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Thursday, February 08, 2007


First there were the begats where everybody created somebody while I could create nobody. Then there was Sarah and Rebecca and Rachel with her pleas for motherhood. Tucked into Haftorah (1) portions were Hannah and Michal. The endless "womb openings" and commandments to be fruitful and multiply.

I could not spend one more week hearing about barren Biblical women.

Two-and-a-half years ago, we took a break from shul (2) and the break ended a few weeks ago. We knew that we couldn't return to our old shul--there was no way I was going to be able to pick up that red Etz Hayim (3) and not turn to Rachel's story like a freakin' fanatic if I was sitting in the same seat where I had sat for years, wishing for motherhood.

Trying on shuls is sort of like jeans. When it fits and makes your ass look good, you know it instantly. And when the shul feels wrong the moment you sit down for the service, it's like standing in a dressing room at the Gap and thinking, "it's me; isn't it? If I just lost a few pounds, these jeans would look better. No; it's them. Their clothes have gone to crap. Who the hell would fit into these? Fuck it. I wish I hadn't even tried this on."

We tried on many crappy pairs of jeans to find this fit.

We were pretty much on our final shul when it clicked. I can't really put my finger on why this shul and not another. They have the same books, the same service, the same faceless congregants as all the other new shuls we considered. But this one felt good. It fit me. And instantly finding a new home made me realize how much I had longed to have a home for the last two-and-a-half years.

The only thing (and even things that fit perfectly can have an "only thing") was that the service was so kid-centric. Next to the main ark (4) was a mini-ark filled with mini-Torah that the mini-children carried in their mini-arms behind the normal-sized rabbi to kick off the Torah service. The rabbi paused in the middle of the service to read a picture book to the kids who gathered in a small semi-circle next to the bimah (5). Lollipops were passed out to kids at the end of the service.

It was like entering a big, Jewy Willy Wonka factory without the river of chocolate. Or oompa loopas. With perhaps the only ties to Willy Wonka being the candy at the end of the service. But still.

And I get it. The future of the shul rests on the rabbi's ability to include the kids in the service and commit them to continuing the traditions. If you don't hook the kids, you're looking at a congregation that will die out at the end of the current generation. So I get it--I understand why catering to parents and children is a good investment in an age where tradition has the possibility of falling by the wayside in favour of secularism.

But what about everyone else? What about the single guy I was talking to after the service? What about the widows or the single women? What about those who decided not to have children? What about those who can't have children? Where do they fit into this bigger picture? Where is their lollipop?

This is what I was thinking as I was sitting through the service--how could the rabbi change it so that it was all inclusive? So that the children could be celebrated and made to feel like little kings and queens for the day with the Torah parade and quiet play area in the back of the shul while at the same time wrapping an infertile person in a much needed hug? Is it possible? Or are the two situations so diametrically opposed that it would be impossible to feel peace in a scene that brings you emotional pain?

And then I received this note this week from a woman who is writing a sermon specifically to reach out to infertile congregants in her church:

I am due to write [a sermon for Lent] on an Old Testament Woman and the theme is "being still and finding G-d in the storms of life." I remember a post from a friend struggling with infertility about how hard church was on Mother’s Day and am sure it can be a painful reminder. I was thinking about preaching on Hannah or Sarah or one of the “barren” women that God gave a child to. Knowing so many people struggling daily with IUIs, IVF, miscarriages, etc I have been touched quite a bit about this real struggle in our society even if I’m not at a TTC point in my life yet. So a few questions for you (and your readers if you would be willing to post them?)

1. How has dealing with IF changed your view of God (if you had one?)
2. Would it cause more pain to hear it talked about in church or be a comfort to open a dialogue?
3. For those who have succeeded in having children, has that also changed your view of God?
4. How does the Bible stories of Hannah, Sarah and the other “barren” women in the Bible relate to your own IF journey?

I’m also open to other thoughts and comments. My biggest concern is that I don’t want to do this if it would be more painful to hear for people. I don’t know who might be hearing it and I don’t want to be insensitive or seem like I have easy answers. I would like to be true to the experience and the emotions even though I have just been an IF supporter thus far.

