Lessons from the Journey

When I was at Rabbinical College, one of the things that stayed with me most clearly in Practical Rabbinics was  something Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner said in an excellent class on Baby Blessings. 
"Every time you celebrate something in synagogue, it causes someone in the congregation pain".
If it is an aufruf for a soon to be married couple, those who are looking for a partner hurt, if it is a baby blessing, those trying and failing to conceive, or just desiring a baby, will be in pain. I think this was an incredibly  important lesson, and having shared my previous post about infertility, feel conscious that my closing good news could give others pain.
For myself as a Rabbi, I always tried to separate those things that were about me, and those celebrations that were truly others', and which I could feel joy in. However one of the most frustrating phrases I heard while struggling through treatment or waiting was 'please God by you'. This made it much harder to feel happy for others, as it instantly made their joy about my own sense of failure. It also made me question why it might be that God wasn't making this happen for me (of course I don't personally believe in a micro-managing interventionist God like that... but everyone wonders!!) Trying to respond calmly and lovingly to those who say these things; in love I am sure, was also a slow learning, and ultimately, I had to make peace with the fact that sometimes people don't know what to say, and want you to know they want things to be better for you.
But two of the most important lessons I learned were from doctors. Yes, it was doctors who said I was most likely untreatable, with a 5% chance of success in regular IVF, but they also had words of great wisdom. After one department had discovered a hormone result that suggested the previous diagnosis and didn't want to treat us (despite all other results looking good and 2 surgeries having been gone through to even get to this stage), my dear mum went into fix it mode and organised a conversation with a fertility specialist at Barts hospital who was friends with a friend in Israel. He said one of the most useful and inspirational things I have heard:
"You are not a statistic."
He continued: "You don't give up or start talking about adoption or egg donation until you've tried". The idea that I am not a statistic sounds simple, but it wasn't something I had considered logically. The doctors say it's this chance, this must be true. Of course medical statistics are funny things; in this case they were taking account of one result, and not several others (my PCOS friends may be surprised to learn that IVF has excellent results on PCOS sufferers, although many women have PCOS and never know it because they conceive before being diagnosed). This wonderful man gave me the courage to push back, and to ask again if the hospital would reconsider. Which of course they did, trying an alternative method, before discovering my original result was a hormone that was completely lying to them and there was no reason not to be trying the full whack. I know for many at some point in the fertility pursuit we have to say enough is enough, and look to other options, but I was 30 years old, and had never been put through one cycle to even know! Doctors are wonderful amazing people, but they are, in the NHS in particular, also having to meet budgets and get good results, so sometimes we need to be a little demanding (which doesn't come naturally to me!) As my mum always said; Doctors don't know everything.
When we were finally being treated the first time round, another doctor said something else which those in treatment find incredibly difficult but is very important. I asked what I could do to boost my chances; give up caffeine? avoid aspartame? cut out sugar. His response was that I didn't need to change anything:
"The best thing you can do is to be relaxed and happy"
Now those of you who know me know this isn't so far from my natural state of being. However fertility treatments are enough to drive anyone to distraction, but remembering to not let the little things get to me, and to stay calm even when the big things threatened to, was incredibly helpful. The power of the mind is not quite as great as the power of the embryologist, but it sure does help, and remembering this in combination with the fact that we are not statistics and no one can predict the outcome gave me huge cause to relax in itself. That's not to say these things aren't trying, and the dreaded two week wait between implantation and knowing the result is complete torture, but worrying just doesn't help, and laughter is incredibly healing. With this in mind one of my favourite memories of the process was coming around after my first egg extraction, and feeling a pain in a place ladies don't like to. I asked the nurse about it and she said in a strong Spanish accent: "Don't worry, there's been a small prick in there". She said it completely straight faced, and despite being uncomfortable and still groggy from the sedation, I just burst into giggles. There is humour in the funniest of places.


  1. Oh Debbie, I didn't know you had those problems, I actually thought you were waiting till you were more established as a rabbi!!! But I'm so happy to hear it has worked and pray that all will go well in the rest of the pregnancy. I'm still hoping to manage to have a child too but I am quite a bit older than you and already getting to a stage where who knows what will happen.


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