Members Share Their Struggles to Become Mothers
Sharing Stories of Struggle
Thank you to all those who answered our request to share your infertility journeys. Each experience offers a small window into the oftentimes heartbreaking struggle to become a mother for over 16 percent of Jewish women. As part of Hadassah’s larger efforts to decrease stigma, the magazine is sharing one of the submitted stories below. In the future, Hadassah plans to expand its story collection platform to amplify support for women fighting to become mothers. In the meantime, if you haven’t yet shared your experience and would like to, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
See related stories: Are You My Surrogate?, The Blessings and Trauma of IVF, Learning to Live My Best Life, Without Children, Hadassah Advocates for Infertility Coverage and Preserving Fertility After Cancer
I was married at the age of 39. After over a year of trying to get pregnant naturally, my husband, Mark, and I went to see an infertility specialist. His recommendation was to try clomid and artificial insemination. We knew upfront that my chances were not great due to my age. The doctor did not recommend IVF, again because of the age factor. After three or four attempts with clomid, hormone injections and artificial insemination over two years, the doctor determined that my eggs were no longer viable. At one point, we considered using a donor egg, possibly provided by my younger sister, but it all got too scary, thinking that we were tinkering with what was “meant to be.” With the help of a psychologist, we decided to accept our lives childfree.
Six years later, my husband met a neighbor who had adopted a son from Russia. After a few months of soul searching, we decided to go for it. In 2005, days after my 50th birthday, we traveled to Magnitogorsk, Russia, to bring home our beautiful daughter, Galina, who coincidentally was born on my 49th birthday.
We left the orphanage with Galina on a Friday, and lit candles with her that night at our apartment in Russia. Back home in Florida, we gave her the Jewish name Ilana Lina in front of our Reform congregation, Temple Sinai of North Dade. When Galina was 2, our rabbi, Alan E. Litwak, conducted a conversion, including an immersion in the ocean. She went on to attend a Jewish preschool and Hebrew school before becoming a bat mitzvah. She spent four summers at a Union for Reform Judaism sleepaway camp and is active in our temple’s youth group.
In 2001, after trying and trying to bear a sibling for our one “miracle” intervention daughter, I gave up and wrote a one-woman play about the trials, the heartbreak and, ultimately, the resolution. It was called A Little Bit Pregnant and played here in Anchorage, Alaska, and then in San Francisco. Even the title hints at the edge of unreality that infertile women walk; it’s how an infertile woman feels/hopes every day of her menstrual cycle.
The play goes through taking basal body temperature every morning, checking vaginal mucus, limiting diet, ovulation test kits, science books about Lh surges, checking for sperm-allergic-to-egg, centrifuging sperm, relentless sex. And every scene ends with marking a “p” on the calendar. Another failure. Angry that my husband doesn’t believe as hard as I do, that it makes a difference. Feeling the mortality of old eggs. Even going so far as taking a pregnancy test when I get my period because it might really be “implantation bleeding.”
Reading the story of Hannah in the Torah and crying, “I’ll name him Samuel, God! God, are you listening! I’ll name him Samuel!”
How’d I get past it? I was reading a mystery by Tony Hillerman called Sacred Clowns. In times of a drought, others might pray for rain. “The Navajo has the proper ceremony done to restore himself to harmony with the drought.”
Instead of praying for pregnancy, I could pray for the equilibrium to deal with whatever I get, to let go. Ha! That’s a tall order: years’ worth of budding resentments, sadness, ultimately writing a play. Learning that getting over something doesn’t mean the sad place goes away—it means it stays but you learn to live past the hole.
I am 63, so my experiences are somewhat dated. When I was younger, I experienced the triple crown of infertility, miscarriage and stillbirth. We ended up adopting our now adult son, which was a process as well. I have memories of having to run out of services during high holy days just because I heard a baby crying. A very difficult part of my life that I still remember well. Today, I am a grandparent.
Thousand Oaks, Calif.
I now have a 20-year-old son who is both an in vitro fertilization and Western Wall baby—and an 18-year-old daughter we adopted from Guatemala.
Barbara Tepper Levy
In 1991, my husband and I began testing, as we could not conceive a baby. While my cycles were not impeccable, they were O.K. Turns out the issue was with my husband. I was tested to make sure I was healthy enough to receive a sperm donation from an anonymous donor. After months of trying and a positive EPT, which was followed by a negative blood test, my doctor suggested one week on clomid, a shot of HCG and intrauterine insemination using donor sperm. In April 1994, I gave birth to the most beautiful baby boy ever!
While I was pregnant, I noticed an article in a Jewish magazine stating that my son would not be entitled to my husband’s fortune (such that it is) because he is not genetically his. We went to our Conservative rabbi because I was a little freaked out. Our then rabbi was the father of five children. He asked why we didn’t come to him when we were having difficulties. He said that everyone wants their kids to look like them and he would have advised us against having a Jewish sperm donor. I was not happy with him or the meeting.
