How Technology Helped us Build our Modern Family- Huffington Post- K.K. Goldberg

If we could fall in love online, then just maybe, we could make a baby in a dish.

That’s what I told myself after three years of agonized infertility. Nothing could soothe the ache of so much failed babymaking, except perhaps the strength I felt in my marriage. I would never have found Ken anywhere but cyberspace — he’s a physicist, I’m a writer — so maybe our DNA also needed technology to meet. We would be a modern family in every way. With my 40th birthday looming, we both agreed: it was time for a reproductive hack.

The move into medical measures felt like a capitulation. I’d always preferred “natural” interventions, like acupuncture. Wheatgrass. Prayer. Denial. We’d planned to make a baby Paleo-style, and I’d birth it that way, too. I distrusted doctors, with their needles, wands and scalpels. I had a reality-based aversion to the high expense and low odds of fertility treatment, in particular IVF. I also harbored irrational biases. “I’m not a bread machine,” I’d say to Ken. “I don’t want a bunch of doctors dumping ingredients into me to force up a loaf.”

“I get it,” Ken would say, though he longed for children, too.

Then one day it struck me: my objections to IVF echoed my once-upon-a-time resistance to online dating. In my single days, meeting someone via the Internet had seemed so… unnatural. Wasn’t I supposed to find a mate at a party, the bar, the office? Not that I went to any of those places. Still, the notion held sway, as forceful as the idea that babies can be made with only two people, through one instinctual act. Naturally.

Nevertheless, my courtship with Ken had launched server-to-server, distinctly high-tech. Our relationship quickly went analogue, and two years later we merged our networks forever. At our wedding, we should have toasted those unknown armies of coders who brought us together. Cheers to DARPA, for inventing the Internet. Database programmers, bless you for the digital yenta that is JDate. It took legions to engineer the most natural love I’d ever known.

It turns out courage from one life success can be mortgaged into strength for the next risky step. Ultimately, that’s how I relented to IVF. The doctor said it would be our best chance. In a weird way, IVF felt like fate, too — I’ve noticed the things I rail against almost have more power to emerge, as if mere mentioning, and certainly ranting, tempts fate. If fate exists, it has a sense of irony. For example, I’d always scoffed at huge, double strollers — but I’ll get to that in a minute.

After we paid the fertility clinic in a virtual transaction, our drugs and needles shipped overnight. We picked them up at a UPS store — thank you, commercial pilots, and bless you, drivers of boxy brown trucks; you were our storks. We unpacked our hormones into the refrigerator — thank you, inventors of ice. Then began nightly shots, which Ken prepared over a complex spreadsheet — thanks, Excel, for keeping track — and at last there’d be tears, jokes, injections. I would never claim IVF was romantic, nor was it ideal, but the intimacy of endurance, together, was sometimes profound.

Weeks later, at the fertility clinic, minutes away from the final “transfer,” we still did not know how many viable embryos we’d have, and whether to put in two. We knew we were open to twins, but also afraid of all that could go wrong.

“I guess I’m going to make a major life decision with my pants off,” I said to Ken, “on ten milligrams of Valium.”

“I’m sure that’s how a lot of people get pregnant,” he said back.

At last our doctor whirled in with pictures of our 5-day-old blastocysts, two white blobs, one big, one small. Thank you, clinic incubator, for the awesome daycare.

“I recommend transferring both,” our doctor said.

Ken and I quickly agreed. The conversation took 10 seconds. With IVF, there was still the random element, a moment where desire trumped reasoning and our middle-aged selves embraced a teenage attitude to chance — perhaps in line with nature’s plan after all.

Then the small, sterile room filled with people — Ken, the nurse, our doctor and two techs. The mood was upbeat. We were trying to make a baby, no matter how clinical, no matter the crowd.

Except we didn’t make a child, we made two. Twins. During the grueling pregnancy that followed, I often thought of our twins as the product of IVF, not nature. The only respite I had from the angst and discomfort of my high-risk gestation was glimpsing the babies on the frequent ultrasounds — thank you for that, inventors of sonography. Seeing my sons on a screen, I’d feel stunned with excitement, with tenderness.

Pregnancy complications required a C-section at 36 weeks. By then I’d forgotten about birthing at home in bed while Ken grilled root vegetables for the midwife. I would have an unnatural end to an unnatural pregnancy.

I grasp all reasons why C-sections are both common and condemned, but my twins were breech and transverse, and my particular gestational complication was associated with stillbirth. Death, too, is a natural process, one that as parents we wanted to cheat. In that light, the science of a surgery, the option of a C-section, is nothing short of sacred.

On the scheduled day, at the hospital, my twins were born a minute apart in a crowded room, just as they’d been conceived. A team of waiting protectors surrounded them — two surgeons, two pediatricians, three nurses, an anesthesiologist, Ken, and of course, me — exhausted, thrilled, scared, and relieved.

When I finally held my sons, I basked in a love so primal, so organic, that the world fell away. Then the world fell away for real, as morphine knocked me out. Thanks, big pharma, for that needed break.

It still startles me that people make babies with sex. Privately. Intimately. Easily. I feel like I spent a year at Reproductive Burning Man: with masses of people, piles of drugs, and anticipation of a final, cathartic event. Though people say technologies like IVF unnaturally control things, the opposite is true. It opens you to whole new levels of randomness, hazard, surprise and wonder. I speak lightheartedly of things that often cause anguish because I was lucky — lucky in the outcomes, but also, as I see it, lucky to live in a time when technology tempers fate.

