I have worked as a social worker in the field of fertility for 13 years, including in an in vitro fertilization unit in a Jerusalem hospital. There, I learned the names of the procedures, conditions, and medical terminology, as well as the effects of the hormone treatments and procedures. I saw that though the medical staff cared deeply about their patients, they had little time and resources for emotional care. I also witnessed the importance of patients speaking openly about their infertility concerns and the dilemmas they faced. And, sometimes, I noticed that conversations about the emotional aspects of the treatments were richer if they were held in environments separate from where the individual witnessed her body failing to produce.
Conversations about infertility help individuals to realize that their situations don’t define them. Exposure is a key element of the journey of infertility. My life becomes an open book. A well-meaning medical staff person is giving me difficult instructions about how to bring my child into this world. My intimate life and physical existence have become notes on charts, a matter of timing, and an assortment of medications. I spend a great deal of time in waiting rooms. So much waiting: waiting to know my egg quality, or the sperm count and motility, or if my hormones are going up, or if my uterine lining is ready. I wait to take my hormones at a given hour of the day — whether I’m at work, at home, on the road, or in my bed. I wait in line for blood tests, ultrasounds, doctors, nurses, and technicians. I wait for the results of my tests, which I often do not understand completely.
In some communities, the halakhah prohibiting masturbation complicates treatment. For example, a man who has been instructed all his life not to “waste” sperm is now in a position in which he must give sperm, either for testing or, ultimately, for fertilization. The strain of acting against one’s upbringing can impact the individual and the couple. I need to do something forbidden to create a child? How can that make sense? Add to that questions regarding masculinity when a man can’t produce sperm or when the bedroom becomes a laboratory. Our “intimacy” suddenly becomes “outamicy”: So many people know where we are in our cycle, and the act that was once connected to love is now connected to results.
It becomes difficult not to feel guilty or lay blame when either my partner or I are defined as a problem. Rather than share the impact of infertility and its treatment, I may feel as though I must protect my spouse — not share with family or friends the rigors of daily life and its impact on our relationship. We protect each other from becoming “the one with the problem” and the one feeling inadequate. Because the treatment often strains relationships — it’s so easy to throw around angry words and blame — rebuilding trust and love after that is essential.
Sometimes, facing the pressures of family and society, we may find it easier to isolate ourselves rather than to acknowledge the pain of explaining, answering questions, or feeling guilt or blame. Many of these problems are rarely addressed openly, so I will create my own parallel universe: Let me look okay; let me pass as “normal” as we continue to try all of the suggestions people offer. There are “healers,” diets, holistic medicines and herbs, and, of course, prayers and blessings.
I might even begin to blame myself. Maybe I’m not doing enough. Or, maybe I’m doing too much. I should have changed doctors; I should have taken more herbs. I shouldn’t have walked to the park or washed dishes after the implantation; that is why it didn’t “stick.”
This is what I hear daily at Merkaz Panim, the center I founded in Jerusalem. I also hear such longing that a woman will say that it’s okay if it doesn’t work now as long as she knows it will at some point. She can wait. But there is no guarantee.
I have had the great privilege of being witness to men and women who have overcome such pain, and who have discovered that their intrinsic value is not only as a potential parent, but also as a person influencing the world, creating things even when they are not able to create a life. I have seen people discover new dreams and sometimes let go of old dreams that will never be.email print