It finally happened. Six years, 14 IVF cycles, eight pregnancies, and we finally took our little girl home. She’s healthy, happy, and growing like a weed. In my wildest dreams (and there was plenty of time to dream!), I never imagined the amount of happiness and peace we would find in our tiny daughter.
But while our daughter fills a special place in my heart, we are still struggling with our faith. Though my husband and I were raised Orthodox, as I’ve written before, the last six years have made both of us lose our faith in God. For our one daughter, we’ve had to say goodbye to 10 other babies. That makes it too damn hard to believe that there is a God who is in charge.
With our first diagnosis of severe male factor infertility, we didn’t question God. Infertility was a challenge, but that kind of thing happens. Everyone has some kind of challenge. We were lucky to have each other, a happy marriage, and stable finances. No one can skate too easily through life, right? IVF was a mountain, but not insurmountable.
I never expected our first IVF cycle to work, but it did. And wow—twins! We were overwhelmed with our good fortune. Getting pregnant might have taken a year or so longer than expected, but we were getting a bonus baby! And then, disaster struck. Our son and daughter were born prematurely at 22 weeks and died at birth. We were in disbelief. For weeks, I would wake up in the morning and expect to see my big belly and feel my babies kick. For a few moments, I was content, but then the harsh reality would sink in again. I started to question why this was happening to us. Hadn’t I paid my dues by doing the IVF? After a year of testing and paperwork and treatments and waiting, my pregnancy felt like a fitting reward. We deserved those babies, more than most. But we lost them. I always knew life wasn’t fair, but losing the babies seemed like a slap in the face.
I expected the next IVF cycle to work. But it didn’t. And neither did the cycle after that. But the next one did. I was pregnant again! When I started bleeding, I read dozens of posts online about how first trimester bleeding can be totally normal and is more common with IVF pregnancies. When we went for the ultrasound and were told the baby’s heartbeat had stopped, I just felt numb. Four IVF cycles and nothing to show for it? We started another IVF cycle as soon as we could. Another failure. Another cycle—and finally success again!
My third pregnancy was twins again. We knew this was a risk with IVF, but we were told that what happened with our first set of twins was a fluke and unlikely to happen again. I held my breath as we got closer and closer to the magically viability milestone. Our first babies had died because they had just been born too soon. So at exactly 24 weeks, I was ready to celebrate. But something wasn’t right. I went to the doctor and was told I was just being silly, until I got fully checked out and they realized I was in pre-term labor. Our twin boys, Micha and Asaf, were born that day. Again, I thought that this was just another hurdle, another obstacle, and another challenge. We would have a long, hard NICU stay—months of sitting in the hospital, months of going home without our babies, months of waiting and worrying—but I fully believed that they would come home. More than anything, we deserved that. I was prepared to do anything I had to do as a NICU mom. But in the end, there was nothing we could do. Micha passed away at 5 days old, and Asaf only 4 days later.
It was then that I realized we might never have the chance to raise a child. Who on earth deserved a baby more than we did? We did everything right, we worked so hard, we struggled so much—and all for nothing but two tiny cemetery plots. I was raised to believe in hashgacha pratit—the idea that God is actively involved in our lives and is in charge of every little detail. But I couldn’t understand how our story, which raised sympathy from every person we told, didn’t convince God to give us a baby.
Three more years, and so much more failure. A baby boy who died in utero at 18 weeks, three more first trimester miscarriages (each more horrific and complicated than the last), thousands of injections, hundreds of blood tests, dozens of doctor appointments. When our attempts with donor embryos failed and I miscarried what we thought was our best chance, we were near our breaking point. I wanted to try surrogacy, even with the enormous financial cost and unfathomable logistical difficulties, but my husband wasn’t quite ready. I told him I was willing to attempt an eighth pregnancy, but after that I was done. If that pregnancy didn’t bring us a baby, I would not try again.
For this pregnancy, we tried anything anyone could think of. Transfusions of immunoglobulins, injections of every kind of pregnancy hormone, using donor sperm, bed rest, a cerclage, hydroxyprogesterone injections—and it worked. Well… mostly. For the third time, we got pregnant with twins, but we lost one of the babies in the first trimester. Even with everything we tried, a baby still died. That makes it even harder to know what (if anything) made any difference at all. The second baby was exposed to absolutely the same things that our daughter was. So why did she live and her twin died? We will ever know.
Yonit Shalva was born full-term in a planned repeat C-section. We are in utter disbelief that our dream has finally come true. Her name represents the peace and serenity her healthy arrival brings us. We can finally get off the crazy rollercoaster that we’ve been stuck on for six years.
But what will we tell Yonit when she asks about God? We don’t know. Luckily, she doesn’t talk yet and we still have time to think about how we’ll answer. But that day and those questions will be here before I know it. I just hope I can find a way to help her navigate a difficult world as best she can—with or without God in her life.