Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Faith. Show all posts

June 18, 2011

Blog Tour of Inspired Reading: The Red Tent

Today's post is in conjunction with the Blog-A-Licious Blog Tour: a fantastic blog hop that brings together bloggers of all genres, backgrounds and locations. In today's hop, the blog featured before mine is Karen's But I Digress. The blog featured after me is the captivating Catherine at Idea City. Do stop by and say hello plus some of us are having giveaways and contests. Enjoy!

For this Blog Tour, we were asked to write about the book that inspires us the most. I'm glad I've gotten the  prompt to write about a book that has meant so much to me over the years and has in many ways, shaped the way I view myself as Jewish Woman (yes, with capital J and capital W).

Every woman should read Anita Diamant's The Red Tent. I have often called it Required Reading for Every Woman because it is a remarkable, gorgeous, sensuous work of historical fiction that celebrates both the darkest and most glorious parts of what it means to be Woman.

Seriously? Go read it this weekend.
Very briefly, because I don't want this to feel like a book report - The Red Tent unearths the story of Dinah from the dusts of the Torah, a Biblical figure who receives little more than passing mention in Genesis 34. Jacob is known as one of the great Patriarchs of Judaism with two Matriarchs at his side, Rachel and Leah, and a whole host of a dozen sons who became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. But among his boyish brood exists a lone daughter: Dinah.  Her story is often known as "The Rape of Dinah" as a prince of Shechem "defiles" her, and Dinah's brothers Levi and Simeon avenge her rape by massacring the city of Shechem, leaving no survivors.

And with that, Dinah fades back into the dust of the Torah, never to be mentioned again. This is where Diamant picks up, fleshing out the story of Dinah's youth and relationship to her four mothers: Rachel, Leah, and Jacob's concubines Zilpah and Bilhah, as well has her grandmother, Rebecca. She weaves the tale of Dinah falling in love with the Prince of Shechem and that her brothers' crusade was bent on murderous rage. After the massacre, she flees to Egypt where she gives birth to a son and becomes an devoted and talented midwife.

The Red Tent refers to something we talk about a lot in the infertility community: our menstrual cycles. As happens in many confined living arrangements, the women would often cycle together, in a phenomenon known as menstrual synchrony or the McClintock effect. Ancient tribes of women would gather in a menstrual tent or hut during their blood cycle, often cycling with the moon. Dinah learns of her rich heritage, not just as a third generation of monotheistic Jews, but as a Woman in her place in a Long Line of Women Before Her.

As I've said before, we shouldn't be ashamed or grossed out by our periods, because our menstrual cycles are a vital indicator of women's health. The Red Tent reminds us of this and inspires us to be mindful of the miracle and wonder of our own human forms.

You may have also read posts where I speak of the Red Tent Temple, the women's group I go to every month. The Red Tent Temple movement was born out of Diamant's novel by ALisa Starkweather, a Wise Woman and Women's Empowerment Practitioner. I'm also so pleased to know filmmaker Isadora Leidenfrost who is making a documentary of the Red Tent Temple Movement: Things We Don't Talk About. This one-hour film is slated to be released next year. I have eagerly been awaiting the trailer; hopefully I've made the cut from hundreds of hours of footage that Isadora shot herself at Red Tent Temples all over the country. She's also looking for some more financial support to stay on track with her production and release schedule, so if you know of women-empowered businesses or organizations who'd be willing to help out an empowered woman filmmaker, please head over to her site and drop her a line.

The Red Tent in its modern iteration has become a place of community wisdom and social healing, a sisterhood of empowerment. In reading The Red Tent and participating in the Red Tent Temple in my own community, I've realized that their is indeed power to be had in gathered groups of women. We need more dialogue circles like this, more Red Tents, to share our collective womanhood experiences; there is so much we can learn from one another as women when given the opportunity.

So... have you picked up your copy yet? The Red Tent is an amazingly beautiful, captivating read, and like I said: practically required reader for women everywhere. Now head on over to Catherine's Idea City - she'll tell you about her most inspiring book. Come meet me over there and we can read along together! Want to see what other books are inspiring other bloggers? Follow along on the rest of the Blog Tour this week by stopping by at each of these fabulous blogs for the Blog-a-licious Blog Tour!
  1. Roy: Roy’s Garage Sell and Auction Well
  2. Sulekha: Memoirs
  3. Sora: Peace from Pieces
  4. Shaeeza: My B Words
  5. Mari: Mari Sterling Wilbur Photography
  6. Paula: Hardline Self Help
  7. Karen: ...But I Digress
  8. (You are here) Keiko: Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed
  9. Catherine: Idea City
  10. Kate and Ashley: Back of the Book Reviews
  11. Desiree: Desiree Holt Tells All
  12. Sonia: Sonia Rumzi.com
  13. DK Levick: Writing in the Woods
  14. Sarcasm Goddess: For the Love of Writing
  15. Tosh: Totsymae.com
  16. Lucy: Life Through Lucylastica's Lense
  17. Leo: Find Peace, Love and God
  18. Dora: Blog-a-licious Blogs

June 17, 2011

5 Infertility Books for Great Summer Reads: Inconceivable

Welcome back to my Infertility Summer Reading review series! Tune in every other Friday this summer for a new review. Two weeks ago I reviewed Dr. Domar's Conquering Infertility. This week I review the truly remarkable story of Carolyn and Sean Savage in their memoir, Inconceivable. Want to join along in the reading fun this summer? Check out the schedule of reviews below. You can even grab your own copy of the books reviewed by clicking the book covers under the Infertility Summer Reading List to the right. Feel free to start reading ahead or wait until after the review goes up. Either way, do join along and share your thoughts in the comment section!

Infertility Summer Reading Series Featured Books
  1. Conquering Infertility by Dr. Ali Domar - (Read the review from June 3)
  2. Inconceivable by Carolyn and Sean Savage - (Today: June 17)
  3. Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts (Read the review from July 1)
  4. Silent Sorority by Pamela Mahoney Tsigdinos (July 29)
  5. Navigating the Land of If by Melissa Ford (August 12)

Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn't Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift by Carolyn and Sean Savage

Recommended to me by: Terri Davidson, Davidson Communications

The Review: The story begins like so many other stories in the infertility community: a couple thaws their frozen embryo, it's implanted, and whether by luck or blessing, it sticks. But for Carolyn and Sean Savage, their story and world were turned completely upside-down within this otherwise simple narrative. On February 16, 2009, the Savages learned that Carolyn was pregnant with another couple's frozen embryo. The child she was carrying was genetically - and legally - not theirs. In that moment, they made the ultimate decision to carry the pregnancy to term, and at the risk of Carolyn's health no less. Upon delivery, the Savages would relinquish the child to his genetic parents, Shannon and Paul Morell.

The story moves at an incredibly fast pace although it's obvious from the Savages where their nine months seemed endless for them. Carolyn and Sean's journey is fraught with intense emotion; Carolyn struggles with the sense of connection and longing she feels to her biological son, knowing legal relinquishment can never sever the unique bond she shares with him. Sean meanwhile operates in full-protector-mode, trying to stay focused on what is ultimately best for his wife. When a previous pregnancy nearly killed her, he carries a heightened sense of protection for her knowing that she's potentially risking her life for another couple's child.

The Savages and the Morells initially make contact through letters via their lawyers. The chapter where the Savages read that first letter of contact is just so jarring in its anger and disappointment. There's so much that was left unsaid that the Savages so desperately wanted to hear from the Morells. I get the impression in reading the book that a lot of those sentiments they so longed to hear never were said during the course of their journey. It's not that the Morells were ungrateful, but they certainly could have been more sensitive.

