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Hasidah’s founder and CEO, Rabbi Idit Solomon,  has an article published in Kveller. Many people assume that once someone is pregnant the pain of infertility is gone. This well received post explores how the effects of infertility continue even after pregnancy is achieved

For more information on the topic and additional support resources, see this wonderful article at OurBodiesOurselves.

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Headlines:
– Too much green tea may lead to infertility.
– A handful of walnuts is the secret to better sperm.
– Avocados may increase fertility.

If you have been diagnosed with infertility or are experiencing other fertility challenges and are looking for a quick fix keep looking.

Perhaps editors think a catchy title will get more readers or worse, authors think they have a solution, but most of these articles are not worth reading. Fertility is complicated. Infertility can be caused by hundreds if not thousands of combinations of causes.

I am not a doctor, nutritionist, or pedigreed health care provider in any form. However, I am a person with common sense.  I have read a lot of research, spoken to a lot of medical professionals, and heard countless stories of fertility struggles. Just as much as asking someone, “so when are you going to start having kids” has never ever caused someone to finally have one, I have also never heard of someone who just quit drinking “X” or started eating “Y” and was able to conceive easily after years of trying.

Careful reading of these types of articles shows that the links put forth and the solutions people hope to find  are tenuous at best. In regards to green tea,  “our study and others have shown that at high doses, it may have adverse effects” (emphasis added). Just how much tea may cause this effect? The tiny little flies in this study received 10 mg of tea. The average America tea bag has 2-3 mg of tea. 10mg for a fly! While someone some day may find a link between green tea and fertility, logic leads me to believe that 50 or 100 times the amount of anything cannot be very good for fertility.  The authors leave out this comparison of size and simply conclude with the obvious, “we suggest that green tea should be consumed in moderation.”

Brilliant advice.

What is most bothersome about these titles and articles is that people struggling through infertility can be truly vulnerable. Many will rationally ask themselves why not try drinking X, not eating Y or doing Z for that matter. If there is no harm, the thinking goes, just grab a handful of walnuts (link to article) and stop drinking green tea.

But the harm is that these articles are a slippery slope down an emotional hole that can lead people to start questioning everything and worse still – blaming. If only I had done X or tried Y is dangerous. Fertility seems so natural and we yearn for a simple answer that is uncomplicated and accessible.  For some the journey is a short one and just a matter of time and trying. But for others, infertility is complicated and long winded and hard to overcome. No nuts are going to fix it.

To be sure, there are many common sense steps people can take that can increase their fertility. That is assuming one knows what is standing in the way and the step taken does something relevant to that situation. Healthy habits, a balanced diet and exercise are always a good idea, but methods of achieving a successful outcome vary from person to person.

Struggling through infertility, however, can be an emotional journey, a physical journey, and a financial journey.  Keeping balanced, focused and whole means being careful of  simple solutions lest our hopes (or wallets or medical conditions) be dashed in the process.

Let the researchers continue their work learning and adapting their gains in knowledge to improving our lives when causation can be found and treatment can be tested. In the meantime, these articles might be best read “in moderation.”

As for the avocados, I made that up.   It sounded good and perhaps something in them is helplful. A couple a week pleases my palette, balances my diet and make me feel good. That has to help something. I don’t need a headline to tell me that.

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Rabbinic Students in Pastoral Care Class at American Jewish University

Rabbinic Students in Pastoral Care Class at American Jewish University

Rabbi Idit Solomon presented at Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, American Jewish University and the Academy for Jewish Religion in Los Angeles this week.

Part of Hasidah’s mission is to build a robust network within the Jewish community to provide support for people throughout their fertility journey. Clergy and communal professional leaders play a critical role in building awareness and inclusion and being a source of support and resources when people face difficult times. The seminars helped  future rabbis, cantors, chaplains and faculty gain awareness about infertility and develop skills for providing people experiencing infertility and fertility challenges with emotional and spiritual support.
HUC LogoAJU Logo

 

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Breaking news in the infertility and pregnancy loss world: Mark Zuckerberg announced that he and his wife Pricilla Chan are expecting a baby girl after having endured three miscarriages. Almost unanimous support came pouring out for their impending parenthood and for their speaking out on the issue. The story has been getting traction across the media world from CNN Money, and Forbes (with an amazing list of stories to share) to Time (focusing on men!). And there are many more.

A couple of these articles cite a research study that indicates 28 percent of women who had experienced a miscarriage and learned about a celebrity’s pregnancy loss felt less isolated with that knowledge. All the more so, when learning about a friend’s miscarriage, 46 percent felt less isolated.

