A GRANDPARENT'S PERSPECTIVE 

By Jeanine Bekerman, Mother of Infertile Daughter


I struggled through delivering a stillborn baby boy as a young mother. I had a very close group of friends that were due right around the same time as me. Suddenly, I was a pariah, and although these friends tried everything they could, I couldn’t be around them. We escaped, with our almost three year old to Israel to heal physically and to recuperate. Well, my sister-in-law was due the same month as me. There is the picture of her smiling with a huge belly and me beside her. This was in 1982, and it still brings tears to my eyes.  

People do not intentionally mean to hurt us. They think they are helping us. I followed the Jewish tradition of not preparing my house for a baby until the baby is born. At least I didn’t have to come home to that. But going to the grocery store and hearing over and over again - So what did you have? This lasted for months and was more than I could handle. I really had no one to talk to when it happened and I avoided my friends. Thankfully those women continued to remain by my side and are still some of my closest friends today.

Now, I have watched my child suffering with infertility for the past ten years. As with other grandmothers to be, I felt helpless, my arms ached to hold her and make it all better. We have to live with the fact that we cannot take a bandaid and fix this. We can take our feelings and multiply them a thousand times, and we still won’t know the suffering our children are going through. What is it like to sit at the Passover table with siblings and cousins either pregnant, or holding their babies? I’ve seen my guests look at my struggling child with sadness and my daughter, although broken inside, try to smile.

How can we help our grandmothers understand the journey called infertility? Your child’s body becomes a science project and her emotions and those of her spouse, are hard to perceive. The years of torture, the losses, the attempts at conception all while trying to lead a normal life. However, if an attempt fails, we have to watch our children go back to square one and try again.  

We as the grandparents worry. How do my son and daughter, daughter and son, survive this emotionally, financially, spiritually?  We are lucky in Atlanta where we have the Jewish Fertility Foundation to assist with workshops, mentoring, buddying and financially helping the couple attempt to conceive. We grandparents can be educated in how to be with our children in a positive, nurturing way. If we as grandparents are taught what infertility means, we can stand up with our children as they take this personal journey.  We can advocate for them while learning to be listeners and have compassionate shoulders to cry on (and refrain from listing what we think needs to be done). We can shed tears with our children while remaining strong as their support system.  

We were blessed with two more children of our own after our loss. You don’t have to give up, keep going until you get yourselves heard and understood. You are not alone.

Grandparents Susy Kaiser-Blueth, Rachel Nelson, and Jeanine Bekerman at a Fertility Buddy training.

THE OTHER HALF: MALE INFERTILITY

An interview with Dr. Akanksha Mehta, Emory University School of Medicine

JFF Summer PR & Marketing Intern, Noam Kleinman interviews Dr. Akanksha Mehta, Assistant Professor of Urology Director, Emory University School of Medicine


Noam: So, I’ve been charged with the task of interviewing you to learn more about male infertility.  Can you tell me what is male factor infertility?
Dr. Mehta: Male factor infertility refers to any health issue in a man that lowers the chances of his female partner getting pregnant.
Noam: Is it common?
Dr. Mehta: Yes, it is present in over one third of couples who have trouble conceiving.  
Noam: What are some cause of male factor infertility?
Dr. Mehta: Normal male reproductive function is dependent on the interaction between genetic factors, circulating hormone levels, and environmental influences. As a result, many different causes of male factor infertility are possible.
Noam: Is there anything that can be done to help?
Dr. Mehta: Workup for male infertility includes a detailed physical exam, combined with semen analysis, serum hormone evaluation, and, if indicated, additional genetic testing, imaging, or tissue biopsy. Taken together, the results of this evaluation can help identify correctable causes of male infertility.
Noam: So infertility can affect men just as it can affect women?
Dr. Mehta: Historically, discussions about infertility have focused on female factor infertility. However, infertility is clearly a problem shared by the couple, and must be faced as a team. A diagnosis of male factor infertility affects all aspects of a man’s life.
Noam: In what ways does infertility affect a man’s life?
Dr. Mehta: Medically, a diagnosis of infertility can be worrisome because it may be an indicator of a potentially serious underlying medical condition. Psychologically, a diagnosis of infertility can lead to profound feelings of guilt, anger, and low self-esteem.
Noam: Do you have any parting information or advice for someone who may have infertility?
Dr. Mehta: Many male fertility issues can be treated medically or surgically by a urologist. Therefore, couples who experience difficulty conceiving should not hesitate to seek a male fertility evaluation in addition to a female fertility evaluation.

