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From The Greatest Heights (Part III)


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While I certainly don’t speak for all infertile couples, I feel a brief introduction to some of the challenges that couples face would be worthwhile before I describe our treatment protocols.

It can be hard for people to understand how drastically infertility changes a couple’s lives. Suddenly the most intimate and private part of your life transforms so completely that it is almost unrecognizable. The spontaneous and carefree suddenly become frustrating and clinical. Hopes and prayers overtake love and affection. Failure and futility are confirmed every month at the very time that the physical comforting that could help soothe some of the pain is strictly forbidden.

The first feeling is of being alone.  Everyone else seems to have no problems as you watch friends and neighbors welcome yearly additions. Smiling and wishing a hearty mazal tov becomes second nature, as deep down you shudder in fear that you may never have the chance to enjoy those same blessings. 

I don’t recall who made the recommendation, but fortunately, someone pointed us to the resources of ATIME—an Orthodox organization that assists families dealing with infertility.  ATIME opened the door to a community of peers facing the same challenges and dreading the same fears. 

One of the most important lessons I learned from ATIME was one that I least expected.  While I found their discussion boards very empowering, providing a much needed outlet for my thoughts and feelings, my wife did not share my passion for written expression. Couples are forced to deal with infertility together, but people are individuals who may deal with their frustrations in very different ways.  It was an important insight that became a very integral part of our family dynamic over the challenging times ahead.

While I was fortunate to receive some good advice about ATIME, the vast majority of advice we received was anything but helpful.  Let me preface this by saying that most people mean very well, and I believe that they think that they are trying to help, but they don’t understand how hurtful their comments and suggestions can be.

I once heard a comedian say that the only time it is EVER appropriate to ask a woman if she is expecting is if the baby’s head is crowning and you need to assist in the delivery.  He was right.  Nothing good can ever come out of that question.  In the best case, you have revealed what a couple had wanted to keep secret or deprived them of the chance to make the announcement as they see fit.  In the worst case, you insulted a woman about her weight and reminded her of her daily suffering.  Simple advice: NEVER do it.

Purportedly trying to be helpful, some folks liked to ask who was at “fault” for the infertility.  Don’t be shocked that people asked that.  I fielded that question more times than I can count.  Aside from prying into the most personal parts of a person’s life, could anyone think it is actually helpful to remind either a husband or a wife that they are the cause of their suffering? 

I always answered that question by exclaiming that I believe my wife and I are bashert, and Hashem chose to give us this challenge together, so the physical means of the problem are completely irrelevant. 

Then there are the folk remedies, sure-fire segulos and ideas that worked for someone’s cousin’s best friend’s sister-in-law.  It doesn’t matter if it is to give tzeddakah to this cause, say that kapital of tehillim, get a red bracelet or dance around the room on your heads every Saturday night.   Desperate people may be willing to try many things, but none of them actually work, irrespective of the stories you may have heard.  Even worse, it can change the focus and imply that the real issue is that the couple isn’t doing something right.

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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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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.

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