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Fertility Journey Advice From an Interfaith Couple

If you are having difficulty trying to conceive, you are not alone. 

After a year of dreaming, praying and many tears, I was finally pregnant. It was a year of IUI and IVF procedures which included many ultrasounds, lots of bloodwork, arm shots, belly shots, butt shots, hormone patches and pills meditation, acupuncture and weekly chiropractor appointments.

Positive pregnancy test
When we finally got the good news

The morning we found out, I was bouncing off the walls with joy. I was so happy; I took six pregnancy tests just because it was so satisfying to see that double line after countless failed attempts. (OK, maybe it was eight…it was so gratifying!)

My fertility journey was physically painful, emotionally exhausting and incredibly expensive. After every negative pregnancy test, my heart would break and I cried for hours knowing I had to start all over with the fertility treatments and wait yet another month to try again.

As someone who is terrified of receiving shots, it took courage and many deep breaths when I learned how to inject myself with daily doses of drugs in order to go away for a week-long rabbinical convention without my partner. And I wasn’t always good at it, I’d often bleed and bruise myself. 

I had to leave vacations early and miss some entirely for ultrasounds and inseminations. Some weeks, my clothes were too tight from the bloating and my body was too exhausted to be social. The exorbitant bills made my heart sink, especially because we didn’t even know how long this could continue or if the treatments would even work.

As an interfaith couple, my wife and I have been very intentional about prayer and tradition for our growing family. We created rituals and spiritual practices that helped us on this fertility journey and we want to share them with you. They provided peace and the ability to cope with uncertainty, pain and disappointments; we hope they may help others as well.

These strategies aren’t for everyone. Take what works for you and leave the rest. 

Prioritize “Us” Time

We made sure to stay connected with each other and intentionally carve out space so we could enjoy time as a couple. We especially enjoyed partner yoga, fancy dinners out and a weekend getaway to Chattanooga where we unplugged, went hiking and cooked meals together.

our altar

Build an Altar

We have a handmade wooden table in our home upon which we have created various altars over the years for job hunting, wedding planning and baby-making; it’s a space to dream and hope and surrender. When we began our fertility journey, we mindfully and prayerfully placed dried flowers from our wedding, heart shaped rocks, ovulation kits, prenatal vitamins, pictures of each of us as babies and pregnancy tea as we spoke our dreams of growing our family.

Keep it Light

I bought a coloring book called, “IVF?WTF!“: An adult coloring and stress relief book.” It made us giggle to read the satirical captions while getting creative together. 

Share Moments of Prayer

We prayed. A LOT. We prayed with words of our ancestors and yearnings of the heart. As an interfaith couple, we have a shared reverence for the Divine and connect with the Source of Strength through prayer and meditation.

prayer

Together, we blessed every needle, every pill, every procedure. Mercy grew up praying from the heart in English with her family and religious community. While I was raised to recite codified prayers in Hebrew, as an adult I learned to connect to the Oneness of the world through extemporaneous prayer. We drew from our respective traditions and created customs of our own. 

Every time we tried a procedure or treatment for the first time, we recited the Shehecheyanu prayer—a blessing that thanks God, our Higher Power for safely bringing us to this new moment. Every Shabbat, we lit three candles—two in honor of Shabbat and one as a light of hope for those who were trying to conceive (including ourselves). We also recited the serenity prayer* when we felt ourselves becoming too attached to a certain outcome. Sometimes when we were feeling sad, scared and vulnerable, we would speak directly to God.

*Serenity prayer: God, grant me the serenity, to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

Feel the Music

For many, many weeks, my wife injected me with progesterone—with music in the background. It hurt, it bruised my body, sometimes it bled and it felt unfair. We created our own grounding ritual to make the experience feel meaningful. Once the shot was prepared, we turned down the lights, took deep breaths and played Ani DiFranco. Don’t ask me why I craved her music…but my favorite singer of the 1990s was what I needed to hear.

Visit the Mikveh (Jewish ritual bath)*

mikveh

I have always loved the power of the mikveh, and have immersed myself during significant milestones and transitions in my life. I find it to be a transformative experience to soak in a body of natural water while connecting to the Source of Life.

There is actually a modern Jewish custom where a woman who is trying to conceive accompanies a pregnant woman who is at full term, dunking immediately after her. When I was trying to get pregnant, I was fortunate to have a friend who invited me to immerse after her when she was 9 months pregnant. Her belly was full and she was due in a few weeks. I submerged in the womb-like waters with tears in my eyes and hope in my heart while I recited blessings specifically written for this occasion that were available at my mikveh. My wife was my witness and when we were done, I felt a lightness in my soul.

Just over a year later, at 9 months pregnant, I immersed again, this time with a baby wiggling inside of me. There are no words to describe the deep connection I felt to the Divine Feminine as I entered the waters immediately before a friend who was experiencing infertility (and now she’s a mama!).

*A note about the use of mikveh: Unfortunately, not all mikveh communities are welcoming of people who do not identify as Jewish unless you are using the mikveh experience for a conversion. If you do not live near a mikveh that works for you, you can also use a natural body of water or your bathtub.

Form Support Systems

Some of my closest friends are women who have walked the fertility journey with me, beloveds who I could vent to about the probing and prodding while driving to countless appointments. We shared about our growing follicles, our hormonally induced mood swings and how, at times, we felt like our lives were on hold. I also reached out to the Jewish Fertility Foundation. They provide financial assistance, emotional support and educational programming.


Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe

Rabbi Malka Packer-Monroe helps individuals and families discover deeper meaning, joy and spirituality in their daily lives. Her passion is creating inspiring and relevant rituals and ceremonies and invigorating Jewish practices. As a rabbi, educator and director at 18Doors in Atlanta, she is proud to provide interfaith workshops, programming and counseling, along with officiating weddings and baby naming ceremonies.