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By Rabbi Idit Solomon

Holidays can be wonderful. Meaningful traditions, connecting with family and friends, and symbolic foods. Family gatherings sometimes are the highlight of the year. They can also be trigger-filled stress fests that have you walking on pins and needles and wanting full body (and soul) armor to protect yourself from the shrapnel of well-meaning people.

Here are a few basic tips intended not just to get you through these events, but hopefully to give you tools to stay whole and present during these holiday celebrations. With practice, you may even be able to recover quickly from any triggering moments and actually enjoy yourself!

1) How to respond when you are asked a question you do not want to answer.

This triggers all sorts of issues like:

  • I’m supposed to be polite because you asked something that makes me want to scream?!
  • Or, who asks this? You don’t know me well enough nor is this the time or place to talk about this.
  • Or, why do I have to deal with this? I just want more Turkey and not answer about my reproductive choices in the middle of dinner.

All of this is true. Words create. Their words created a tense situation for you that may feel threatening to your emotional stability. You can use your words to firmly recreate a safe and kind place for yourself. The real foundation of your response is that you have zero obligation to answer a question just because someone asked it. So assume the best intentions and be kind; take care of yourself and set your boundaries. How? Be a broken record. (If you are young, does that metaphor still hold?)

Have a couple prepared responses: “Oh, I know this comes from a place of kindness, but that isn’t something I am comfortable discussing.” Or “I appreciate your caring concern. That is something just between me and my partner.” Whenever the comments or question comes up, say it. Keep it simple and kind. The hardest part may be calmly holding firm and not apologizing.  If they continue, say the same thing again. More? Then again. Here’s what is looks like:

  • “Are you two ever going to have kids??”
  • “I appreciate your caring concern. That’s something just between me and my partner”
  • “You can’t put it off for too long. I just want what’s best for you, you know.”
  • “I appreciate your caring concern. That’s something just between me and my partner”
  • My sister waited and could never have kids. Are you two having issues?
  • “I appreciate your caring concern. That’s something just between me and my partner”
  • If you get a question after that, it is totally fine to stop responding, politely excuse yourself, gently turn away or walk away. Jewish tradition teaches that a person needs to ask forgiveness up to three times. Three offers of “pre-forgiving” is sufficient. Move on.

2) Ask someone to be “your person”

If you have someone who knows what you are going through and wants to support you, chances are they would be happy to have this role. Set up a cue that communicates:  I need help, or I’m stuck in an uncomfortable situation and I need out. Or it could be eye contact if you are just having a moment and want to be connected and seen to help the moment pass.  You can even just reach out a hand to remind yourself you have support. Or never utilize your person and have the comfort of knowing someone is caring for you. Your person can be your partner, a friend or a family member. If it is your partner, remember it can be reciprocal and you may need to prepare to be their person.

3) Prepare to be triggered

All cars are equipped with a spare tire. Plan on a flat tire and be ready with a temporary fix so you can recover quicker. What is the equivalent of a flat tire? A conversation about kids’ birthday parties; mentioning an activity you always imagined doing with your children; a comment about someone’s weight and you are wishing that you were plump and pregnant; a conversation about vacation plans when you just cancelled yours because of a fertility treatment… that failed. The point is experiencing infertility and other family building challenges leave us open to (un)anticipated moments of vulnerability. It’s okay. Better to prepare than have it hit you out of left field having never imagined it could happen. Here are some ways to access your spare tire:

  • Go to the bathroom (who cares if you just went five minutes ago)
  • Get a drink of water (that tickle in the throat needs to be addressed)
  • Mentally exit the conversation (easier in a group setting to just sit quietly for a moment. No need to draw attention. Just take care of you for a few).

Here’s a quick flat repair exercise you can do in ten seconds ,thirty seconds or five minutes if you are in the bathroom:

  1. Welcome whatever emotion you are feeling
  2. Name the emotion (e.g. sadness, loneliness, guilt, etc. )
  3. Note in your body where you feel it (gut)
  4. Breath into the feeling in your body.
  5. Note the emotion and body feeling and accept that they are happening. Remind yourself, “It’s okay. I’m having a feeling. It is okay to feel (sad).”
  6. Breath into it them let it go for the moment.
  7. You can revisit the feeling later if you need. You acknowledged it so now it can wait.
  8. When you are ready, open your eyes or stop staring and enter back into your environment. Focus on being present again.