For me, the second question brought out the most internal debate. To give some background, there is a short sermon-like speech given after the Torah portion called a "d'var Torah". In some shuls, the rabbi gives this speech, but in my old shul, a congregant (who was chosen beforehand) prepared the commentary on that particular passage in the Torah--perhaps providing more information to help the listener understand the passage or connecting it to current events. Which meant that people tended to choose a passage that they could speak about comfortably. The burden wasn't on the rabbi (we didn't have a rabbi--the service was community-led) to be everything for everyone.

So would it be a pain or a comfort to hear a d'var Torah on the desperation of Rachel, let's say? I started debating this in my head. How would I feel if it was brought up, but not done justice? Would I just be happy that someone was recognizing me as a part of the community and giving me a voice even if it wasn't perfect? How would I feel if it was a woman with seven kids giving the d'var Torah and I knew that she conceived each one on the first try because she's always talking about that fact? Would it matter if it was a really rockin' d'var Torah that somehow truly captured the infertile experience?

The best d'var Torah I ever heard was on Leviticus 18:22. It's a hot-button portion and I've heard some pretty crappy divrei Torah (6) in the past. But one year, the d'var Torah was delivered by J, a gay congregant. Rather than tiptoeing around the history of offensiveness over this passage, he said the words that made everyone cringed--the ones people like to sweep under the rug and pretend aren't a big old pile of hot-buttons "You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; it is abomination." And then he paused and said something along the lines of this (though far more eloquently): "it's true--I cannot lie with a man as I could with a woman. The hardware is too different. Therefore, I see this statement as fact: I cannot lie with a man as I would with a woman. I lie with him in a different way." The d'var Torah was about homophobia and how it tears apart community. It was a brilliant, honest, raw account of his own experience as a gay man sitting in a heterocentric shul listening to Leviticus 18:22 come around every year.

Which brings back the question: can someone outside the experience ever speak as honestly and as eloquently as someone inside the experience? Is it the speaker or the personal experience that truly has the power?

On one hand, I don't know if a straight man could have delivered the same emotion even if he was speaking the same words. On the other, as a writer, I don't believe that one has to go through the experience to speak eloquently on the topic. Think of all the books with a believable female protagonist written by a male author. All the stories written that speak to the emotions at the core of an experience that could not possibly have been experienced by the author.

But...I keep coming back to the word "but." I don't know how I would feel--would it be the best moment ever in shul if my rabbi marched in this week with a d'var Torah about infertility or should I just sit in the shul, understanding that we're not living in a perfect world and in this world, the kids get the lollipops and I get to simply watch them.

Now with a glossary of all my Jewlicious terms...

(1) You've heard of the Torah, but what the hell is a Haftorah? A long time ago, when Jews were forbidden to read the Torah, the rabbis got around the edict by substituting portions from the Prophets in lieu of reading the Torah. They tried to find portions from the Prophets that matched the message of the portion of the Torah they were forbidden to read. Even though Jews can now read the Torah, they still read the corresponding Haftorah portions each week. And that's one to grow on... (Back)

(2) What is shul? It's just another way of saying synagogue. (Back)

(3) The book favoured by the Conservative Movement in Judaism. It contains the Torah--or Bible--and all the Haftorah portions along with commentary.

(4) The ark is where the Torah is kept. (Back)

(5) The bimah is the little stage where the rabbi (or whoever is reading the Torah) stands (Back)

(6) The plural of d'var Torah (Back)


Anonymous said...

Okay, where do I start? I love this post.
Sariel and I continue our hunt (not very vigorously, I admit) for the perfect, or almost perfect, shul home for us. We have not yet found the perfect one...either our asses look too big or too small...or the pockets are weird know! the shul i used to belong to was a bit too kid-centric for me...and i often felt guilty about that...anyway, you've given me hope that we may still find that perfect fit, where we feel comfy and looking our best!

and would i like to hear a d'var torah on in/fertility? and who can/should give it? hmmmmm......for me it would definitely depend on my mood...would i feel singled out? 'special'? sometimes i think i would love to be validated and included...other times i'd want a refuge from thinking about it, i may see shul as a place to focus on other things (yah, like that's possible in a place crawling with families!)....

as for who is giving the d'var torah...there are a couple of male rabbis/leaders who i could actually imagine giving one sensitively...i could imagine that it would actually be okay for them to speak on it...but not just anyone....

okay, that's a long and rambling response...thanks for've given me some food for thought!


Journeywoman said...

I have a few posts on this subject, you're welcome to pass them along.

Hope this helps.

