“We’ve been trying to conceive and we haven’t been successful,” I told the receptionist as she asked my reason for scheduling an appointment. It seemed obvious. Why would I be calling a fertility clinic if we weren’t unsuccessfully trying to conceive? But I guess rules are rules, and she probably had to type something into the chart.
But I hated saying it out loud. I hated making it seem even more true.
My partner and I met in our 30s, at the start of COVID. Like many relationships during the pandemic, ours accelerated quickly, and we tied the knot last fall. We both knew what we wanted and didn’t see any reason to wait. We wanted a life with each other built on shared values, trust, love and joy. And we wanted kids. Oh wow, did we want kids.
People have different relationships with the notion of parenting. Many of my friends weren’t sure in their 20s that they wanted children but as they got older opened up to the idea. Among my friends without kids, some know that they want them (eventually), some know that they don’t (ever), and a lot could go either way. Despite the Jewish community’s general push for Jewish babies, I think it’s sensible, and sacred, for Jewish adults to become parents only if they wish.
My partner and I? We’ve both known that we wanted kids since we were teens. Before I met him, I had a timeline in my head — I’d go to a sperm bank by my late 30s if I was still single. My preference was to raise kids with a partner, and to have those kids with a partner if that could happen biologically, but if my clock was ticking, I wouldn’t wait indefinitely.
As a rabbi, I do a lot of weddings for folks around my age. Over the last few years, every time a couple I wed had a baby, I felt a physical sense of relief — a reminder that, yes, of course, people in their mid-30s get pregnant all the time. It gave me hope that I, too, would soon be a parent.
But when my partner and I didn’t conceive after trying for a while, we decided we should get checked, and since checking him was more straightforward, he’d go first.
We were both really hoping that we just hadn’t gotten lucky yet — that my “advanced age” for a first pregnancy (I’m 35, folks) meant it would take us a few months longer than average. But his results came back bad. Not absolutely-impossible-to-conceive-naturally bad. But very-unlikely-to-conceive-naturally bad. Right now we’re in a painful waiting period before he repeats the test to confirm that there wasn’t lab error. If there was, maybe he’ll do the test yet again to confirm that that wasn’t lab error? If the results are similar, it’s back to the doctor for next steps.
Meanwhile, on his doctor’s recommendation, I made my own appointment at the clinic. For over a month from now, which is apparently still “soon.” And I found out at my regular annual exam that I may already have a condition that will make getting and staying pregnant much more challenging.
So this is where we are. Today. We don’t have a resolution. We don’t even have an official diagnosis. We have no idea whether we’ll be able to achieve pregnancy “naturally” or through medical intervention or at all, whether we’ll be able to adopt, whether we’ll end up being a doting aunt and uncle unable to raise kids of our own. We’re in this right now, and it’s painful, and my instinct at first was to stay silent. But I don’t want to.
Because this isn’t just us. There are so many people who want so much to become parents. I often see posts on social media of friends and acquaintances who share a photo of a healthy ultrasound or a newly-adopted child and only then reveal the years they suffered through infertility or multiple miscarriages or any other number of difficulties. Somehow we’ve trained ourselves in this society that the only time we’re allowed to share the heartache of fertility challenges is alongside the happy ending.
The pain until then is private. Because it’s somehow still seen as shameful. Because it’s (often) connected to sex. Because it’s considered some kind of failure. Because it’s an invitation for judgment (“Well if you wanted kids so much, why didn’t you start trying when you were younger?”). Because care for nonviable pregnancies can involve abortion-like procedures that are now illegal in some states. Because being open about personal struggle puts everyone you know in a position of needing to decide whether to ask you how you’re doing and actually be open to the answer and sometimes you just want to talk about work or whatever.
Part of me wants to wait too — to hold my breath until I reach a second trimester someday, whether that’s in six months or five years — and then to share how difficult it was to get there. To wait until the adoption paperwork has gone through and then share alongside our joy the challenges we had trying to conceive biologically. Part of me wants to keep this under wraps for another few cycles, hoping that actually it’s not a big deal and I’ll be pregnant before I know it.
But you know what? Best case scenario? In a month or two we’ll conceive naturally, despite the odds, and I’ll feel sheepish about writing this, and the pain that my husband and I have been in these last weeks will not have been any less real. Worst case? Worst case his results are accurate, and there’s something really wrong with my reproductive system, too. Worst case we’ll be pouring time, energy, money, soul into this for years. Worst case we’ll pursue adoption and it won’t go through. Worst case none of our efforts will work. Worst case we won’t see this dream into reality at all. Worst case, we’ll carry this mostly alone for years until this dream dies.
When people ask me why I became a rabbi, I often share that I don’t want anyone to feel alone. I want to help connect people with something or someone that deepens their sense of existence. I don’t want to feel alone, and I don’t want to suffer alone. I think of our matriarchs — of Sarah, and of Rebecca, and of Rachel, wanting children so terribly. I think of Hannah, praying for a healthy pregnancy, so heartbroken in her focus that Eli the priest thinks she’s drunk. I think of my mom, who suffered two miscarriages between me and my sister. And I think of so many families who’ve shared their happy endings alongside their earlier struggles and loss.
There’s so much hidden heartache, and I want everyone to know that their heartache is holy. My heartache is holy. My partner’s heartache is holy. So I want to share, now, at the start of this journey, wherever it leads. And if you know me? I want you to hold my family in your heart as we seek to grow it, to ask what we need when you’re in a place to offer support, and to understand if at that particular moment I don’t want to talk about it.
May I be like Sarah, and Rebecca, and Rachel and Hannah, who all bear children after struggle. May I be like Naomi, who welcomes Ruth as a daughter. May all who seek to be parents meet their children.