As devout Catholics, they faced criticism from their Diocese instead of support, as the Church condemns the use of IVF. The Savages argue that on the day they found out Carolyn was pregnant with someone else's child, they made the ultimate decision to choose life, a greater principle in their eyes than whether or not they used IVF in the first place. Inconceivable is as much a story about a spiritual crisis and journey of faith as it is anything else. (Sean Savage wrote an amazing piece in May further expanding on how the Church reacted to their story for CNN and is worth a read - My Take: Catholic Church should reverse opposition to in vitro fertilization.)

While you always know the inevitable end to the story is coming - as the Savages did too - you're just not prepared for the emotion. From Chapter 18 on, you better have a box of tissues handy. As the story built with such an unresolved sense of closure for the Savages concludes, they share their considerable emotional toil beyond just Logan's birth. I won't spoil it here, but there was a chapter to the Savage's story that was largely unpublicized by the media that adds a considerable layer of depth, emotion, and heartbreak in the face of everything else.

Inconceivable concludes with some of the legal matters as the Savages pursued the clinic that initially made the mistake, detailing exactly how such a life-altering error could happen in the first place. It is both shocking and infuriating as you read how events unfolded and the carelessness that went unchecked at multiple stages in the days leading up to Carolyn's transfer. Inconceivable is a gripping story right to the very last page.

Quotable Moment: Sean describes the moments after Logan was born and before he was given to the Morells with painful clarity and sums up the enormity of their story:
"As Carolyn held Logan to her chest, I could barely contain my emotion. Fifteen hours before, she had held him inside her, now she was holding him on her chest, and a few hours from now he would be gone with the Morells in Michigan. How would we pack a lifetime of love for this child into a few minutes?"

Rating: (out of a possible 5 tasty pomegranates)
The book arrived at my house at 2:25pm. I had finished reading it by 5:51pm that same day: I literally could not put it down. The book is well worth every single pomegranate it has earned. A compelling story of extraordinary circumstances, the Savages tell their story with candid, raw emotion. Inconceivable teaches us about the life-changing impact of a single mistake, the enormous hearts of two devoted parents, and how to cope when confronting the inconceivable choices we may face in our own lives.

Food for Further Thought: There are two sides to every story. Shannon and Paul Morell wrote their own version of events in their book, Misconception: One Couple's Journey from Embryo Mix-Up to Miracle BabyI won't say the Savages were unkind to Morells in their version of the story, but Carolyn's recurrent disappointment and even outright anger were more than palpable in their book. The Morells have this to say in the introduction of their book, released nearly a year before the Savages' book:
"So why would two very private people expose their personal health information to the public and write a book about how their baby ended up inside another woman's womb? Because through our ordeal we have discovered so many misconceptions...

So though we are not at all comfortable in the spotlight, since we find ourselves here, we do not want our pain or experience to be wasted or our joys and gratitude to go uncelebrated. It is our hope and prayer then telling our story many misconceptions can be cleared away, leaving nothing but the truth."
In some ways, I feel like even in their very introduction, the Savages' portrayal of the Morells doesn't seem that far off. To be fair, I haven't read Misconception, but I won't lie - I don't feel terribly inspired to read their story have read the Savages' first and from skimming what pages are available through Simon and Schuster's website.

Have you read Inconceivable or Misconception? Did you follow the Savages' story last year? What part of their story shocked you the most? And don't forget to tune in again in two weeks when I review the wildly popular graphic novel, Good Eggs by Phoebe Potts.

June 10, 2011

Infertile Women of the Torah: Resourceful Hannah

The Infertile Women of the Torah is an occasional series here at Hannah Wept, Sarah Laughed that examines the role of infertility in the Torah (Old Testament).

Engraving by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1851).
In my last post, I introduced the idea that infertility is of cultural and religious importance within Judaism. I asked folks to read the story of Hannah, perhaps one of the most prominent stories of infertility in the Torah as Hannah's emotions are depicted with such heartbreak and longing. I asked folks to reflect on her story, as so many parts of it speak to our own infertility journeys thousands of years later.

Like many of us, she is devastated after years and years of trying to produce a child with her husband Elkinah, but to no avail. She is bereft with grief and depression: "...she wept and would not eat (Samuel I 1:7)." Weeping and not eating? Sounds like classic signs of depression to me, don't you think?
 
Reader Gail agrees:
Hannah is depicted as a strong woman who is depressed. She cries and is "bitter in spirit" and she is haunted by her rival, her husband's other wife, who has been able to have children and makes her feel bad. In that way, I can totally relate (expect that my husband does not have 2 wives - only me). I see other women with babies and am jealous and angry and depressed.
Judaism has taught me that there's more than one side to any given story and that we must question all sides. Cue: the Talmud. In a nutshell, the Talmud is a body of complementary interpretation of the Torah. It's kind of like an ancient VH1 Behind the Music but written by ancient scholars and sages. Male scholars and sages, obviously - but this is important, especially when writing and commenting about prominent female figures in the Torah.

In the Torah, the basic story is this: Hannah's super sad she can't have children, she prays like a fiend, BAM! miracle baby - a nice, neat Bible story package with a little bow on it. The Talmud, however, drills down pretty deeply into Hannah's story and I'm amazed that ancient (male) sages spoke so acutely of Hannah's resourcefulness.

So in Samuel I 1:15, Eli the temple priest confronts her in her sorrowful prayer and calls her a drunk, telling her to leave the temple. She pleads with him saying that she is not drunk, but so consumed with prayer for her heart's greatest desire - she never mentions what that desire is. The Talmud explores this much further, and draws on some nifty, lesser known Jewish mysticism in the process. The Talmud asserts that she doesn't just plead with Eli, but lashes out at him and questions the very authority of his priesthood.

The Vilna Gaon, an ancient rabbinic scholar, asserts that Eli didn't properly read his Urim V'Turim, whereas Hannah correctly interpreted it. What's this Urim V'Turim thingie? This is where it gets... mystical. Eli wore a breastplate of 12 jewel stones, each representing a tribe of Israel. To communicate with G-d, Eli would ask his question and G-d would answer by lighting up the stones to form Hebrew characters, spelling out the answer. (Think of the Urim V'Turim like a Divine Lite-Brite.)

Still with me? Good. I know it got weird for a minute there.

When Eli asks G-d, "Hey, Adonai? Who's this crazy lady here praying silently but whose lips are moving?" his breastplate lights up and spells out four characters: shin (ש), resh (ר), kaf (כ), hei (ה). Spelled thusly, they spell out shikorah - meaning drunken woman.

Hannah saw Eli's breastplate light up and recognized the characters for what they truly spelled, when arranged in the following order - כשרה. Read in this order, they spell out k'Sarah: Hebrew for "like Sarah."

Sarah, the original Barren Mother. Chills, right?

Hannah decries Eli's priesthood by saying, "Look putz, I'm prayin' my heart out to G-d over here, and you can't even read the messages G-d is sending you right now! How dare you cast me out of my temple as a drunkard! It is my right to be here and to pray for my heart's deepest desire!"*

*I'm paraphrasing from the Talmud here.

Another example of Hannah's resourcefulness and wisdom: the Talmud asserts that she tried to force G-d's hand that in her silent prayers, she told G-d that she would make G-d answer her prayers. She threatened to go into a private room with a man who was not her husband and confess this act to her husband, Elkinah. Now, Hannah didn't plan on actually doing anything with this man, but the implication as she tells her husband is that she's slept with another man. Elkinah would then take her to the temple so she must drink sotah waters as her punishment/confession of her "sin" (remember, she doesn't actually sleep with the dude, but since they were in a private room together, there's no way to Elkinah to know for sure.)