Excellent post

Bea said...

Would it be the wrong time for me to mention that, if there's ever a treat hand-out for the kids at Church, my Dad lines up too?

And they give him one?

This post is going to take some thinking about. (I'm presuming it's not a Jewish-specific or even religious question, but relates to how people feel about speeches given on infertility by the un-infertile.)

Let me think it over.


The Town Criers said...

Exactly, Bea--it's not just about Church or synagogue. It's about how you feel about hearing someone speak on the emotional side of infertility (the science is perhaps a little less grey, though y'all know how I feel about the way the media sensationalizes advances in treatments).

I should totally go for the lollipop this weekend...

serenity said...

Hmmmm. Good and very thought-provoking post.

On religion: I have become less and less spiritual over the past few years; markedly so, I think, as a result of dealing with infertility.

Perhaps it's anger, or the fact that I've become very pragmatic in the past few years, but I refuse to believe in a G-d who "punishes" people by withholding what they want the most and forcing them to endure so much - all to teach a lesson.

I don't buy it. I prefer to focus on statistics and physiology and take comfort in the fact that I am doing everything I can to have our family. G-d, then, is no comfort to me. Stories of Hannah or Sarah would likely be of no comfort for me.

The religion issue aside... a person who's never experienced infertility first-hand talking about infertility... well, it's a very fine line to toe.

I see women every day on blogs and my infertility boards rant about the fertiles who "say the wrong things." Often when I read the things that are said, I am struck that what was said was really not that bad; it's more a visceral response to being placated by someone who has never been there.

But at the same time I see these women rail against the inequity of silence; complaining about how infertility is never really discussed.

Like I said, it's a fine line to toe. So back to the church issue. If her message is "believe in G-d... and all your dreams will come true" - coming from someone who's never experienced infertility... for me, that would be painful to hear. Because that's akin to saying "just relax."

But that's just me. And I don't really have the best relationship with G-d right now. So take this all with a grain of salt.

Tara said...

Great post..and so much to say. It’s hard to know where to begin. I’ll try to limit myself and just stick with the 4 questions.

1. I was angry with God for a long, long time. I wouldn’t say my “view” changed though because deep down I always had faith that my infertility was within His will for me. I just was angry that it WAS His will for me. I stopped going to church in May of 2004 after a very embarrassing episode on Mother’s Day (loud crying, sobbing and I just said that’s it…all I do is cry in church, cry at Bible studies, I’m getting nothing out of any of this and there is no place for us in this or any church). I became very angry that churches seemed to fit only the people who were married with children. Only recently have we begun discussing finding another church (we have since moved) and I would like to find one again, but like shul, it’s hard to find one that “fits.”

2. For me, hearing it would be a comfort, even if it was just an acknowledgement. This past Christmas season when we did try a local church, there was a mention of all of the people for whom Christmas was difficult and to please remember them. I thought that was SO nice because it said that the church knew holidays weren’t happy for everyone and it told me they realized there were more people in the church than the happy families.

3. I don’t have my child yet, but he’s on the way (surrogate due July 4). As I said in #1, my view never changed, but I am now reminded of why I have the faith that I have. I can now see his will more clearly and it’s exciting to me now to see what it is that He has done and is doing, not only in my own life, but in the lives of others who are involved in our surrogacy. It encourages me that God’s plan was SO much bigger for us than I thought it was. It’s humbling, too.

4. I was encouraged by those stories, more for the fact that they were included in the Bible at all, rather than the outcome of the stories….It made it clear to me that God recognizes the heartache that is caused by infertility.

2 more things: because of how I answered #2, I don’t think the person delivering the message has to be someone who has experienced the particular heartache. I wouldn’t expect a short sermon to be able to “do justice” to such a big topic like infertility. But a encouragement and little education can go a long way! I think it’s great

Also, I posted this on my blog the other day because I felt it was really encouraging to the infertile population (who reads the Bible anyway) and actually also encouraging to anyone going through any type of serious struggle:

Again, great post, Mel. Your first line cracked me up.

aah0424 said...

This is a tough one, Mel. I've always had a feeling of spirituality, but not necessarily religion. It is hard for me to say what exactly I believe in when I was raised by a Jewish mother and a Catholic father (who both by the way are more agnositc then anything). I do however have my moments where I question the higher power for all the shit that my husband has had to go through and now infertility was added to the pile. I guess I never had a strong enough relationship with religion to say that infertility has changed it.

