When you’re facing infertility, a synagogue can be the most painful place to go. Let’s change that.

When I stood before my congregation, I had been asked to be one of 100 Jewish leaders giving sermons at their synagogues on the subject of infertility.

I could have talked in the abstract to my congregation at Ohev Sholom, as if infertility is something that other people experience. The idea of saying anything personal was nerve-wracking.

But one of the biggest challenges that couples face when they struggle to conceive is loneliness. That feeling that you’re the only one going through it can be hard to bear.

So this past Shabbat, I told my community: I had two miscarriages, before my husband and I found out about the chromosomal problem that was preventing us from having a healthy baby. I went through IVF.

And now that I am blessed to bring my infant son to our synagogue, I know that faith communities can do so much more to support members who are struggling with infertility.

 

Infertility is a long and aching experience. Each month crawls by, as the couple waits to see: Will this be our month? Will we finally get a positive test? Will the treatments work? Will we finally get to share the good news?

And for members of a faith community, there is another layer to these questions: Will we finally get to celebrate with our congregation?

At my synagogue in the District, which is called the National Synagogue, we are blessed to have so many babies born in our community, and so many opportunities to celebrate, at brises for boys and simchat bats for girls.

 

But for every baby that is born, there is at least one person in the room desperately wishing it was happening to them. While my husband I were struggling through our two miscarriages, uncertain of what the future held, being in a synagogue was very painful. There were so many times that I stood with families welcoming new babies, happy for the new parents, but also with tears in my eyes as we sang because it hurt so much and I so badly wished that I was the one celebrating.

And if one in six couples deals with infertility, then I know I was not the only one.

So how can faith communities be more supportive? How can we be a more sensitive space that helps make those couples feel less alone?

We cannot control biology. And we cannot stop celebrating births. But we can strive to be a community that is able to hold both of these needs together.

 

When we know that someone is suffering from something that we cannot fix, many of us react by disengaging, because we don’t know what to say. It’s much easier to be a community that celebrates births, without considering the babies who are not born. It’s easier to enjoy happy moments without recognizing that those times may be sad for others.

But if we value all members of our community, independent of their status as single or married, parents or not, then it is incumbent on us to reflect that in our actions.

To not make assumptions about why someone may or may not have children.

To not say to someone “Oh, I see you decided to stop after two children.” After all, we know that infertility doesn’t only affect people trying to have their first child.

To invite people in all different life stages, not just families, to our homes for Shabbat meals.

To remember that at our times of celebration, there are some in the room who are in great pain, and to take extra care to engage.

 

It is also important for clergy to get involved in this issue. At the National Synagogue, we have taken extra steps to ensure that the attendants at our mikvah — a Jewish ritual bath — are as sensitive as possible to those who come to use the bath. Our most recent attendant training a few weeks ago focused exclusively on infertility sensitivity. We have rituals for healing, and there are women who have used our mikvah after experiencing a miscarriage. We are building a page of our website that is devoted to fertility resources. We are trying deliberately to make our community one that offers support to those who really need it.

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we read the story of Hannah in Chapter 1 of the Book of Samuel. Hannah is unable to conceive, and she weeps, and God eventually grants her a son. This story can be a source of pain to those having trouble conceiving, because it ends with a miracle pregnancy from God, which leaves many wondering where their own miracle is.

But there is one part of the story that speaks to the truth of infertility across the ages. And that is the way that Hannah was so alone in her pain. Another woman taunts her for remaining childless. Her husband cannot understand why she is so anguished by her lack of a child. A priest, seeing her silent weeping, does not know she is praying and instead accuses her of being drunk.

It is a cautionary tale for all of us, a warning never to make assumptions about anyone else. It also reminds us of the importance of having resources available to help those who are in pain. We can only imagine how different Hannah’s experience would have been if there had been anyone with her to support her.

Faith communities have a responsibility to remember this pain, so we can support the Hannahs in our own midst.

 

How to deal when everyone else is pregnant- Sachs

HOW TO DEAL WHEN EVERYONE ELSE IS GETTING PREGNANT

Patricia Sachs, LCSW-CWritten by: Patricia Sachs, LCSW-C

They’re at the mall. They’re in your neighborhood. They are your friends and your family. They’re everywhere! When you have been struggling with infertility, it suddenly seems like everyone around you is getting pregnant. Everywhere you go you see pregnant women and big bellies. You can be out enjoying yourself and then you are unexpectedly confronted by this traumatic event. You feel as if you want to “flee” the situation. Especially if you are at an age when your friends and relatives are also getting pregnant and starting their families, it may seem as if everyone else is getting pregnant quickly and easily, and can’t understand why you have not.

The reality is that it is extremely painful to be faced with the visible success of others when you want this so much for yourself and feel so vulnerable and helpless. Seeing or even hearing about pregnancies can be a stimulus that triggers feelings of anger, sadness, and jealousy. You may be left feeling out of control and overwhelmed.

