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Mar 11 2014

When Your Friend is Pregnant, Sometimes it Hurts

By at 2:13 pm

pregnant

“I’ve been reluctant to write this email and I keep putting it off.”

When you are not able to get pregnant and you get an email with that as the opening line, you know exactly what is coming.

“Even though I know you will be happy for us and excited, I know part of you will be sad. So I wanted to give you time to digest this on your own, rather than springing it on you in person. I know you are happy for us. I know that you are happy for so many people. But I also know it’s hard and don’t expect this kind of news to be easy.”

When my friend of 20 years told me she was pregnant, I felt a lot of things, including true happiness for her. But what I felt most was appreciation that she too was navigating her own balancing act. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 4 2014

How Can I Comfort My Friend Struggling with Infertility?

By at 3:37 pm

not-pregnant

It isn’t fair.

I’m old enough to know that life can be unjust, but naïve enough to still be surprised when it happens. A friend of mine is dealing with infertility, and she’s starting treatments now. She had no symptoms. She’s young and healthy and in a solid marriage. She’d be a wonderful mother. It isn’t fair. She’s going to have months of pills, shots, sonograms, doctor visits, spending huge amounts of money, while everyone around us gets pregnant after overindulging in wine.

Once, she once told me that she wanted five children. Now she’s fighting to have one. Of course it could be worse. It could always be worse. But that’s no way to comfort a woman with an empty house. My children are the greatest gifts I’ve ever been given, and my friend just might get stiffed. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 26 2014

Dear Media People: Quit Using the Word “Adoption”

By at 10:39 am

brangelina

Dear journalists, scriptwriters, and other members of the media: I officially revoke your ability to use the word “adoption,” in any of its related forms.

The lead story on CNN recently (which was not about adoption in any way, shape or form) pointed out not once, but twice, that a couple adopted their son. In one instance, they use the line, “…[She] carried him out of the hospital in her arms, as ecstatic as if she’d carried and birthed him herself.” A sensation, indeed: imagine, a woman whose name is on her own child’s birth certificate is over-the-moon at the anticipation of parenting her actual son. A banner day for mothers everywhere, to be sure.

Also on repeat, a show named “Bubble Guppies” on Nick Jr. (listen, I know it’s not exactly Masterpiece Theater, but sometimes I need to do things like take a shower) described adoption (in this case, the adoption of a puppy…or a mer-puppy, to be specific) as “giving someone a nice place to live.” If that’s all it takes, then I’m going to skip the college fund and start vacuuming more often.

(As a side note: While I applaud a marketing-job-well-done by the animal rights industry, until a cat is able to go to court and sign away her or his parental rights, there is absolutely no connection between pet ownership and parenthood.) Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 5 2014

Genetic Testing of Embryos Raises Big Ethical Questions

By at 1:56 pm

fertilized-eggs

A gut-wrenching story in the New York Times this week details the difficult decisions of Amanda Baxley who, immediately after discovering she was a carrier of a gene which leads to Gerstmann-Straussler-Scheinker disease, vowed to never have children. Buxley learned that due to the genetic disease, one day between the ages of 30 and 50, without warning, she will begin to “stumble like a drunk,” dementia will set in soon afterward, and within five years she will be dead. Her father, aunt, and several cousins all died from the disease. The day after she found out, her boyfriend proposed.

The story has a bittersweet ending. By using in-vitro fertilization, Baxley and her husband were able to create several embryos, test them in a petri dish, and select ones that were not carriers of the deadly gene. Today they have three healthy children who are not carriers of the disease.

But as genetic testing of embryos becomes increasingly refined, more and more parents are opting for the procedure for a wide range of reasons, opening new ethical questions about “playing God” and deciding which embryos deserve to live. Read the rest of this entry →

Nov 16 2011

Much Older Mothers Having Babies… and Regretting It

By at 9:52 am
Susan Tollefsen and daughter Freya

Susan Tollefsen and daughter Freya

The BBC recently ran an interview with Susan Tollefsen, a British woman who gave birth to her first daughter at age 57 in 2008. The baby was conceived with the help of in vitro fertilization, using a donor egg and her partner’s sperm (although the couple is now separated). Ms. Tollefsen was refused fertility treatment in the UK because of her age, and became pregnant with the help of a clinic in Russia. Two years later, a clinic in London agreed to assist her with a second pregnancy, but she ultimately decided not to follow through, citing potential health concerns.

