It’s back to school time again. A time that can be filled with many tirggers. Thinking about where and how to post pictures this year? Maybe this year you can keep them off social media and only sharing them in email, text or WhatsApp. Join us in holding space for family and friends struggling with infertility and share a message of support on social media.Consider posting this image instead of a back to school photo on Facebook and Instagram.
Sara and Jeremey were excited to grow their family.
Here they were, married for a little over a year. They were adults, yet still so young. They expected life to be easier as it appeared to be for all their friends. Birth announcements, bris invites, simchat bats and meal train emails seemed to be flooding their inboxes. Everyone else’s family was expanding. So what was wrong with them?
No one had ever spoken with them about the “what if it doesn’t” happen before. From as far back as they could remember, getting pregnant was a given. Even the children’s song said so: “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby…”
Life becomes full of questions: What next? What do you do when you don’t fit in the prescribed box, when you are different? Who can you call? Who would understand?
It didn’t take long for them to feel like outsiders. At shabbat meals they were the only couple without kids. They sat at tables where everyone was talking about nanny shares, best diaper companies and feeding schedules. They sat silently and invisible. They had nothing to contribute to these conversations.
The comments and questions began. Are you waiting? (Naive.) You know your parents want to be grandparents. (Irritating.) You will see one day. You don’t understand what “tired” is until you have kids. (Upsetting.) You are so lucky that you don’t have kids yet. You can sleep in, travel, go out whenever you want. (Infuriating.)
Their friends weren’t trying to be mean or offensive. They simply didn’t know and Sara and Jeremy didn’t want to discuss it publicly.
Beginning The Journey
When it became unbearable, Sara and Jeremy stopped hanging out with their married friends and started to make new friends. Single friends, friends who had just gotten married and those they knew were waiting. Around these friends they didn’t feel so different and their struggle was not so visible.
Let’s take a minute to better understand fertility. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM). a healthy, fertile 30-year-old woman has a 20% chance of getting pregnant each month that she tries for the first 12 months. Meaning it can take the average couple under the age of 35 up to 12 months to conceive. So unless one has any prior medical history or indication that ovulation is not occurring, it is perfectly normal for it to take a full 12 months to get pregnant. And 80% of couples trying to conceive will get pregnant within that one year of trying.
But for Sara and Jeremy that was not the case. 12 months passed and they were still not pregnant.
Not knowing where to begin, they reached out to their primary care physician for a referral and without any extra research booked their first consult with a new kind of doctor, one they had never heard about before- a Reproductive Endocrinologist, aka a fertility specialist. He appeared to know what he was doing and as they definitely did not, they relinquished control and handed him full reign of their fertility.
The tests began for both of them, blood work, ultrasounds, and more. It was time to get to the bottom of what was causing their infertility so that it could be treated.
Here Come The Chagim
As they started the process, Rosh Hashana and the chagim were suddenly around the corner. A time to be with extended family and their inquisitive glances. For some, it is a time of happiness. For others, a frustrating and potentially upsetting experience.
More about the Chagim next month…
This was originally published in The Jewish Link.
What an exciting day! Friends and family gathered to celebrate the present and the future. It was exhilarating and exhausting, the happiest day of their lives. The beginning of an amazing life together. The possibilities were endless. Dreams for the weeks, months and years abounded. On that day a new family was started under the chuppah and together they were ready to take on the world.
During the first year they took time to build their relationship and began to plan building their family together. But life didn’t happen according to the script. And that family of two remained two. As everyone around them seemed to be moving on, they felt stuck.
Life Seemed To Pause
Sara and Jeremy received their infertility diagnosis at the age of 23. After one year of trying unsuccessfully to grow their family they were thrust unprepared into the world of reproductive endocrinology. A world that no one had ever spoken to them about before.
All their married friends were having kids. It seemed so effortless. Yet for them it appeared impossible. Once handed the ticket into this world of endless doctor’s visits, self-injections, and failed cycles, the cyclical sadness and shame drove them to isolation and secrecy.
The possibilities that had seemed so certain? Frozen in time and space. They were creeping closer to their second anniversary yet no closer to achieving the joy and excitement of their anticipated growth.
