How do we Define our Family?

Dr. Joann Paley Gaist, Ph.D. did a wonderful post offering good suggestions on how to handle the holidays with family. I have been thinking a lot about family and holidays in recent weeks. More specifically I have been thinking about what family really means and who do we view as our family. A dear friend of mine who is my age is in the final days of his life. He was never married and has no children. He has a loving brother in California who has been visiting frequently. My friend has chosen to stay in his home here. When the hospice nurse asked if he had family in the area to help him he pointed to me and said "my friends are my family" and the three of us spoke about the gifts we receive from the people we choose to become our "family."

I think it is human nature to want to help build our own families. The composition of these families varies among us. It can consist of biological relatives like parents, siblings, aunts/uncles, and cousins. My friend and I joked his local "family" is family he chose without any baggage, namely his friends. Many of us choose partners we build a life with and decide to co-parent with. Some of us may have discovered "family" through the miracle of social media.

When the time comes to embark on parenting, some people are lucky enough to have a child when they want. The 7-8 million people here in the U.S. choose to actively undergo a variety of difficult infertility treatments sometimes using donor eggs, sperm, or embryos attempting to build families. When that doesn't work many people expand their families through adoption or foster care. Finally, there are people that choose to remain childless or do not have the opportunity to have children through life circumstances. My daughter has 2 people in her life that she calls aunt and uncle who have no children, no biological connection to her, but are lifelong friends of my husband and me. This relationship is meaningful to all of them.

There are a lot of jokes made around the holidays about how annoying family can be and how the holidays bring up old wounds and renew bad memories and long standing fights among family members.

I would like to offer another perspective. Talk with people who chose to fight infertility and have overcome it. If they have been blessed to be called mom or dad even on a bad day when they think about it they will tell you how thankful they are to hear those words. Many people who don't have children offer love and support through charitable contributions, volunteer work, or being a part of the lives of their families or friends whom they choose to become their "family."

For those of you who are in the midst of your infertility journey the next few weeks may be particularly challenging. Embrace and hold on to the people in your "family" that love and support you in your efforts to expand your immediate family. Take care of yourselves in any way that you can. Take a moment to think about your "family," who they are, and what part they play in your life. How do you include or exclude them in your life? Imagine your life without them. Take some time to consider and be thankful for these special relationships and all that they offer. The movie "It's a Wonderful Life" is a classic for a reason. Its message may feel cliché, but things are cliché because at their center they offer us concepts that feel relevant to our lives, ring true, and touch our hearts. I hope these holidays offer you the chance to continue to build and strengthen bonds with your "family."

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW has a master's degree in social work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of the award winning Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health relate articles.

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