The sotah waters were a heinous concoction of ashes and water (and who knows what else) that suspected adulterous women were forced to drink. The ashes were from a sheet of paper wherein the accused woman writes her confession and is then burned and mixed into the water. If a woman strayed, the sotah waters would make her violently ill or even kill her; thus, her adultery was proven. The deck is not exactly stacked in the woman's favor here. However, if she was virtuous, then the sotah waters would not make her sick...

The woman would conceive instead.

It's almost like a modern anecdote: a woman can't conceive naturally on her own, so she forces G-d's hand by using another of G-d's creations to aid in her conception. What a resourceful woman she was, that Hannah! It's almost like the idea of using modern science to assist our own reproductive efforts. When we can't make a miracle, we turn to science. But if you believe in the ever-present creative power of G-d, then you have to admit that G-d made that science possible too.

Still, we circle back to the key overaching theme of Hannah's story: if you pray hard enough, a baby will come. Some of you took issue with this as well.

Justine writes:
But the story also sort of raises false hope; "the Lord had shut up her womb," and yet she goes on to conceive? What of the women who can't, who don't ever? Do they simply not pray hard enough?

Elana expands on this with this interpretation:
I used to think that my prayers weren't being listened to, even though I was praying with my whole heart. Now I know that G-d was answering me but saying "Not yet" rather than "No."

For me, I found the most powerful comment to again come from Gail:
Last night, we had our organizational planning meeting and I found out that the last night of VBS is centered on the story of Hannah. And, the moral of the story that the kids are supposed to learn is that "God gives you what you ask for." I just don't know how I'm going to teach this to a bunch of kids when I don't believe it myself.
There is no easy answer or explanation for this. We're working with ancient texts and in a simpler time, simpler answers sufficed. No baby? Pray to G-d. Tada! Baby. Another simpler explanation in that simpler time would also have been, "Well, if there's no baby, then you're being punished."

This is a modern myth that many women still struggle with in their own faith. It was the first time I'd ever truly experienced a crisis of faith when I was diagnosed. I asked myself - and G-d - "Why am I being punished? What have I done?" while simultaneously praying: "And what must I do to regain Your Favor?"

So this is what I would say to Gail - teach whatever your curriculum imposes you must teach your VBS kids. But in your heart, it's okay to know that sometimes G-d doesn't answer our prayers. We have been given the free will to decide how we live our lives in the wake of unanswered prayers.

Look, I know it's not that simple of an answer, and I'm trying to boil down vast amounts of theological philosophy into a conveniently bite-sized blog post. It's this thought, however, that pulled me out of my own crisis of faith. If G-d doesn't answer my prayers, that doesn't mean that G-d isn't in my life; I pray for the strength to make the best decisions to live the best life I know how.

These posts always get so heavy! But they give me a chance to really think about the ways in which my spiritual path has been affected by my infertility.

I would love to hear how these two areas meet for you too. How has infertility affected your relationship with G-d? How do you reconcile the two? Remember, looking for all perspectives, not just Judeo-Christian. I'd also love to hear from the areligious too. Sound off in the comments!

May 20, 2011

The Infertile Women of The Torah: Infertility in Biblical Judaism

Marc Chagall (1956):
Hannah prays to the Lord for a son who will be Samuel
My page titled Who Are Hannah and Sarah? consistently gets the second highest number of views on this blog, besides the main page. It makes sense: neither are my name so the page outlines from where the inspiration for my blog title came and in what lens I first approached the news of my own infertility diagnosis. In short, the stories of Hannah and Sarah provide a unique juxtaposition of the issue of barren women in the Torah; for me, these stories serve as a model for infertile women in Judaism.

As I've come to terms with my infertility over the last two years, my faith and my infertility continue to contextualize one another. I'd like to write about some of the key players in my spiritual journey: our ancient infertile mothers - our Jewish Matriarchs and other key women in the Torah. I'd like to start an ongoing series with a few posts a month exploring various aspects of infertility in the Torah.

I hope you'll read along and I'll do my best to explain everything so it's approachable for anyone who reads this blog. I'm not here to push any kind of religious agenda; I'm just trying to explore my faith and see what lessons we can glean from a historical biblical perspective.

Tuesday night I had the privilege to attend a really engaging, deeply meaningful program at Mayyim Hayyim, a progressive mikveh and Jewish education center in Newton. The topic was "Infertility, Matriarchs and Ritual." One of the presenters was a rabbi who offered some truly thought-provoking exploration on the story of Hannah. She noted that three of Judaism's four Matriarchs: Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel - were each infertile and the prominence of Hannah's story in the Torah as well.

What struck so much with me was what she said next: "And those are just the ones who made it in." Like all holy texts, the Torah was hardly exempt from (patriarchal!) editing through the centuries. In some ways, we are lucky that the story of infertility even made it in the Torah at all. It's a thoughtful inclusion when G-d's first commandment is to Adam and Eve are "be fruitful and multiply."

As long as humankind has been havin' babies, there have always been those who can't. The Torah could have been very unkind to these ancient barren women by casting them in a harsh light or omitting their stories entirely, but their stories have been included to survive thousands of years. To me, that says that infertility is valued as a historical, cultural lesson within Judaism.

Interestingly enough - and this is really important here folks - the Torah never says that their infertility is the result of something they did or G-d's punishment. Think about that for a minute.

There's a really beautiful commentary in the Talmud (a body of ancient rabbinic commentary on the Torah) about how Hannah "spoke in her heart." She prays silently, moving only her lips. The Rabbis in the Talmud give Hannah a strong voice, saying that she "spoke in her heart" the following:
She spoke concerning her heart. She said before Him: Sovereign of the Universe, among all the things that Thou hast created in a woman, Thou hast not created one without a purpose, eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell, a mouth to speak, hands to do work, legs to walk with, breasts to give suck. These breasts that Thou hast put on my heart, are they not to give suck? Give me a son, so that I may suckle with them.
This particular commentary says something very profound about the fundamental nature of infertility: just as G-d created every part of our bodies, G-d too then created infertility. If a part of our bodies does not function in some way, G-d has fashioned that disfunction. Granted, this is a very modern interpretation of this Talmudic tract, as we live in an age where infertility is recognized as a medical issue. I'm not saying that infertility happens for a Divine reason or purpose, but I argue this commentary opens the door to say that infertility is as much of one of G-d's creations as are our limbs, organs, or breath.

I have a lot more to say about Hannah, so I'll leave you with a short homework assignment:

Read about the story of Hannah in the Torah and then come back here and share in the comments what part of her story resonated with you the most. I'll use the discussion and comments to guide the next few posts in my "Infertile Women of the Torah" series. And remember, I'm not just looking for Jewish responses or approaches only - I'm looking for all views, religious or otherwise. Just think of Hannah as an infertility story just like any of ours. What sticks out for you?

April 24, 2011

Bust An Infertility Myth: I Am Not A Broken Woman.

In retrospect, it was fitting that my last performance in The Vagina Monologues was reading "I Was There in the Room." It's a haunting, reverant, glorious monologue from Eve Ensler's perspective of watching her adopted son's child being born. She is present in the physical moment, in the space itself, but Eve is not the one birthing another. It's a noticable void in The Vagina Monologues: there's no monologue describing birth from a birthing mother's perspective. Just Eve's voice as the outside observer.

I often wonder if I will always be a kind of woman who is only there in the room: always observing, but never experiencing the moment myself.

. . .

When I was 18, I had my ovary removed in emergency surgery. Assured that my fertility would endure, I still felt like I was somehow broken. I had written a poem at the time about feeling like a tree with a broken branch.

. . .

She is a Tree of Life to those who take hold of her; those who hold her fast will be blessed. (Proverbs 3:18)

. . .

