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November 22, 2014 / 29 Heshvan, 5775
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From The Greatest Heights (Part III)


Life goes on, infertility or not, and there are always social obligations with other couples with children.  People don’t seem to realize that normal conversations among young parents about diapers, colds, pediatricians and babysitters can isolate and even hurt.

I believe people try this to alleviate their own discomfort, but it is important to say, unless it is an accurate familial description, calling a childless couple “uncle” or “aunt” can be very hurtful and insulting.

One of the most delicate areas we faced were the requests to serve as the kvatter at Brissim. Kvatter was a frequent topic of conversation on the ATIME boards when I was active on them a decade ago.  It is wonderful that at the time of their incredible simcha, people think of others who may benefit from the kvatter segulah, but try to think of it from the couple’s perspective.

There is no starker reminder of what is missing from a couple’s life than at a Bris.  Everyone is there to celebrate an occasion that is the focus of that couple’s dreams.  All of the smiling faces and mazal tovs echo around their broken hearts, as they can’t help but wonder if they will ever be able to host such a celebration.

It can be a very trying and painful moment.  Often, your biggest desire is to blend in with the walls and hope no one is reading your thoughts as you brave a smile.  As an integral part of the Bris, however, that is not an option. The kvatter is called and you have nowhere to hide.  Suddenly you are face to face with everything you have ever wished for: a beautiful little child. Your heart breaks, but you haven’t even started yet!

Kvatter is a very public role. With all those thoughts swirling in your head, you have to walk through the shul as the center of attention, holding the baby. Deep down you know that your fertility issues are now the public thoughts or even discussion of everyone in the shul. 

It’s not that the people are ill intentioned (although there are always those obscene yentas), but no one wants their personal challenges to be made public. Nobody wants to be seen as a nebach.  Nobody wants to be the subject of people’s pity as they discuss how many years you have been married without children. 

As a huge sports fan, I used to joke that my wife and I were the DKs (Designated Kvatters), who were often called by people we barely knew.  I firmly believe that all of those people were well intentioned, but it’s hard to describe the dread after the news of the birth of a boy, waiting for that call to be asked to jump in as the DKs. 

There were even times that we did not get the call, where we were regular guests or I was davening in shul, when the father would come running up to me at the last minute and ask me if I wanted to be kvatter.  Well intentioned gestures, I am sure, but to understand our discomfort, just to try imagine the conversation that took place immediately before that offer was made (Chaim is here.  He REALLY needs this segulah!)

Even without the added dimension of infertility, I found kvatter to be a rather intimidating process.  The baby is on a pillow, and even under the best circumstances it can be hard to tell whether the baby is secure or ready to tumble right off.  The baby is held in front, and it can be very hard to navigate a crowded shul, through doors and especially up and down steps. 

My biggest fear was the baby rolling off of the pillow and falling to the ground.  Based on that fear, and to make the process less intimidating, my wife and I had this running joke when we do the “handoff” (she hands me the baby to carry in) that if I drop one, we can be sure we would never get another request to be kvatter

About the Author: Chaim Shapiro, M.Ed is a freelance writer, public speaker and social media consultant. He is currently working on a book about his collegiate experience. He welcomes comments and feedback at chaimshapiro@aol.com or on his website: http://chaimshapiro.com/


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I have a background in counseling, and I can say that the biggest mistake that I ever made was refusing psychological help after we lost the twins. I was trying to keep my tough-guy facade going, and convinced myself that I could deal with the pain.

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Special Note: It is an unusual phenomenon that many bereaved parents share. We can almost see our age-adjusted children in our sukkah or running up to us during a family simcha. As quickly as they come, those visions seem to disappear as we go through the life cycle. They are hard moments made harder by the thoughts of not only what could have been, but what should have been.

I had to believe that things were going to be ok. They just had to be ok. We had gone through so much, had sacrificed so much and were doing everything the doctors told us to do. I remember speaking to a hesitant professor in my Ph.D. program about getting an incomplete in her class. The conversation stands out in my mind because, looking back, I can see how odd it must have seemed as I matter-of-factly told her I was too busy for coursework because my twins’ amniotic sack was bulging through my wife’s cervix.

On our first day in the antepartum unit, one of the nurses mentioned how critical every moment of pregnancy really was. “One minute in is worth two minutes out (in an incubator).” We weren’t really expecting a premature birth, but her comment put a fine point on the importance of the care my wife was receiving.

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