The Tablecloth of Life- Rationalist Judaism blog

The Fabric of Life

This year ended on a tragic note for my family, but I would therefore like to conclude the year’s blog postings with a post celebrating life. And so I am writing about a tablecloth.

In July, on my trip to Africa, I spent a few days in Johannesburg before meeting my group. On my first evening, I was invited to dinner at the beautiful home of Jake and Loren Shepherd, readers of my work that have since become good friends. The table was loaded with food – biltong and other such African fare – but I was able to see part of the tablecloth, and it was not the type of fabric that I expected to see. The tablecloth contrasted sharply with the elegant decor of the rest of the house, in that it had children’s handprints on it, in brightly colored paint.

“That’s cute,” I said to my hosts. “I assume that these are the handprints of your children?”

“Well, sort of,” they replied, and explained in more detail.

In South Africa, Jewish couples with fertility problems face an added challenge: the high cost of IVF and other fertility treatments. While the  government of Israel subsidizes such treatments, no such government aid is granted in South Africa. My hosts were deeply involved with a foundation called The Malka Ella Fertility Fund, which provides assistance to such couples in need.

As a result of the fund, many children came into existence. A souvenir tablecloth was made, in which all these children contributed artistically, with a picture or a handprint, depending on their age. I thought that it was the most beautiful tablecloth that I had ever seen – a celebration of life itself.

May this be a year of health, happiness, and success, and may we be inscribed in the Book of Life.

PCOS- The Silent Thief of Fertility and Femininity- Huffington Post, Women Section

As the sun casts its long-awaited rays over the British skies, women across the UK are readying themselves for this seasons arm and leg bearing fashion-wear. The desire to be honed and hairless is as synonymous with summer as children screaming for ice cream. Waxing, threading and epilating are just some of the ways that body-hair is banished, only to find that it usually returns with stubbly fervour. But for the hirsute woman, a quick trip to the salon every few weeks is unlikely to suffice.

Hirsutism, the medical term for excessive female face and body-hair, is just one of the many symptoms of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), along with migraines, diabetes, obesity and acne. “It robs me of my femininity”, says Kate, 29, who was diagnosed with PCOS ten years ago. “It’s hard to feel womanly when I get only one or two periods a year, and like a guy I shave my face everyday.”

Thanks to the hormonal imbalance that can cause higher testosterone levels, women with the condition often struggle with their weight, skin and excess hair. “I was too shy to go to the doctor about my body-hair and adult acne” admits Shauna, 43. “I was really embarrassed about it, and fearful that I’d be turned away for my vanity.”  When she was finally tested, Shauna was surprised to see the cysts on her ultrasound scan: “I’m so used to seeing hair and acne on Mum’s body, that I thought it was just a family trait.”

Like Shauna, many women don’t realise that they’ve got the condition until they try to get pregnant. PCOS is the leading cause of female infertility, and sadly, the disorder is often unrecognised until it’s so far developed that it’s no longer possible to conceive. Shauna has given up hope of having children, but adds that “My only wish is that I’d known about PCOS sooner” as she could’ve been correctly medicated to reduce the symptoms and improve her chances of pregnancy.

PCOS effects around ten percent of women, and yet its hardly the first women’s health cause to be on the tip of many tongues. If the associated high blood pressure and high cholesterol are ignored, then the chances of a heart attack can be alarmingly high, and perhaps most worryingly, the cysts can even lead to cancer if left undiagnosed. Although there’s no medical cure for PCOS, the symptoms can be treated and the ovarian cysts can be surgically removed.

Shauna takes spironolactone, an anti-androgen drug, to reduce her hair growth and testosterone levels, along with norethindrone, a form of progesterone, to speed up her elusive cycle. She also takes metformin, an anti-diabetic drug that will hopefully trigger ovulation and lower the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Even though she’s no longer concerned with fertility, she’s told that without a regular cycle, she faces much higher chances of uterine and endometrial cancers.