The Vagina Monologues were instrumental in my healing process back in college. They allowed me to shape and define my womanhood, a blossoming young adult woman myself. Performing three years in a row, the show gave me a space to take pride in my womanhood: to celebrate, cherish, and worship it. I performed another two times while working for another college; my final performance a visceral, but beautiful observation of the birthing process. It felt good to perform that monologue.

All this time, my soulmate was at my side. We celebrated, cherished, and worshipped each other. I knew we'd get married. I knew we'd have children together. This is just how it was supposed to be. And we did get married. We talked over our plans and agreed on May 2011: we'd begin our family. We'd give ourselves three years just as two, to grow to three (or more!) after that time.

I was worried about being down one ovary but remembered the assurance from my doctor from many years before: "You'll still be able to have children."

. . .

We had only been married a year and my puzzling symptoms at 26 simply didn't make any sense. In March of 2009, everything changed: premature ovarian failure.

In an instant, "the way things were supposed to be" was robbed from me. From us.

"I have failed you as your wife, as your soulmate, as a woman," I sobbed.

He held my face in his hands, looked me straight in the eye: "You are no less woman to me. You have failed no one. You're my wife and my soulmate and I love you."

"But I'm broken," I said in a voice, barely audible.

"No Keiko: you are not broken, I promise," Larry assured me. "We'll get through this."

. . .

Those years in college and in the years following, I took great pride and joy in being a woman. Sure, I griped about my monthly cycle: the cramps, the bleeding, the mood swings. But I still valued the work that my body was doing (or so I assumed at the time). I knew I was merely paving the way for my body's greatest test, and I would celebrate that too when the time came.

My body, my woman's body: a holy vessel of creation, power, life.

. . .

My infertility tried to rob me of that power. When I was diagnosed, I felt like Someone had taken a giant hammer and smashed my holy vessel to pieces. I am a broken woman, I would tell myself. I wove myself a blanket of shame and guilt.

Those days were the darkest, the days I felt robbed of all that I had celebrated and cherished about being a woman.

This was the myth I told myself.

. . .

In the past year, my voice has gained confidence, strength, and hope:

I am not a broken woman.

I am NOT a broken woman.

. . .

It's not that I think women should be baby-factories, let me be clear. Rather, I see the acts of conception, pregnancy, birth, and motherhood as sacred gifts in the womanhood experience. Our bodies then, are truly vessels of creative - in the truest sense of the word - power.

Yet my womb lies barren. My tree bears no fruit of its own. I am endlessly blessed to live in an age of modern science, where my womb can be made full with the help of a selfless other, a lab, and a little luck. There is no guarantee, but it's the chance I'm willing to take.

And if we can't conceive with help, then we are just as open to adoption. Motherhood without its traditional preceding acts is no less sacred; to parent is no less a gift.

. . .

So when I look at the past two years, at the vastness of what has felt like a decade but has only been just two years - I've come a long way. Each month at the Red Tent Temple, I remind myself and am reminded of all the joyous ways of being a woman in all stages. I leave my titles at the door: Barren. Childless. Infertile. Broken.

And I choose not to collect those titles when I leave.

I am not a broken woman.

I invite you to shed this myth with me. To bury this myth, to banish it from your mental vocabulary, to cast it out from your hearts. Say with me now:

I am not a broken woman.

I am NOT a broken woman.

Now keep saying this - out loud - with me:

I am strong and beautiful. 

I am a force to be reckoned with. 

I am wise and joyous and whole in spirit and grace. 

My infertility is only one facet of the many parts of who I am and I am not a broken woman.

I am not a broken woman and I have yet so many wondrous gifts to share with this world.

My Woman's Work has only just begun.


It's National Infertility Awareness Week. Infertility affects 1 out of every 8 couples... like me. Find out how you can participate and provide support to 7.3 million people living with this disease: www.resolve.org/takecharge. This post is part of the Bust a Myth Bloggers Unite project.

April 15, 2011

The Matzo Balls Are Coming.

This post is part of the IF-Free Zone: a commitment to blogging about something other than my infertility journey every now and then. Why blog off-topic? We are more than our infertility. So enjoy another installment in the IF-Free Zone series. Here's another peek into regular 'ol me.

. . .

I'm not sure how it happened this year, but all of a sudden, Passover is this Monday night. Rosh HaShannah felt late, Hanukkah was way late, so I guess it makes sense that Passover is wicked late this year. We have done absolutely zero prep for Passover... we haven't even bought our boxes of matzo yet!

But we need to get on it this weekend, because folks: the matzo balls, they are a-comin'.

If you're curious: they're sinkers THEN floaters.
Last year we were Passover CHAMPS. We held a Seder at our apartment and invited many dear friends. I was a cooking fiend that weekend, churning out matzo balls like they were going out of style. I could give you Larry's Mom's/Nan's recipe... but then I'd have to kill you. Larry made a (delicious) brisket. There was charoset and fresh-made maror and even vegetarian options!

This year... well, we're skipping First Seder on Monday night because Larry has a Masons meeting he can't miss. So we're hosting Second Seder, the first in our new home, on Tuesday night. So far we have six people coming and we haven't even picked the menu yet.

This should be an interesting weekend. I need to get a jump on the matzo balls and the soup, because they taste better if they've had a couple of days to soak in the flavor. But I also need to finalize our menu and do the shopping. We should also probably, yanno, clean the house too. That would be good. Somehow we plan to squeeze all of this in while painting our bedroom.

Now, painting wouldn't be such a challenge if we didn't also have to paint our bed (that Larry made himself right after we moved in) and if we didn't have to paint the very awkard, very high catherdral ceiling walls in our bedroom either. Thank goodness Monday is Patriot's Day here in Massachusetts, a state-wide holiday that just happens to be when the Boston Marathon is run every year.

It's going to be a busy weekend for sure.

I do have a question for the masses, Jewish or otherwise: I have two vegetarians joining us this year. I'm making separate matzo balls without chicken schmaltz and a veggie-based broth for them, but I'm at a loss for a vegetarian entree for  them. Last year I made parmesan-stuffed portobello mushrooms, but I'd like to try something different this year. Any tips or ideas on some delicious vegetarian entrees for Passover?

Alright, I can't wrap this post up without sharing at least one recipe with you; I've been going on and on about food, so it's only fair. A little backstory to this recipe: Larry's uncle's ex-wife apparently made some delicious Passover layer cake with full sheets of matzo and delicious frosting. For the last 14 years, at every Passover Seder at his parents' house, I've been hearing about Dahlia's "amazing Passover cake." The funny thing is, no one had the recipe. So when she left the family, the recipe went with her. And still, this Passover cake gets mentioned at every Seder table with the Zolls. I have been mystified and intrigued by this "amazing Passover cake," and last year I made it my mission to find the recipe.

After getting descriptions from both Larry and his mom, I set about Googling and found this recipe from AllRecipes.com. I made it last year, and as Larry took the first bite, you could see the years of nostalgia flooding back to him. I had found Dahlia's cake.

So here now is a near-diabetic coma-inducing Passover dessert to make this week. I've tweaked the recipe I originally found so that it's basically guaranteed to send your glucose through the roof.

Dahlia (and Miriam's) 7-Layer Passover "Cake"
I realize it looks unassuming. It's basically just sheets of matzo soaked in alcohol layered with buttercream frosting. I know, I know and yes - it is that good.

