As a Jewish woman, Elana Bekerman Frank goes to the mikvah every month and wants to dunk in the water, feel invigorated and reconnect with her husband. But she doesn’t because it’s a monthly reminder that her body has failed her once again, and she has been unable to get pregnant.
“It’s a slap in the face,” Frank said. “I want it to be a time of beauty. Lots of people have very different feelings about it, especially when you’re going through treatments. You’re hormonal, you’re stressed, you’re overweight. There are so many different emotions. I’m very envious of people who are going through infertility and can see the flip side: ‘This is not my month. I’m going to go in this water and reconnect with G-d and count my blessings.’ I am not like that, and it’s really disappointing.”
Well-meaning mikvah workers who don’t know the right things to say can’t ease the pain.
“I don’t know what I thought to seek from the woman who was helping me, but I wanted something,” Frank said. “Some days I wanted to talk. I just wanted something. The response that I got just didn’t satisfy me. They need to be trained more on sensitivity and awareness. If I’m in this situation, surely others are. I like to bring awareness to things.”
That experience is why the Jewish Fertility Foundation, which Frank founded, is hosting infertility sensitivity training for mikvah attendants, rebbetzins and kallah class instructors on Sunday, May 7, at the Marcus Jewish Community Center. The seminar will include talks by physicians and by women going through infertility, who will discuss the emotional toll and how infertility is considered to have a psychological effect similar to a diagnosis of HIV or cancer.
“You have the same emotions as if you were diagnosed with something terminal,” Frank said. “Each month you go through the same cycle — hope, loss.”
Leading the seminar will be Naomi Marmon Grumet, founder and director of the Eden Center and a leading trainer for mikvah attendants in Israel. She said the seminar is geared at raising awareness of sensitivity toward infertility and how the mikvah can be a place of comfort rather than a place of pain.
“In the Jewish context, mikvah is touted as a way to protect families and give an element of holiness and spirituality into the lives of a couple’s intimacy,” Marmon Grumet said. “There’s a lot of heightened anticipation when a woman is going through infertility and goes to the mikvah. You think you’re going to be pregnant, and it doesn’t come through. You’re pumped with hormones, and the hormones make you feel all kinds of things: ‘Maybe it will happen this month, and maybe I’ll have a family.’ ”
Marmon Grumet, who completed her doctorate on experiences at the mikvah, said the things women going through infertility hear include “Well, you have other children” and “Oh, you’re young. I’m sure it will be fine. You’ll have plenty of chances.”
She hopes to teach mikvah attendants to avoid making such comments.
“People don’t understand why that would cause somebody else pain,” Marmon Grumet said. “Being sensitive for the way that you say things (like) ‘I’m sorry you’re going through this’ can make a huge difference.”
One woman Marmon Grumet interviewed went to the mikvah after her second miscarriage and was having a hard time with the ritual, wondering whether she would ever be able to have a family with her husband.
“For a lot of women going through infertility, going to the mikvah can be a time of hope for a new month where there could be a baby,” Marmon Grumet said. “After a certain amount of time, it’s very hard for some people.”
Frank said she wants the seminar to give hope to women going through infertility and to educate mikvah attendants to refer women to the Jewish Fertility Foundation. The organization can help couples with support buddies and groups and provides grants to help pay for infertility treatments.
This is the second in a series of training seminars. The first was offered for rabbis, and the next is planned to include those who work in accounts payable at medical offices so they can be more sensitive to people paying thousands of dollars for fertility treatments.
What: Infertility sensitivity training
Who: For mikvah attendants, rebbetzins and kallah class attendants
Where: Marcus JCC, 5342 Tilly Mill Road, Dunwoody
When: 11 a.m. Sunday, May 7
Cost: $10; register at bit.ly/2pkK7rN