For many of us who have been through it, this is no surprise. Letting the world know about pregnancy loss – and Mark Zuckerberg did an amazing job of making that happen – is a tremendous gift.

Stigma is sometimes attached to infertility and pregnancy loss.  Even when stigma is not externally imposed, the experience leaves people feeling like something is wrong with them. On top of the sadness and loss they may feel deficient, defective, disgraced even. With the advances in technology that tell us that the experiences are normal, the outcome is often the same – a feeling of isolation. Many people are isolated by feelings of guilt.  Could I have done something to prevent this? Others think that nobody else can understand the pain, which can be physical, emotional and spiritual. This is so painful how can I cope with this? Nobody else must have been through it like this or I’d know. Surely I’d have heard about it. I should just get over it. It must just be me…

The feelings are all terribly normal. Doubt, guilt, fear, pain and sadness are common and one important form of treatment for moving through them is removing the stigma and the resulting isolation. Sharing stories let’s people know that our experiences, as horrible as they feel, are possible to survive. The stories build awareness in general about this important issue. They build a culture that encourages seeking help and supporting others. For that we are immensely grateful to Mark Zuckerberg for coming forward and sharing his story.

Besha’ah tova to Mark and Pricilla – in good time, may they be blessed with a healthy baby girl.

—–

Sharing your story can make a difference. If you have an infertility or pregnancy loss story, please consider writing about it to help Hasidah in our missing to support those struggling to build their families. You can submit here or contact us at info@hasidah.org. 

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Many options fill the list of concerns for people facing infertility: emotional stability, how to choose treatment, which doctor to choose, social pressure, spiritual crisis, stigma, fear treatment will not work, physical effects of treatment, marital issues, balancing work with treatment, and of course how to pay for the treatment. All of these are very significant, but one of them in particular exacerbates the others in a unique way. A recent study found that the biggest concern is cost.

Cost Concern

Fertility Treatments in the United States: Sentiment, Costs and Financial Impact. May 2015, MarketCube sponsored by Prosper.

Not only did costs top the lists of concerns (84%), for those “very concerned” it topped the list by over 15% to the next option of handling the treatments emotionally (62% vs 45%).  Cost tops the list for the reason people delay treatment (82%) and remains on top of the list of concerns even once treatment has started (70%). Costs top the list of concerns all around.

The irony of this is that for many people, addressing infertility is one of the hardest challenges facing us in our adult lives. To be sure, life can dish out some bad challenges. For most, however, infertility is completely unprecedented. For other issues, perhaps we have thought about them, we can prepare to address them, we can see a logic even if we don’t agree, we can give a good fight and feel better about it. In the case of infertility we often  feel out of control, unprepared, and simply at a loss. It lasts with no known ending. The stress of infertility has even been compared to the levels of stress when facing cancer. Yet the cost of treatment is cited as a bigger concern than the emotional toll.

To truly address the communal issue of infertility, we do need to address most if not all of these concerns – the emotions, the spiritual crisis, the marital issues, the stigma, the everything. When Hasidah was founded however, the basic premise was that the Jewish community spends millions and millions of dollars helping kids be Jewish. Of all the things standing in the way to having a Jewish child,  financial barriers ought to be something we can remove. We can do it.

The emotions will not go away if treatment is financially out of reach. The decisions are made for us if the options are not affordable. For sure we need to address the difficult emotions and decisions. However, if we are going to start at the top of what is concerning people experiencing infertility, then address the costs.

 

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Lists. We love the top 10 lists, the 5 most important lists. These lists are neither. They are simply important yet basic things to know. So they are a place to start.  In fact, we’d love it if you suggested more. Please do.

Ways to support someone experiencing infertility

1) Tell them you care. Whatever they are experiencing, remind them that they are not alone.
2) Take them out. To dinner, a pedicure, a game, a movie. Something focused on adults that is not family focused.
3) Offer to listen if they want to talk. Then listen. Offer to do nothing if they do not want to talk. Then keep in touch about the rest of their lives.

What NOT to say

1) Do NOT ask when they are going to have a child or if she is pregnant. For a close friend you may be able to sensitively ask about their family planning. We cannot simply ignore the subject, rather we must learn how to support with sensitivity.
2) Do NOT offer quick solutions, especially the “relax and it will be fine” solution. If solutions were that easy, there would not be millions (yes millions) of people experiencing infertility. Offering advice quickly ignores that you do not know their end goal and assumes you know the situation.
3) Do NOT compare their situation to someone else. When someone does share about their fertility journey, its about them. Keep it there.
.

