When I learned of this opportunity to tell Thrive Global readers about Hadassah’s reConceiving Infertility initiative, I felt compelled to share my story. As June is Worldwide Infertility Month and since, at the National Convention in 2019 Hadassah introduced this topic to its membership to establish a national advocacy campaign, I decided to share some elements of our experiences going through this arduous process.
I have been a Hadassah Life Member since 1988 and have held several positions in two chapters in the Hadassah Southern New England Region. Hadassah has been part of my life since my childhood when I used to see the Hadassah Magazine in our home every month. The organization was important to my mother and became important to me as a symbol of meaningful values to be passed from one generation to the next. The problem was that I wasn’t sure there was going to be a next generation.
My husband and I were married toward the end of 1986. My parents, from Germany (Lithuania) and Poland, survived the Shoah. My husband’s parents were from Russia and Poland and had different immigration stories. We met in New York City where we had lived for three years before getting married. We waited a couple of years before trying to have children even though we were already in our 30s.
We relocated to St. Louis for 18 months, followed by a move to Boston where we have lived for 33 years. Realizing that we needed some medical counseling, I was given three names of infertility specialists. I chose one, randomly, and pursued a long course of treatments including approximately 8-10 intrauterine inseminations following initial testing of parts of my reproductive system. The staff at that medical practice tended to say patients’ names loudly in their office and other aspects of privacy were not dealt with in a sensitive manner so we moved on to a different practice.
We were more pleased with the personnel at the next, larger practice which recommended two courses of IVF as well as a donor egg procedure following the unsuccessful prior procedures (Writing about this brings up a good deal of sadness even after all these years). When it was time for the first injection for the IVF procedure which was given in the doctor’s office, I almost passed out. Therefore, preparing for these procedures was psychologically challenging in that I went to a hospital for a monthly injection which had to be done on certain days at certain times. I remember having to leave a special Thanksgiving celebration dinner early because we had to go to the hospital for my injection. To prepare for the egg donor procedure, I had to give myself injections. Although one of these procedures yielded a numerically positive blood test, the results were soon short-lived. After the last attempt was unsuccessful, we took a break.
After some months of hiatus, we chose to pursue more treatments with an independent doctor. I don’t recall how many months we stayed with him. The procedures yielded the same unsuccessful results. During this period, at one of my community relations activities, I told a rabbi that I would offer to speak to anyone or a group in his congregation who might need information or would want to hear about my experiences going through the trials of infertility. He offered no word of consolation or appreciation for my offer. It seemed that he was uncomfortable with the topic or thought he might divulge confidentiality if he invited me to speak. I thought it was a peculiar response for a rabbi.
Overall, we spent nine to ten years pursuing these medical treatments, taking breaks in between them to deal with the disappointment and to reassess the next moves. Those treatments took a large toll on us emotionally, mentally and physically as I described; and the time commitments were great. Finally, as I was reaching my mid-40s, we understood that it was time to stop medical intervention, realizing that we still had the option of adoption.
From a social point of view, there were personal repercussions since people related to us as “non-parents.” In 1990, when we were relatively new to our area, we changed synagogues. Ninety-nine percent of the members there were families with children, and it was a very family-focused congregation. Another childless couple we knew left a few years later. We learned, many years later, after becoming friends with a couple with grandchildren, that they had believed that we chose not to have children, and that we were, therefore, selfish. Years later, when they learned that we had chosen to adopt, they changed their opinion and were happy to welcome our children.
After ten and a half years of marriage, we decided to look to adoption as the only way to form a family. We pursued that avenue and, over the next six months, started the long, tedious process of inquiring about agencies and procedures. Dealing with the local agency for legal matters and social work had its challenges. My husband and I agreed to pursue an international adoption since we favored the more private approach taken with this process and we chose an agency in Pennsylvania upon the recommendation of a cousin who had successfully adopted a child from Russia through that group.
The process was arduous with endless amounts of paperwork to be filed with two agencies and meetings with social workers to be accomplished. There were office meetings and in-home meetings. There were videos and photographs of children that we had to decide upon, having little information about them and their birth parents. We made our choice, notified the agency and had to get prepared to become parents. We had our own personal travel plans which we wanted to pursue before taking on our new responsibilities. After a final year of waiting, and 12 years of marriage, we came home from Russia with our son, our first child.
Adopting a child from Russia required either two trips: one to meet the child and visit him or her for a few days in the orphanage, give final approval and then go to court, followed by a second trip, three weeks later, to return to pick up the child. Or parents could stay for three weeks without leaving the country. The period in between was to allow any relative of the child to make a claim on that child. On our first trip, after spending two days visiting the orphanage, we were in court in Moscow on Thanksgiving Day. We returned to Russia the next month to spend one week with our 19-month-old baby before embarking on our new adventure. Despite our exhausting ordeal, we decided to stop by my mother’s apartment where she had moved to “skilled nursing” care, to introduce her to her first grandchild. I took him to visit her regularly before she died when he was three years old. At that time, we decided that we would seek to adopt a little girl and initiated proceedings. Almost one year later, after a similar process, we came home with our daughter.
Any way one becomes a parent is a great joy. Nevertheless, there are lingering issues of loss for me. My mother lost almost all her immediate relatives at the hands of the Nazis. She met her extended family in the United States when she immigrated and was able to live with her aunt, who had left Europe much earlier, for one year. Her brother had been fortunate to leave Europe before the Jews were rounded up and sent to ghettos. Four months after I was born, my father and mother who had met in Europe after the war, divorced. My father, whom I never knew, left the state and eventually married again and had a son. I only learned of my half-brother six years ago after he found my phone number and left a most unbelievable message. As a side note, what was fascinating to learn was that he and his wife also went to Russia within a year of our trip and adopted twins.
All in all, what I realized was that a couple need not condemn itself to a life without children if infertility has been an obstacle. Adoption is an incredibly challenging process emotionally and the couple has so many things to consider. But if medical procedures do not rectify the situation, there is another way to build a family. There are many questions that we did not know to ask, and I encourage anyone in this situation to ask, inquire, do research on child development and ask some more. We realize that it is a privilege to be a parent and there are services and doctors who want to help couples. I also realize that there is always another family that has gone through just as many struggles if not more. What I ask is for people to have compassion for them.
Hadassah is a national nonprofit and a critical part of its mission is to advocate for women’s healthcare. The organization launched reConceiving Infertility in 2020 to raise awareness of and destigmatize, advocate for increased insurance coverage of infertility treatments at the state and national level, and empower patients women take control of their own health.
One of the elements of reConceiving Infertility is a series of videos narrated by Amy Klein, author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind. Klein’s family-building journey involved nine rounds of fertility treatments, 10 doctors and four miscarriages – in just three years. The videos, “How to Help People Struggling With Infertility During COVID-19,” “What Not To Say About Baby-Making” and “Infertility: Costs, Coverage and Creativity,” can be found at www.hadassah.org/infertility. The initiative has since created other programs and is developing new ones. Information can be found on the website.
The inability to have a child affects 6.7 million women in the US, or about 11 percent of the reproductive-age population, according to a Centers for Disease Control study. With our country’s limited access to insurance and staggeringly high cost of infertility treatments, many families incur substantial debt or are prevented from seeking treatment altogether.
reConceiving Infertility is an important step in changing the way our society addresses infertility. On a personal level, it provided the support I and my husband needed as we went through the challenging, but luckily for us, successful process of creating a family. For that, we will be forever grateful to Hadassah.