Guest Column by Elana Bekerman Frank
I have two rambunctious and healthy yelling, biting, crying monsters boys whom I love more than life itself. Both were born via the miracle of in vitro fertilization, or IVF — to someone as old as my husband, they were test tube babies.
Technically, my husband’s right because, like it or not, that little glass tube or dish is where the magic happens. I prefer a California King or any reasonably uncluttered kitchen counter, but then again I didn’t really have a choice.
Regardless of how you refer to it, the whole thing truly is a mix of medical marvel and perhaps a drop of divine inspiration. And though I try not to imagine my two babies spending their first moments of life in a glass tube, I just remind myself that for me, they would not have been born any other way.
Even with two beautiful, perfect children to be grateful for, not a single day goes by when I don’t think about those first two years of marriage, full of desperation and sadness. And even now I still get sad because I’ll never not be infertile. We can never just say, “Hey, let’s have another.”
It’ll always be a process and a risk. I’ll never know the feeling of getting pregnant while on a romantic vacation or after a night of passion gone wild. And when I think about my sadness, it’s made even worse with the guilt I feel knowing it worked for me, but for others even this process doesn’t work.
I remember those frustrating moments in our early months of trying, waiting for this month to stick. A husband who found sex a chore. And a baby on my mind. Probably not unlike many women whose biological clocks are ticking. At first buying the expensive pregnancy tests and waiting for two lines to pop up, and then, when month after month it was just that one line, buying a pack of 20 tests from Canada and importing them.
I felt it. I was sure. This would be the month. I remember taking around four tests a month, always negative, before really understanding that nothing was working.
We were living in Israel, where the socialized medicine and desire to create Jewish babies afforded me the opportunity to visit my doctor after only four months of trying in an effort to begin to get some answers.
My husband says it was my Type A personality of expecting something to work the first time, but I feel that I was lucky to have the foresight to get the process started early.
It didn’t help that women (and men) at the religious nonprofit where I worked did not understand why I’d been married over a year (and was over 30!) but did not have kids. “It’s time you started trying.” “You don’t want your kids to have old parents.”
Even several women took to saying tehillim for me. And keep in mind they did not know that I was trying.
On the secular front, my blunt Israeli family — maybe that goes hand in hand — would begin to question our status as well. I’d say things like “Don’t worry, we are trying” or “All in due time,” then run home and cry in my bathroom with frustration and embarrassment.
In Israel they don’t base infertility questions on how long you’ve been trying, but on how long you have been married. We had been hitched more than a year, so the Clomid pills came rather quickly.
Now popping the pills and getting my husband back in bed, I was surely going to conceive this month. I remember that I flew to a friend’s wedding in America so sure that I was pregnant that I didn’t even mind if my friends noticed the little bulge in my belly and that I wouldn’t be joining in their l’chaim (or three).
I was so convinced that I’d be pregnant that I did not believe the four pregnancy tests I took or the fact that my period had arrived. I became an expert Googler, trying to find answers that I wanted to hear. I was making myself crazy (not to mention my husband).
Our few rounds of Clomid failed. As new olim (immigrants to Israel), we were still trying to navigate the health care system, and I started having doubts that I’d ever get pregnant. I started trying to figure out what came next. I was getting desperate.
I opened up to a family member in Israel who was connected to a well-known fertility specialist. Though he was not in my insurance plan, we were able to secure a private visit.
In Israel, a private visit might mean at someone’s home. In this case, it was his home at 9:30 at night. For several months, we visited his “office” in the basement of his home, wrote him a check (hey, we were Americans after all and were used to paying for medical care) and tried to get pregnant.
There was little testing, and it did not feel right. But I was so desperate to see those two lines on a pregnancy test that I didn’t care if my husband was forced to do his business in this doctor’s personal bathroom in preparation for an intrauterine insemination, or IUI, in his back room.
My best friend called to tell me that she was pregnant. It happened sooner than they intended. She was more afraid to tell me than her single friends with no kids because we had been trying vigorously.
I was so happy for her but so sad for me. It was almost a year of trying. Sex was no longer for fun. I felt like my body was betraying me. Was G-d punishing me?
Something clicked, and my husband and I decided to move on from our sketchy basement doctor. We found another doctor through another Israeli relative. The referral didn’t come without the “Oh, just relax, I’m sure that nothing is wrong” and “Go on vacation, just enjoy this time, it will happen.”
After three more months (the time it took to switch insurance plans) we met our miracle worker, Dr. Nitzri, and within one month and several painful tests he found the problem. It was mine, and I was happy because it meant that we could finally have an action plan and next step.
He did a little typing on his computer and told us that we qualified for IVF. I started treatment the next month. Yes, the injections hurt, and the medications made me gain weight, not to mention I was a hormonal mess. But IVF worked, and we welcomed our first son. And 18 months later we had our second.
My story isn’t unique. But I was lucky. I got pregnant via IVF twice in two years, and I thank the universe every day. But for others it takes years, losses, and lots of tears and heartache before babies are made, if at all.
With the costs of IVF ranging from $15,000 to $25,000 in Atlanta, many couples don’t even have a chance for a chance. So I’ve turned my useless guilt into helpful actions by starting the Jewish Fertility Foundation.
As a woman struggling with infertility, I know what it’s like to cry alone. I hope that I can use my experience working in nonprofits and my personal understanding around infertility to help other women know there is support available.
Elana Bekerman Frank, a native of Atlanta, lived, studied, worked and did her breeding in Maryland, Manhattan, Israel and New Jersey. (The breeding was only in Israel.) She is quite vocal about her fertility struggle and her desire to help others. She has over 13 years of experience working with nonprofits in America and in Israel in fundraising, marketing, community outreach, volunteer recruitment, training and program development. She is currently the director of public relations and marketing at the Weber School and president of the Jewish Fertility Foundation in Atlanta.