Thank God, our Jewish community is the source of an amazing amount of chessed – there are support groups for a variety of challenges many of us face, and individuals across the globe are regularly helping those in our community who are ill, sitting shiva, or having babies. However, there is a subject that very few people talk about and for which little is being done – the many women in our midst who suffer in silence trying to expand their families.
Chani Kovacs Zweiter, who lives with her family in Stamford, CT, wants to change that. Six months ago she decided to attempt to normalize the issue and help those women who are facing fertility issues. She has organized a group of about 50 women in the Stamford community who help these women with grocery shopping, meals, and other emotional and physical support.
“Many people don’t realize that women need to recuperate and properly grieve after a miscarriage,” said Zweiter. “And that’s only one of many issues they face when they are facing a fertility journey. It may include IVF treatments, egg donations, terminating a pregnancy that isn’t viable, surrogacy — the list goes on. Some need emotional support, some need physical support, and some need a combination of both. I’ve worked to help put together additional resources in my community so that women in any stage of this journey will feel supported.”
Zweiter is proactive in finding women who might be suffering silently or who may need help in dealing with their situation. “I am part of a young women’s WhatsApp group here in Stamford that has close to 300 members,” explained Zweiter. “We have people moving to our community all the time, so I post every couple of months to let people know about the resource. I also advertise in the local shul announcements and on Facebook posts. People sometimes inquire about meals … where they can donate extra IVF medications … where they can seek financial support for treatments. Many people have private messaged me to let me know that they can be a resource and peer support for anyone going through a variety of challenges. I suspect that there are many more families I don’t know about who are experiencing fertility challenges — and who are either receiving support from family and friends or who just want to keep the issue private. We have certainly made strides in the Jewish community in terms of being more open about building families, but there is still a long way to go.”
Given the sensitivity of the subject, Zweiter makes certain to allow recipients to remain anonymous, if they choose. “It is really up to the woman who needs the support as to whether she wants to remain anonymous,” said Zweiter. “If she does want that privacy, we certainly will respect her wishes, in terms of making sure the information is not passed on by others who might be delivering food.”
Zweiter first became interested in the subject when she was single in her early 20s. “My best friend lost a baby during the end of her second trimester, so it was very public. I remember when I spoke to her shortly after this happened, and she commented that she thought she was the only one who experienced this until she started to receive phone calls from other women telling her that they experienced similar losses. I experienced several first trimester miscarriages between my children, and I felt very lonely in a booming family-oriented community. I decided to be open about my experience, as private as I am, because I felt that it was important to raise awareness and normalize the issue. One in six couples in the Jewish community face infertility challenges, which is actually higher than the one in eight figure for the general population.”
Zweiter receives a few new requests each month. “I also provide information to those who contact me about additional resources, such as Yesh Tikvah, Nechama Comfort, Bonei Olam, local fertility clinics, financial resources, and peer support.” Yesh Tikvah sponsored a challah bake in Stamford, in which 22 women participated, and they partnered with the Stamford community on its annual Infertility Awareness Shabbat.
Zweiter also believes that our Jewish community in general needs to be more sensitive to those experiencing fertility issues. “I think there can be a greater sensitivity toward those who are in the family building stage,” said Zweiter. “Don’t have every conversation revolve around your kids during meals … instead, talk about people’s interests, jobs, and background. There is much more to a person than how many kids they do or don’t have. Also, realize that there is more going on underneath the surface. Someone who has two kids may be struggling with secondary infertility, and someone with five kids may have recently experienced a miscarriage, which might be why she didn’t show up to your birthday party. We must realize that the statistics are quite high, particularly in our community, and we can’t only be there for our friends in good times. There are also ways to create support and still maintain a person’s anonymity, if they so choose. By raising awareness and normalizing the issue, we can provide more support for these couples.”
Zweiter has become much more educated herself about this issue. “I really didn’t understand the complexities of fertility until I experienced my own losses. Through this process, many women have shared their own journeys with me, and I feel really privileged to help in this way. These women are really warriors fighting to create the next generation of the Jewish people and we need to help them in any way we can.”