As for hearing someone that doesn't have experience with infertility discussing it-I'm on the fence. I do appreciate it when those outside of the experience can look at it rationally and with compassion. I don't think that they can give a true and accurate account of what we go through though. I would rather hear personal stories. If someone one outside of the experience was talking about it I would think it was a nice gesture, but it wouldn't touch me in the way personal stories do. It would feel good that someone was trying to be there for us, but the true power of things for me are from those of us that know this hell first hand.

~r said...

IF definitely affected my faith. At my lowest points, I lost nearly all of my faith. I felt like all the stories of a kind, loving God were lies, and any justification of the pain and suffering brought on by IF was just a platitude to soothe the person who was suffering.

Even now, I don't believe that babies are miracles granted by a higher power. I can't believe that because there are too many deserving people who are being 'tested' and too many undeserving people who are 'blessed'. That's the only way I can hold on to my faith now. I see all the suffering going on, and refuse to believe that it's the decision of a deity - it's simple biology and , in many cases, luck.

It is very, very difficult for someone who has not experienced infertility to do justice to such a sensitive topic... but at the same time, it's something that needs to be acknowledged. The fact that this woman is asking for advice and guidance speaks to her sensitivity; I hope that sensitivity will come through when she's speaking.

In the end, I'd rather hear someone trying to talk about IF with sensitivity than to not hear about it at all. That secrecy and lack of acknowledgement just adds to the feelings of isolation and inadequacy.

Carlynn said...

What a great post. I'm glad you have found a shul that fits.

I am just out in the cold at the moment but it is where I am happy. I haven't even really looked for a church where I feel comfortable but my feelings about God change depending on my mood. In my blackest moods I struggle, I fight with God, I am angry with him for what I perceive as unfairness. On a good day I have faith that it will be ok. I struggle to understand why this is happening and I struggle to grasp God's hand in all of this and yet there are times when I feel surrounded by so much love in the midst of a terrible day. (Good grief, I am such a drama queen, so many terrible days!).

I couldn't tell you what my impression of God is now. I still believe but my faith has been shaken down to its roots. I don't know how to explain the sadness in the world but then I suppose, who does?

I would like to hear the topic discussed in spiritual terms but I think that if it was done clumsily, it would make me more angry than if it wasn't done at all. I think it is a very difficult topic to discuss. I would vote for an infertile woman to speak on it, and not just someone who took 6 months to fall pregnant.

decemberbaby said...

Wow. I'm loving this post.

We've found a shul where we're comfortable. We chose it because it's small, pretty much run by the congregation, very participatory and warm. And no church-y choir (I'm surprised how often I find those in conservative and orthodox shuls). There are families and young children, but there are also a lot of retirees, single people of all ages, and some gay couples. Most of the programming is adult ed or geared toward the whole community (parties, etc), so I don't really feel my childlessness so much there.

Now, about God and me... I have lots of thoughts, bear with me.

on God's plan - I HATE hearing that "it's part of God's plan for you"... because if that's true, it means that God's plan for me right now is to be depressed, discouraged, and alienated from friends and family. In which case... God's plan sucks. On the other hand, nobody ever promised that God's plan was for every person to be happy and get what they want. But if God's plan is for me to never get what I so desperately want, then I thumb my nose in God's general direction.

It does cause me incredible pain to think that God doesn't want me to have children. Or that God really wants me to struggle for years before achieving that goal. So yeah, I have issues with God. Especially for putting the desire to be a mom in my heart and then stomping all over it.

Sermons... I think if someone were to speak about infertility, I would only find it comforting if they stayed away from the usual platitudes that "it's God's plan", "keep the faith and God will eventually reward you", etc. I would want it to be a sermon that actually addresses the pain of infertility and the unsatisfactory nature of most religious responses. (see my blog post from yesterday)

Yes, the religious community needs to do a better job of acknowledging this. Maybe a documentary is the way to go... a la "Trembling before God" (which I just saw, and it's awesome).

Any amateur filmmakers out there? Wanna collaborate?

sharah said...

I started to comment, and then realized that I had a whole post built up instead.

My response is here:

abogada said...