I am full of sugar and joy.
You will need:
  • 3 1/2 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2 cup butter softened (because margarine is a cop-out)
  • 1 cup superfine sugar (confectioners' sugar can work for this)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites
  • 8 matzo sheets
  • (750 mL) bottle kahlua, kahlua creme, Bailey's or Godiva liqueur (or... all of these.)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped nuts (optional)
 To make the frosting:
  1. Melt chocolate in a small bowl in the microwave by heating at 30 second intervals, and stirring between each one. When chocolate is almost melted, just remove from the microwave and stir until smooth. Set aside. You can also melt the chocolate with a double boiler if you have one (my preferred method and I don't have a double boiler; I do a smaller pot resting in a larger pot with about an inch of water in the bigger pot.)
  2. In a stand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until well blended.
  3. In a separate bowl, whip egg whites with a pinch of superfine sugar until stiff.
  4. Fold the melted chocolate into the creamed butter/sugar mixture, then fold in the egg whites.
To assemble the cake:
  1. Pour 1/4 of your potent potable into an 8x8 inch baking dish. Soak one of the matzo sheets briefly on both sides, then remove to a serving platter. If you soak too long, it will break apart and become hard to work with.
  2. Spread a thin layer of the chocolate cream over the soaked matzo. Continue soaking and layering the matzos and chocolate cream, leaving enough of the chocolate mixture to frost the sides when finished.
  3. Break up the process by having a sip of your potent potable from a separate glass. Add more alcohol to the dish as necessary for soaking.
  4. Optionally: press chopped nuts onto the sides, or sprinkle them on top for garnish. I'm not a fan of chocolate and nuts, so I skip this step.
  5. Refrigerate overnight to allow everything to soak in and become amazing.
  6. Upon eating, just try not to have your eyes roll back into your head with each bite. I dare you.

January 26, 2011

Three Years Ago Today


I took your hand and spoke with purpose:

Matzati et she'ahava nafshi
(I have found him, whom my soul loves)

Three years ago, I remember my veiled perspective:
surrounded by family and song, my excitement lulled
into comtemplative anticipation as the rabbi lead us in niggun
her wordless, haunting melody reaching deep within me
 
In this sacred silk space around my head and face
I knew I would exit a different woman
someone's wife - your wife
my veil lifted as though my world awakened
the first light of our many tomorrows
 
I remember the corners of the red napkin we each clutched with desperation
as our friends and family lifted us high over their shoulders
the Hora playing loudly, everything whirling around us like a carnival ride
 
The feel of your hands as we exchanged rings
the first I had felt your touch all weekend
as you recited words that have echoed across
five thousand years
I felt holy and connected, my soul
rejoicing, relieved
 
gladdened to have found
the one
in whom I
delight
 
. . .
 
What a remarkable three years it has been, and here's to many, many more adventures together.
 
Happy anniversary, love.

November 18, 2010

The Infertile's Manifesto

Infertility is... so many, many things, I have learned.

Thank you for such beautiful, moving, thought-provoking responses to yesterday's post, Fill in the Blank. Mum's still the word on where this is headed, but I was so moved last night as I read through all of the responses. Your answers reflect so many stages of the infertility journey: the anguish, the bitterness, the exhaustion.

I was moved and gave pause for the weariness in your words:

"Draining, crushing, the hardest thing I have ever had to go through, hell, suffocating, bullshit, a raw deal, soul sucking, overwhelming, depressing, devastating, a disease that changed my life and perspective forever..."
What stood out for me the most - to be honest, surprised me the most - where the attributions of hope. For all of the pain in these responses, there is hope and even joy to be found. I was so inspired by the subtext of your fighters' spirit throughout the responses. You've written your own manifesto of hope, strength, perserverance.



Photo by Steve Johnson via Flickr.

The Infertile's Manifesto


Infertility is the most devastating natural disaster you'll ever survive.

Infertility is something that is not going to break me.

Infertility is a journey that makes me stronger.

Infertility is not going to get the best of me.

Infertility is not defining me.

Infertility is not the winner.

Infertility is not our fault.

Infertility is not all I am.

Infertility is not the end.



I have to say, it is very humbling and deeply moving to put something like this out there and receive such raw emotion back, because what I have learned is that through it all, there is hope. And even if you don't feel hopeful today, it's still there. It's still just as much a part of our journeys. And when you don't feel hopeful, you're always welcome to come back to the Fill in the Blank list and say so: be angry, be dark, and rage against the cruelty of this indiscriminate beast.

And when you do need a moment of hope, then come back to this list, to the Infertile's Manifesto. Listen the echoes of our hearts. Feel this pulse of hope that beats steadily as we walk this path.

. . .

I realized I have yet to answer my own fill in the blank. So here goes.

Infertility is...

...what has brought me to each of you.


It has allowed me to make deep connections spanning continents, cables, and experiences. It has been a catalyst: I have become a different person, and it's up to me to be happy with myself, to be comfortable in my own skin, to forge a new path for myself and imagine a new story as we build our family. It has been a defining moment, but does not define me.

For all of the pain, the heartbreak, the stress, the fear: I'd never take it back. I'd never wish this on my worst enemy- but I'd never take it back.

Thank you for giving me such hope.

November 3, 2010

In the Red Tent Temple

...I feel beautiful, vibrant, awakened, sexy, stress-free. I welcome the new moon with an open heart and a grateful smile.

"Welcome Woman, this place is made sacred with your presence."

In the Red Tent Temple, we are all Goddesses.

. . .

Last night, our Red Tent Temple was filmed for Isadora Leidenfrost's upcoming film, "Things We Don't Talk About." It was a magical, wonderful evening and I'm still left feeling like I'm walking just a few inches above the ground: our best Red Tent Temple to date.

I was interviewed individually on Monday night by Isadora at my dear friend Honeybee's home. It was strange to feel so exposed in front of her; I felt almost naked in the camera lens but I was just as open as if she hadn't been sitting there. Afterward, I felt exhilerated. Last night, I barely noticed the camera and lights, thankfully as Isadora literally "dressed up" her equipment in red dresses, fabric, boas, and tiaras. I didn't even notice she was filming most of the night and forgot she was there entirely until I was asked to wear a microphone for a few minutes.

So many beautiful women from all over came last night- many new faces or faces we hadn't seen in a while- and each woman brought her own unique voice, story, and talents to the group. There was drumming, singing, poetry reading, art displays, and just plain sharing and laughing and talking. We colored vulva coloring book pages, we drank tea (so much tea!), we ate chocolate chip cookies and tomato soup and sourdough bread and pomegranate seeds and apples and leftover Halloween candy.

Can you spot the pomegranate on my hand?
There was henna. I held the hands of dear friends and women I'd just met and painted intricate designs on their hands and mine. I'm usually shy about touching other people or being touched, but I dropped a boundary last night. There's something peaceful and calming about applying henna, watching the designs evolve on their own whimsy.

And ALisa Starkweather, the founder of the Red Tent Temple movement herself! - she stopped by and shared in our celebrations. I was star-struck and couldn't find the words to say much to her. But I was grateful and humbled by her appearance all the same.

We laughed, deep Baubo belly laughs. And our eyes brimmed with tears. Some cried openly. We talked about G-d, Goddess and women and sex and math class and chemotherapy and our husbands and birthdays and decision making and NOT making decisions if we don't want to and art and soup and our mothers and foremothers and the coming winter.

. . .

In the Red Tent Temple, it's the one place where I wear my infertility like a badge of honor, as if to say, "I am no less woman."

And if I so choose, I can leave that title at the door, too.

. . .

With a belly full of soup and tea and my heart filled with gladness and grace, I leave the Red Tent restored and whole again.

. . .

Every community needs a Red Tent Temple. We need to make Red Tent Temples for our teenaged girls. We need more Crones. We need to make room for trans voices and experiences. We need more women of color.

We need to reawaken the Dialogue of Women that whispers within each of us...

...and I firmly believe that the Red Tent Temple Movement is doing just that.

I am honored to be a part of this movement and thank you Honeybee, for opening the door to me and so many other women. We are each a part of something profoundly important to Women's Work.

