Whatever It Takes:
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Whenever I mentioned to someone that I was going to be doing a infertility series on The Layers Project, every single time that person responded- "Wow that’s such an important topic. I know someone who you should definitely interview." It became obvious to me, that this topic is so prevalent that it was important to give women the platform to talk about how they felt about it. Sometimes we hear the details, but not necessarily the emotional impact of the experience. As soon as the series started, my inbox was overwhelmed with messages from women who wanted to share their stories. Danit’s message stood out for me. She told me about the emotional pain- the loneliness and the struggle. I wanted to make sure, in the second profile of the series, to explore another side to the emotional experience of infertility. I knew I had to tell Danit’s story.
Danit’s story begins the way many others do. “We tried ourselves for 6 months and things weren't working. I was 23, all my friends were getting pregnant and I wondered maybe something was wrong with me. I went to a fertility specialist who suggested timed ovulation. When that didn’t work, they suggested IUI. All my blood work and testing came back normal- they could not explain why I was having a hard time getting pregnant. They did one IUI and I got pregnant right away.” That moment is when the process stopped being smooth.
Her pregnancy was complicated. She gave birth at 34 weeks because she had severe preeclampsia. Her son had to stay in the NICU and while she was visiting her son in the NICU, “I turned to my husband and told him, 'I really don’t feel well.' I went to to the ER because they didn't let me back in Labor and Delivery. They took my blood pressure and it was sky high. They had to push anti hypertensive medication and I ended up losing my vision for a terrifying minute.”
For Danit, this complicated beginning to motherhood was very distressing. “Everything was out of my control. I was glad my son was getting the best care possible in the NICU. I was young, having no idea what to expect. Everything was taken away from me. I had this baby that I worked so hard to get and I didn’t get to see him or hold him for 48 hours.” All Danit wanted was to be able to hold her son, and be healthy enough to care for him on her own.
Her son had an uneventful stay in the NICU. After two and half weeks they were able to bring him home. After a year Danit was finally able to slowly come off hypertensive medication. She then spent the next few years focusing on her son, Jonah. She worked hard to get him the best therapies to help him reach his developmental milestones, due to be born premature. “I was so busy thinking about Jonah, I wasn’t really concerned about having another child right away.”
When I asked Danit if she was afraid to have a second child, due to the life threatening complications of her first pregnancy, she told me, “I wasn’t too worried. I was told that the preeclampsia would have been common with a first pregnancy, and that it likely wouldn't happen again. I assumed everything would be smooth sailing going forward.”
Always knowing that she wanted to have a large family, those early years with Jonah she was more concerned with taking care of him, then the future of a large family. Then someone mentioned a story to her, about an experience they had at a funeral. “The one thing that the mourner said to this woman, was that he was an only child, and ‘He wished he had a sibling to share this moment with.’ After I heard that, I felt reassured that I was ready to try again.” Danit was reminded that she wanted a sibling for Jonah.
Danit and her husband began the process again. They had no reason to expect that the she would have a hard time getting pregnant the way she did before. They tried naturally for a few months and when that didn’t work, they decided to try IUI again. “I reached back out to my doctor, Dr. Zapantis, and though I had only had a short experience with him initially, we had established a very strong bond of trust. I wouldn't let any other doctor work with me, but him.”
They began a course of IUI treatment (Intrauterine insemination). Over the span of 7 months, they did seven IUI cycles that all failed. For a short time they tried injectable medications, but that didn’t work either. “Then my doctor suggested it was time for IVF (In vitro fertilization). I called my insurance company to see what their coverage was and they informed me that I had unlimited IVF with full coverage. Basically that it was all covered, for as long as I kept trying. At the end of the process, my insurance had paid over $700,000 for my IVF treatments.”
Danit did many cycles of IVF over a span of two and a half years. “Some of the cycles, I made very few eggs for my age and the quality was considered ‘poor’ and were not able to be used. Sometimes we would make embryos and they were not viable and wouldn’t make it to get transferred.”
She told me how painful it was for her when the IVF cycles were not successful. “I remember how once I got a call that the cycle I had gone through was not successful and none of my embryos had made it. I was devastated. I was at my parents house when I got the call and I just walked out and went straight home. I couldn’t talk to anyone. All of the effort that I had gone through, the early doctors visits, hormones, waiting- all of it was for nothing. I couldn’t breathe. I was sick to my stomach. I just thought, ‘This is not going to happen for me.’”
Danit began to wrestle with her faith over her struggle to get pregnant. “I struggled with my connection to Hashem and my religion. I kept thinking, ‘What’s the point?’ You put in all this effort, try to maintain your faith, continue to pray and then I got disappointment. I felt disconnected from Hashem. I felt disconnected from everything and anything in the world. From religion, my family, my friends.”
