A Note: I’ll be starting my maternity leave at the end of this week, on November 4th. I’m currently 38 weeks’ pregnant, but started writing this essay a bit before my 20th week of pregnancy.
In my 20s, the “do not get pregnant” advice translated in my mind like a neon sign screaming at me everywhere. So, I did my best to not get pregnant. However, when in my 40s I decided that I was ready to start a family of my own, I never in my wildest dreams thought that I’ll quickly become a statistic.
And truthfully, nobody prepared me for that either.
According to the CDC, between 48 million couples and 186 million individuals have infertility globally. In the United States, about 9% of men and 10% of women aged 15 to 44 reported infertility problems; 1 in 5 couples either have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy. 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.
The CDC reports that 1 in 8 women aged 15-44 years in the US have difficulty getting pregnant or carrying a pregnancy to term. I’m 1 in 8.
As I was going through my own family building journey (I like to call it journey, but this might not be a journey for everybody) I will repeatedly find myself in shock of how little I knew – and I had acquired vast information already – and how ridiculously unrealistically some movies and tv shows were portraying infertility.
These entertainment shows do not take into account the insane amount of variations infertility has, what an individual experience it is, how crazy expensive each procedure is, and how much silence, shame, guilt, frustration, and ignorance there is around it.
You read it right — I said “guilt.” And not because I’m a Jewish stereotype and practicing becoming a mom, but for me – and many others I have spoken with – there is a lot of guilt associated with it.
How is it possible, that I was SO good at NOT getting pregnant, as if, getting pregnant was one of the easiest things to happen to you if you didn’t pay attention to the “neon signs”; however, when I intentionally wanted to get pregnant it wasn’t happening? You bet I was asking myself, what’s wrong with me?! And I was asking it every month, as another fail round left me empty physically and emotionally.
We are so conditioned by society that pregnancy happens, and because people don’t necessarily announce to the world every time they are intimate with their spouses (and thank you for that!), or visit the fertility clinic, we “come across” pregnant women, and of course we assume that they got it easy.
But, lo and behold! It ain’t easy for everybody! That cruel assumption and social conditioning we are all subject to, is probably the one to blame for the guilt. The anxiety, silence, shame, frustration, and other “spices”, well… those are more complex. You wouldn’t believe the number, variety and kinds of thoughts I had during those two long years (as I’m writing “two years” I’m painfully aware that as much as it felt like eternity to me, so many others go through it for much longer):
Why is it happening to me?; Did I do something wrong?; Maybe I’m not meant to be a mother; How is it possible that I have to indebt myself in order to do something so basic like building a family?; I wish people will stop asking me “why don’t you adopt?” as if adopting was the easiest thing to do in this country (read the note about adoption at the end of the article*); I’m helping educate hundreds of Jewish children, how come I can’t educate my own?; one of the first Jewish commandments is to “be fruitful and multiply” and I can’t even paying, make it happen?; if one more person asks me if I ever want be a mom, I might eventually lose it.
It can get wild inside someone’s mind, you can get lost in so many thoughts, and as much as you can understand that people inherently do not have bad intentions, the emotional bandwidth wears thin, and it gets harder to be understanding.
So if there is one little piece of advice I can offer is, never, and I truly mean never, ask anyone “when are they planning to have kids.” Not only because they might not want to have kids, or let’s face it, if they are not sharing with you their plans, is also, with all due respect, none of your business, but moreover because you might be pressing on the sore wound.
I’m all about transparency and creating awareness – hence me writing this piece – and it amazes me how much silence there is around the subject. I get it though, some of the thoughts and feelings are so unique to the experience you’re having, I was unsure that anyone else would ever understand. It’s a very lonely path, regardless of whether you’re going through it alone or as part of a partnership, if you have an amazing support system like I did, or not.
I can easily relate to biblical character, Hannah – we read this haftarah on Rosh Hashana – when she will silently and devotedly pray for a child, so deep and intentional was her prayer that from the outside it will look like “she was either drunk or losing it”. We know that her prayers were answered, but we also know that not all prayers are answered.
There are so many ways to build your own family, way more than you’re aware of. Finding the right way for you is hard, and I hope that if you’re reading this you know that you don’t have to go through it alone, that there are many resources out there – including the clergy, me and others who walked similar paths before you – to help.
Personally, I’m incredibly grateful to Rabbi Idit Solomon, founder of Hasidah*, an outstanding Jewish national organization, who provided a safe space for me to share my fears, thoughts, and doubts. Hasidah enabled me to cope through the pain with other women dealing with the same challenges, feeling heard, virtually held, and giving my own infertility journey a Jewish frame through Jewish sources.
As much as I had a wonderful support system, the women I’ve met at Hasidah were my strongest net of support, because I knew there was no judgment. They could hear everything I felt and thought, and they understood because they were going through it too.
As much as I believe in transparency, I wasn’t ready to share my story with the whole community until I felt confident to be open about it. At 20 weeks pregnant (when I wrote the first draft of this column) and with a big belly, I felt that Pixie (my baby’s in-utero name) and I were ready.
I’m sharing this as a proud member of the Mental Wellness Committee at CBB. These amazing women take the time to educate themselves constantly to be a source of support to the members. When I mentioned the idea of exploring perspectives on “the challenges in family building,” they were eager to connect with Rabbi Idit Solomon and learn.
I’m so grateful that the wonderful group of women leading the Mental Wellness Committee keeps working on creating visibility for all, unpacking hard things to talk about, and being an available resource to our entire community,
Infertility doesn’t discriminate, age, gender, race, faith, marital status – ironically, it’s very inclusive in that way! And we are too, with kindness and open arms. Please know that you can always reach out to me, to clergy or to someone on our mental wellness committee, if you ever want to talk. No one needs to go through this alone – community as well as single individuals can make a difference. CBB wants to help, in whatever way we can.
As I feel blessed today with my sinuous path to building my own Jewish family I am reminded of all those who are still walking this path, I pray that you find at least one person that can hold you tight, that you know to ask for help, and that you find your own way to build your Jewish family. Meanwhile, I’ll keep you in my prayers with generations before us that like Hannah, pray with love and kavana.
* A note about adoption: Adoption is a very complex subject in the U.S. I, personally, explored it and understood that, in my case, I had two options:
- foster to adoption: Foster to adopt can be more challenging for single parent households, and after having serious and long conversations with two different families who adopted through foster care, I understood that I wasn’t quite emotionally ready for that.
- domestic adoption: I cannot adopt outside of the US because I’m not a U.S citizen. I am a green card holder, and a citizen of Israel.
- A domestic adoption can cost more than $50,000 and there are no guarantees of a child at the end of that process.
And to be clear, this does not imply that people struggling with infertility should be the ones solely responsible for the foster care crisis. Adoption is a different path to parenthood, it was simply not right for my personal circumstances.
If you, or someone you know and love, are struggling with the challenges of family building, please contact Hasidah at 415-323-3226/ https://hasidah.org/contact-us/. Hasidah also offers grants to people struggling with infertility.
The Jewish Fertility Foundation out of Atlanta is another resource for information, support, and grants. I did not personally use their services, but I know others who have, and are grateful for their services. https://jewishfertilityfoundation.org/