The following is an actual conversation I recently had with a friend, I find it very telling:
Friend: “So who is your doctor?”
Friend: “Oh, he got all my friends pregnant!”
Can’t beat a man with a reputation!
The following is an actual conversation I recently had with a friend, I find it very telling:
Friend: “So who is your doctor?”
Friend: “Oh, he got all my friends pregnant!”
Can’t beat a man with a reputation!
Since writing this blog’s first post I have received quite a bit of feedback from my readers. One of the recurring things that I have heard is, “what you are doing is very brave.” Brave? not really, what is particularly brave about it? I am told that most people would want more privacy. Well, my life is Mostly an open book.
People say that blogging about our infertility is brave because most couples who have to deal with this issue are ashamed or embarrassed. That never made sense to me, embarrassing is:
Infertility does not belong on this list.
I understand people who are concerned with their privacy, but I have discovered many wonderful things in my willingness to share my/our experiences. Last week my mother, one of my avid readers, called me after she had learned more about endometriosis and asked relevant questions about my treatment. This was the first productive conversation that the two of us have had on the subject and for a mother and daughter that can mean a lot. A friend suggested I should no longer refer to myself as the infertile half of the couple because it can lead to feelings of guilt or inadequacy. After all, she noted, it takes two. There are also those people who have read the blog and shared their own experiences. Knowing that other couples have been through this makes us feel less alone.
More than anything else, by sharing this experience I am able to gather the strength I need to push through this challenge. The past year has not been easy, but knowing that people out there are rooting us on and hoping for the best makes it a bit easier. So with the support and encouragement of those people who care I become not brave, but strong.
Today I had a choice: I could either go to work, or not – guess how this one turned out. I love that the university gives me Yimei B’chira (elective days) allotted to certain holidays on which I can choose whether I want to work or not – too bad I only get three a year! The plan was clearly to sleep in, but at 8:00 am I was wide awake (if you think waking up at 8:00 is by any definition late, I assume that you have children).
As I was lying in bed, wide awake, for no good reason, I of course began to think about possible posts. I more or less already have about 30 posts that I would like to share. These are mostly cute anecdotes, with little bits of information thrown in here and there. The blog is meant to serve four concrete purposes:
This post was not planned, but it hit me that I must put out the following disclaimer to all: I am the farthest thing from an expert about any of this. You already know that I have no medical certification, but the situation is far worse than that. I don’t read blogs on infertility; without a little help from google, I can’t tell you the phases of a woman’s cycle (and I know that many woman out there can recite it by heart). I didn’t even know about the TWW until someone used the acronym in a conversation – her response to me was “Toby, don’t you read blogs?”
Truth, no, I don’t really like them.
This scene from the movie My Cousin Vinny has stuck with me over the years:
I laughed and understood that Marisa Tomei’s sentiments were those of most women. The accepted narrative being that women are in this big race against time to fulfill their purpose of bearing children. Once you hit your mid-20s, the clock starts ticking. So naturally, one day I too would hear that same dreaded tick-tock.
Lo and behold, that if the alarm on my biological clock has gone off, I must have hit snooze. To clarify, I am not referring to my body. If being 34 means that I am supposed to feel a time crunch to have children, then I must be young at heart because I feel no pressure. I am not in a race, not against my own body and certainly not against anyone else.
Let me explain, I grew up in the Jewish Modern Orthodox world and imbibed in my childhood was an understanding that I was meant to meet a man, marry and start a family-in that order, please; I spent a lot of time struggling to find my place in this world as a single woman. So I dated, A LOT. Blind dates, during which I learned the crucial lesson that you must, must Google people before accepting a date and that one little cup of coffee can actually be a form of torture. I willingly shared the details of “what I was looking for” with every new person who asked – remember I talk a lot. Sure, I had fun too, but all of this was towards the fulfillment of my destiny. At a certain point the word beshert made me want to vomit.
