I’m not a big crier, I like to have a tough exterior and save my tears for private conversations between me and Hashem. But on March 17, and the days leading up to and after, I cried… bucketloads. But this time, it was tears of joy because of emails and facebook posts all surrounding Yesh Tikva’s Infertility Awareness Shabbat.
You see, my journey began in 2010 when I got married “late,” the ripe old age of 31. I had prayed and cried for so long for G-d to send me my bashert, and I figured that was my test, and having kids would be easy. I was wrong. There would be many more tears shed over prayers to get pregnant, to stay pregnant, that the baby I tried so hard for would be healthy after something “coming up” in a test, and public thanks to my community for praying for us. We had a very long and winding road towards parenthood, and at the time, the only fertility community I found was an online forum of women of various races, religions, and creeds. They were my silent sisterhood, as we navigated this path out of site from our nearest and dearest. There we could say all we wanted, gripe about stupid things people said to us like:
- How many kids do you have?
- Are you pregnant? (since many hormones make your stomach bloated)
- Just relax and it will happen.
We would distract each other with conversation during the counting down of days between an embryo transfer and pregnancy test, compare pregnancy hormone levels to guess viability, and be there for each other when we got a BFN (Big Fat Negative) result. These women were and still are, a huge part of my story, and we are still in touch 5 years later. But within my “real community,” my Jewish community, there were some I would open up to, but few that shared my narrative.
In 2014, I got a call from a woman navigating her own journey but was at her wit’s end. She wanted to take a break and create something positive from her experiences. She wanted to build the Jewish fertility community that I was lacking, and she wanted to do so from women who experienced it firsthand. We found each other because of a casual comment I made to a former camp counselor of mine I ran into on Pesach in Florida. Upon seeing my kids, she said: “your kids are so cute.” And my response knocked her off her feet. I said, “Oh, he’s my IUI, he’s my fresh IVF with PGD, and they are my frozen IVF with PDG.” I don’t know why I assumed the world knew what those acronyms meant, but she did, and could not believe I didn’t introduce them by name, but rather how they were conceived. And because of my frankness, my name was given over to Gila Muskin Block, and together we have built an organization that helps Jewish people facing infertility and gives them the knowledge that they are not alone and hope for their future, whatever that story may be: Yesh Tikva.
Our first year we decided to create a campaign of awareness, sensitivity, and education towards infertility during a time that revolves so much around children, the time between Purim and Passover. Our initial goal was to garner 100 shuls to dedicate a message of awareness, we called it the “100 Shuls Project.” We got 126 shuls. For the next year we decided to change the name to “Infertility Awareness Shabbat” so as not to limit ourselves to “100 shuls” and open it to synagogues of all Jewish denominations – no Jew should be left behind. We got 136. This year was our 3rd and חזקה year, and we wanted to make it special but weren’t sure how. Hashem would once again step in to help us out.
I was contacted by an amazing woman to go to a parlor meeting in Riverdale to hear about The Eden Center. The founder, Dr. Naomi Marmon Grumet, was going to be in U.S. letting people know about her mission, to enhance the mikvah experience and connect it to women’s health and intimacy education. The women present at this meeting were mikvah attendants, rebbetzins, yoatzot, community members and me. We each introduced ourselves, and I said: “I’m Elie Salomon from Yesh Tikva.” I was moved by everything Dr. Grumet said and empowered by ideas of these women in Riverdale. When the meeting was over, a few came over to me “Thank you so much for what you do with Yesh Tikva, it’s so important.” Another said, “We were so glad to participate in Infertility Awareness Shabbat and look forward to doing something special this year.” I was humbled that they knew about Yesh Tikva.
Dr. Grumet asked me to walk out with her, and she said: “We have an idea and think Yesh Tikva would be the perfect partners.” This would be a groundbreaking resource that we would launch in conjunction with Infertility Awareness Shabbat. The result is Birkat Emunah, a collection of tefillot, as well as practical suggestions, personal reflections and thoughts to guide a mindful immersion to help in the mikvah experience for women going through infertility when having to go to the mikvah means that your body has failed you, an incredibly difficult mitzvah to keep on an emotional level.
A month later Gila and I got a call from a woman who had utilized her talent as an illustrator and storyteller to create her own therapeutic outlet for her fertility journey. She wanted to find someone to help her publish and get her work exposed to as many as possible, and she thought Yesh Tikva would be that partner. After reading it, I knew, THIS.WAS.IT!
My Not A Parent Thoughts is a trailblazing book that EVERYONE should read. If you are one of the 1 in 8 that experience infertility, it will validate your story through humor and empathy. If you have not been touched firsthand by infertility, it brings you inside the mind of one who does under the lens of the Jewish community, and will educate you on how to speak to others without having to learn by hurting others inadvertently.
These publications, along with regular resources and follow-up lectures, were sent to 186 synagogues throughout the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Israel. At minimum, these participants would give a mention of sensitivity towards infertility during this time of year. There may be some places that did that, but the emails and facebook posts that I saw brought me to tears, in a good way.
Seeing people I personally counseled come forward and lead their communities in an awareness event made me emotional. All across the globe people were telling their stories, organizing roundtables with mental health professionals and doctors, having halachic discussions and chaburot. The conversation was happening by the 1 in 8s in each community that we had no idea knew about Yesh Tikva. People were reacting, learning, and becoming more compassionate and inclusive. This weekend was a dream 3 years ago to TRY and get 100 shuls. Thousands entered Passover armed with tools to help them cope with the holiday, a plan for the months after, and fellow Jews trying to make them feel included and not forgotten. Yasher koach to us all, and next year 200!
To purchase My Not A Parent Thoughts or “Birkat Emunah,” visit https://yeshtikva.org/shop/