RESOURCE: Preparing Your Heart For Social Gatherings
Worrying about potential minefields
Social gatherings, whether around the holidays or any other time of the year, can often feel challenging to those struggling with infertility. Anxiety is felt ahead of time, worrying about the myriad triggering comments that could be said, how we should respond, and how we might feel afterwards. While we can’t avoid all potentially triggering social situations, we can do some preparation and practice some good cognitive strategies to help us navigate those situations in a healthier way.
5 steps to prepare your heart and mind
1. Pray ahead of time
Social gatherings can be full of situations that tempt us to compare, respond in anger, harbor uncharitable thoughts, or be left feeling misunderstood or depressed. Let’s pray before we head into these situations, asking God and our guardian angel to fill us with peace and right understanding, charity towards others, wisdom for our responses, and comfort if our hearts are wounded. Ask the Lord to remind you of His love for you, that He is good and has good plans for you.
2. Identify your fears and script out potential scenarios and responses
Anxiety before a social gathering often revolves around two main concerns: firstly what we will have to talk about when others are focused on chatting about their children or pregnancies, and secondly that people might make triggering comments, the conversation will feel uncomfortable and we will end up feeling hurt. Many of these situations can be alleviated by scripting out potential responses ahead of time for the following areas:
-News/updates we can share with others: Think about what stories you might like to share regarding your job, recent dates/vacations/day trips, progress on your hobbies, trips or projects you are planning, events you enjoyed or are looking forward to.
-Questions to ask others/topics to bring up for conversation: Make a list of people you are likely to run into and questions you can ask them that could divert their attention away from you and onto themselves if you’re feeling uncomfortable.
-Script out potential scenarios using the “4 Ts model” - Trigger, Thought, Truth, Try: Using the attached blank template, or your journal, make four columns on your page and label them “Trigger”, “Thought” “Truth” and “Try.” In the “Trigger” column, make a list of 3-5 triggering scenarios that you are expecting to experience. Alongside these, in the “Thought” column, write how you might think and feel when these happen and why. Next, in the “Truth” column, validate your feelings. Look back at the thoughts you have written down and recognize that these can sometimes be cognitive distortions and not reflect people’s actual intents, thoughts or motivations towards you. Assuming the best of the other people involved and that their intentions are likely positive, jot down the truth of what the actual intent likely is behind their comment or action. In the final column, brainstorm some responses to “Try”. Note down a charitable response you could use in the situation if it arises. Determine if the person you are speaking to is one you want in your support circle and whether you want to share more of your heart, or if a simpler response is more appropriate. See the “4 Ts model” page later in this resource for common examples.
3. Communicate your needs to your loved ones
Take some time before the event to review your potential scenario list or “4 Ts” chart with your spouse so you are on the same page for responses. Let your spouse know in which situations or conversations you might need back-up support or assistance in changing the subject. You may also want to let your spouse know what reassurances and validations you might need after the social event. In addition, let loved ones who will be at the gathering know the type of interaction you would appreciate ahead of time ie: “Samantha, I’m super excited to see you and hear all about your kids and how your pregnancy is going. To be honest we've been struggling a bit because of our infertility journey and it can be hard to talk about in a group but I'm looking forward to telling you all about my recent vacation."
4. Give others grace - assume the best of others’ intentions
As you prepare for gatherings, keep in mind the majority of people you interact with do not intend to hurt you with their comments and are actually trying to be supportive. Always respond in charity to their intent. As (Fr.) Francis Fernandez says in his devotional In Conversation with God, “God asks us to be compassionate in all situations in life. When we are called upon to judge our neighbour, we have to do so from the most favourable angle. Even though you see something very bad about your neighbour, says St. Bernard, don’t jump to conclusions but rather make excuses for him interiorly. Excuse his intention, if you cannot excuse his action. Think that he may have acted out of ignorance, or by surprise, or accidentally.” Be charitable towards others and show them the same grace and mercy you would like to receive in the times when you may have unintentionally said something hurtful or didn’t know the right thing to say (remembering that each time we pray the Our Father, we say “as we forgive those who trespass against us”). Remember, too, that two of the Church’s spiritual works of mercy are “forgiving” and “bearing wrongs patiently” (see CCC 2447). Furthermore, since you recognize the value of motherhood and would love one day to rejoice in it yourself, allow others to celebrate joy in their pregnancies, children or grandchildren in the way you hope to have them do with any future children of yours.
5. Give yourself grace
Recognize that you’ve been through a lot on your infertility journey and it is normal for your heart to be tender and more easily wounded as a result. Take time for a little self-care before the event in order to allow yourself to build up emotional reserves and be in a good place when you arrive at the gathering later. Go for a run, enjoy some time on a nature trail, spend time with a good book - whatever helps you recharge. Set aside time for some self-care after the event too if it was draining for you. Replenish those emotional resources!
Click here to download your own printable “Preparing Your Heart For Social Gatherings” worksheets, which include both example pages and blank templates for you to fill out with your own plan.
For further resources to help you along the infertility journey, check out our Resources Page.