Then the most dreaded of events suddenly happened, I turned 30- as a single woman- oh the horror! Surprisingly, I was overcome with a sense of freedom. I could hardly believe that my world did not crumble in front of me, but instead it got so much better! I picked up and moved from Jerusalem to Haifa, started a new job, and added some more friends to the wealth of great people in my life. I felt liberated, and I stopped behaving as though I was waiting for a partner to come around so that my life could begin. I still dated, but I was not afraid to be fulfilled by and grateful for the wonderful people and elements that my life comprised. It was also around this time that I thought about whether I would want to parent a child on my own if I didn’t end up meeting a partner. For me, it was clear that the answer was no; I would only embark on all the challenges involved in parenthood with a partner. Make no mistake, I still wanted to have kids, but the alternative did not feel like a compromise or some inferior existence; I had visions of the things that I would do independent of who was in my life. Quite simply, I was happy and content.
Enter Tommy, the love of my life. In the blink of an eye we were envisioning our lives together, talking about a family, and I was moving back to Jerusalem (the things you do for love). I knew that most people must have assumed that we would want to have kids immediately. After all, we were in our early 30s, so tick-tock, tick-tock. In fact, we were, and still are, so happy that we wanted to take time just enjoy each other and our new shared life without all the common “joys” that go along with pregnancy, preparing for a child, and then having an infant. The rest of our lives was, and remains, ahead of us and we chose to cherish the moment. We knew that if infertility was an issue that we would face then so be it, but we would not allow our lives and every decision to be dictated by that possibility.
I have yet to hear the clock, but I do have a condition known as endometriosis; I had it ten years ago and I refuse to consider that I could or should have done anything differently to change my situation. Tommy, on other hand, could have asked me out years ago when our paths crossed for 30 seconds in 2005! Here’s a reality check, both men and women hear the clock ticking away when it comes to their lives. I refuse to spend precious moments obsessing over those things that are missing in my life, because let’s face it, there will always be something. Instead, we make the best efforts to move forward towards all of our goals, but we are sure to enjoy all the wonderful things that we have together. No regrets.
Early in our relationship it was obvious to me that Tommy and I were on the same page when it comes to the big things; that’s why I married him. Sometimes life gives you those little reminders of what you knew to be true and why you first fell in love.
I’m sure that it comes as no surprise that the two of us spend a lot of time talking about the fertility treatments and our hopes of becoming parents. It’s not the only conversation that we have, but we do talk about it on a fairly regular basis. Today, Tommy and I were having one of those “big picture” conversations and Tommy came to the following conclusion:
“What really matters isn’t what you don’t have, but what you already have and how you feel about it.”
He posted it on Facebook but I wanted to be sure it received a wider audience. This process makes it easy to obsess over details that are often out of our control: Follicle size, number of embryos, quality of embryos, the effect of freezing on embryos, and finally the “big one,” will an embryo decide to stay awhile in my hormone enhanced uterus?
It’s nice to know that we are both able to help each other keep a perspective on what really matters.
In many ways the process messes with your head. I have always been a person who knows when I am right, and when I am right, I am just right. No argument – I’ll let Tommy attest to that.
Today, I found myself facing a moment of doubt. I woke up and followed my routine which includes taking my daily dose of hormones (no shots, yet) plus a super strong pill of folic acid - they give you a stronger dose when you are going through fertility treatments. It was right after swallowing that I was overcome with doubt. Had I just taken the wrong pill? The wrong dosage? Had I ruined our chances for this month? One step in the wrong direction could throw my body off and then we would have to wait another month!
My concerns stemmed from a conversation I had had with a nurse yesterday; she called to make sure that I understood the new instructions sent through their electronic system. It’s a great system: in the morning I go to the clinic for a blood test and ultrasound and a few hours later I receive a message, through the computerized system, with updated instructions from my Doctor. I read the instructions and pushed a bottom to confirm that, yes, I understood. It was fairly straightforward and nothing out of the ordinary.
Then she called. Admittedly I was only half listening, she wanted to be sure that I read the instructions carefully. She reviewed the dosage and asked if I had questions. Nope, none.
Until this morning, why would she call if it was all so obvious? I’m an old pro at this so I must have missed something! I panicked, but also ran to recheck the instructions.
It was a brief moment of doubt, but rest assured, I’m still right.