October 15, 2010

Remembering Our Losses

Today, October 15th, is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Recognized in all 50 states, people are asked to light a candle at 7pm tonight for one hour to remember those who left this world far, far too soon.

I have never experienced a loss myself, and it's something that has actually been the driving force behind pursuing adoption. Is IVF truly worth the risk if we lose the pregnancy? I just don't know how I could bear it. IVF/DE isn't totally off the table yet, but the notion of loss is still an ever-present thought in the back of my mind.

While I'm incredibly lucky not to have experienced loss like this, I know many women, both personally and through the blogosphere, that have. And so for them, for their losses: you're in my hearts always, but especially so today.

Pregnancy loss is one of those topics that people aren't really sure with how to deal. How do you have a funeral? Why does this loss get less attention and compassion than the loss of someone who's older? It's all grief, it's all sad, and it doesn't deserve to be diminished in importance for the griever just because it doesn't fit the typical model of loss and death in modern society.

I can't imagine this kind of pain, and for those who have experienced it: I grieve for you and your loss and hope that you find peace, clarity, and hope it its wake.

Below is an incredibly moving and beautiful video with more information about this day of rememberance.



For more information, please visit http://www.october15th.com/.

September 21, 2010

Holy OMNOMNOM-ing

Welcome to another ICLW! I've been missing from the blogosphere recently and I thought that ICLW was just what I needed to get back into the virtual swing of things. Past ICLW intros can be found linked here, but to give you the quick rundown:

• I'm 28 with POF. Hoping to pursue domestic infant adoption with my husband Larry in the next 3-5 years.
• Just bought our first house! Also, had our first (hopefully only) fire. Homeownership is full of adventure, I'm quickly learning.
• Recently featured in Tablet Magazine last month for an article about infertility and reconciling Jewish faith.
• Getting awarded next Tuesday night in NYC at RESOLVE's Night of Hope Awards for Best Viral Video.

So there's the quick schpiel.

This has been a very contemplative start to the Jewish New Year for me. While I don't think our fire was any kind of punishment from G-d, it certainly was a wake-up call. The takeaway message I got from all of this: we have a new home. It's time to really start living Jewishly.

It's time to find a shul. It's time to really start observing Shabbos, perhaps rising to the call of the Sabbath Manifesto, as we were called to do at Yom Kippur services this year. It's a neat concept that Larry particularly finds intriguing that I could get behind too.

For me? On a more personal way of being Jewish? Sanctifying the ordinary, most basic everyday act: saying the blessings before food. If I won't keep kosher (because I'm sorry, bacon cheeseburgers and lobster are too delicious for a foodie to give up entirely) then I can at least make the act of eating holy.

I'll be honest. This is not easy; there isn't one catch-all blessing I can say. There's a blessing for bread (ha-motzi lechem min ha'aretz) but a different one for pasta and crackers (borey miney mezunot). And you say one blessing for grapes and wine (fruit of the vine), one for apples, pears and the like (fruit of the tree), and another entirely for most veggies and contradictingly enough, bananas (fruit of the earth).

But I do it because it forces me to give pause before I eat, to be thankful for daily sustenance, to sanctify the ordinary and to be mindful and take note of what I'm putting into my body. I've figured out that the more blessings I have to say, the more balanced my meal ^_^

And with that, it's time for lunch. Bon apetit and happy noshing.

September 8, 2010

L'shana tova, 5771!

Photo by Ron Almog via Flickr.
Apples dipped in honey: the sweetest treat, savored as we welcome the new Jewish year. The calendar turns again. I have lived my whole life by the academic calendar, so as the wind picks up just the slightest chill, as the calendar flips from August into September, I can't help but think of school supplies and apples with honey.

The sweetness of beginnings.

We are moved into our new house- not settled as there are boxes everywhere- but moved in, keys in hand, mezuzah affixed. It was a rough closing day (details in another post), but in the end, it's our house. OUR house! It still feels strange to say. Even though we moved in just this past Friday, it still feels a bit like a foreign place. Bit by bit, we'll start to make it feel like home.

In these few hours as 5770 winds to a close, I am thankful and grateful for the year of abundance we have been granted: Larry's job, my raise, our house, our amazing trip to Japan last October, my niece... when 5769 rained nothing but heartache and pain on us, 5770 showered us with blessings.

As we approach a new year, as we stand here facing 5771, this is the year of responsibility and committment. We owe it to the abundant grace of this past year.

Tonight we celebrate the new year with friends. I've got 2 loaves of challah in my car ready to bring over and from there we head to services. I bought myself a red cardigan for the occasion: red, the color of apples, pomegranates, fertility, joy.

Tomorrow: services with friends, then a trip to IKEA, as we desperately need a kitchen cart to provide more counterspace. We are loving our home. I'm covered in bumps and bruises as I get used to new bannisters, corners, and layouts. I'm a little exhausted from not sleeping that great: I never sleep well in new environments. I'm intrigued to learn more about the original owner of the home from 1846, whose presence is still very much in these walls and halls.

I want to fill this house with things, yes, but I want to fill this house with memories more.

I am truly humbled entering into this new year. We're super excited to own our own home. It is an increasingly rarer priviledge in this day and age, so I am constantly thankful and grateful for this blessing. I'm still getting used to the idea that this house is actually ours.

This home. It's not just a house.

Home sweet home.

And a sweet New Year to you all.

L'shanah tovah tikatev v'taihatem.

As a new chapter begins in our lives, may you each be inscribed and sealed for another year.

July 30, 2010

If

This Saturday's Torah portion is Eikev. It translates roughly to to "if." Moses continues his last sermon? speech? lesson? I'm not really sure how it's defined. But essentially, it's his last schpiel before the Israelites finally cross over into the Promised Land. Their wandering is drawing to an end.

Pictured left to right: Larry's mom, Larry's sister,
Nan, Larry. Taken at Nan's 90th birthday last year.
Eikev takes on a special significance; it's been a complete Jewish lunar year since Larry's Nan passed away. This Sunday is her grave unveiling. This is a Jewish custom that varies by community; a tombstone is prepared and laid, but it remains covered for a year. It marks the "last" phase of formal Jewish mourning: yahrzeit. (I put last in quotes because we never really stop mourning.) The first two phases are shiva, the first seven days, and then shloshim, the next 30 days. Yahrzeit marks the anniversary. While Nan is always remembered in our hearts every day, we remember her especially on her yahrzeit: a special candle is lit in her memory that burns for 24 hours.

I have always been drawn to the marking of time in Judaism, rather, more specifically: the sanctification of time, how every moment in our lives is sacred, blessed. Because you never know when things can change in a moment, how a life can be hinged upon a single word: ...If.

Mel over at Stirrup Queens had an absolutely haunting post on Monday. Quick summary: she and her entire family could have all been killed in a single moment on the highway in Pennsylvania, caught in those crazy storms that swept through the mid-Atlantic region last weekend. All that separated her family and the inevitable were just a few fractions of a second.

...If.

Those same storms roared through College Park, Maryland. Right over the neighborhood we lived in for three years. Less than a mile from our first apartment, a former colleague of mine from the University of Maryland was killed in those storms. A massive tree fell on her car, killing her instantly. She is being laid to rest tomorrow.

Michelle Humanick was 44, wife and mother of two. I had always respected and admired her graphic design work in the department; I respected her even more when she left the University to spend more time with her family. I only learned through news reports they had adopted their two daughters, their youngest less than a year ago. For some reason, maybe because we hope to be adoptive parents ourselves one day, this just made me so much sadder to hear.

...If.

This weekend is not all death and endings. Tonight we head to my sister's so that I can see Willow for the first time since she was born. It's amazing how much she's grown in a month. More astonishing is the general idea of how much a human body will grow and develop in that time- the body is a wonder, indeed. I am digging this whole Auntie thing.