STRATEGIES TO HELP COPE AROUND OTHERS WHO ARE GETTING PREGNANT

There are some strategies you can do to help with coping with other people who are getting pregnant or who are already pregnant that allow you to regain control of the situation and your emotions. Here are some questions to ponder and some possible solutions:

  1. Have you told any of your close friends or family members about what you are going through, even if not in a lot of detail? Letting a few close allies in on your situation can sensitize them to how difficult seeing/hearing about pregnancies can be for you. Think about what you may want from them. Do you want them to tell you about pregnancies right away, or to wait, or have someone else be a “reporter?” Would you prefer NOT to receive baby shower and birth announcements? Chances are if you can speak privately with a friend/relative about these issues they will understand and there will be fewer hurt feelings. If you simply cannot go to a baby shower, tell your friend that it is just too difficult for you to be in that kind of group setting. Maybe there will be another way to have some special time with your friend in the future. It may seem as if these relationships will be strained, but once your situation changes (and it WILL, one way or another) they can be repaired. You are not a bad person because you can’t “be there” for your friend’s pregnancy and most likely, if you express these feelings, she will understand.
  2. Take notice of when mothers and young children are most likely to be at the mall, for example (mornings, daytime, not at night!)and don’t go then. This will cut down on unexpected encounters with pregnancy.
  3. Recognize that jealousy is a normal feeling associated with infertility. Chances are you are not typically a jealous person, but this situation is bringing out these uncommon emotions in you. It is normal to feel frustrated when faced with infertility, especially as getting pregnant seems to come so effortlessly to others. These feelings of jealousy towards your friends and family members will ease in the future when your own situation has been resolved.
  4. If you are going to a party or family gathering where you know there will be a pregnant person, enlist the help of a partner, spouse, or friend. Agree on a signal or cue you can give if you are starting to feel uncomfortable and want to leave. There is no reason why you have to suffer through an experience that will set you back emotionally and leave you feeling depressed and defeated.
  5. Last but not least, consider joining a support group of others experiencing infertility. You will find that many people face similar emotions and concerns as you and that your feelings are completely normal. Having a safe place to share and strategize about coping with infertility will help you to feel empowered to deal with the “outside world.” You may even make some new friends, which can help you feel less lonely and isolated, knowing that you are not alone in this struggle

A Mom’s Support for an Infertile Friend- Jewels Green

A Mom’s Support for an Infertile Friend

You have children; she’s struggling to get pregnant. Advice for navigating a tough spot.

You’ve been up since 4 a.m. with the baby.

Your preschooler wet the bed last night.

Your second grader has strep throat.

When your phone rings, you gratefully run to the laundry basket (where your phone is hidden under some pajamas). You want nothing more than to commiserate with an adult human being and it’s your dear friend calling, and just before you can share your story … she shares hers. She tells you she’s struggling with infertility.

What do you do? What do you say? You love your friend and support her in every possible way, but you also need to vent about issues in your life, the kids, the housework, your schedule. It’s not earth-shattering, but it’s your reality at the moment. Does she really want to hear about this — do you have to censor yourself now?

The answer is complicated. Every friendship is different, of course, just as conception challenges are all different. But certain guidelines can help you navigate a friendship while acknowledging your friend’s pain and preserving her feelings — while maintaining a relationship where neither of you has to worry about hurting each other with unintentionally harmful words.

The hardest part for me, because I’m a very direct communicator, has been knowing how to be sensitive and supportive without “walking on eggshells” in my interactions. We all have our crosses, and I don’t expect anyone to give me “trigger warnings” in a conversation — but there is a line between being honest and hurtful. Suggestions from those who are personally affected by infertility can help avoid missteps.

Definitions are vital, first off. Primary infertility is infertility in a couple who have never had a child. Secondary infertility is inability to conceive after a previous pregnancy. And both hurt. Typically, a diagnosis of infertility isn’t made until after a healthy couple has been trying to conceive for at least a year.

Cleveland clinic performs first uterus transplant
WMAR – Baltimore, MD

I’m sure I’ve put my foot in my mouth when trying to comfort my friends who have had difficulty conceiving, so I thought I’d ask them what they want — and don’t want — to hear from their friends who are mothers. This is what they had to say.

‘Please Bear With Us’
Aimee, a dear friend who lives in Pittsburgh, is in her late 20s and has been married for four years. She explains it like this: “Primary infertility is sometimes persistent and perpetual. There may not be a biological child in our future. Stress alone is not a cause of infertility. ‘Just relaxing’ won’t cure endometriosis, fibroids, azoospermia or varicoceles. Infertility is a disease.” 