I was quite young when I first became aware of women who had struggled with infertility. It doesn’t matter that I had little understanding of the intricacies involved or that I, V and F were no more than letters in a recently mastered alphabet. Back then, my Hebrew teacher emphasized Sarah’s laugh in response to the suggestion that she would finally give birth to a child and that her laughter was a sign of disbelief. Over the years I discovered that Sarah was not the only Biblical character who faced infertility and that there were numerous responses: surrogacy, competition, depression, despair and prayer. Today, as I deal with my own infertility I can relate to each of these reactions, but Sarah’s laughter is the one with which I can most identify and find it to be surprisingly prevalent.
My own laughter probably arises from a sense of doubt and this is likely a defense mechanism. If I remain skeptical that treatments might actually succeed it is easier to accept it when they don’t. No matter how far technology can assist, in the end we are counting on a miracle – divine or otherwise. It is this sliver of doubt that keeps me going. Sarah keeps most of her doubt inside, questioning whether after all these years she would finally experience joy. I’m fortunate enough to have the luxury and freedom to express my feelings. All too often women dealing with infertility hide their feelings for any number of reasons. Maybe they are afraid that other’s will misunderstand or judge their feelings, or maybe the process is too difficult. My expressions of hope, doubt, happiness and sorrow are all part of the experience and giving them voice has become a source of comfort.
Sarah was not alone in her laughter, Abraham also laughed when he learned that he would father another child- though his laughter never receives the same attention as the story is retold. Early in the text, he wondered if he could actually have a child at the age of 100 with a wife who was 90-years-old. They did not laugh together, but I like to think that the similarity in their reactions reminds us that a couple facing infertility must do so together. It is true that regardless of the cause, the burden of fertility treatments fall mostly on the woman. Nonetheless, both members of the couple are on an emotional roller coaster. Plenty of resources have been developed aimed at women who are dealing with the emotions that accompany infertility, but far fewer exist for men. My husband and I have found it helpful to remember that this is a shared experience and trial. Through it all we have shared both tears and laughter.
For the most part, I find that society laughs off infertility. Most people learn about it only once they directly feel its affects. While in our adolescence we are taught all about birth control – an important message- often, we fail to encourage young women to understand their bodies and recognize abnormalities that might prevent later complications. Instead, we promote a culture that tells women to worry about the ever-ticking biological clock long before it is actually a problem. Finally, in cases where a woman, or couple, does face infertility, treatments are often prohibitively expensive. I am always grateful that Israel covers IVF as part of its national insurance and am fairly certain that it would not have been an option for us were we living elsewhere.
Examples of women, Biblical and otherwise, who overcame their struggles with infertility allow me to remain hopeful. I believe that, like Sarah, when given the news of my own pregnancy, I too, will laugh.
There are a few things about living in Israel that never get old: the buzz of Jerusalem on a Friday morning, buses that flash the message “Shanah Tova” or “Chag Sameach,” The Rosh Hashanah and Passover bonuses that I receive at my job; I love living in a country with a Jewish culture. Admittedly, I maintain a strict observance of all Thanksgiving related practice – minus the football- and there is still a warm place in my heart for the movie theater on Christmas Eve, but there is nothing like Israel during the holidays.
Israelis begin their preparations for the fall holidays at some point in mid-August, it’s about that time when they begin to throw around the phrase “Achrei HaChagim,” (after the holidays). Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the country understands the implication of this phrase: everything gets put on hold until after the holidays, no exceptions. There are particular rules for this “season” and learning to accept rather than fight the trend will make for a much happier holiday season. To name a few: don’t even think about trying to start a new job (you are much better off taking a vacation), assume that all government offices will be closed for two-thirds of this period, never start any type of home repair that will take more than a day’s work by any contractor – if you do, you will have only yourself to blame. In short, whatever it is that you figured was oh so pressing that it couldn’t wait, will have to wait until after the holidays. Over the years I have been on both the giving and receiving end of this phrase, it’s all part of the culture that I love.
Last year, right before Rosh Hashana, l learned that fertility clinics in Jerusalem, and possibly other parts of the country, basically shut down for the entire month Tishrei. A nurse told me in passing and I didn’t give it much thought; we were still in the beginning stages of the fertility treatments- tests and IUIs. I was prescribed drugs that stimulated the development and release of multiple eggs and told that if I were to ovulate over a holiday, then we should try the old-fashioned way. The stimulants at least increased the chances of conception. At the time I thought to myself, by next year we’ll be pregnant so there was no need to worry (I was so naive!)