Three years later, we began again. This time, no amount of monthly shots could get me to ovulate. We spent lots of time (thankfully, Massachusetts covered all of my infertility treatment) driving to the doctor; going for ultrasounds; going to a specific pharmacy for the medication. Nothing worked. My doctor asked me about egg donation. I said that no Jewish woman would donate her eggs to me; that I was close to 40 and didn’t want to wait 18 months for the eggs and that we could do so much more for one child than two. I feel blessed to have been able to conceive once.
Through a procedure to remove a cyst, doctors determined that I am infertile and could only have a child through IVF. I have congenial defects: only one ovary, no fallopian tubes and my uterus is half the size of a normal one. I joined Resolve and went to a support group, after which I decided to go ahead and try IVF. I started out being fearful of needles, which quickly changed. I went through approximately nine cycles of IVF (including frozen cycles) and two centers (Johns Hopkins and then GBMC-Greater Baltimore Medical Center).
The doctor at GBMC was awesome. He is Jewish and sang songs during the transfer. He gave me less than a 2 percent chance of the IVF working. On my second try with him, it worked! I got pregnant. It was twins or triplets (unknown), but I started bleeding within a week. Luckily, I was still pregnant. My miracle son, Danny, is now 18 and is a freshman in college! I am so blessed that I have my son.
I work for the federal government, and my insurance did not cover IVF. I filed a complaint of discrimination. Just last year, 20 something years later, after going through the entire hearing and appeals process, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in my favor, determining that the federal government discriminated against me by making a disability-based distinction and not providing insurance coverage for infertility treatments. The Office of Personnel Management appealed the decision. We are now waiting for a decision on the appeal.
This is only part of the story. At that time, I actually worked as a senior investigator for the EEOC, the agency that enforces the laws pertaining to the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act. Now I work for another agency as a supervisor making decisions on reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities in the workplace.
I am a past president of the Howard County Maryland chapter of Hadassah and past vice president of leadership and development for the Northern Seaboard Region.
Twenty-plus years ago, I convinced my husband that we should have children. We endured 18 months of infertility treatments and 12 months of waiting to finalize the Russian adoption of our two children My infertility was caused by a lack of progesterone, which translated into multiple miscarriages rather than an inability to conceive. So, few of the infertility approaches at the time offered us much hope; going through five miscarriages became a devastating sorrow.
My grandparents are from Russia, and at that time, Russia allowed multiple adoptions at once (we wanted to adopt two children at the same time). The process turned out to be double the length of time it should have been. What I do need to convey is this: The definition and creation of our family appeared to be in the hands of total strangers; some here in the United States, most in Russia. At times, I am still astounded that we went through with the adoption. In retrospect, so much of our experience was infused with Judaism and Jewish beliefs.
When we arrived in Ulyanovsk, Russia, we were interviewed by representatives from the Ministry of Education. They questioned us in disbelief as to why we would want to adopt the toddler identified for us—she was of Roma origin. Due to the difficulties in relying upon a translator, it took many questions before they actually asked what they intended to ask: “Why would you want to adopt a Gypsy?” (conveyed with true disgust). My response: “We feel a strong affinity to her and all Gypsies—since Russians have treated them just as poorly as they have treated Jews throughout history. We would be proud to adopt her.” Surprisingly, one of the women from the ministry was Jewish! She nodded to us with a broad grin, and that was that.
Then, at the Russian civil court, where the adoption was to be finalized, the judge asked a similar query: “You are Jewish? You plan to raise these children as Jews? Why would you raise any child, but especially our Russian children, in this religion?” (Again, conveyed with total disgust.) My shy and reticent husband, a Jew by choice, stood up promptly and responded forcefully: “I chose to become Jewish specifically because of its values around family and children. We sacrifice everything for the betterment of our children; we value family, love and compassion toward others as a result.” The judge was speechless and, once again, that was that.
And finally, at the kids’ b’nei mitzvah, in my speech to my children, I said this: “Although I have always loved being Jewish, I was never convinced of the existence of God until you became my children. Rena, you could not be more my daughter if you had come through my womb, and Pavi, you could not be more your Dad’s son if he had contributed his sperm. For us to go halfway around the world, trusting total strangers to deliver ‘our’ children to us, was a miracle directly from God. Yes, I do know now that God exists, because you are our children.”
The Online Hadassah Magazine Discussion Group presents “Struggling With Infertility,” an exclusive live web interview with Amy Klein, author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind, moderated by Lisa Hostein, executive editor of Hadassah Magazine. Register here and receive a link to watch the interview on your computer or mobile phone.