They pulled back from family and friends. No one seemed to understand what they were going through. They sat at shabbat meals in which the conversation revolved solely around child care, feedings and diapering. Get-togethers that were once a fun adult space were being replaced with children’s birthday parties. And so they further retreated into their own world. And as they did so, the invitations became less frequent and the friendships less present.
Your Family Member, Your Friend, Your Neighbor
Infertility is a topic rarely discussed. Prior to diagnosis most couples struggling to conceive generally know almost nothing about fertility and treatments.
Struggling to have a child, be it one’s first or any subsequent child, can create a constant feeling of loss and helplessness. As a Jew there is an added stress when faced with infertility: Many of the holidays and rituals revolve around children. For those struggling to have a child, these holidays and rituals can be very difficult to endure and can even be a source of tremendous pain, a reminder of what they don’t have, yet so desperately want.
For 7 out of 8 Jewish couples who desire to grow their families, the road to parenthood is a given. But for the 1 in 8 couples in your community diagnosed with infertility, the road to parenthood is filled with roadblocks, detours and numerous twists and turns.
What Are They Feeling?
Though not everyone experiences infertility identically, many couples in your community facing infertility may be dealing with some or all of these emotions:
- Stress: The anxiety of facing rounds of treatment and the deep desire to start and grow their family.
- Loneliness: The isolation of navigating a journey to parenthood that is different than everyone around them.
- Otherness: There was a prescribed experience that was promised and expected. Now? They are not like others.
- Shame: Not being able to do the one thing that everyone else seems to do so easily.
- Pressure: The strain of having to conform to societal norms, pressure to fit in and be a part of a community that caters to families with children and the burden they feel to make others happy through the shared experience of joy that a child would bring.
They’re Not Invisible
These couples exist in all our communities. They are your children, siblings, friends, neighbors, seat mates in shul. For some it may be hard to share and express what they are experiencing. For others it is all they can talk about, but feel that no one understands or wants to hear about their struggles anymore.
For Sara and Jeremy, taking the first step on this journey was very frightening, nerve racking and anxiety provoking. But as more of us become aware of the issue, the 1 in 8 couples in our community won’t feel so alone.
This was originally published in The Jewish Link.
There is something so special about receiving a gift. Especially if it is one you have wanted your entire life. You know that energy during the Holiday Oprah episode when everyone in the audience walks away with the most incredible gifts. The well known Oprah declaration ringing out “you get a gift, and you get a gift and you get a gift.”
Ever wonder what it would be like sitting in that audience and being the only one not to receive a gift? It may go something like this “You get a gift, and you get a gift, and you get a gift, oh sorry you don’t get one, but you get a gift and everyone gets a gift.” You may begin to wonder why me, what did I do not to deserve a gift?” Or “What could I do to get one, everyone else seems to be getting it so easily, what is wrong with me?”
Now imagine it is that special time of year again when we get to celebrate the incredible miracle of the oil that burned for eight days. Each family comes together to light their menorahs for the whole world to see. And as we sing and watch the beautiful candles burn, some of us will enjoy latkes, playing dreidel and even gift giving.
But what if you are a 1 in 8? Hanukkah becomes another holiday to remind you that once again the child you so desperately want and pray for will not be joining you to light candles, eat latkes, play dreidel or share gifts with yet again.
This is infertility. It is the cycle of months that keep passing by with one failed cycle followed by another. Everyone around appears to be pregnant or pushing a stroller. And still there you are in a community of peers who are all having children waiting for the gift a child.
As family, friends and community it may feel at times like there is nothing we can do for the 1 in 8 in our lives. Yet, there is a way to ease the loneliness and void left in the wake of infertility by just being a friend. We at Yesh Tikva share with you eight ways in which as individuals and as a community we can ensure that no one has to suffer alone:
#ShedTheLight on Infertility- 8 days and 8 ways:
- Fertility Prayer: It is a beautiful custom to use child centered holidays as an opportunity to pray for those who have not yet been blessed with children or who are struggling to expand their families both individually and communally. www.yeshtikva.org/Fertility_Prayer
- Listen: Sometimes Listening is all that’s needed. Friends are not looking to you to fix this problem, they depend on you for support.
- Invite: Even when it may seem easier not to invite someone for fear that they may feel pressure to accept you invitation, it is important to allow each person the opportunity to accept or reject the invitation of their own accord. Continue to invite your friends who are struggling while giving them an easy way out if it does not work for them.
