The Silent Struggle of Infertility

This piece was originally published on JOFA’s Blog at the Jewish Week on 1/12/18.
The Silent Struggle of Infertility

Envisioning the Dream of Parenthood – A staggering one in eight couples will experience challenges achieving and maintaining pregnancy.

1 in 8. Some studies report the number is closer to one in six. At these rates, it is highly likely that either you or someone you know has struggled with the disease – whether you know it or not. And, sadly, there’s a good chance you don’t.

A staggering 1 in 8 couples will experience challenges achieving and maintaining pregnancy

Infertility is a disease most often battled in silence. Defined as an inability to achieve healthy pregnancy after one year of trying (or six months for women over 35), the diagnosis of infertility is made once fear and profound disappointment have already set in. Couples have had many months to envision the family they wish to build. Often, by this point, possible baby names have been discussed, nurseries imagined, indescribable joy and fulfillment anticipated. Yet, the negative pregnancy tests and unsuccessful efforts to chart menstrual cycles, take temperatures, and time intercourse have slowly drained excitement from the fantasy of parenthood. In its place, a desperate longing often takes hold. By the time a diagnosis of infertility is made and exploration of cause is underway, couples are often already coping with a very personal kind of pain.

The diagnosis of infertility is made once fear and profound disappointment have already set in.

Planned conception of a child is, of course, something a couple pursues in privacy. For adults who’ve envisioned themselves as parents, the imagined road to parenthood is paved with love, intimacy, and creation. The mechanics and biology of the conception are often bits of sharp reality uninvited into the softness of hope. But, as the months of trying to conceive pass by, hope can erode as questions like, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why us?” and “What now?” swirl about. It’s no wonder that fear and shame can take hold and lead to isolation, just when couples are experiencing a life crisis that experts liken to receiving a cancer diagnosis.

IVF alone can cost between $15,000 and $20,000 per cycle.

Couples struggling with infertility can, and often do, experience waves of intense emotions and states, ranging from shock, fear, and disillusionment to anger, shame, and despair. Loss of control over one’s body and future is a profoundly and potentially life-altering experience. And, when the treatment options involve time-consuming, intensive, painful, and incredibly expensive medications and procedures (IVF alone can cost between $15,000 and $20,000 per cycle), it’s not uncommon for infertility to become a preoccupying, defining chapter in the life of a couple.

Infertility as a Jewish Issue

The rates of infertility within the Jewish community are higher than the national average, 1:6 compared to 1:8. Also the pressures among more Jewish observant couples are multiplied by the Halachic commandment to “be fruitful and multiply”. With that added pressure, the stigma surrounding infertility is still very present within the Orthodox Jewish communities.

The rates of infertility within the Jewish community are higher than the national average, 1:6 compared to 1:8.

JFF’s Medical Advisory Committee Chair, Dr. Daniel Shapiro, MD a Reproductive Endocrinologist explains that all three denominations (reform, conservative, and orthodox) will experience age related decline in fertility equally. The age brackets won’t vary but diagnosis at presentation likely will. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and male factor will be most prevalent among the orthodox because of high rates of obesity in the orthodox community and because marriage and attempts at fecundity (the ability to produce an abundance of offspring) start earlier than among conservative and reform. Conversely the reform and conservative would be more likely to experience egg related issues as they typically have first attempt at pregnancy older than orthodox women.​​

Organizations like Jewish Fertility Foundation (JFF) are making great efforts to meet couples in their pain and offer resources for hope. JFF provides financial assistanceeducational awareness, and emotional support to Atlanta Jewish families who have medical fertility challenges. As an organization built on awareness of the emotional, social, and financial burdens infertility can bring into a couple’s life, we offer support groups, financial grants for couples undergoing IVF, community education, and our unique “Fertility Buddies” program, which pairs women and men experiencing infertility with infertility “veterans.” The veterans of the program are men and women who are now parents and can offer the kind of validating support that couples crave. “Getting it” and having been there is a big piece of the success of the work in the field of infertility.

Stay tuned for our next article “Do We Parent Differently After Infertility”?

This piece was co-authored by: Tricia Anbinder, LCSW, Clinical Social Worker in Private Psychotherapy Practice (; Jewish Fertility Foundation Education & Support Committee and Elana Frank, MPA, Executive Director & Founder, Jewish Fertility Foundation.

About the Author
Elana Bekerman Frank, MPA, is quite vocal about her fertility struggle and her desire to help others. Elana has over 15 years of experience working with non-profits (in America and in Israel) in fundraising, marketing, community outreach, volunteer recruitment, training and program development. She is the Founder and President of the Jewish Fertility Foundation and resides in Atlanta, GA with her husband Jason and their two children, Levi and Avidan.
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