A couple last thoughts to consider. First is that most people are actually well intentioned if unfortunately clueless, insensitive or thoughtless. It is a totally different situation if someone is intentionally taunting you. That’s mostly the Bible or the movies. More often (but to be sure, not always) the trigger is a misstep and/or a raw nerve.  Hopefully, you only went to this event because you know these are not horrible people. Give yourself credit for showing up and permission to try to enjoy it.

The final thought is that at these gatherings, you really will be okay. This is not to say you will have a baby, that the next treatment will work or that twenty thousand dollars is going to appear magically. This is to say – you can take care of yourself at this event. If you weren’t in a solid enough space, hopefully you will choose to sit it out. If you choose to go, go with the mindset that you can survive insensitive people and hard emotions. Just ride it all like a wave until it passes. Then make sure you enjoy the traditions, your friend’s hilarious videos, your uncle’s stories and the blessings of time spent together with others.

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By guest columnist Dr. Karen Wasserstein

What to do with another New Year? Being Jewish, I celebrate two New Years. Is it lucky to have two New Years or is it unlucky?

My family and I fully celebrate Rosh Hashanah as the Jewish New Year. We spend the month ahead of time talking about it, shopping and cooking for it, wishing everyone we see a Happy New Year. We greet each other with hopes for a year of growth, prosperity and blessing and readily accept those blessings in return. We wish each other a Shana Tova Umtukah, that we should have a sweet new year.

And then, about three and a half months later, as January rolls around, we bring in the New Year — again. We wind down the previous year and watch retrospectives on tv of the year in review. We watch as father time becomes an old man (with a sash with last year’s date) and turns into a newborn (with a sash with the new year date). We watch a ball drop in Times Square, get together with friends, wish each other a “Happy New Year!” and hope for a new year of promise, of potential and of hope for all of our dreams.

What both New Years have in common is a looking back on the last year and a look forward into the New Year. How was the last year? Did our dreams and hopes get fulfilled? Did we have a year of health? Of growth? How did our relationships weather last year and are they ready for the next one?

When one is facing fertility challenges, the New Year can powerfully remind us of all that has happened in the last year– and all that has not happened. Has another week, month, year gone by where there was no pregnancy? Was there loss? How many New Years will I face without knowing what my family will look like? How am I (or we) weathering this time? Am I ready to start another New Year plowing ahead on my fertility journey? This is when having two New Years can feel difficult, not so lucky. Another year gone by without having the family I am dreaming of and working so hard to build.

But on the other hand, maybe I have hope, even cautious hope. Maybe as I can turn the page, the last year which had its share of pain and disappointment can come to completion, and I can move into the next year with the potential for more, even as I know that I have no answers and no guarantees. I can take the lessons of last year as I move ahead. Maybe my partner and I have learned how to cope together in a way that we had not had a year ago. Maybe I have developed a network of others, or I attend a support group where I feel held up and able to face another day. This is when having two New Years can feel lucky; two opportunities to turn the page, to start again.

Every year builds on the one before. We are ever changed by the past and still try to live in the present. Overall, new beginnings are important. Some years, I would like to find even more New Years to celebrate– to help me pause and take a breath as I start a new beginning. But for now, I’ll stick with the two I’ve got.

A Happy New Year to all — may it bring you growth and fulfillment in all areas of your life.

Dr. Karen Wasserstein is a psychologist in Maryland and Virginia specializing in the area of fertility and family building. She can be reached at drkwasserstein@gmail.com

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Doctors and health care providers are not to blame for an “infertility industrial complex” and patients are not baby crazed. Wanting to provide people with medical care that will help them have a baby is a noble profession and wanting to be a parent is really deep desire. There are exceptions, but or every doctor who may take advantage of a patient who didn’t do their research, there are scores of doctors feeling tied up trying not to raise false hopes. And for every patient that is beyond their boundaries trying anything and everything, there are many more trying to be reasonable during an incredibly stressful and painful time.  The truth is that we are all vulnerable.
 
A recent article from the UK discussed the delicate balance attempted in the wellness industry that doesn’t always respect that vulnerability.  It can be quite easy to take advantage of people who want to improve their chances for having a baby and are willing to try  something that seems to be a viable option. In reality so much of the “wellness care” is stress reduction, which is legit, but not baby producing. A lot of add on’s in clinics just control for various factors, but may not increase chances of having a baby. Some treatments or “wellness care” may help certain conditions, but it isn’t necessarily a condition that you have.
 