- Ask: Sometimes it best to admit to not knowing what to do and ask: “I am not sure how to best support you but I care and want to be here for you so please tell me how I can best support you?”
- Remember: A text message every so often just to say hello, thinking about you, or a heart emoji can go a long way in making someone feel that you care.
- Engage: Invite your friend out to spend time together doing fun things that do not revolve around children.
- Respect: Give people space to be private. Even if you know and they know you know, it does not mean they are ready to share all the details, give people the space not to share or to do so when they are ready.
- Give a Voice: Think of ways to make communal and private space more welcoming to people facing infertility. Use your voice to spread sensitivity and raise awareness about the emotional impact of infertility on the 1 in 8.
This year help Yesh Tikva shed light on the struggles that the 1 in 8 face to build and grow their families.
#ShedTheLight 8 days and 8 ways
A reflection on the emotions related to infertility and friendship: During the past few months I have been asked by some of my friends to describe what it is they could do to be a supportive friend. Although I cannot speak for everyone navigating infertility, I decided to share some of my thoughts.
Everything has been put on hold. The dream of having a family feels as though it has been crushed. You spend most of your time trying to figure out what’s next. Which doctor will you see, what medications and treatments will you try, will you be able to afford them and after all this, will it even be successful?
As this is happening everyone around you appears to be pregnant. You watch from a slight distance as your friends and family members have their firsts and then their seconds and some their thirds, while you are still struggling to have your first child.
You pull away a bit to protect yourself as it becomes harder to witness everyone’s families growing. At first you may stop accepting invitations to spend time together when you know children will be present. And you may even pull back some more and stop spending time together, just as adults, when you know that all the friends present have children and will likely spend the majority of the evening speaking about their kids. But at the end of the day, now more than ever, you need friends.
You need friends who will call from time to time just to say “hi.” You appreciate receiving a text that says: “Hi, thinking of you have a good day.” And an invitation to coffee is always appreciated even if you are unable to go.
When you do spend time with your friends you don’t want or expect your friends to hide their children. We know they exist, it just hurts to have them flaunted in our face every time we see or speak to our friends. A short update is nice, but be conscious not to let it take over the entire conversation. Don’t complain to us about your children; share a nice story. We appreciate that you work hard and have many extra demands and sleepless nights because of your children. Know that we dream to one day join you in those sleepless nights; we are doing everything humanly possible to make that dream come true.
Please don’t forget us even when we distance ourselves. Please forgive us if we are not at our best about keeping in touch. Have patience and understand that we are riding an emotional rollercoaster and at times need to take a break to protect our hearts from any added pain. From time to time, even if it seems like we have gone quiet, text us a simple “hello,” so we know that you care and are there for us in our time of need.
There is a fairly recent custom that at a Bris Milah, circumcision, a childless couple is given the honor of carrying the baby boy into the ceremony. This tradition is thought to be a merit for the couple to be blessed with a child of their own.
As the resident childless couple in our family, my husband and I have been asked countless times by family, friends and even acquaintances to receive this honor. During the first few years of our marriage, we were happy to be given this opportunity and did not think much of it. But recently, I have been bothered very much by this custom.
Although there are couples who continue to feel honored to be Kvatter even after many years of struggling with infertility, to me this custom has taken on a new meaning. It is a public display of our infertility, and it has begun to feel humiliating. It is embarrassing for me to walk up in front of everyone holding the baby boy as a sign that says “Hello, I’m infertile.” Additionally, as the years continue to pass and our friends are on to their second, third and forth children, it becomes more painful to be reminded publicly of what we are missing.
I understand that when people ask a family member, friend or acquaintance to be the Kvatter at their son’s Bris, they only have the best intentions at heart. And I understand that it is their way to honor and give bracha to this couple. It is just important to keep in mind the implications of such an offer. Before offering the merit to a childless couple it is important to ensure that the couple appreciates being given the honor of Kvatter. For couples who want the opportunity, there is no greater kindness that you can do for them in their time of need. But for those of us who are not up to publicly displaying our infertility (even if we are willing to talk about it), being asked to be Kvatter is hurtful and a reminder of what we are missing. As I cannot speak for anyone else, I can say that for me personally I would rather that you privately daven on our behalf that we too should merit bringing a child into this world.