Kate, on the other hand, has decided to throw caution to the wind and live a medication free life: “After years of experimentation with different drugs and side-effects, I tried the natural approach.” Since then, Kate has developed a strict diet that excludes meat, wheat and dairy, along with doing daily exercise. “The results are gradual and it’s really hard work, but I am feeling happier and healthier.”

Ask both women what their most difficult, problematic symptom is and the answer is a resoundingly clear, one word answer: “Hair!”. Not the higher risk of cancer or heart disease or even the significantly slimmer chances of having a baby. No, what’s worse is the distressing daily ritual of hair removal, and the alienation that comes with being hirsute in a world full of hair-free beauty standards. “It may sound silly,” Kate says, “but it’s a constant reminder of my condition, and I have to literally deal with it everyday.” Shauna adds that in the heat of summer, her skin is “harder to hide” so she totally avoids the sunshine.

This August, think of the one in 10 women who suffer with PCOS, and consider showing some hairy solidarity. Armpits4August is a charitable campaign that challenges women to stop one hair removal practice, on one area, for one month. While all proceeds will go to the PCOS charity Verity, the event also hopes to raise awareness of PCOS, hirsutism and the generally accepted expectation to remove female body-hair.

At the end of the month, some women will merrily wax it all off, while others will keep their new pair of furry friends. Either way, Armpits4August hopes to chip away at these narrow beauty standards so that all women, whether they’ve got conventional hair, hirsutism or alopecia, may begin to feel more comfortable with the skin they’re in.

“The Unpopular Girl”- blogged by In search of Baby

Dealing with infertility is kind of ridiculous. It brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others.

For some, it makes them realize that they always wanted children but didn’t realize it (I’m one of them). Maybe it’s not so much that they didn’t realize it as the fact that, like everyone else, they just took it for granted. They assumed, much like the rest of the world, that when everything else was in place – loving husband, beautiful home, financial stability – and they were ready to bring home their little bundle of joy, fecundity would miraculously produce the desired offspring.


Do not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

Suddenly, without realizing how or why you ended up here, really, you’re sitting in an office chair, an exam room, another office chair, another exam room, your feet in stirrups for what seems like the millionth time just in the last 3 months (and not even involving a pap) with all sorts of scary equipment that you’re too chicken to ask if it’s legit (because, honestly, it kind of looks creepy) – and before you know it, you’ve been poked, prodded, invaded, examined and otherwise physically “abused” in the name of science so many times that any sense of humility or embarrassment are almost completely gone.

At this point, the only thing you’re thinking is: can I start charging admission for this freak show to help pay for IVF?

Meanwhile, you wrestle with carrying around “The Burden”, also known as the secret of infertility. You see, it’s not just that we’re embarrassed to confess our less-than-optimal reproductive capabilities – as women, we’re quite like men are rumored to be in this department. At the end of the day, most women want to have children – and, I daresay, some of us still do so not because someone is pressuring us, to get baby gifts or to best a relative and cross the finish line first (I WIN! I WIN!) but simply because we love our husbands and want to create a bond everlasting through the forging of a family unit.

Experience has taught many of us that sharing “The Burden” is not exactly welcome. By the way some people react to news of a couple struggling with infertility, you could be forgiven for thinking they had just confessed to having contracted Mad Cow’s Diseases, SARS or were single-handedly bringing the bubonic plague to their neighborhood.

Newsflash: believe it or not, infertility is NOT contagious! Really! Ask your doctor. I promise that you will NOT get infertility from being extra nice to your friend who just told you that she and her husband have – unsuccessfully – been trying to have a child for 5 years. I promise that you will also not suddenly become infertile as the result of sharing the same ob/gyn with someone who is thusly afflicted, so please feel free to recommend a doctor you’re happy with – especially if there’s a customer loyalty program, because with the amount of visits we’re racking up, it sure would be nice to get a freebie.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll get some sympathy. Some support. But you better know that your infertility is on a timer – and time is money, because that support and understanding won’t be there forever.  You should also realize that, as soon as you open your pie-hole – I mean, mouth – about struggling with infertility, it’s a free-for-all invitation for any idiot to say whatever pops into their bird brain, without the benefit of censorship.

