I wrote this post a long time ago, after attending a talk by Natalie Taylor at the Kolech conference on fertility. Unfortunately the topic still relevant for many couples. At the time the speaker was pregnant with twins, who were born healthy.
Natalie Taylor started off by saying that she is not an “expert” on infertility. Yet her journey as an infertile woman was honest and compelling.
She married at 28, and felt a lot of internal and external pressure to get pregnant right away. I summarized her main points, which I believe can help both infertile couples and their communities.
- Infertility is very personal. If the couple wants to share with you, they will. Don’t ask questions or make comments.
- Infertile couples have lots of unpleasant feelings. First there is the false “competition” with other couples who have married earlier or at the same time, or at the same age. Taylor found it frustrating to see pregnant women everywhere, and couples in shul with children. She feels that the synagogue is a particularly unfriendly place for infertile couples.
- Taylor often felt jealous of mothers that she knew. Eventually she grew to accept jealousy as a legitimate feeling. After all, she didn’t want any harm to come to anyone.
- Infertile couples often feel like they are going through this alone. She found a support group invaluable, and it helped release many of her tensions.
- The couple undergoes many challenges, including professionals who ask intrusive questions or give instructions regarding their intimate life.
- Taylor often felt rushed. If the staff at the hospital was on vacation because of a holiday, she missed a month of treatment, and she was unreasonably annoyed with them. At some point she and her husband decided to take a vacation and go to the Canadian Rockies. They remember it as the best vacation they ever had. She strongly advises couples to take breaks.
- She praised the staff at Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem for their sensitivity and attention to privacy. She formed close relationships with the staff, who mourned with her, as appropriate.
At the time of the talk Natalie had a toddler and was expecting twins, so she was in a different place than a woman who has not yet conceived. Perhaps this enabled her to speak out.
I believe her talk highlighted an inherent contradiction. We know we are not supposed to say anything to couples without children and I certainly don’t blame anyone for keeping their story private. But if couples don’t share, we can’t know what they are going through and learn to offer appropriate support. Just as with many “taboo” subjects, the more infertile couples are open about their conditions, the more understanding they will get from their community.
Thanks to Natalie Taylor for an important contribution to the discussion of infertility in the Orthodox community and in general.
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