Close friends of ours have officially announced to the world that they are expecting their second child. We've known for a few weeks now and we are still just as overjoyed for them. She's due in March and we are already excited to get to meet the newest addition to their family.

We're 99% of the way there on the house. The purchase and sale agreement has been completed. We've been approved for the FHA loan. The bank intends to underwrite said loan. Now we're just waiting on some complicated paperwork from the sellers. It's the last hurdle between us and closing on August 12. I am really hoping we make it to closing, otherwise we're going to have to put everything in storage and sleep on some couches. This mortgage/loan thing is driving me nuts. As Larry puts it, it's like the Tuesday before the wedding on Saturday: all you can do is wait.

And so we wait.

. . .

Life, death, and these moments of holiness and santification where we can find them. Each moment hinged upon branches of possibility, pinned only in place by one single little word: if. And these ifs, ticking away like sacred seconds.

If. If. If.

July 27, 2010

A Belly Full of Fire, Part Four: In a Perfect World

This is the fourth post of my five-part series on infertility advocacy. Catch up on Part One: Advocate or Abdicate, Part Two: The Wounded Healer, and Part Three: Which Direction Do We Swim?.



The lights go on the lights go off
When things don't feel right
I lie down like a tired dog
licking his wounds in the shade.

When I feel alive
I try to imagine a careless life,
a scenic world where the sunsets are all
breathtaking...


-Beirut, A Scenic World


A Belly Full of Fire, Part Four: In a Perfect World

This is one of my favorite songs I've been playing over and over again on my iPhone. I only discovered Beirut last year ago and I'm in love. What on earth does this quirky little indie tune have to do with infertility advocacy?

Let's play a game - Imagine. Let's imagine our careless life, our scenic world.

In a perfect world,
what would the fruits of infertility advocacy look like?


In a perfect world, we could all afford infertility treatments.

Better yet, they wouldn't cost a penny out of pocket. But if treatments still cost money, there would be state and federal grant programs for infertile couples; treatments could be counted as deductions on our taxes. And all insurers in all states would be required to cover treatments that fall within the latest medical guidelines. In a perfect world, infertility treatment would be regarded as a proactive health approach as opposed to elective and burdensome.

In a perfect world, it would be okay to talk about infertility openly. Oprah and Ellen and Tyra would have regular programs highlighting both the celebrity journeys of people like Celine Dion and Sarah Jessica Parker and Padma Lakshmi as well as real people from all walks of life.

In a perfect world, the racial disparity gap in healthcare would be closing. Conversations about infertility would transcend cultural and religious lines. Lesbian and gay couples would not be left out of the conversations either, because yes, even same-sex couples face infertility crises too.

In a perfect world, primary care physicians would pursue reproductive issues with an aggressive and proactive stance. Women and men would be taken seriously in their doctor's office. There would be widespread support groups in every community: more counselors and therapists who solely dealt with infertility issues. And couples wouldn't be afraid to be as honest as possible with one another instead of hiding behind quiet femininity or forced machismo.

In a perfect world, men are no longer an afterthought in the infertility community. The longing for fatherhood is just as valid as the desire to experience pregnancy and birth.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't be asked when we're having kids the day we get back from the honeymoon. We could complain about being infertile the way pregnant women complain about being pregnant. And if we do get pregnant, it's okay for us to complain and celebrate and do all of the things that would otherwise annoy the infertile community, because we've earned that right too.

And when we do resolve our infertility, we won't forget about the ones who are left behind. In a perfect world, we will proudly tell our friends and family the miracles it took to conceive our children.

In a perfect world, millions of dollars are devoted to research and clinical trials and comprehensive support networks and resources for women and men diagnosed with infertility. Our children will grow up with even greater access to care than we have now. In a perfect world, there is widespread dialogue about the importance of men's and women's reproductive health from an early age; we wouldn't be afraid to talk about the reality of fertility preservation in the context of sexual health education for teens.

In a perfect world, we will find an explanation for unexplained infertility. A miscarriage at six weeks is treated with no less support than a loss at six months. A stillbirth carries the same weight as the loss of a young child. In a perfect world, we will not forget about or ignore pregnancy loss, and instead elevate all loss with greater care and compassion.

In a perfect world, choosing not to resolve your infertility is not a sign of failure or giving up. Living childfree will not be regarded as lack or less than, but instead valued as a way for couples to redefine richness and fulfillment in their lives, and to bring themselves closure. In a perfect world, we will not be defined by our status as parents or otherwise.

In a perfect world, we will no longer be ashamed of or silenced by our disease. We will stop judging ourselves. We will be confident in who we are and where our journeys take us.

In a perfect world, we will
conquer infertility.

My G-d, our perfect world is beautiful isn't it? Can't you just see it, taste it, feel all that weight and doubt and worry slip right off your shoulders and out of your mind?


And now our game of Imagine is over, for we do not live in a perfect world. That's why our advocacy efforts matter that much more.

Every act of advocacy brings us one step closer to a careless life, a scenic world where the sunsets are all breathtaking. What does your perfect world for infertility look like?
. . . . .

Tomorrow I conclude this series with a post that inspires a committed call to action. Stay tuned Wednesday for the final chapter of A Belly Full of Fire, Part Five: Millions of voices calling for change.

June 21, 2010

June ICLW: Elementally Speaking

Howdy! Thanks for stopping by for June's ICLW. (Learn more about the ICLW here and see how you can sign up for next month.) I've got a few previous ICLW intro posts to get you up to speed: ABC's of Me (November 2009), April 2010, and May 2010. For this month's intro, I think I'll try something a little different: looking at my life right now through the Four Elements. Intrigued?

The Four Elements of Me

Earth: What Grounds Me ~ Roots and Foundation
+ My husband, Larry: totally my rock, my love, my soulmate. We've been married for 2 and a half years. We were high school sweethearts from 1997... do the math. We've been together a long time and are still madly in love with one another.
+ My family: My mom, my papa, my sister Jasmine and her husband Neal - these are my core. Then Larry's mom, dad, and sister - just as much family as my own blood. And soon, probably sometime this week: Willow! My niece-to-be, the first grandchild, the little darling we've been waiting 9 months to meet. You can count on a post about her later this week since my sister will be induced on Friday :)
+ My faith: I'm Jewish. But I put an equal amount of faith in the goodness of humanity, the beauty that surrounds us daily we often take for granted, and in the sovereignty and power of the collective creativity of women. I ground myself by redefining the world around me, and walking forward with faithful steps in the world I've created.

Water: What Moves Me ~ Transition and Flow
+ My health: it's been in a varying state of flux. I have premature ovarian failure, diagnosed in April of 2009. I have Hashimoto's thyroiditis. I recently learned I've got degenerative arthritis in my lower spine. Oh yeah, I'm 28. Thankfully though, my thyroid appears to finally be stabilized after a year of ups and down, my my POF is being treated with HRT.
+ My job: Recently promoted.
+ My home: We are house-hunting, and hope to have a formal offer in to the seller by COB today.

Air: What Lifts Me ~ Joy and Celebration
+ Food, music, the arts, photography, flowers, Hell's Kitchen, Weeds, LOST, Radiohead, indie music, Vampire Weekend, MUSE, art house cinema, Bach Cello Suites, cooking, our trip Japan last year, camping, fishing, reading, writing, writing my book, RadioLab, The Moth, This American Life, taking the time to literally stop and smell the roses.