Additional Information about Male Factor Infertility:

  • Low levels, or complete absence of sperm in the ejaculate, can be due to a blockage or a production problem. Even if sperm are present in normal numbers in the semen, they may be abnormal in their ability to swim to and fertilize an egg. Some of the most commonly encountered male infertility problems are summarized below:
  • Blockages in the male reproductive tract can be congenital, or result from prior infection, trauma, or surgery. In many cases, blockages in the reproductive tract can be corrected with reconstructive surgery. When reconstructive surgery is not possible, sperm can be retrieved through an office-based procedure, for use with fertility treatments.
  • A varicocele refers to abnormal veins surrounding one or both testes. They have the potential to decrease testicular function, both in terms of hormone production and sperm production. Varicoceles are the most common surgically correctable cause of male infertility, and varicocele repair is associated with improvement in both sperm count and quality.
  • Problems with circulating hormone levels can occur for a variety of reasons, but can often be treated with hormone supplementation that supports and enhances testicular function, including sperm production.
  • There are many medical conditions and medical treatments that can impair sperm production and sperm quality. Of these, a diagnosis of cancer is probably the most devastating. There are several different options for fertility preservation for men with a history of cancer, as well as those about to embark on cancer therapy, to provide them with options for family building in the future. Fertility preservation is also possible for men with non-cancer based diagnoses that affect their fertility, such as Klinefelter syndrome.
  • Sexual disorders, such as problems with ejaculation, can affect the ability of sperm to naturally reach and fertilize the egg in the female reproductive tract. Medications or office-based procedures can be used to treat ejaculatory problems and help couples achieve pregnancy.​

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ALL ABOUT EMBRYO DONATION 

A JFF interview with Deb Roberts, CEO/Founder of Embryo Connections

Cryo-preserved embryos donated from one family to another can be the most viable route to parenthood for intended parents struggling through the fertility journey. This little-known route to conception has been growing over 2.5 times faster than any other fertility treatment, thanks to high success rates, lower overall risk, and substantially lower costs than any other fertility option.  

Still, most couples suffering infertility or those with remaining embryos to donate aren’t aware that embryo donation is an option, and/or fear the unknowns, for example: Will I love my child? Will my child love me? What relationship burdens am I taking on with another family? What are the impacts on my own children that they have genetic siblings in another family?  

Deb Roberts, Founder and CEO of Embryo Connections, shares her experience and vision for embryo donation:

What does Embryo Connections do?
Embryo Connections empowers complete in-vitro fertilization families to donate their embryos – and the incredible possibility of children - to intended parents, in ways that both feel comfortable and confident in their choices. The most important component is freedom to choose so that families can create the family they dreamed of including family characteristics, interaction, and embryo batches that support keeping genetic siblings together. In addition, Embryo Connections acts as a concierge service to take the burden out of the process. 

Why is it important to you?
I believe that everyone who wants to love a child should be able to. You don’t need to close the door on conception and parenthood due to infertility. 

I founded the organization after my own harrowing journey to parenthood. Six years ago, reproductive endocrinologists advised me had little chance at conception. After lots of discouraging failures, both in IVF and domestic adoption, I learned of this amazing option, that would allow me to create my family (most important!!), to experience pregnancy and to provide a healthy in-utero environment. Even then, I found obstacles of discrimination - religious, marital status, and age, and process - most clinics do not perform embryo donation.

I persevered, and quickly became the happy recipient of beautiful embryos. My little miracle is now almost two. I founded Embryo Connections because I couldn’t think of anything more important than to help others experience the kind of love that I have for my child. 

