Let us go back to the very beginning. It was late July 2014, my husband, Akiva, and I had just returned from a trip to Italy. I had been on Antibiotics prior to our vacation, and was convinced I had gotten pregnant over the trip – I was too scared to tell anyone this because I was adamant about us waiting to start our family until after I finished my Doctoral program and we were about 2 years too early.
Akiva had an appointment for a physical a few weeks later, but nothing crazy ever crossed our minds. When he got home that night he had a weird look on his face. I asked him what the doctor said and he told me, “Well it’s probably nothing, but I’m supposed to schedule a follow up appointment with a Urologist because the GP said something looked a little off. I said ok, he made the appointment, and he went a few days later.
I remember standing in the kitchen at my internship and getting a phone call from him. He says, “Gayil, I think this might be worse than we thought. We’ll talk about it when we get home.” I pushed and pushed him for more information. He told me the doctor did not think he had any sperm making cells in his testicles and that having kids would be a bigger issue than we ever could have imagined.
I almost lost it right there at work. For the rest of the day I was shaking and nervous. How could this be happening to me? What were we going to do? That night I had to go to the Mikva. We sat at the 16 Handles store in the Upper West Side waiting for sundown talking about what this meant. Akiva looked at me and said, “Leave me. It’s fine. I will tell everyone how amazing you are. You don’t deserve to go through this.”
About two weeks later we went for a follow up appointment with the Urologist where the doctor told us in no uncertain terms that we should not even try to have children biologically, that adoption would be much easier for us. We left the appointment even more shattered than we were before. Thankfully, at that point I was done with my internship and had a few weeks to relax before my next semester started. There was so much information to take in. We went from being two young newly married adults with barely any worries on our minds, to having to make harder decisions than most people ever have to make in their lives. We had no idea why this was happening to us, we did not want to accept it as fact. Maybe there was a mistake. How could Akiva be 25 years old and never told about these issues? Why did none of his previous doctors ever notice this?
During this time we tried to do research on who to go see or what to do. It was like shooting in the dark and we had no idea who to turn to. We were scared to admit this problem to anyone because we did not want to have the label of infertile on us. What if someone found out and told people. We were so scared to talk to people, that we just did not tell anyone at all for a long time. One day Akiva said that he thought we should talk to the Rabbi of our shul. He figured that he might have an idea of who to go to or at the very least have someone we could turn to.
We met with him on a Saturday night. We told him what had been going on. Admitting this information to someone was terrifying. But after hours of going through it, crying, being reassured that this was not the end, we felt slightly better. Our Rabbi gave us someone’s name to go talk to, and we no longer felt completely alone in the experience. We felt that there was someone we could lean on and someone who had more contacts than we did who would be able to get us additional help if we needed it.
The name that our Rabbi gave us was a Jewish fertility therapist. It was the first time Akiva or I had been to therapy in a long time, but it felt completely different than previous therapy experiences. She took the first 20 minutes of the 45 minute appointment to ask us extensive questions about our families, where we went to high school, and things that did not seem to be of any consequence to our situation. She kept repeating everything I would say. We left frustrated. We also left with important experience and knowledge that if we ever felt like we did not mesh with a healthcare provider we should find a new one. We knew we needed more help, but each experience of telling another person our story took so much emotional energy that we would press pause on everything.
We needed to take time for ourselves. We needed to maintain our relationship and marriage so that when please G-d we did have children, we were bringing them into a healthy and loving home. We took a few months to come back to what we enjoyed, spent time together, and visited family. But we never once mentioned a word of what was going on in our lives.