what is infertility, and why does it matter?

Infertility is the inability to conceive or the inability to carry a pregnancy to live birth. Statistics indicate that 1 in 6 couples will face the challenge of infertility at some point in their lives.

Many people think of infertility as a women’s health issue, but this is simply not true. Infertility is sometimes attributed to the male partner, sometimes to the female partner, and sometimes to factors in both partners. There are times when infertility may be diagnosed as “unexplained infertility.”

Confronting infertility can be overwhelmingly isolating. In all likeliness, some of your family of friends may be struggling with infertility, often without you even knowing about it. We therefore believe that general awareness is imperative.

What is the difference between primary fertility, secondary INFERTILITY AND PREGNANCY LOSS?

Primary infertility refers to couples who have never been able to conceive. Secondary infertility refers to couples who have difficulty conceiving after having already conceived.

Pregnancy Loss encompasses miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies, medical interruption, stillbirth, and twin or high-order birth loss. The loss is usually sudden and unexpected, leaving the couple with unfulfilled dreams, dashed hopes and “what-ifs”.

What are some of the struggles associated with infertility?

  • Infertility can be a disorienting experience
    Couples are thrust into a situation which they know little about, with lots of big decisions to be made. Initially, the couple may be lost as to whom to turn for help and guidance. There is a lot of uncertainty, with so little control over the future. We are here to help.

  • Infertility can be a lonely experience
    Couples may feel that there is no one in whom they can confide.
    Couples may feel that there is no one who can truly relate to their experience.
    Couples may feel that their family and friends do not know how to react appropriately.

  • Infertility can lead to feelings of shame
    Couples are highly attuned to what others may think of them.
    “Why don’t they have children already?”
    Couples may feel very uncomfortable attending family or children-oriented events

  • Infertility can lead to feelings of guilt
    The infertile partner may feel guilty that his/her fertile spouse is childless.
    The fertile partner may find it challenging to cope with his/her spouse’s feelings of guilt.

  • Infertility can be very time-consuming
    There are lots of appointments with rabbis, G.P.s, gynaecologists and fertility experts. Timing is everything, and there is often very little flexibility, leading to clashes with work and social obligations. The couple may also feel great impatience at the seemingly slow pace of nature, and the long periods of waiting between attempts.

  • Infertility can lead to a sense of lost privacy
    Infertility often requires a whole support team of professionals to collaborate in the miracle of creating life. However, this necessarily means that the private and intimate spousal relationship is now opened up to others.

  • Infertility treatments can be very expensive
    Depending on the cause of infertility, treatment plans can very quickly add up to tens out of thousands of dollars, a significant portion of which remains out-of-pocket.

what are the challenges unique to a jewish couple experiencing infertility?

When it comes to fertility, Jewish couples have unique emotional needs, and addressing them requires a strong understanding of their familial and community structure, as well as their cultural background. Furthermore, fertility treatments must be compatible with Taharas Hamishpacha, as well as the large body of Halacha (Jewish Law) governing procreation and reproductive health. For this reason, many treatments need to be administered under rabbinical supervision, and a rabbi should be consulted before undergoing treatment. In Melbourne, this role is serviced by the Shifra organisation, headed by Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum.

WHY tefilat chana?

There are a number of international organisations serving the needs of Jewish couples struggling with infertility worldwide, and many of them are listed on our resources page. Most notably, Bonei Olam is an international organisation that provides financial and professional support worldwide, including here in Melbourne.

Tefilat-Chana is locally based, and provides local peer support, by anonymously connecting couples undergoing similar experiences, and providing other forms of assistance. The benefits include:

  • The comfort drawn from communicating with couples in the local community who are experiencing the same or similar issues.

  • The knowledge that there are others who really understand and can really relate.

  • The companionship that comes with cheering on each other’s successes, and empathising – not just sympathising – with each other’s losses.

  • The sharing of the type of practical knowledge that comes only from experience.

  • The satisfaction of being able to help others in a similar situation.

if i am not EXPERIENCING INFERTILITY, how is this relevant to me?

In all likeliness, some of your acquaintances or family members may be struggling with infertility, often without you even knowing about it. Please go out of your way to be extra sensitive to those around you. This includes the following tips, but please bear in mind that every person is different:

  • Conversational and situational sensitivity
    Children are our most precious resource, and it is only natural for us to focus on them. However, in the presence of a person who is navigating infertility, be extra sensitive, as this may be especially hurtful. Steer conversations away from the subject of babies and children, and don’t discuss fertility unless they bring it up. Similarly, ensure that group activity is not focused on these subjects, and where possible, arrange the environment so that it is as least confronting as possible.

    Even so, do not lock them out of a pregnancy or baby-related circumstance. Let them know about your pregnancies and births, and related celebrations. Do so in a sensitive and tactful manner, and let them feel that you are completely supportive of their choice to participate or not.

  • Sensitivity when offering to arrange a Segulah
    When offering to arrange a Segulah (e.g. Tehillim group or the opportunity to be Kvatter), it is important to remember that some couples greatly appreciate such offers, whereas others experience feelings of tremendous hurt. Think through your overture beforehand, in order to avoid unintentional offence or hurt.

  • Don’t ignore or forget
    If you know someone who is navigating infertility, make sure they know that you care about them. Reach out often, through a call or text message or email, just to say hello. Keep in touch with them even if you don’t get a response. Remember to invite them to your celebrations and include them in social activities, but do not make them feel guilty when they choose to opt out.

  • Just listen!
    If someone chooses to share his or her story with you, just be a friend and listen. Don’t try to change the conversation or try to change his or her mood. Don’t dominate the conversation. Unless requested, do not share advice or tips. Never judge, rationalise or attempt to explain Hashem’s ways. Instead, validate their feelings and their experiences. Do not assume you know how they would like to be supported, but instead, follow their cues.

    Don’t claim that you can relate to their predicament and that you understand, because that is simply not the case. Don’t provide assurance that everything will turn out as desired, because there is no way you can know that. Don’t share your challenges of parenting with them, or that life without children is easier, because that is not what they need to hear right now.

    Provide assurance that you will always be there for them. Respect their space and privacy, and do not ask for updates, or bring up the topic of conversation in the future every time you see them. Never share the conversation with anyone else.

  • For close family members
    Being a parent or grandparent does not grant you the license to pry into the lives of your children, nor to ask them when they are planning to have a baby. Do not push your children to share information about their fertility challenges and treatments. If they want you to know, they will share with you as much as they feel comfortable. Your job is to make sure that your children feel loved and special in their own right, and no less important to you even though they have not yet been blessed with a child.