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Hasidah is fundraising to help Jewish babies be born. We get the questions posed in this Crowdfunding Babies article a lot. The Jewish community funds camps, day schools, trips to Israel, children’s books, community gardens, learning programs, film festivals, guest speakers, musical performance, etc, etc, etc. It seems that having a Jewish child is a least as worthy. We don’t ask parents to crowdfund their children’s education, or for seniors to fund raise for their meal assistance. The community subsidizes it because it is important. And we should. We should also assist those struggling with infertility to bring Jewish children into the world.

See more posts like this on on our Facebook page: Facebook.com/JewishStork

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Early in the Exodus story Pharoah’s dApple with shallow DOFecreed hard labor for the Children of Israel and that their baby girls may live but their baby boys may not. Despite this harsh reality, they continued to have children. The Midrash teaches that this is connected to apples. The women would take their husbands to the fields to entice them. They would conceive and then return to the fields to give birth and prevent the Egyptians from killing their sons. This all happened under apple trees as it says in Song of Songs 8.5: “under the apple tree I roused you; it was there your mother conceived you, there she who bore you conceived you.”

During enslavement in Egypt, one of the ways the Children of Israel expressed their spiritual freedom was by conceiving their future. Literally. Their hope was that the next generation would serve God and not Pharoah.

Some among us, however, are not free to conceive their future. Their hopes and dreams are enslaved by fertility challenges. Infertility can feel like a form of bondage: bodies that feel broken or unable to perform as we wish, decisions that seem impossible at times to navigate, and circumstances that seem out of our control.

On Passover we eat charoset to symbolize the clay our ancestors used to hold together the bricks they were making. The charoset also represents the sweetness of their redemption to serve God. By adding apples to our charoset, we invoke these symbols as well as the connection to fertility. We connect our past, present and future with the Song of Songs, the apple trees, intimacy, conception, birth and redemption.

Meditation for making and eating charoset with apples for those experiencing fertility challenges:

God of our ancestors, our souls are afflicted.

While we may be free in most ways, our dreams of fertility seem out of reach.

With the sweetness of these apples, comes the bitter taste of disappointment and loss.

Under the apple tree – shade us with your blessings.

Under the apple tree – may we find comfort with each other.

Under the apple tree – help us conceive a hopeful future.

Creator and Redeemer of all, let this charoset strengthen our souls.

May the sweetness of its apples linger with us.

Grant us clarity and hope along the way

to redemption.

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Many articles are written about what to say and what not to say to someone experiencing infertility. Sadly so many of the “what to say” lists get it mostly right and then there is that one piece of advice that just does not fly.  Here is one list that holds strong because it is nuanced and recognizes that each person’s experience can differ. Please read for yourself if you are experiencing infertility or for someone else if you have a support role. It comes from BabyCenter.com.

Therapists’ top ten tips for coping with fertility problems

The pressure to raise a family can be enormous, and the thought of not being able to have children can make many people feel something is wrong with them. We talked to respected psychologists who work with couples with fertility problems to find out which coping strategies really work.

Recognize that a fertility problem is a crisis. A fertility problem may be one of the most difficult challenges you’ll ever face. Acknowledging this is a key to coping, says Kate Marosek, who’s counseled couples with fertility complications in the Washington, D.C., area for more than ten years.

“It’s normal to feel a monumental sense of loss, to feel stressed, sad, or overwhelmed,” says Marosek. “Don’t chastise yourself for feeling this way.” Facing and accepting your emotions can help you move beyond them.

Don’t blame yourself. Resist the temptation to get angry at yourself or to listen to the little voice in your head that’s saying, “I shouldn’t have waited; I’m being punished for having that abortion; I should have lost more weight or taken better care of my health; I shouldn’t have assumed that I could have children when I wanted” or whatever negative thoughts you may be having.

People can get caught in negative thinking patterns that only make matters worse, says Yakov M. Epstein, a psychologist at Rutgers University and co-author of Getting Pregnant When You Thought You Couldn’t: “Instead of berating yourself, look forward to how you and your partner are going to manage the situation.”

When you start feeling like you “should have” or “could have,” remind yourself that your fertility problem is not your fault. Even if you could have made different decisions in the past, they’re behind you. Concentrate on your future.

Work as a team with your partner. You and your mate should help each other through this time (and definitely not blame each other for your difficulty getting pregnant).