From JDate to IVF to C-section, science let us script the command line of nature. Without it, I might be solitary still. This family we built, with tons of support, is the grace of technology. Two years later, I no longer think of my sons as a product of IVF. I think of them as a gift from God.

Infertility Etiquette- Rabbi Efrem Goldberg- Boca Raton

Many of our young men and women of marriageable age assume that when a couple decides it is time to start a family, it is simple to conceive and bring a healthy baby into the world. In fairness, they have good reason for making that assumption. Growing up they often hear “mazel tov”s and see birth announcements, they attend brises and baby namings and they witness the growing families around them. Children are a central focus of Jewish life and living, and our young people understandably assume that having them is fairly easy and straightforward.

But they are wrong. What they don’t hear about, because we don’t talk about it, are those suffering and struggling in silence and privacy, desperate to bring a baby into the world and eager to become a mother and father for the first time, or once again. There are more than seven million people of childbearing age in the United States currently struggling with infertility. Up to twenty percent of those who do become pregnant experience a miscarriage. Eighty percent of those miscarriages occur within the first trimester, when the couple is unlikely to have told anyone they were expecting and before the woman begins to show.

Infertility and the pain associated with it are unfortunately nothing new. The Gemara (Yevamos 64a) teaches that our matriarchs and patriarchs struggled with barrenness. The Seforno on our parsha points out that Yitzchak was forty when he got married and the Torah says he was sixty when Yaakov and Esav were born. Together, Yitchak and Rivkah suffered with infertility for twenty long years, praying, longing, and waiting to see the fulfillment of God’s promise to build a nation.

Rachel, too, knew the pain of childlessness. She screamed out in pain, “im ayin, meisa anochi, if I don’t have a child I am already dead,” from which the Gemara (Nedarim 64b) teaches that to live without children is to experience a form of death.

Resolve, the National Infertility Association, writes on its website:

Infertility can feel like a death, like a prolonged mourning process as dreams die and hopes are dashed… The pain is similar to the grief over losing a loved one, but it is unique because it is a recurring grief. When a loved one dies, he isn’t coming back. There is no hope that he will come back from the dead. You must work through the stages of grief, accept that you will never see this person again, and move on with your life.

The grief of infertility is not so cut and dry. Infertile people grieve the loss of the baby that they may never know. They grieve the loss of that baby who would have had mommy’s nose and daddy’s eyes. But, each month, there is the hope that maybe that baby will be conceived after all. No matter how hard they try to prepare themselves for bad news, they still hope that this month will be different. Then, the bad news comes again, and the grief washes over the infertile couple anew. This process happens month after month, year after year. It is like having a deep cut that keeps getting opened right when it starts to heal.

This week, I met with three women whom I don’t know and who themselves only know each other from attending an infertility support group in Boynton Beach. They came with difficult and complex halachic questions about IVF, surrogacy, the use of gestational hosts, and Jewish status. I explained to them that I am far from an expert in these areas, but I am absolutely committed to researching their questions and helping them in every way that I can.

We then got into a discussion of the challenges of struggling with infertility and the acute pain, financial hardship, and intense loneliness that they have each felt. The women shared the often-prohibitive cost of treatments, with one of them having spent over half a million dollars and the others depleting their savings to cover bills totaling a quarter of a million dollars. Two of the women have babies as a result and I pray that the third will have her dreams of being a mother realized in the near future.

A common theme of the agony they described was the loneliness of going through this hardship without the explicit knowledge, awareness, support, love, or assistance of others. Those with infertility or who have suffered a miscarriage are grieving without anyone even knowing. They are forced to spend their days interacting with others as if all is well, when in fact it isn’t.

Worse than the indifference of friends and acquaintances, these women described, is the unintentional insensitivity of so many who have been blessed with healthy children and who make comments, tell stories, share pictures, or complain about their kids.

I walked away from the conversation pledging to myself and committed to encourage others to be better, more sensitive, and more aware of the comments and passing remarks we make at Shabbos tables, in shul, and on Facebook. If it were our son or daughter, or our brother or sister suffering with infertility, we would measure our words, think carefully about what we say, and anticipate the potential impact of all we do. When planning our simcha we would think about how we could be sensitive to our loved one who may never be in a position to make a bar or bat mitzvah or a wedding.

Well, those suffering are our loved ones. They are our brothers and sisters and we must bring that level of vigilance and mindfulness to our behavior to ensure that we don’t even unintentionally contribute or compound their already unbearable pain. When hosting a simcha or sharing about our children or grandchildren, minimally, we should always reference how fortunate and blessed we feel, that we don’t take it for granted and that we pray for those who don’t have children. We should mention the challenges of infertility in Chassan and Kallah classes, not to God forbid scare the young bride and groom, but to responsibly manage their expectations.

Resolve has a helpful page on its website called infertility etiquette in which they remind us not to be nosy, ask inappropriate questions, make assumptions, gossip, or minimize someone’s challenge. Instead, they say “The best thing you can do is let your infertile friends know that you care. Send them cards. Let them cry on your shoulder. If they are religious, let them know you are praying for them. Offer the same support you would offer a friend who has lost a loved one. Just knowing they can count on you to be there for them lightens the load and lets them know that they aren’t going through this alone.”

Our matriarchs and patriarchs ultimately saw their dreams fulfilled and we are here today as a result. May all those yearning for healthy children see their hopes and aspirations come true and may we all get only yiddishe nachas from the children whom we are so blessed and fortunate to have.