By Sheri Rodman
A year ago I sent a holiday card to our friends and family that said, “New Year, New Beginnings.” I was attempting to kill two birds with one stone by sending a dual holiday greeting and birth announcement because our daughter was born in early January of 2021.
This year I’m tempted to send the same card (I’m a little behind on my ordering!) because 2022 will bring us yet another “new beginning” as we start our next chapter in Richmond, Virginia.
For me, the new year and the end of our Buffalo chapter provides an opportunity for reflection. The last seven years in Buffalo were filled with major milestones for us. We got engaged and then married, we celebrated holidays and simchas with friends and family, we were challenged with new jobs and earned promotions, had opportunities for leadership in the Jewish community, and eventually our daughter was born.
Amidst the excitement and joy was a long journey to parenthood. My husband and I struggled with infertility and early pregnancy loss for five years and carefully navigated a path from one IVF cycle to the next.
Seeking answers and direction, we frequently found ourselves wondering what wisdom the Torah could provide and how our ancestors approached infertility. Sarah didn’t have a baby until she was ninety, Rebecca and Jacob didn’t conceive Isaac until twenty years after they were married, and Rachel also struggled to conceive. Three of our four foremothers experienced some sort of infertility, yet it still feels taboo to openly talk about it today. One in eight couples battle infertility — studies suggest that it is closer to one in six Jewish couples — so chances are you know someone who did, who is, or who will.
I recently shared our story not to seek empathy, but with the hope that I can help other couples experiencing infertility feel less alone, embrace their emotions, and feel empowered to advocate for themselves. For this week’s ‘Jewish thought,’ I offer two suggestions for how you can be supportive to those in your circles who are trying to fulfill one of our most important mitzvot: to be fruitful and multiply.
Move beyond the taboo and talk about it. Members of the Buffalo Jewish community offered us so much support during our journey. One friend connected us with Hasidah, an organization committed to building awareness and connecting people to resources. Another friend introduced me to other Jewish women going through fertility treatments and coordinated a visit to the local mikveh. One of our Buffalo rabbis counseled us as we were contemplating egg donation, surrogacy, and adoption, and what each of those paths would look like through a Jewish lens. When you come across a couple experiencing infertility, ask them how you can best support them — they may need you to make a connection or simply just listen.
Replace the “mazel tov” with “b’sha’ah tovah”. When I was finally able to maintain a healthy pregnancy, I was hypersensitive to how people acknowledged me and how they talked about the excitement of expecting. Given my history of early pregnancy loss and the Jewish superstition to avoid celebrating the baby before it arrives, the typical response of “mazel tov!” or “congratulations!” was triggering for me and felt preemptive. The Hebrew saying “b’sha’ah tovah” — meaning “at a good time” — seemed more appropriate in its expression of hope that the baby will be born healthy and safely.
If I can be a resource to you or someone you know who is struggling to start a family, please do not hesitate to be in touch — it would be an honor to support you and them, however I can.
Wishing all of you a happy, Gregorian new year and best wishes on your new beginnings in 2022.
Sheri Rodman is the past Chair of LiNK Jewish Buffalo