How does it work?
Embryo Connections connects potential donor and intended parent families across the US. A little like a matchmaker, families meet with me to share desires about characteristics and interaction, and complete a profile.  I then find matches that “fit”. When both families say “YES!” embryo case coordinators manage all of the process logistics for a smooth donation for all parties. We ensure that intended parents can do their embryo transfers at their own clinics, providing the documentation that allow clinics to easily and confidently accept the embryos to transfer. We coordinate FDA screening, legal, mental health and other process elements so that families with embryos can donate easily, without expense. Finally, case coordinators coordinate with embryology and nurse managers to prepare to ship or receive embryos, and arrange shipment. We believe that families – intended or complete – should be able to enjoy their life and family while we do the work to make dreams come true.

Please visit www.embryoconnections.org to learn more about the process and faces of embryo donation.

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INTERVIEW WITH CHILDREN’S AUTHOR DR. LINDA STAMM  

By: Kaitlin Heidt, Graduate Social Work Intern, Jewish Fertility Foundation

We managed to grab a quick word with clinical psychologist, Dr. Linda Stamm, author of four published children’s books. Dr. Stamm broke into the literary scene with her relatable and readable children’s book, Phoebe’s Family, which is geared toward 7 - 11 year olds to help parents who experienced challenges with fertility and then struggled with explaining the process to their children.

These books are used by infertility therapists Dr. Lauren Berman and Elana Klemm, LPC, NCC. Dr. Berman shares that “I find that these books are really helpful with validating the intense emotions people feel around infertility”, and she refers these books in the resource list she provides to couples experiencing infertility challenges at the end of counseling sessions. Elana Klemm feels similarly about Dr. Stamm’s books and explains that they are always a favorite in her support group for women. Klemm shares that “the illustrations are amazing and I like to share various books relevant to topics of egg and sperm donation.”

And onto our interview with Dr. Stamm...

How did you come about the decision to begin writing your 1st book?

Based on my experience, I felt there were very few books written on fertility and I felt the need to help parents who experienced challenges with fertility and then struggled with explaining the process to their children of how they came to be. I decided to write books that would give parents guidance in opening up a conversation with their child. Even if children do not actually read the story, they look at the story for pictures. Pictures can serve as a language for telling the story to children.

What is a takeaway that you want readers to have?

I want parents to feel comfortable in talking to their children about the process of how they were born. I believe this is an important discussion to have earlier on with children. These books are meant to help children understand that each family is wonderfully unique, and every child has their own journey of how they come into this world.

What was the first book you wrote?

I wrote Phoebe's Family,  which was geared toward 7 - 11 year olds. Phoebe learns about the challenges her parents faced in trying to have a baby. Her parents then discuss how egg donation brought Phoebe into the world and created a loving family.

What other books have you written?

Harry's Helper is told through the eyes of a young boy name Harry. The story focuses on the use of gestational carrier in order to have a second child. Family Stew is about two moms who speak with their daughter in regards to becoming a family with the use of a sperm donor. Scarlett's Story is a story of how Scarlett came into the world through embryo donation.

Do you have a particular favorite out of all of the books you have written?

I would say Phoebe’s Family. It was a breakthrough for me to open up my creativity. I could make characters come to life and resemble the realities of families. This allowed me to help individuals, couples, and groups who wondered how to approach the topic of assisted reproduction.
 

Are you working on any follow-up books at the moment?

I am excited to say that I have two books that should come out this year by late winter. Ruby and Mommy tells the story of a single-mother and Family Stew for Men tells the story of two married men.
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About Dr. Linda Stamm:
Dr. Stamm received her doctorate in clinical psychology from Rutgers University and owned a private practice in Atlanta specializing in infertility, pregnancy, perinatal loss, and postpartum period. Dr. Stamm volunteers as a Fertility Buddy with the Jewish Fertility Foundation’s Fertility Buddy program. http://lindastamm.com

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SHOWING UP FOR OTHERS THROUGH INFERTILITY OUTREACH

by Tracy Juran, JFF-CINCY Advisory Cmte Member

We just completed the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur also known as the Ten Days of Repentance. It’s easy to get lost in the monotony and continuity of the everyday, but during significant periods, I can’t help but contemplate where I’ve been and where I want to go. Even perhaps more accurately, who I am and who I want to be. As Jews we’re taught to ‘show up’ for one another, to commemorate beginnings and ends – a marriage, a divorce, a milestone birthday, the passing of a loved one and the birth of a child. I have always been the type of person who reveled in those ‘show up moments;’ a connector who thrives off the energy of others and in bringing people together. 