Infertility hasn't changed my view of God, but it will certainly be one of the many questions to which I want an answer in the next life. Especially when I see so many abused children in homes where they were conceived easily. The "why" of it all just consumes me sometimes.

reichmann said...

julAs always, another thought-provoking post, Mel. It brings up a lot of emotions for me.
During our time TTC, I found the hardest thing to endure (even harder than baby showers, brit, etc.) was going to synagogue, particularly on the High Holy Days. It wasn't necessarily anything that the Rabbi mentioned during the service, but the sight of all of those families with young children, celebrating the most Holy of days together. After the second year of holding back tears during the services, I swore to DH that if we weren't pregnant by the next year, I would not go to services during the High Holy days.
One memory that sticks in my head, though, was the sermon given by the (female, single) assistant rabbi at Kol Nidre the second set of High Holy Days that we had been TTC but still weren't successful.
She told the story of a donkey and a farmer. One day the donkey falls to the bottom of an empty well on the farmer's property. The farmer can't figure out how to get the donkey out. He calls all of his friends and asks for their advice- how do you get the donkey out of this very deep, very dark, very narrow hole? Nothing they try works, so the farmer sadly decides that the most humane thing to do is to shovel dirt into the hole, covering the donkey and suffocating him so that he has a quicker death than starving at the bottom of this well for who knows how long.
So the farmer and his friends start shoveling dirt into the hole. And the weirdest thing happens- every time they throw dirt in the hole and on top of the donkey, he shakes it off and takes a step up onto the dirt that just fell. Time and time again: the farmers throw dirt down the hole, the donkey shakes off the dirt and takes a step up. And up. And up. Until he's at the top of the hole, and he reaches level ground, steps out of the well, and merrily goes about his way.
The moral of the story, the Rabbi explained, is that we have two choices when we're stuck at the bottom of a very deep, dark hole. We can sit there and do nothing, and suffocate, or we can shake it off and take a step up.
I sat there with tears rolling down my face (the story still makes me cry) because even though the sermon didn't specifically address infertility, it spoke to me and to the desperation I felt at the bottom of that hole we call infertility. I made that moral my motto from then on-- I knew I had a choice: I could wallow in self-pity and suffocate, or I could shake it off and take a step up.
So I guess this is my long way of saying that a sermon doesn't have to address infertility, per se, to have an impact on someone like us who is suffering.

mandolyn said...

I'm loving this post. I'm going to give it some serious thought and get back with you on my responses to your questions.

Aurelia said...

I love reichmann's story about the donkey. THAT would be a great sermon, at any church or shul.

Our church has a specific mass called the children's mass which is very like the service at your shul. It's filled with crying babies, and toddlers and the priest reads to the kids, etc. Kids can come other times, but rarely do, unless they are a lot older.

As for my relationship with God, well I blogged about it a bit in my post on anger, but I have to admit, I was really angry at him for a long long time. Still am. I attend Church, but I'm not really sure I believe in God anymore. There's only so many times you can bury a child, and still think there is a God.

As for who would give a speech, definitely someone who has gone through infertility, or at least struggled to have his/her kids. Otherwise, they will just never "get it". They cannot relate in the same way.

GLouise said...

The subject of infertility is so rarely addresses in places of worship! I would love to see more ministers address the heartache of this topic.
Infertility is such an isolating experience, I would prefer to see someone at least TRY to address it and not get it 100% right, then to totally ignore it altogether.

Bobby and Ivy said...

I've thought this very thing out over and over again, and here's the conclusion that I came to:

God had a plan for me. He took something from my biological makeup and formed a plan for me. It amazes me to this day that He took two very horrible situations and in one fell swoop, built a family. And I believe He was able to do this because I followed his plan instead of making up my own. I had a choice to make, and I made it based on what was right for me and my husband. And I have to say, His plan is so much better than my wildest, best, happiest dreams could have realized. I had no idea that while I was praying for children that there were three precious babies waiting for me. I had no idea that when I told God I wanted a house full of kids, He answered my prayer. And now, not only have two broken families been joined together, but we have another addition on the way. A total miracle in my eyes considering how long it took us to find out we may never have biological kids, were on the pill, and then one day, my ovaries woke up. That's why we named our baby Samuel. Because like Hannah, Sarah, and all of the other infertile women of the Bible, I had prayed to God to break through my emptiness and fill it with a child. And He said no. He gave me four. And I thank Him everyday for knowing better than me and for allowing me to experience the joys of building my family in two ways.

