first year of unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant, Stratford went to see a reproductive specialist.
She tried several different treatments to no avail, until her doctor suggested in vitro fertilization. Soon after, she was pregnant with twins — and so was her sister. A few months later, the frustrated mother-to-be experienced a miscarriage.
“The day I had my (miscarriage surgery), I had one of my really good friends tell me that she was pregnant. I had my best friend have her baby the (same) day. The next day, I had another friend tell me she was pregnant, and then the following week, another. So all my friends were pregnant, and then my sister. I had been so excited to finally be pregnant with her,” she said.
And Stratford’s experience with infertility hasn’t just been an emotional struggle, but a financial one as well — hence the gift-wrapped medicine boxes.
“(My husband and I) aren’t doing anything for Christmas (gifts) for each other this year,” Stratford said. “Instead, just doing service and helping others that way and … I saved all my injections (and) medicine vials from all the treatments that we’ve done. And since we’re not doing presents … I put my boxes underneath my Christmas tree, and they’re presents that way.”
And though Stratford’s experience with infertility has been difficult, she knows she’s not the only one struggling with it. For many couples dealing with infertility issues, the holidays can be a trying time — especially when surrounded by friends and family who may be wondering why they haven’t started their family yet.
For those experiencing infertility, here are five tips to navigating the holidays:
- Talk to a specialist first: Seek out a reproductive endocrinologist first instead of discussing infertility issues with family and friends, said Leecherie Booth, nurse coordinator at the Utah Center of Reproductive Medicine. Well-meaning relatives may give unhelpful, harmful or incorrect advice — and it’s easiest to broach a difficult subject like infertility with a professional by your side. Don’t trust the internet to diagnose you, either, Booth said.
- Be transparent: Once you talk to a professional and feel confident and comfortable with your plans, it can help to be transparent with others, said Melissa Horn, director of outpatient services at the University of Utah Hospital. Horn decided to be open about her treatment when she, herself, was experiencing infertility and she found it to be beneficial in the long run. And so did Stratford.
- Politely shut down questions: If you don’t feel ready to talk about infertility issues, it’s OK to shut down questions, Booth said. Politely, but firmly, tell family members that now is not a good time to talk about it and that you’ll have that conversation when you’re ready.
- Take time for yourself: For Stratford, prayer is an opportunity to take time for herself, reflect and feel comforted. Booth also recommends making your health and happiness a priority during the holidays by taking your mind off infertility issues with a relaxing bath or a trip to the movies.
- Take time for others: “I’m so blessed in my life in so many different areas, and when I start to feel bad for myself or I get down and have feelings towards people, what really helps me is to do service for other people. Especially during the holidays,” Stratford said.
For family and friends of those dealing with infertility, here are three tips to be a help, not a hinderance:
- Don’t ask questions: If you’re wondering why a friend or family member hasn’t had kids yet, Booth and Stratford recommend stopping yourself from asking them unsolicited questions. Starting a family is a personal and private matter for couples and some questions may be intentionally hurtful.
- Encourage those dealing with infertility to talk to a specialist: If a friend or family member does confide in you, encourage them to talk to a reproductive endocrinologist instead of giving them your own advice. Your own advice may be unintentionally unhelpful, harmful or incorrect.
- Don’t make hurtful jokes: Stratford’s sister also experienced infertility and went through in vitro fertilization while Stratford was in high school, she said. Stratford, at the time, didn’t totally understand the difficulty of infertility and joked around with her sister, asking if she could tell her kids they were made in a petrie dish.
- Keep an open mind: Respectfully listen and try to understand your friends’ or family members’ infertility treatments, Booth said.