Danit had one friend that she felt she could talk to about her pain. Someone who had also struggled with infertility, who Danit felt could understand what it was like to struggle with this challenge. “She was the only one I wanted to call. It’s very hard to describe to a fertile world, what it's like to be infertile.”
It felt like most of the people she knew, seemingly had no problem getting pregnant. “I think it was hard for them to understand how it forever changes you, not being able to have children. How the sadness and loneliness never leave you. Even after you have the children you worked so hard for, it doesn't negate the experience, the dark and lonely place that you were in for such a long time. You forget how it feels to be normal again. Most of my IVF treatments I went to alone. How many days can my husband take off of work? How many days can someone watch my son for me?”
Danit’s faith struggles continued. “When I was pregnant with my son, Jonah, I prayed and prayed for a healthy baby, during all the pregnancy complications. All that prayer, made me feel the closest I have ever felt to God. Later when during IVF I went to my egg retrievals, I didn't take anesthesia for any of the procedures. I was awake and felt everything. I felt at that point, after everything I had been through that maybe I deserved that pain. I had been through so much, but I figured, ‘Ok, Hashem is giving this to me. Maybe if I physically suffer He will make it easier for me.’ Now I wonder why I had to go through that. Ever since that time, I lost my connection to God. I wish I had it, but I can’t feel it anymore.”
Danit explained that she became resentful of the process that she had to go through in order to bring children into the world. “I wasn’t jealous of my friends who went through much easier times, but it was hard not to be resentful of how hard it was for me comparatively. Once you have your baby after you’ve tried so hard, it still hurts. When you see someone get pregnant for the first time, or you’re seeing someone get pregnant for the third, fourth or fifth time. It hurt from the minute I couldn’t get pregnant and that feeling is not going away. Now, it doesn’t feel any different. It’s not that I’m not happy for people, it’s just what it reflects back onto my own life. I’m resentful for the effort it took for me. I lost out on time with my husband, time with my family and friends. I didn’t get to go on trips because I was attached to my doctor's office every morning. I’ve been married for 9 years. 7 of those years I was struggling with infertility, pregnancy or the complications that came with them. I have missed out on so much.”
After a while the toll it took was too much. “I had done so many cycles of IVF and my mind and my body were exhausted. I just didn’t know if I had it in me to keep on fighting. I started thinking about my other options for having children. I wondered, would I be able to accept a child who wasn’t genetically my baby?” Danit considered egg donation. She asked halachic questions and had picked out an egg donor. She had given it a lot of thought, and decided “that baby would be my child no matter what.”
People would say to her, “It’s ok. You have one son. It’s enough.” That response frustrated Danit. “No one can tell you when ‘it’s enough.’ No one can tell you when you feel like your heart is full and your have the family you need to feel complete. No one can tell you to move on from that hope, and that it was over, until you decide it’s over.”
After feeling ready to move on to egg donation, they found out that the last transfer was successful. “The IVF finally worked and I was pregnant.”
Danit’s second pregnancy was also very difficult. She was on many medications- blood thinners, blood pressure medication, progesterone. At 26 weeks she developed a subchorionic hematoma and started bleeding. “I was so scared and rushed to the hospital. Apparently this is something that can develop from all the IVF. Then they put me on bed rest for several weeks.”
Towards the end of the pregnancy she felt she had enough. “My body had been through so much. At 37 weeks they scheduled a c-section, afraid that I would go into labor, which would be dangerous on blood thinners. I was thrilled to meet my second son.”
At his bris they named him, Baruch Azriel, meaning “With the help of God, a blessing.” Throughout this process her husband was so calm and unemotional. “It was hard for him to watch me go through it all, to understand what I was really experiencing. But on that day of the bris, he was so emotional he could barely get through his speech. He talked about our IVF struggle, and how hard we worked to finally bring this child into the world."
At this point, knowing how isolated she had felt during my IVF process, Danit decided with a old friend from high school, to start a Facebook group for Jewish women who were also struggling with infertility. “We are a group of about 300 women, who in an interactive setting offer each other support and advice through the process. Though there are many facebook groups about infertility, ours is a space where our unique cultural and halachic concerns can be addressed. These women really know what you are going through and even though I am no longer going through IVF, I still enjoy seeing the support everyone gives each other and the environment we created.
I asked Danit about how the her infertility journey has affected her feelings about the future. “I am not going to have any more children. It’s not going to happen for me. In an ideal world, I would have loved to have a large family, but I am content with what I have and grateful for my two beautiful boys.
There is so much scarring from the process I went through. Physical scarring and emotional trauma. I still sometimes find myself in a lonely place. Even after years of struggling with infertility, I honestly forgot how to feel ‘normal.’ Till this day, those feelings are still there.
I’ve never considered myself to be such a strong person, I just learned in those hard moments what I needed to do to get through the day. I think with infertility that’s what you need to do. I do believe that this happened to me for a reason, I know that I may never understand what that reason is and I think that’s ok.”