By Dvora Entin
It’s shocking, really, when you look around and it seems like everyone you know is pregnant. And your Facebook feed is full of smiling or frustrated mother tributes.
And you watch from the sidelines as one by one your friends are invited to play on the motherhood field, and you are still benched.
It’s lonely on that bench, in the company of so many other women and couples trying to grow a family.
In a community and culture with a strong focus and emphasis on building a Jewish family and home, individuals who face challenges of infertility can feel particularly isolated and confused.
While one in 10 women will have challenges becoming and staying pregnant, the struggle tends to be on the quieter and more private side, as one tries to maintain some level of privacy in what feels like a very exposed and vulnerable experience.
Though Jewish couples are statistically similar to the general population of people trying to conceive, the presence of Jewish genetic diseases may increase the need to pursue assisted reproduction means to allow for a healthy baby.
Couples who are screened for these “Ashkenazi loaded” genetic mutations may choose to test embryos with the use of in-vitro fertilization methods to select healthy embryos without the genetic mutations.
There are so many pieces of the puzzle of infertility and stepping into a reproductive endocrinologist’s office (infertility specialists) is usually the first milestone for couples in their fertility experience.
It feels like a huge step to walk in those doors and truly face the reality of where they are in their lives and challenge. And every faith practice has its own levels of rules, restrictions and opportunities that will accompany families through the practice doors.
For a Jewish couple, they may choose to include additional oversight in the clinics by a certified mashgiach or discuss the fertility treatment options with their community rabbi. Fertility treatment itself holds some challenges for Orthodox families who may have different variables in care related to mikvah timing, artificial insemination or embryodisposal.
And that’s just the faith implications.
Friends and family could take pause in recognizing the deep emotional implications of starting and continuing fertility treatments. Beyond the physical and financial exhaustion, the monthly anticipation and hope can be crushed when treatment takes longer than anticipated.
Sometimes the treatment works, and a couple conceives for a short time and then loses the pregnancy.
All that effort, energy and emotion put into so many weeks of care and treatment are lost suddenly, and couples are left to grieve what they never even got to fully experience.
It’s a lonely experience that is confusing to those experiencing it and to those that love them. How does one find the balance of caring for and caring about the couple? Is it intrusive to ask how things are going, or does it show support and that you are paying attention?
A basic guideline is to listen and keep showing up. Make statements without questions. Seek ways to actually offer help when there is opportunity.
Most visits to the doctor’s office take place early in the morning; can you offer to help carpool? Child care of an older sibling? Send a note or card that says you remember and they are on your mind.
For more information about emotional support and JFCS’ Fertility Fund, visit jfcsphilly.org or call 866-JFCS-NOW.
Dvora Entin is a licensed therapist and director of Jewish Family and Children’s Service Ma’oz, which is designed to strengthen the Orthodox Jewish community through mental health education, counseling and outreach.