This doesn’t mean you need to feel the same thing at the same time — that’s one of the most common pitfalls for couples facing fertility problems. It does mean paying attention to what your partner’s going through. “If you’re taking care of each other emotionally, you can unite to fight the problem,” says Marosek.

Work together to find practical ways to share the burden. If you’re undergoing treatment, he can take care of the insurance papers. Or if he needs injected therapy, you can administer the shots.

Educate yourself. Read as much as you can about fertility problems and ask questions of your doctor and other couples in your situation.

Staying educated is especially important when you’re dealing with a fertility problem because the technologies behind the treatments are complicated and change quickly. “You’ve got to understand what’s happening medically,” says Epstein, “or you won’t be able to make informed choices.”

See our resource guide for a list of books, Web sites, and organizations that can help. Learn the basics by starting at the beginning of our Fertility Problems area.

Set limits on how long you’re willing to try. Some couples decide from the get-go that they won’t go to extreme measures to have a baby. Others spend years and thousands of dollars exhausting all of their treatment options.

No one can tell you when to stop trying to conceive — that’s a decision you need to make with your partner and doctor — but you’ll feel more in control of your life if you start thinking in advance about how far you’re willing to go to get pregnant.

Start by discussing your medical odds of getting pregnant, which treatments you’re not willing to try, and your end goal. (For more help with this choice, read about making the decision to end fertility treatment.)

Decide how much you’re willing to pay. With in vitro fertilization (IVF) averaging $12,400 a cycle, it’s no wonder couples feel anxious about money, especially since women often need to go through multiple cycles before becoming pregnant.

To cope with the anxiety caused by the high costs of treatment, sit down and develop a financial plan. Start with your insurance: Find out exactly what it does and doesn’t cover. If it covers some or all of your treatments, decide which one of you will monitor the paperwork and negotiate with the insurance company.

Then look at all your assets and determine how much you can spend and on which treatments. “You should always have a plan B,” says Alice Domar, a psychologist and assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive biology at Harvard University Medical School who specializes in helping couples with fertility problems. “Because nothing, especially with fertility treatments, is certain.”

Get support from professionals and others with fertility problems. Society often fails to recognize the grief caused by infertility, so those denied parenthood tend to hide their sorrow, which only increases their feelings of shame and isolation.

“Finding other people who are going through the same thing can help you see that fertility problems are widespread and your disappointment is understandable,” says Linda Klempner, a clinical psychologist and mental health consultant at Women’s Health Counseling and Psychotherapy in Teaneck, New Jersey.

Share stories and advice about fertility Problems with others in the BabyCenter Community.

If you’d like to talk to a therapist, look for one who understands reproductive medicine. “Fertility problems are very complex, and if a therapist does not understand the medical issues, he or she won’t be able to help,” says Epstein. Look for a referral through RESOLVE, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, or the InterNational Council on Infertility Information.

Just say no to baby-focused activities. If certain gatherings or celebrations are too painful for you — if all your siblings had babies in the last two years, say, or you keep getting invited to baby showers — give yourself permission to decline the invitation or at least to have a good cry afterward.

To avoid hurt feelings, send a gift but choose children’s books or an online gift certificate to save yourself a troubling trip to the toy store or baby boutique.

Balance optimism and realism. “You need to be optimistic to go through a procedure,” says Epstein, “but if you’re too hopeful — if your hope is unrealistic — you’ll be setting yourself up for a huge fall.” By keeping current on the technology and your diagnosis, you can get a good handle on what chance of success you have with each treatment.

The array of medical technologies available today leads many couples to keep trying month after month, year after year. But about a third of couples treated for fertility problems won’t go on to have a biological child, and often they must make peace with that before they can move on with their lives. Staying realistic can help you make smart choices as you work your way through the emotional minefield of treatment.

Take care of yourself by pursuing other interests. Being treated for a fertility problem can feel like a full- or at least part-time job, so it’s important to keep up with some of the activities or hobbies that bring you pleasure.

“It won’t be easy,” says Marosek, “especially if you’re doing something like going in for a blood test every other day, but look for ways to take care of yourself.” She recommends that people get a massage, have a manicure — anything that can give them relief from the focus on fertility treatment.

If your old activities are painful — maybe all your friends are parents now — look for new diversions. If hiking sounds appealing, do that. Or take a class — painting, dance, or something else that’s always tempted you.

And remember, laughter is one of the best healers. See a funny movie, head out to a comedy club, and reread your favorite funny novel.

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