When my doctor informed me, in the seventh week of my first pregnancy, that I had miscarried, he accompanied the news with what he surely thought was a comforting idea.
He told me that God wanted perfect children, and this was His way of making it happen.
It was the first of several inappropriate and unhelpful comments that people would offer me. I drove off from the appointment sobbing, ran a red light and smashed my car.
The pain and anguish of infertility has been passed down from matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel to women today. But while our traditions have given us words to say and ways to act during other lifecycle events -- death, birth, marriage -- there is little guidance for how to help a friend or loved one deal with the loss of a pregnancy or the pain and despair of infertility.
When, after a second miscarriage, my husband and I reached out for support to friends and family -- many of them in the happy throes of birthing and raising their own families -- we were surprised by some of the comments we got in return.
On several occasions, friends advised, "Perhaps reducing stress by relaxing more could be helpful," implying that stress had caused these miscarriages.
"I know so many people who have adopted and then gotten pregnant."
Uh, OK. This helps me how?
Then there was this chestnut: "Covering your hair leads to healthy babies" -- except, of course, for the countless healthy children born daily to those with uncovered hair.
From others I got: "It was meant to be," or "it will work next time" or "at least it happened early."
Everyone surely intended to be helpful, but they missed the mark.
What I really needed were people who were there just to listen, and fortunately I had friends and family members who understood this. Some realized the importance of calling to say hi, perhaps while their children were napping, rather than when they were crying or playing in the background. I appreciated the friends who would call on a spur of the moment and invite me to coffee, just the two of us, knowing I still found larger groups somewhat intimidating.
Miscarriage and infertility can be as isolating as they are painful.
Raising a family has always been a desire and priority of mine. After my first miscarriage, I picked myself up and quickly regained hope. I knew that this was quite common. Surely this was just a small bump in the road, and nothing to be too concerned about.
After a couple months of healing, physically and emotionally, I became pregnant again. My husband and I were filled with renewed hope and joy. But my new doctor informed me that a certain hormone level of mine, one that is a good indicator of a healthy pregnancy, was lower than normal.
I was convinced that this pregnancy would be strong and there was just something that seemed right about it, but after several week I miscarried again.
This time I was overcome with a grief that lingered. For a long time, I would cry for no apparent reason. I had trouble facing my friends, walking into my synagogue or being around pregnant women. I felt scared, ashamed, lonely and angry. I wondered whether I had done something wrong, been a bad person or perhaps had been lacking in faith.
Throughout this time, many of my friends were announcing their pregnancies, having children and announcing second pregnancies. Pregnancy and motherhood began to dominate the conversation. I felt as though I had been excluded from a club that all my friends were joining.
Pregnancy began to take over my thoughts. I felt as though this aspect of life was becoming unattainable.
Yet time has a way of healing wounds. Slowly, my husband and I have picked ourselves up and prepared for the process once again. Sure, there have been times that I retreat, avoiding contact with my peers and preferring to stay home alone. But we are now seeing a fertility specialist, and while it adds to our stress and poses different problems, we are optimistic.
If you have friends or family members in my situation, you can provide solace and support. Don't blatantly avoid the topic, which just makes it the elephant in the room. Don't play the cause-and-effect game (i.e., "Perhaps if you just relax and let things happen it will work out"). And don't make empty promises: "It will all turn out OK."
But absolutely do call periodically just to say hi and chat. And look for ways to hang out one-on-one or in small groups (e.g., coffee, dinner). And you can say things like: "I know it's been hard lately. Please don't hesitate to ask if I can help in any way." By saying this, you already have.
Infertility and miscarriages remain largely taboo within the Jewish world, but there are ways that you can help a loved one through those difficult times.
Andrea Lesch Weiss is a social worker who lives in Los Angeles with her husband Jonathan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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