If you’re lucky, you’ll “only” get something as benign as “RELAX” (because, really? how can all these invasive, embarrassing and sometimes painful medical procedures that have as yet to lead to a baby NOT make you feel relaxed, right?).

You may also somehing slightly irritating (though not too jarring) like, “Hally Berry got pregnant at HER age, so you have plenty of time.” Yes, I can definitely understand why someone would say that. I always thought Halle and I had been separated at birth – it’s about time I made a phone call and cashed in on that.  Beyond which it makes perfect sense that some random celebrities unknown circumstances that led to pregnancy at close to 50 necessarily relate to an average woman in her 30s trying to figure out how to afford IVF without going bankrupt.

At the far end of the spectrum, you’ll get people who will question your belief system, tell you that your infertility is the direct result of your lifestyle choice and/or who you married, that God hates you and wants you to die (and, believe it or not, this isn’t just restricted to racists and gay-bashers, although I know they all have reserved front-row seats in hell).

My favorite misconception about infertility is that, somehow, is seems totally logical to others that living vicariously through our fertile myrtle friends & family should be enough. I’m not really sure at what point someone, somewhere, thought that it made perfect sense that having a child was the same as seeing someone else’s child once every six months – but, ok. I’m not here to discuss logic.

I sort of imagine this as a modern-day version of the myth of Tantalus – the out-of-reach fruit being, of course, a healthy baby delivered into the waiting arms of the mother who, at that point, wouldn’t care what gender it was so long as all limbs are intact and it doesn’t stop breathing.

Infertility is the unpopular girl – she’s the one who doesn’t get invited to any parties (or who just can’t bear to go to yet another “accidental pregnancy” baby shower), who doesn’t get to sit with the “cool kids” at lunch (or who just can’t listen to any more “mommy talk” because she has nothing to contribute to the conversation) and who gets picked last (in the quest for motherhood).  So, next time you see her, maybe you could just give her a hug – because she could really use a friend.

Infertility is not about bad Karma- Marsden

Women have been talking about fertility and making babies since there have been women on this earth. We do it privately, and in groups. And when infertility blocks our path to motherhood, we create a lot of stories about why this happens. Let’s face it, infertility sucks and it is a medical problem. Yes, stress doesn’t help, but it is not caused by stress or bad karma. You are not being punished, and it’s not because you don’t deserve to be a parent.

Infertility is not a spiritual problem. There is always a medical reason why a pregnancy doesn’t occur. I took this straight from a fact sheet on female infertility, it’s a great overview of what can go wrong medically on the female side of baby making.

Causes of Female Infertility:

  • Defects of the uterus and cervix (fibroids, polyps, birth defects)
  • Hormone imbalance or deficiencies, often related to age
  • Ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Pelvic infection or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Scarring from sexually transmitted disease or endometriosis
  • Tumor
  • Long-term (chronic) disease, such as diabetes
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Clotting disorders
  • Obesity
  • Excessive exercising, eating disorders or poor nutrition
  • Exposure to certain medications or toxins
  • Heavy use of alcohol
  • Advanced maternal age

There can also be egg-related problems, such as egg production in the ovaries, movement of the eggs from the ovary to the uterus, attachment of the eggs to the uterine lining, and survival of the egg or embryo once it has attached to the lining. No bad karma here, just human issues that happen to good people who are trying to have a baby.

Every single one of the issues listed above have solutions and different types of fertility treatment. And while it is true that not every woman who has female infertility will end her treatment with a baby – most will. The best path to parenthood when confronting female infertility is with a board certified reproductive endocrinologist. Sometimes, it is just about taking the next step and calling for an appointment. Sometimes, it’s about changing treatment plans. Sometimes, it is just about finding patience and giving things a chance to work.

It’s never about bad karma. Promise.