Yet in the blink of an eye a year passed and we were well into the IVF process ready for another transfer of frozen embryos, but that would only happen “Achrei HaChagim.” When you think about it, it does make sense, IVF is an extremely time-sensitive process and there are too many days when the clinic would be closed. It is easier to slow things down to a full stop and give everyone, staff included, a break. Yes, we could have looked for a private clinic or another option that may have been open, but in the end we decided to take a break and wait. It wasn’t ideal, but also was not horrible to escape the process and enjoy the holidays; our embryos remained safe and sound in the freezer.
Israel is back in full swing and we have returned to our regularly scheduled fertility treatments.
I’d like to write about infertility from my perspective.
It is not up to us when it will work, or if it will. My approach is coming from the model in the Torah.
Sarah was very old when she finally became pregnant and when she was told that she was going to conceive she did not believe it. She had already given up and that is when it happened. It was miracle. For us, when we get pregnant, it will feel no less miraculous.
Later, we learn that Rachel suffered a painfully long time before finally getting pregnant with her first child Yosef.
The Bible even notes that Rachel cried out to Jacob “make me pregnant or I will die!” These words came out of her mouth because she was very very sad. I think that I am able to understand and sympathize with how she felt, particularly when I remember Toby’s eyes after an unsuccessful attempt.
Both of our foremothers became pregnant only when “the Lord opened her womb,” not before. This is my belief and the answer to the question of when it will happen. It is not in our control and we have to accept that.
We just have to be patient and calm, continue this struggle and gain strength from the stories of our foremothers and forefathers. We have to believe that, God willing, it will happen for us too.
I love my wife and I support her through this very tiring and challenging process, she is a very strong and brave woman.
Most of the process and tests fall on Toby and I am aware that I can’t possibly understand the depth of the hardships she faces with each cycle. Simply, I don’t know how it feels to be injected with hormones, to be checked by doctors all the time and so on.
I don’t experience the process in the same way, but I understand the disappointment when it does not bear fruits.
In some ways I am removed from the process, but I am always with my wife.
We, together, will continue this process, and God willing, we will fulfill our dream and become a family soon!
I know what you have all been thinking: I hope that Toby posts something for Rosh Hashana! It took me awhile to figure out what to write because it seems all too obvious, when I think about the coming year I hope to have a baby. This wish has the number-one spot on my short list. Sure, I’ll throw a few prayers out there for world peace, but this year I am allowing myself to be a little selfish and focus on what I want!
Someone once told me that couples who are dealing with infertility often have a difficult time around the holidays and especially with the new year. I’m not sure. Throughout the year a hormonal surge can be relied upon to add an emotion to any point in time- Tommy has learned to say, “Tobyka, it is not you, it’s the hormones!” In general, my most difficult moments usually have little to do with communal events, holidays or life-cycle celebrations. Instead, the hardest times are usually deeply personal and private and mostly involve disappointments.
If the Jewish new year was only about looking forward, a person could focus exclusively on his or her aspirations for the future and the yearly repetition of an unanswered prayer would make for an arduous holiday season. Fortunately, reflecting on the year that is concluding is an integral aspect of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
Looking back on this year, I can only conclude that it was a good year full of blessings (both open and hidden). This year I have learned and grown so much: I amazed myself in the sheer number of people I have touched by sharing our story through this blog, I approached challenges with an internal strength I never knew was there, I discovered that members of my family were there to support us in very tangible and helpful ways, and I received an AMAZING recipe for homemade ice cream - ice cream just makes everything better! Tommy lost his job but found a career, strengthened his Jewish practice and knowledge, and used his subtle and still incredible sense of humor to create amazing moments. Approaching this year’s challenges together has strengthened our relationship and taught us both the meaning of partnership – in those moments when I want to collapse in my disappointment, he is my rock. Looking forward, I can only hope for much of the same.
There are numerous Hebrew greetings/blessings for Rosh Hashana and these days I find myself drawn to one in particular: Shana Tova U’Puriah ( a good and fertile year). AMEN!