So hold tight to your candy while focusing on having your own baby. Respect your own boundaries and vulnerabilities. Ask questions. Use your heart and your head.  Take care of yourself by keeping your body, soul, heart and mind in balance as best you can.
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As part of  Passover preparation – removing chametz from our lives and planning to leave the narrow places – Hasidah invited several guest bloggers to provide support for dealing with Infertility during the holiday and beyond.
Erin Schlozman is a licensed professional counselor specializing in women’s reproductive health at Mama Wellness Co. in Colorado

In Judaism, we are told to “be fruitful and multiply.” We come from a tradition steeped heavily in a narrative filled with the promise of creating new life. How many of you were asked as soon as you broke the glass under the Chuppah: when are you going to start trying for a baby? This question seems earnest and innocent, however the reality is that 1 in 8 couples will have a difficult time getting or staying pregnant. For couples that are facing infertility questions like “are you trying to get pregnant?” and “what are you waiting for?” can feel intensely personal and also crushing. Below are ways you can empower yourself, or help support the people you love once a person or couple has been referred to a fertility specialist.

Most fertility specialists will begin with a detailed intake that will gather you and your partner’s information including medical history, social history and the history of your reproductive health. Additionally, ultrasounds and labs may be ordered for the medical team to get an idea of a baseline and to begin identifying the source of what is going on. I always suggest bringing a list of questions to this first appointment that touch on the concerns you have. Suggestions for things you may want to ask:

  1. What is the process for identifying my diagnosis and how will this diagnosis inform my treatment?
  2. How long do you think the initial workup will take and when do you estimate we will be able to move forward with treatment?
  3. What courses of treatment do you recommend/are most commonly successful in your practice? Additionally, what are my treatment options?
  4. How long do we focus on each treatment and at what point do we move to a new treatment? For example: if we start with IUI how long before we discuss IVF.
  5. Is there anything I can do to improve my chances of becoming and staying pregnant during the course of treatment?
  6. Are there any lifestyle changes you recommend?

Infertility brings a landslide of emotions including immense vulnerability, feelings that you have no control and moments of intense sadness. When we think about growing our families we think about future homes, communities, holidays, birthdays and milestones. Experiencing infertility can feel like the biggest threat to those things. When you take your journey to have a baby from the bedroom to a doctor’s office it’s only natural that floods of emotion will come with you. Stress, sadness, excitement, grief and fear all bundled together. Here are a few tips on how to provide yourself self-care during this time.

  1. Educate yourself on the medical components of infertility. ​Gathering information and education can help you feel empowered and whittle away at the feelings of powerlessness that come with the process.
  2. Identify your support system, both individually and as a couple. ​Finding a therapist that specializes in infertility or a group for families going through fertility treatments will help you build your tribe and a support system that knows exactly what you are going through. Also, social media outlets have support groups that many women find helpful.
  3. Try your best to focus in the moment. ​Be your own best advocate and don’t get caught up in future worries and anxieties: what if this happens, what if this doesn’t work, what if what if what if. Do your best to live in the moment and don’t give too much power to the what if’s.
  4. Feel your feelings. ​You may wake up feeling great one morning and incredibly sad the next. You may feel you don’t recognize yourself, like you have changed forever and wonder if you’ll ever return to the person you were before you started trying to get pregnant. This is ok. Allow yourself the moment to honor however you are feeling and remember that all feelings pass.
  5. Engage in regular check-ins with your partner. ​Infertility is a partners experience. Make sure you keep up your communication, try to make time for fun and to connect to one another in some way. Given the stringent requirements surrounding treatment, sex may be off the table at certain times- practice other ways of sharing intimate moments outside of intercourse.

As the primary focus of fertility treatments is medical, I can’t stress enough the importance of tapping into your community to help support your emotional, spiritual and physical needs. While you work toward parenthood, know that your tradition and community stand behind you with great force, fierce love and an intense commitment to support you. Whether you yourself are going through fertility treatments, or someone you know and love is, it is important to always remember that no two journeys are the same and that a foundation of loving support and community can help ease the silence and pain of the experience of infertility.

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Some things are just human and it doesn’t seem to matter much where you live. Facing challenges to building a family might be one of them.  A recent survey in England got the following stats from people struggling to become parents.

  • 90% say infertility feels like a trauma.
  • 94% don’t think their friends, family or colleagues really understand what they are going through
  • 55% feel hopeless and like a failure
  • 68% believe other people think less of them because they do not have a child.
  • 54% feel annoyed by other people’s comments
  • 37% feeling angered by what others say
Healthcare in England is different than in the US, but again, some things seem similar. The stats there revealed that 34% of those who paid privately for IVF put themselves in financial risk in doing so.
One third of people paying for IVF are putting themselves at financial risk.
So for those who didn’t put themselves “at financial risk,” what did they have to give up?  
What are you giving up to try to have a child?
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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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