What an exciting day! Friends and family gathered to celebrate the present and the future. It was exhilarating and exhausting, but 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.
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 were 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 seven out of eight Jewish couples who desire to grow their families, the road to parenthood is a given. But for the one in eight 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:
1. Stress: The anxiety of facing rounds of treatment and the deep desire to start and grow their family.
2. Loneliness: The isolation of navigating a journey to parenthood that is different than everyone around them.
3. Otherness: There was a prescribed experience that was promised and expected. Now? They are not like others.
4. Shame: Not being able to do the one thing that everyone else seems to do so easily.
5. 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 of 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 one in eight couples in our community won’t feel so alone.
More next month...
Gila Muskin Block is a fertility warrior and Executive Director of Yesh Tikva (yeshtikva.org). Yesh Tikva, Hebrew for “There is Hope,” was established to end the silence and create a Jewish community of support for all Jewish people facing infertility. Yesh Tikva provides professional psychosocial services, resources and tools to those struggling with infertility and raises awareness and sensitivity on the subject throughout the Jewish community.