Fire: What Consumes Me ~ Passion and Perseverance
+ Having a family: The timeline has been pushed back significantly since we're buying a house, but we plan on adopting an infant domestically. We're skipping fertility treatments altogether.
+ My advocacy: I've recently decided that I am an health advocate, fighting for infertility treatment coverage and research. It all started with this video. The content of my blog has shifted slightly from mostly about me to more about the greater ALI blogosphere and what we can all do to be everyday advocates. I am also RESOLVE of New England's newest Board member on their Board of Directors!
+ My writing: I do it all the time. I've been keeping a journal in print or electronic form since I was in 7th grade. This blog is a continuation of that, but I'm starting to branch out to other places like Examiner.com and hopefully more paying opportunities. I'm also writing a book about my experience of converting to Judaism three years ago.

Looking forward to meeting new folks. Happy ICLW and happy commenting!

Image used with generous permission by the artist, Alida Saxon, copyright 2010.

May 28, 2010

A Woman of Valor

Maxfield Parrish: Ecstasy.

I wanted to close this ICLW with something that has been an inspiration to me, something I always keep in the back of my mind: the Jewish concept of a Woman of Valor. I'm not here to preach religion, but I hold this ideal in my heart and let it guide me. A Woman of Valor- Eshet Chayil - is a psalm traditionally sung by husbands to their wives on Shabbos (Proverbs 31 to be precise). I found this beautiful re-imagining by Eric S. Kingston on Chabad.org, and I hope it will inspire you too.

A Woman of Valor
By Eric S. Kingston
Dedicated to all the women who showed me what true strength is.

A woman of valor makes the world change
Her strength is the content that guides through the days
Defined by her actions that bring light to all dreams
Valor is something that's defined by her deeds.

Her valor is golden, sparkled and gray
She stands up to the challenge no matter the way
It can't be held back or defined by her age
Yes, a woman of valor makes the world change.

For valor's not held by the young or the old
But by the deeds of the heart that give and unfold
It's merit and honor that hold no disguise
Like the creation of being in the blessed Holy One's eyes.

For valor is the color of the song of her soul
As she changes, creates and turns light into gold
Divine is Her Presence, be it joyous or sad
-- A Woman of Valor --
May offer little, but it will be all that she has.

For only her heart will know the depths of her soul
That nurtures and blossom and forever unfolds
And holds in its essence new life and new gain
Yes,
A woman of valor makes the world change
A woman of valor makes the world change
A woman of valor makes the world change.

Be the change, readers, be the change. Make waves in this world, and to my female readers: you are all  Women of Valor.

Shabbat shalom and to my readers here in the States: a safe and wonderful Memorial Day Weekend.

May 27, 2010

Women's Health Matters: Period.

Sit tight: this post is a doozy.

I'm a Vagina Warrior.

I realize this is quite a startling way to begin my post, but being a Vagina Warrior drives me, it shapes the way I look at the world, and fuels my passion for women's health advocacy. What exactly is a Vagina Warrior? Well, it stems Eve Ensler's The Vagina MonologuesI performed in five productions of the show throughout college and two years after I graduated at the first college where I worked. The mission of the V-Day movement is near and dear to my heart, and a Vagina Warrior is someone who fights for women, women's rights both home and abroad, and for the safety and health of women and girls everywhere. My work in health advocacy, particularly around infertility, is how I assign my Warrior status (and when I say Warrior, think dorky Xena sporting Old Navy rather than leather-plated skirt).

So I've got three things my inner Vagina Warrior wants to cover in this post, all related to our periods: Tampons. The Red Tent. Project Vital Sign. Sound interesting? Read on.

So I was thrilled when I saw the new Kotex U commercials:

I am in no way being compensated for this. This was too damn awesome not to share.

Thank you, Kotex, for keepin' it real. I haven't had a "real" period in months, technically years if you count that fact that while on birth control, it's not an actual period as a result of ovulation, rather, it's withdrawal bleeding from a drop in hormones. I'm still experiencing breakthrough bleeding on my HRT (the pill), and I had to use a tampon for the first time in over a year last month. I stared at it like, "You want that to go where?" amazed at how quickly I had forgotten all about this strange feminine product. So when I saw this commercial I appreciated that it wasn't trying to sell me this flowered up idea but was like, "Hey. Hey you, you with the XX chromosomes. You're of menstruating age and you need a practical solution to your monthly biological phenomenon. Here, have a tampon." 

I appreciate Kotex's candor, because women don't like to talk about our periods. It's something society doesn't talk about... like infertility. (Funny how women's problems are marginalized into silence.) Which brings me to my next Vagina Warrior subject: the Red Tent Temple Movement and the forthcoming documentary: Things We Don't Talk About. 

 Anita Diamant's The Red Tent is an inspiring fictional retelling of the story of Dinah, Jacob's only named daughter in the Bible. The Red Tent was where the women of Jacob's tribe gathered for their monthly cycles, for births, miscarriages, and shared sisterhood. (If you haven't read it, go do that this summer. And keep a box of tissues handy when you do.) 

ALisa Starkweather has taken the fundamental ideas of The Red Tent and translated them into a movement of women gathering in sacred spaces to share in each other's sisterhood. Our temples are bedecked in red fabrics and welcome to women of all ages, menstruating or otherwise; the Red Tent Temple Movement is about restoring women's dialogue and celebrating the feminine life experience. The Red Tent Temple has allowed me to restore what I felt was lost- my sense of monthly cycles. While I may not bleed every month, I gather with my friends, my sisters near each new moon at the Salem RTT, and that sense of womanly rhythm has returned to my life. Isadora Leidenfrost will be exploring this movement in her forthcoming film, Things We Don't Talk About: Healing Narratives from the Red Tent. I get the sense that this is going to be an important film, and wanted to put this on folks' radars.

Still with me as I talk about all these "woman" problems? You are? Great. Because my biggest problem is calling Aunt Flo a problem. She should be a welcome guest, not a nuisance! CNN recently published an  article online about women's attitudes toward their periods. The article is (fairly) balanced, but the thing that got me was the general tone that "Ewww! Periods are icky and gross and cumbersome." (Yes, I know for some women, they dread their period: heavy flows, debilitating cramps, nausea, and worse.) It was the title that got me: Periods - who needs them anyway?

Who needs periods? Every woman does, that's who! This leads me to my third and final soapbox moment of this post: Project Vital Sign. Sponsored by Rachel's Well, a non-profit women's health organization, Project Vital Sign is working to create a national movement for educators and health professionals to recognize menstruation is just as much of a vital sign as heart rate, blood pressure, or temperature.

Allow me this divergence... I'm still reconciling my feelings on hormonal birth control pills. On one hand, it kept my ovarian cysts at bay all throughout college, after I had already lost an ovary to a torsioned cyst. On the other, it masked my POI for what could have been years. Now they replace the hormones my body cannot produce naturally. I've had this weird give-take relationship with hormonal birth control, so I'm still not sure where my allegiance lies. The point of this brief divergence is to say that eliminating our periods or masking them is a dangerous game, as we lose a basic sign of our reproductive health. My personal thoughts on birth control aside...

Our periods give us a clear picture of our reproductive health and even our overall health. The fact that the media and society paint our periods as nuisance, gross or insignificant is infuriating: it sends the message that we should do away with them entirely, reinforcing broader social constructs of shame, embarrassment, and silence surrounding women's health issues. I know I'm not going to change society, but I'll be damned if I don't try. And look, don't take my word for it (cue Reading Rainbow music) - Dr. Lawrence Nelson at the NIH/NICHD agrees in a recent piece on NPR:

"There's this disconnect," says Nelson. "The menstrual cycle is just seen more as a nuisance by many women. But actually, [when periods are regular] it's the sign that the ovaries and the whole endocrine system related to reproduction is working the way it should."

My points, after this whole long, ranting post?

Love your period. 

Celebrate your womanhood. 

Advocate for women's health issues.

Because women's health matters. Period.