Yet at the same time as mega-stories are breaking, and are being talked about in the office, online, and in Lilith salons, there are smaller-scale, more deeply personal narratives that lurk beneath the surface, stories that are huge in the lives of the women they affect but don’t always make it into the headlines. These, too, are Lilith’s beat: the regrets of some people who have never had children; the strong feelings of those who take justifiable umbrage at the assumption that every woman wants to be a mother; and the challenges that face same-sex female couples looking for a sperm donor. In this issue, Ilana Kramer probes some of the experiences of gay and lesbian couples wanting to have children and deciding if the other-sex biological parent will be someone they know, or a stranger.
When we edit a story like this one, we’re very conscious of who’s left out. What about a single woman wanting to have children? Where does she turn for a sperm donor? What about couples trying to have a child, whether by birth or adoption, who are tripped up by financial or personal or bureaucratic stumbling blocks? Fertility challenges are a nexus where the personal, the political and the communal all intersect.
Those for whom infertility can bring, monthly, the bitter taste of disappointment wrestle with how they will have children when the standard method of conception fails them. We hear how the heartache, frustration and economic toll can be as overwhelming as the physical challenges. So the article here about a couple who manage to conceive after only two cycles of trying, in a wonderfully low-tech D-I-Y fashion—using not costly high-tech medical interventions but a simple syringe and a jar of sperm kept warm on a bicycle ride home—can trigger pain for some readers. A story hugely validating for some, and a source of curiosity-fulfillment for others, may for one cohort just spur sadness.
Perhaps because women and men today are older when they are ready to consider having children––and hence less fertile––this cohort appears to be growing. (You know the perpetual outcry about the dropping birthrate among non-Orthodox Jews.)
Here is one possible source of succor for people who might need help in creating their families. Assuaging at least some of the financial problems, and the feelings of isolation from a community full of ubiquitous Instagram or Facebook photos of other people’s kids lighting Hanukkah candles or making challah, would be a fund to help Jews afford the high cost of adoption or assisted reproduction. The cost of one cycle of IVF can be $15,000. Some Hebrew Free Loan societies offer interest-free loans for adoption and fertility treatments, but these sums will barely cover one round of treatment, and often many rounds are necessary. Plus, a loan has to be repaid. Especially for a single woman—who may lose income once she’s taking care of a child—an outright grant would be more effective in enabling her to become a parent.
So here’s a modest proposal. Jewish women’s foundations, now funding projects to empower women and girls in many communities, could spur the creation of a national fund to help defray the costs of fertility interventions. Perhaps a percentage of each contribution to these community foundations could be earmarked for such a fertility fund. After all, for about a century, there has been a fund for Jewish women’s education, and for decades there has been much-needed funding for reproductive-rights work. There will be challenges to creating and managing any fund that makes grants to individuals, but San Francisco’s Hebrew Free Loan Society says it well: the process should be “personalized, confidential, and respectful.”
Then the small-scale stories become a larger story, played out under a bigger tent.