Although her daughter is now 3 years old, Ms. Tollefsen is back in the news, saying that she believes she was too old to have a child, and that women over 50 should not have access to fertility treatment. The challenges of raising a child at her age led to the end of her relationship with her partner (11 years her junior), and have left her financially depleted, exhausted, and isolated, as she is much older than other new mothers. Ms. Tollefsen also seems to be coming to terms with the reality that she will likely not live to see her daughter grow up, marry, and have children of her own.

A woman giving birth over the age of 50 is rare, but not unheard of. Furthermore, according to Jewish tradition, Sarah, a revered matriarch, gave birth to Isaac when she was 90 years old, and lived to 127. But that was in the Bible, and Sarah’s pregnancy was literally the result of divine intervention, one which presumably didn’t involve a petri dish and a catheter. Read the rest of this entry →

May 10 2011

The Jewish Genes

By at 11:52 am

For some people, taking blood is no biggie. For me, it's kind of petrifying.

I am needle-phobic. To avoid pricks (at least the kind that get under my skin…that didn’t work…you know, the ones that draw blood), I just don’t go to the doctor. But, when you’re pregnant, you really have no choice (unless you don’t realize you’re carrying a watermelon in your gut AND you’re constipated AND you haven’t taken a trip to the feminine product aisle at CVS in 9 months, like these chicks).

If you’re Jewish, you’re subjected to blood testing even before you get pregnant in order to screen for genetic diseases. When my doctor suggested the testing, I refused. There is no history of genetic disease in my family or my husband’s family and I sure as heck was not going to let Mr. Phlebotomy take 5 vials of my blood. After some not-so-gentle prodding by my doctor, I reluctantly subjected my little veins to the not-so-gentle prodding at the lab.

A week later, my doc called to inform me I was a carrier of Familial Dysautonomia and since one out of four Ashkenazi Jews (those of us from eastern Europe…or, the pale Jews) is a carrier of at least 1 of the 19 genetic diseases, it would make sense for my husband to be tested as well. We did the math and odds were definitely in our favor. But, 1 in 900 meant nothing when Matt’s test came back positive as well.

Shocked, upset, and scared, we made an appointment with a genetic counselor to learn about our options for having a child without this life-threatening disease. We narrowed our choices down to either: 1) Gamble (make a fetus, get tested at 12 weeks, hope for the best, and make a difficult decision if need-be), or 2) IVF ($30,000 not covered by insurance, not guaranteed to make a baby, and not for the needle-nervous). I’m the kind of girl who’d take her baby to Vegas (yes, I did that when he was 3 months old), so you can probably guess that we decided to press our luck.

It’s a basic Punnett Square genetic equation–Mom and Dad each carry one recessive gene and the fetus would need to acquire both of these genes to have the disease. In other words, DD, Dd, dD, dd (remember that from high school biology?) 25% chance the fetus would have the disease, 50% chance the fetus would be a carrier just like we are, and 25% change the fetus would not be a carrier of the disease. Or quite simply, one in four odds our offspring would have FD.

Sperm+Egg met, EPT showed two blue lines, and the waiting game began. Twelve long, exhausted, nauseous weeks later, a sample of placenta was removed, and two agonizingly slow weeks after that, we received the call that the fetus was a carrier of the gene, just like Mom and Dad. Ridiculously big sigh of relief.

Matt and I like to needle each other and guess who gave Ari his FD gene. We really don’t care. We are just thankful each and every day that he is perfectly healthy. (And we hope he will marry a nice Sephardic girl one day–for the genetic assurance, the darker skin pigmentation, and of course, the rice and peas during Passover.)

On a serious note, thanks for reading. I hope you will pass this along to friends, relatives, neighbors, clergy, medical professionals, and anyone else who may not know about the genetic screening test. Or, just “like” this and post on your facebook page to increase awareness. Thank you.

For more information about Jewish genetic diseases, check out Kveller’s Frequently Asked Questions, Resource List, and Options for Carriers.

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