How my Connectivity has been Challenged- One in six Jewish couples face infertility. It’s easy to gloss over statistics, we’re trained to do it. Well that is until you become a ‘one’ like I did. “Who am I? This isn’t me.” I find myself repeating this in my head multiple times a day. Infertility has changed me. 

Infertility is Isolating - My lows are often others’ highs: Mother’s Day, the Monday of a new school year, a friend’s baby shower. My niece turned three in April and all I could think of was the passing of another year without the cousin I had hoped she would grow up with. 

Infertility is Complicated - One of my last childless friends just told me she’s pregnant. And let me tell you, I’m positively thrilled for her. But you bet that didn’t stop me from having a complete and utter meltdown in the middle of the produce section. 

Infertility is Illogical - Those treasured relationships I mentioned earlier? Many of them are just another casualty of infertility. Friends with babies constantly making plans and of course I feel left out when I’m not invited, but then when I am, I just think “let’s see, go to the zoo and be reminded of my failure or stay home and watch Bravo with my dog? Housewives it is.” You don’t want to hate people. You don’t. Kids are wonderful, but you also can’t contain the jealousy. I try to be positive, but it creeps up on you after months of appointments and talking about “dwindling options.” I read a perfectly penned blog  that summed it up perfectly: “And you see people scream at their kids and beat them in Kroger, and you just want to die because you would give anything to have a child throwing a tantrum in the cereal aisle.”

Infertility is Humiliating - Let me tell you something, there’s nothing that makes a woman feel less sexy than a defective uterus and 20-something extra pounds of ‘baby weight.’ And no, not the baby weight that actually comes with a baby at the end of it. For me it comes with lawless emotions, fatigue, nausea and what kind of Tribe member would I be if I didn’t mention the unpredictable BMs (if you know, you know). 

Infertility isn’t Easy to Discuss - Because no one gets on Facebook and talks about it or sends a mass text to their friends, “Hey guess what? I just spent half my life savings, again, for the fourth time this year.” People don’t like being around sad people all the time, so if you’re still here, thanks because I can’t help it. I hope not to be the token ‘sad friend’ one day. 

Intrauterine insemination. IVF needles. Anxiety-ridden ultrasounds. Insurance issues. Hormonal flare ups. Financial pressure. Confusing diagnoses. Excruciating procedures. Infertility is overwhelming and all-consuming. Infertility is taxing and stressful. And the thing is that there is no ‘show up moment’ when someone you know or love is struggling with infertility because it’s month after month after month, a sometimes-vicious cycle of hope and disillusion. 

Infertility has changed me in almost every respect and most of the time I hate it. But it has also made me a more empathetic, persistent and aware individual. It’s made me think more about what it means to show up for someone. For almost three years I’ve been contemplating how I can get back to being me and that starts with moving the needle by holding myself and others accountable to once again show up for one another.

About nine months ago, I connected with Fertility Law Attorney Rachel Loftspring after mentioning to a friend that I wanted to establish a local foundation to aid couples financially who cannot afford fertility treatments. Rachel, who had connected with a Jewish Fertility Foundation-affiliated colleague in Atlanta, was already in process of bringing together a committee to explore the need locally and the community’s willingness to support it. 

Jewish Fertility Foundation (JFF) provides financial assistance, educational awareness and emotional support to Jewish people who have medical fertility challenges. With the support of the board and generous donors, JFF in Atlanta has offered 25 grants to Jewish people to support fertility treatments worth over $250,000 in funds, fertility clinic discounts and loans, emotionally supported over 300 individuals experiencing infertility and has trained over 500 Jewish communal leaders and medical professionals around infertility sensitivity. 

Along with other JFF-CINCY volunteers and with the support of JFF staff, we will work together to steward our own Fertility Buddies program, host educational events, award fertility grants in partnership with fertility clinic discounted rates, build community partnerships and fundraise in order to meet the need of the Cincinnati community. We could not be more excited to get started! Reposted from The Wexner Foundation Blog (10.17.19)

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SUGGESTED READING: ADOPTION