By Gillian Rittmaster
Sarah and David are a young, married couple. Just two years ago they stood under the chuppah with their parents, repeated their vows. and broke the glass. At the wedding reception Sarah’s father made a toast to the new bride and groom and wished them a long life filled with good health, happiness, and, of course, grandchildren. Sarah and David danced the hora that night with their friends. They were held up high in the chairs, holding a napkin between them symbolizing their new union.
Today, Sarah and David are in the waiting room of an infertility specialist. They have been trying to get pregnant since they came back from their honeymoon. They have endured two years of trying to have a baby with no success. Sarah and David have not told their friends or family what they are going through. They know everyone is wondering and worrying. David’s mother asks him what they are waiting for. She says she is anxious to be a grandmother and is not getting any younger. Sarah’s mother points out cute baby clothes every time they go shopping together. David’s sister, who was married after them, is expecting her first child. No one knows their secret and they suffer in silence.
This is just one example of what individuals and couples go through as they face infertility. We are commanded in the Bible to “go forth and multiply.” When that is not realized, feelings of profound sadness, guilt, shame, and isolation can be overwhelming. Like Sarah and David, many in their situation, experience a deep sense of loss, anxiety, depression, and anger, all the while keeping this silent sorrow to themselves. Some may share their journey with others, but many do not. They often retreat into a private world of their own; broken and wounded after years of trying, going to doctor appointments, and taking countless medical tests.
In order to help address and reduce the stigma and shame surrounding infertility, Westchester Jewish Community Services (WJCS) and the Harold and Elaine Shames JCC on the Hudson created a partnership under a grant from UJA, to support individuals and families grappling with infertility in Westchester County. This past March, the Shames JCC presented TRYmester, a performance that highlighted the fertility challenges of those in the Jewish community. As the program notes for the event said, “TRYmester was born from dreams of people traveling alongside those trying to have a child….Bearing witness to personal narrative through the arts can create deep empathy for anyone on a fertility journey. Our collective responsibility at this performance is to learn more about their struggles and be moved in new ways, as we honor their journey to help break their isolation.”
The goal of this initiative is to provide our community with opportunities to engage with each other through support groups and educational programs that allow for a dialogue and a sense of caring and belonging.
For more information, call Sherry Birnbaum, Director of Jewish Programs, WJCS 914-761-0600 ext. 140.
Gillian Rittmaster, LMSW, is the Coordinator of the Pathways to Care Program and Bereavement Services at WJCS.