Closed For The Holidays

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.

Something From Tommy (Guest Post by my Husband)

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!

Looking Back and Moving Forward

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! 

Other People’s Pregnancies

We all heard about it months ago: Kate and William are expecting! We were notified when she went into labor and waited with bated breath to find out if the royal family would welcome a new princess or prince – I believe that is his official title. I’m not gonna lie; I’m jealous. She has a great body, beautiful clothes, never a bad hair day and for all that she only has to put up with the constant scrutiny of the public eye. On second thought, no thank you, I’ll take my life instead – frizzy hair and all.

Then it hits me, the royal couple were married after us. We have been trying to conceive for about a year and a half and have had a year filled with IUIs, two rounds of IVF, a chemical pregnancy, and finally OHSS (ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome). So the question that begs an answer is how do I react to the royal couple’s news, and more importantly that of my family and friends who are pregnant or parents?

Truth is, it depends. My biggest fear when I first began to share our struggle with infertility was that people would respond by treating me differently; that they would hide their pregnancies from me. I didn’t want to be overcome with jealousy upon seeing a friend’s belly begin to show. How would I feel when my sister called to tell me that she was expecting again, or far worse, when she avoided telling me? I worried that infertility would slip into all aspects of my life including my relationship with others.

Eventually, the day arrived and my sister told me she was expecting her second child. In that moment, I was overcome with joy at the thought of my adorable nephew as a big brother. Then I realized that she is due right around the time when I would have given birth if the chemical pregnancy had turned out otherwise. I actually felt relieved because it would have been difficult for my mother to be in two countries at once!

That’s when I stopped myself and thought, “Toby, how do you feel about this?!” I allowed myself to feel both happy for my sister and disappointed at my own situation. Mixed emotions are one of my favorite things in life.

There are those evenings when Tommy and I come home from a night out with friends who have children and wonder when it will finally be our turn. Those are the moments when I am most grateful to be going through this with him as my partner. We both know that there are multiple paths to parenthood and we will get there one way or another.

Every person who deals with this does so differently; there is no one way to approach all the emotions that accompany infertility, but in my experience it is helpful to speak with other women and couples who have been through or are currently involved in treatments. Their support and empathy helps me to overcome what can be an otherwise lonely and isolating experience and offers me an outlet to deal with various emotions.

A few days after my sister told me she was pregnant I received another phone call, this time from my 93-year-old grandmother. More than 50 years ago she, too, struggled to get pregnant.

“Tobaleh, I’m calling to see how you are doing, are you OK?  I want you to know that I love you!”

“Bubbie,” I said, “I love you too, and yes I think I will be just fine.”

Day off, psych!

Today was going to be a great day. It is  the International Day for Working Women. The university gives me about 3 hours off and I had plans that included a nice lunch and maybe some errands.

My plan was to go to the fertility clinic to have the regular blood and ultrasound that are standard for all fertility treatment and then go to work for an hour or two.  The blood went fine and I patiently awaited my turn for the ultrasound.
One hour later, the technician tells me that her ultrasound is not able to see everything necessary and I will need an additional test.  She calls the department  to get me an appointment and the secretary informs her that I have a long wait ahead of me. That is not a good sign anywhere but in Israel when they are so upfront about it you should multiply your expected wait time by a factor if ten! So much for a few hours off, good thing I have a smartphone to keep me entertained!
So it goes:
Toby plans, God laughs! Or at least someone does.

Dr. Google

Let’s go back in time. It was June 2008, I had recently moved from Jerusalem to Haifa, and it was time for my visit to every female’s favorite doctor. I asked friends for recommendations and made an appointment.

Here is an excerpt of the conversation that transpired as part of the checkup:

Dr.: Do you have regular periods?

Me: Like clockwork.

Dr.: Are they painful?

Me: Not particularly.

Dr.: Based on my exam and your blood tests, I think that you have endometriosis. Take the pill and come back in six months.

Me: Endometri-WHAT? (well not exactly, I had heard of it before but did not know much and certainly had some questions).

Dr.: You should Google it to find out more.

Did my Doctor tell me to Google my condition for more information? Google, a hypochondriac’s playground! For kicks, let’s try Googling the following search term: “pain in pinky.”  There you have it, arthritis – who knew that medicine was this simple?! My doctor could have suggested a particular site (in 2011 a new organization was founded that helps woman with this condition).

Maybe he thought that I would not understand his explanation in Hebrew; though we had been doing fine up until this point. Perhaps, he felt that taking the time to properly explain the disease would have put him further behind schedule – I played many games of hearts as I patiently waited for my appointment.

I wish I could tell you that I gave this doctor a piece of my mind and told him that I deserved just a bit more of his time and certainly better care. Of course that would be a lie, but in all future references in this blog – yes I continued to see him- he will be known as “Dr. Google.”

Unsure about the medical advice I had just received, I spoke to a friend. Luckily, she had a copy of  the book Our Bodies Ourselves (it’s not just for prepubescent females anymore). Taking the pill and monitoring the situation seems to have been just about right.

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While I wrote this post a couple of days ago, tonight I cannot help but express my sorrow about Friday’s events in Connecticut.  It goes without saying that as I am trying to create a new life, the tragic and meaningless death of so many people is heartbreaking.

The Disclaimer

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:

  1. Keep people posted in a lighthearted manner
  2. Demonstrate that conversations about infertility are not taboo
  3. Perhaps offer perspective to other people facing the issue
  4. Satisfy my constant urge for an audience

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.