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Jews and Infertility

Infertility is an issue most people know very little about. But that doesn't stop those same individuals from having strong opinions on the subject. Strong opinions based on ignorance are often deeply misinformed and prejudicial. Such is the case with … Read More

By / July 31, 2007

Infertility is an issue most people know very little about. But that doesn't stop those same individuals from having strong opinions on the subject. Strong opinions based on ignorance are often deeply misinformed and prejudicial. Such is the case with infertility. A subject more fraught with personal anguish, confusion and ignorance you'll be hard put to find.

Jews have a special interest in infertility. There has been much talk about the decline in Jewish fertility. We are having less children and we are having them later in life as we tend to marry later than our parents and grandparents. As a result, fertility issues tend to rear their ugly head when a Jewish couple is ready to have children. That's precisely what happened to my wife and I. We were married in our 40s and had no previous children. When we started trying we found we couldn't conceive naturally. That started us on the maddening, exhausting, intense whirlwind of fertility treatment.

Our final stop before turning to adoption was egg donation, a procedure by which a young woman's donated egg is impregnated with the husband's sperm and the resulting embryo implanted in the wife. Getting to egg donation as a viable option is sometimes difficult for a woman. It means that her genetic material will not be present in the resulting child (though she will carry the fetus to term). For women culturally inculcated with the notion that they carry the responsibility to bring children into the world, the notion that this child will be yours emotionally, but not yours genetically can be hard to surmount.

For Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, it is sometimes important that the female egg donor be Jewish. There is a halachic requirement that a mother must be Jewish for a child to be considered Jewish. And since the birth mother is not genetically related to the child, there is some question as to whether the egg donor should be Jewish. Some rabbis say that the contributions of the gestational mother are so critical to the process that she should halachically be considered the actual mother.

My wife and I didn't care whether our donor was Jewish. It just so happened that the NYU Fertility Clinic we chose (where our doctor was Jamie Grifo) has a large Jewish clientèle and maintains relationships with brokers who specialize in securing Jewish donors. The donors for both our children (we have a 6 year old boy and 2 year old twins) were Israeli. Their ethnic backgrounds were very similar to our own. In fact, our 2 year old daughter looks enough like my wife that people point it out to her.

Though we never had to face the question of whether our children were Jewish if they had a non-Jewish donor, I would have sided with the rabbinical opinion that the sweat and equity exerted by my wife during pregnancy earned her the halachic title of "mother."

Finally, as a member of a formerly infertile couple, I can't say enough how important these treatments are. Many of us want to bring children into the world and but for biological impediments cannot do so. Procedures like egg donation allow us to make our dreams come true. I urge anyone facing the problems that my wife and I faced to consider the path we chose. There are many online resources available, but one of the best is RESOLVE.

Finally, there is the question of how to deal with your children once they are born. Do you tell them? If so, when? And what and how do you tell them? We've chosen the route of absolute openness. We told our first child he was an egg donor baby when he was about 3 years old or so. We talk openly about our childrens' origins with friends, family, neighbors and virtually anyone. Some parents in similar circumstances choose to address these issues differently. There is no single correct way to deal with this. But my approach is that there is too much fear and ignroance swirling around infertility. I want to lower the curtain and make egg donation as normal as natural childbirth in the average person's mind. If my openness on the subject will open a single person's formerly closed mind then it will have been worthwhile.

 For more of my blog posts on infertility and egg donation.

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