I have to say, through all of that, that going to church was horrific. I did not have an infertile friendly church. In fact my church seems super fertile and when I was going through the worst of my struggle, they abandoned me and I will never forget that. And yes, we did find another church to go to. I am still very angry for the way I was tossed aside and I hope that no one else has to feel that. I wear my pompegranate string proudly and hope to run into people who see and understand it's meaning and feel they can come to me for help. I also plan on writing a book on this very topic. Coping with infertility and finding hope. I will never do to anyone what that church did to me.

In summary, my faith is stronger than ever and I now have a more comfortable home on Sunday morning.

Elizabeth said...

I'm really glad for people who manage to keep their hold on faith even through trauma and despair. It hasn't been possible for me. Although in my case, IF came after the fact, after other losses shook my world view apart. I've been drifting away from my faith slowly for the past 8 years, and only ttc for 2, so this latest blow was more like "ok, just one more thing. I should have known." I agree (and have blogged a little bit on the topic) that formal/public religious practice can be really painful and alienating for the IF person/couple - the fecund-family-centricity of most services I've attended certainly do not make me WANT to go to church. But I grew up very religious, and still associate with a lot of religious people, so a couple friends have said things like "God will honor your desire to conceive," or "children are our inheritance from God" when I've told them we're ttc. It makes me want to scream.

I do think that it would be a huge step forward just to have churches acknowledge the pain of infertility. I think it's harder in smaller congregations where there may be fewer infertile members, or even just one. I think it relates to larger issues of how churches handle the social pressure on individuals to appear "perfect" and sinless, vs. the real need people have to bring their brokenness to a place where they can find healing and love.

Southern Comfortable said...

Wow. This is a great post.

Every Sunday at Mass, we say the Prayers of the Faithful. It's just a long list of petitions, during which we pray for the Pope, the Church, the President and government leaders, our bishop and priests, the sick, the dead, the poor, the oppressed, and so forth. Sometimes, they'll throw in a special prayer for parents or expectant mothers. Every time I hear that petition, I wish that some Sunday they'd add a petition for those struggling with infertility. I'd just love to hear it at least mentioned. I'd like to be acknowledged, you know?

As for who would preach a homily on infertility, it's pretty clear that in the Catholic Church it would be someone who hasn't experienced it. :-) I do feel like the priest would need to tread lightly. There is so much focus in the Church on children and family and being open to life.

I honestly can't, at this moment, wrap my brain around the best way to approach the topic in a homily. I suppose I would want to hear that children are a pure, un-deserved gift-- that those who have them, and have them easily, don't do so because God thinks they're apt to be better parents.

I might want to hear a positive message about adoption-- that God entrusted Joseph to be Christ's earthly father, that God adopts us all as sons and daughters, and so forth.

I would probably want to hear that it's actually okay to be angry with God sometimes, and that He will love us and comfort us no matter our anger.

As for how infertility has affected my relationship with God, it really depends on the day. The last time I had an ultrasound and discovered I was-- again-- going to ovulate on the side where I have no tube, I was downright ticked off at Him. More often, I just pray and pray to have a baby. On my best days (which are few), I simply pray for the strength and grace to handle any outcome, whether I ever get pregnant or not. Those prayers are rare, because at this point I just can't imagine ever being okay with not being able to have a baby.

Long and rambling, but there it is.

May said...

The last time I heard infertility mentioned in Church, was at a Baptism last year. Apparently, being a mother is the true natural state for a woman, and a childless woman can never receive the honour and praise due to a mother.

So that made me feel good.

Admittedly I've never had any faith, but I grew up among Catholics and Jews (heck, yes, my family is complicated too) and both sides of my family seem to be obsessed with motherhood as the only possible path for a woman. Surely this can't really be the actual teachings of the various faiths? Can it? Even my rabidly atheistical siblings pity me because my life is 'unfulfilled'. I think I'd love to hear a message of respect and celebration for what I already am, what I already do. I'd love a community to see me as worthwhile, without constantly harping on about my lack of children as being the defining feature of my life, and the lasting judgement of my worth.

Isabel said...

When I was TTC, God felt very far away. Why would He not give me a child? Why did I have to keep trying, keep trying, with nothing from God? Feeling like God is distant and ungiving was the worst feeling in the world. If someone with a child had tried to speak to me about my struggle with God, I would not have been able to listen. Only people who had really been there with ART and IF made any sense to me.