She also said this: “When we first receive a diagnosis, sometimes we just need time to come to terms with it. Depending on our own mental health, it could mean we really struggle to see your pregnancy announcements, or attend baby showers, or even attend family gatherings.”

In other words — “Please be patient with us and understand that, most of the time, this is not because of anything you have done. We still want to be invited to the baby showers, we still want to hear about your pregnancies (tactfully!), and we still want to be invited to family gatherings. It might take a year or two for us to be at a point where we don’t feel cheated by God, fate or nature and can realize the fruitfulness in our marriage (despite being childless). Please bear with us.”

The Feeling of Loss
Another close friend, Emily, who is in her 40s and whose pain is still fresh enough that she asked me to use a pseudonym, said: “Although we may already have one or two (or more) children, it’s very difficult when you don’t have the family you always thought you would. It is a definite feeling of loss. For years I felt there was someone missing … that extra Christmas stocking or Easter basket. I felt a constant emptiness and it wasn’t just on holidays but every single day.

“It’s also tough in the Catholic world,” she added, “when you feel you are being judged by not having a larger family. It was probably in my head most of the time, but I heard others make judgments about families of one or two kids being selfish. I would sit in Mass sometimes and want to wear a big ‘I’ on my shirt (for infertile) or come right out and say, ‘This isn’t my choice! I’m trying!'”

The Best Things to Do
I also asked both my friends, who know I love them and support them but sometimes fail miserably, what should I say?

Said Emily: “I’m not really sure, but it’s always nice to have a friend just listen and not try to tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. (‘Have you tried this? Have you tried that?’) It’s also nice to know that friends are praying for you.”

Aimee put it this way: “Something I know I needed to hear when I was so deeply ‘in it’ was, ‘I love you, I’m praying for you. I’m here for you.’ And mean it! Just knowing someone was thinking of me and praying for me did so much to open doors to friendship when I was ready.”

She added: “Eventually, when your friends suffering from infertility can cope with the diagnosis, they may be looking for a family with children to help them ‘upon re-entry’. My godson, who is now just five months old, has helped me learn to love again and has helped heal my heart in a very real way. It took time, but I’m grateful that his mama was patient with me and encouraged me to love him with my maternal heart.”

Just as it stings when someone asks me, a mother of three sons, the very common but mildly insulting, “So, are you going to try again for a girl?” — as if my boys were failed attempts at conceiving a girl — these well-meaning but often thoughtless remarks can, and do, wound our friends.

From now on I’m going to take the advice of both my friends: Listen, pray, and never tire of telling my friends I love them and support them.

Shame, Guilt and Infertility and Fertility- Lisa Rosenthal


Shame, Guilt and Infertility – what do they have in common?

Here are two very common definitions of shame and guilt:

Shame – a painful feeling of humiliation or distress cause by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
Synonyms: humiliation, mortification, chagrin, embarrassment, indignity, discomfort

Guilt – the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.
Synonyms: culpability, guiltiness, blameworthiness

Here is one, very standard definition of infertility:

Infertility – the failure of a couple to conceive a pregnancy after trying to do so for at least one full year. In primary infertility, pregnancy has never occurred. In secondary infertility, one or both members of the couple have previously conceived, but are unable to do conceive again after a year of trying.
Or
Diminished or absent ability to conceive.

What does this mean to you?

Is this about how you feel or what you think?

Infertility & Feelings

We know that our feelings are not facts. We know this in our heads. We do. We know a few other things as well. We know that our feelings are powerful and come from way deep down inside. Our feelings come from our core values; even ones that we cognitively believe are erroneous.

Our feelings become self-fulfilling prophecies. We feel it. We proclaim our feelings. We declare them. We argue about how real they are. How strong they are. We convince ourselves that are feelings are us. We feed them. We are our feelings and if they don’t fit exactly right, we become them.

Just like we are our diagnoses?
Wait a minute. Back up please.
We are not our diagnoses. We are not infertility. We are not infertile. Any more than we are cancer, heart disease, diabetes or mental health. We are not these names of diseases or diagnoses.
We are people. That’s who we are. And our diagnoses are a very small piece of who we are.
Our feelings are even more transitory than our diagnoses.

Our feelings sway and move in the breeze.

When we let them. When we don’t demand that they define us. That they are us.
Look again at the definitions of guilt and shame. They point the finger at us. There is not a single redeeming aspect of shame or guilt. Not one positive attribute.

Read them.

The opposite of guilt is innocence. The opposite of shame is pride.

I’m not here to talk you out of your feelings. I am here to remind you that observing and acknowledging your feelings does not mean having to live in them.

The opposite of infertility?

You know what it is.

It’s fertility.

Fertility Mantras

Here are a few mantras to combat “infertility”:

We are fertile.

We are alive.

We are vibrant.

We are worthwhile.

We are whole.

And we are complete. Exactly as we are in this moment.

Yes we are.