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Facing Fertility Challenges in the Jewish Community

This column originally appeared in The Jewish News of Northern California , November 12, 2019

 

Several months ago, I was asked to speak at an event for Hasidah, a Berkeley-based nonprofit that “raises awareness of infertility, connects people to support resources and reduces financial barriers to [fertility] treatment in the Jewish community,” according to its website.

I so wish my family had known about this agency’s work when we were struggling with these issues.

I care about helping build Jewish families. So many of us take for granted that when we are ready to build a family and have a child, it will happen. I know from my own family’s experience that it doesn’t always work so easily, or economically.

Topics such as infertility were rarely spoken about until recently.

Growing up, I knew our past generations had hard times, but my life and the future seemed simple. College, career, get married, have kids, be a mom, then a grandmother.

Fast forward. It was not so easy.

Seeing one’s children struggle with their health or struggle to create a family — it was not easy at all.

One of my daughter’s struggles began in high school with severe abdominal pain. Today we see commercials on TV about endometriosis, but 20 years ago I had never even heard the word. Many years went by — years of tests and surgeries and different doctors — with no diagnosis. Finally, one doctor was able to give her an experimental drug that took away her fertility for five years (ages 20 to 25) with the hope that it would just “pop back.”

Through all those appointments, shots and bone-density scans, the fear of “what if fertility doesn’t come back” was always looming, And there was no place to talk about it. Yes, her fertility returned, as UCSF had hoped, and she and her husband went on to have a family.

Then my other daughter married and learned she had issues getting pregnant. With her wonderful husband’s firm support, they tried many options, talked over all the possibilities, the what-ifs.

One day a friend of hers who knew the situation asked me, “How are you?” Seeing the dark cloud hanging over me and being a mental-health professional, she shared that the dark feeling isn’t just over the couple but over the whole family.

My husband and I were in a dark place, but we came to understand this was our daughter’s journey, and we were there to support her.

We tried not to show our pain to her when treatments failed and as she felt more and more isolated. Through many very expensive processes, a woman’s enormous generosity and modern technological miracles, we were granted two more beautiful grandchildren.

Every day we thank HaShem for those beautiful children.

I began to see how so many others could use this kind of support.

My daughters were fortunate that our family could help them financially. Not everyone is in a position to afford fertility treatment or to help their own children. There hasn’t been anything in the community to help.

I have since become involved with Hasidah, which provides “financial, spiritual and emotional support for people experiencing infertility or fertility challenges, and build[s] awareness about fertility,” according to its listing in the 2018 Slingshot Guide of outstanding Jewish organizations. Hasidah, which means “stork” in Hebrew, was founded in 2012 by Rabbi Idit Solomon.

Hasidah.org is packed with information, such as the average out-of-pocket cost for one in vitro fertilization treatment being $24,000, with a $61,000 total for “a successful outcome from IVF.”

People need so much support when they are facing infertility, which is why it was so important for me to step up and help. Not only for my own family, but I could help others overcome their fertility struggles, too.

It was imperative for me to help each of my daughters become a mother.  It is imperative upon all of us as a community to help others who are facing infertility and other family building challenges.

We need to replenish those lost during my parent’s generation. We need to support the mitzvah of being fruitful and multiplying. And it is the Jewish way to help others in need.

Jewish children are the future of the Jewish community. I have endless joy from each of my grandchildren. I hope our community can prioritize this issue for our sake, and for our future.

 

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