I wanted God so badly to be there for me, and He was, but I was too hurt to gain any comfort from it. If I were attending your shul, I would probably appreciate hearing from someone who had experienced IF.

Jess said...

This is a great post. I have mixed feelings on hearing about IF, especially at church. I feel like it wouldn't be right, I feel as if it would likely miss the mark so much that hearing it would be MORE painful. HOWEVER, hearing from someone who's experiencing IF would be great, just because I LOVE awareness to be raised. HOWEVER, someone who's got, say...a bunch of kids from IVF while I fail miserably would just hurt even MORE. I also sort of cringe when hearing about the women in the bible like Sarah who were given children, because, well, I STILL DO NOT HAVE CHILDREN. It makes me feel less worthy, like maybe I'm just doing something wrong. Maybe I'M not faithful enough and THAT'S why we are still "barren."

Plus, I hate the word barren.

I've pondered offering a women's group lesson in infertility. I feel a need to SHARE our journey, but hesitate because with many new babies and pg friends sitting in church, I don't want to come off the wrong way. Plus, I don't want to get a bunch of sympathy, that's the LAST thing I want, actually. I just want to raise awareness.

I have felt that IF and our pregnancy loss has brought me closer to God and refined my faith in ways I might not have imagined. It's made me more compassionate to other's struggles. Less quick to know it all, and also forced me to depend on Him and not US, which was, as successful kids at the age of 20 and 21, too easy to fall into. We could do anything until we hit IF. Although it's painful, it's an obvious lesson. However, it has long ago been learned. I'm ready for baby.

I feel like IF has hurt my feeling of community, both at church and in my family and within our friends. As all our cousins got pg one by one, and some twice, and our friends, too, and numerous people in church, including a couple who did 1 IVF and got triplets....I began to feel more and more....singular and in a way that wasn't special and nice like maybe I felt before (when at 20,, we had our lives TOGETHER, owned a business, built a house, etc). I felt like the only 20 year old on the PLANET who could not get knocked up. And one by one, people have proved that WE are the ONLY ONES IN OUR LIFE that can't get and stay pregnant eventually. I hope to change that, but for now, we're ALONE, truly and surely. And that makes church, with its children's sermon and treats, with its pregnant ladies and happy babies, hard to bear sometimes. And that makes me sad, because I love church, but dread going sometimes.

I'm not SURE what I think about IF as a sermon. From our preacher...No. But from someone who can deliver it well, maybe. However, it would take VERY little to make me feel more alienated by it rather than better for hearing it.

And here's a link to a recent post of mine I wish people in my church (and anyone TRYING to be nice but failing miserably with a crap response) would read. If "timing" ever came up at our church, I might be tempyed to walk out. Ok. I wouldn't walk out, but I'd be TEMPTED.

Mary said...

I like to believe that God did not give me IF and that He truly grieves right along with us at each of our losses. But I also believe he gives us the strength to make it through and that the reward at the end of the journey will be more wonderful then I can imagine. I try to look at the gifts I have been given because I am IF (friends I have made, compassion and patience gained, a stronger relationship with my husband, etc.) And I believe that in the end we will be blessed in many ways, even though I am sometimes angry with God that the journey is so long and often heartbreaking. But, because of this belief if we ever have a daughter her name will be Faith.

Our church has specific child (family) centered Masses every week. It is nice to know I can choose another service and not have to listen to the simplified childrens version. And the children still have a time to experience things at their own level. My SIL's church has a special garden in memory of all children (born and unborn) who have become angels. When you lose a child or have a miscarriage flowers are planted in that child's memory and you can have a marker added. It is a very peacful spot. I wish that somehow it could include children who are wished for and dreamed of but have not made it to us yet.

Karaoke Diva said...

I blah blah blah'd about my views on religion and IF and the church in general here:

Adrienne said...

So much of dealing with IF is feeling heard, yes, but I think it's also knowing, being surrounded by, others who have been where you are (or are right there now) so the loneliness isn't so profound. I would certainly appreciate this woman's heartfelt attempt to speak to my pain, but I don't know that I would truly feel spoken to.

I didn't have a relationship with G*d before this began, and find myself now trying to build one. This is probably a gross generalization, but it seems that those who had a relationship with G*d before IF, have found that IF is draining their faith. I wonder if these aren't just two sides of the same coin: I'm searching for a closer relationship with G*d because I fear that the lack is why I'm suffering so; those who trusted in G*d before this began are pulling away, because it feels as if G*d has left them to their suffering.

j said...

Really great post, M.

1. How has dealing with IF changed your view of God (if you had one?)

I've done about as much praying to G-d since starting the whole fertility thing as I did when my dad was ill and dying. My "baby please" prayers are numerically overtaking the "don't let him die" prayers. The prayers didn't work then, and they seem to not be working now. But I DO think he/she/it is listening. So I keep praying and believing. So I guess, not much has changed.

2. Would it cause more pain to hear it talked about in church or be a comfort to open a dialogue?

Selfishly, I'm going with pain. If a sermon was about IF, I'd probably cry, and I wouldn't want to appear vulnerable in public.

3. For those who have succeeded in having children, has that also changed your view of God? NA

4. How does the Bible stories of Hannah, Sarah and the other “barren” women in the Bible relate to your own IF journey?

It makes me feel like yet another barren Jew in a long line of barren Jews. I really don't think I'll make it to 98,'s hoping prayers ARE answered, and with the quickness.

mandolyn said...

Whew. I meant to post my thoughts here, but I took a look at how long they were and decided to post them on my blog...

Sara said...

Great post!

I'm only going to touch the question of how I'd feel about a sermon on infertility, for fear of writing a book. As everybody has pointed out, the issue is complex. On the one hand, it's painful not to be acknowledged. On the other hand, it's also painful to be misunderstood. I don't think that infertile people are just oversensitive. We are absurdly sensitive, as a rule, but I also think that the world is genuinely clueless and insensitive when it comes to infertility.

So, that leaves a bit of a dilemma. On the one hand, I embrace the idea of spreading a message of compassion and understanding of infertility through any medium possible. Many people rely on their places of worship for moral messages about the world and their community, so what better place to try to open people's eyes about the suffering going on all around them? On the other hand, these kinds of discussions are dangerous. People who are childless by choice may feel attacked for their choice. Infertiles may feel singled out and exposed. Singles past a "certain age" may feel like they're being told in yet another not-so-subtle way that the clock is ticking. Worst of all, the person giving the d'var torah may get it wrong, and simultaneously anger/hurt the infertile community, while misleading the fertiles about the nature of infertility.

I do think that for a fertile to talk about the feelings involved in infertility is often inappropriate. It depends on the person and the situation, of course. A man may very well be able to accurately depict the feelings of a fictitious woman in a novel, but that doesn't mean that he has any right to stand in front of a group of women and tell them how they do or should feel.

I guess that I would very much appreciate public acknowledgement of the fact that not everybody that wants kids gets to have them easily, or indeed at all. I would also appreciate acknowledgement that for many people, this is deeply painful. I would probably weep tears of gratitude for a public acknowledgement of the fact that it's not our fault. Of the fact that we're not different from other people in any other discernible way (we're nice or not, healthy or not, fat or not, old or not, have checkered pasts or not, etc., just like anyone else). Of the fact that it could happen to anybody. Of the fact that it's not OK. Of the fact that it's not something that we should have to just accept.

But, I do think that a fertile woman or man holding forth about the pain of infertility in detail runs the risk of sounding insincere, unless she's very careful to focus on her own perspective, as a friend of an infertile, rather than pretending to be able to truly understand the perspective of an infertile.

On particularly painful days, like mother's day, I think that a special blessing for those who are trying to become mothers, or for mothers who have lost their children, would be appropriate.

Good topic. Hard topic.

Sophia said...

This became a post on my blog : check it out and feel free to use anything on my blog or in my comments:

Bea said...

It's all been said!

I was going to stick to the question of whether it's good to hear a non-infertile person talk on the subject.

Some people have pointed out public acknowledgement is good, trying to make out you understand when you don't... no. Even an infertile person would have to be careful to not put across the idea that s/he represents all infertile people everywhere. So I guess, yes - talk, sure, but stick with what you know.


Flmgodog said...

Wow...quite a post.
I thought I would leave my thoughts here but after loking at others I think I will put my post up on my own blog.
I can totally relate to "reichmann", as our Rabbi gave the donkey sermon this last Kol Nidre and I was thinking about it just the other day.