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The Ripe Pomegranate

The Ripe Pomegranate

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The news that high-tech fertility treatment was our only option came as a terrible shock. That was the verdict of the very first doctor we consulted, a year after we were married. Such drastic intervention, with powerful hormonal drugs and surgery, seemed more than distasteful: it seemed to go against the very essence of how we lived and approached life; trying to be so careful with what we ate and drank, consciously avoiding additives and known carcinogens.

We saw more doctors and underwent more invasive testsDismayed, we pushed off the additional testing that the doctor recommended. When I had bursts of willingness to seek other medical opinions, we saw more doctors and underwent more invasive tests, all with the same conclusion: IVF was our only option. But surely, I reasoned, G‑d, who parted the Red Sea, could perform a miracle for us?

Yet each anniversary marked another year without children. I was wary of tampering with my body, afraid of exposure to hormonal drugs and their potential side effects. How could I willingly expose myself to these chemical hormones to which no one could predict how I personally would react physically and emotionally? And a positive outcome wasn't even guaranteed!

How easily I remembered my vulnerability, seven years earlier, before undergoing the operation that had caused our problem. A team of physicians had entered my room on the 17th floor of Sloan Kettering Memorial Hospital, overlooking the East River. They had come to give me more details about the exploratory laparotomy that I would endure the next morning.

"Also, we will have a gynecological surgeon participate in the repositioning of your ovaries," explained one nurse.

"What?" I cried in alarm. "What are you talking about?"

"It is an important part of the procedure. Didn't anyone tell you?"

"No, nobody told me anything about it!" I sobbed, wanting to wake up and escape from this nightmare.

"In case we discover cancer cells in your abdomen, you will need radiation therapy on the lower half of your body. By moving your ovaries away from the lymph glands that would be exposed to treatment, we will be able to protect your ovaries from sterilization," she calmly explained.

I did not feel calm at all. The whole operation seemed unnecessary to me. Intuitively, I sensed that this highly treatable cancer had not spread beyond the lump in my neck, and a tiny, almost imperceptible bump under my arm. But in the world of medicine, my intuitive feelings were not established facts that an oncologist could rely on to determine a course of treatment.

The next morning, half an hour before the operation, when I was already drowsy from a pre-op dose of Demerol, the gynecologic surgeon came to meet me.

"I heard that you were upset yesterday, about the transposition of your ovaries," he began in a kind voice.

I was only eighteenI was only eighteen. Marriage and family were not uppermost in my immediate life plans. Survival was first. I answered slowly, "I'm all right, I understand."

"So you are aware that tampering with your ovaries involves a risk? There is a chance that they may not work at all, but it is a chance we have to take, lest the radiation destroy them completely."

Shocked anew, I could not speak. There was no time to protest. For some mysterious reason, this whole experience was to be part of my life.

Looking back, I am grateful that I combined holistic/alternative approaches to healing with conventional radiation and surgery. I am sure that my wonderful oncologist was afraid that I was going to refuse treatment altogether. He had reassured me at the time that I would not have a problem becoming pregnant.

But that reassurance was given years ago, and now I was married and time was ticking by, with our hearts yearning and our arms empty.

A friend was foster parenting an infant whose fate was being decided in court. I became completely intrigued with the idea that we could become her parents. When my husband and I held her, we discovered how easily we could love her. We thought she was beautiful. One day my friend allowed us to help care for the baby. We changed her diapers, made her bottles, fed, held, burped and soothed her. We cuddled and talked to her. The very next day, we called the adoption agency handling her case and inquired about how to proceed in officially adopting her. They, of course, were obligated to inform us that there was already a six-year waiting list!

We were heartbroken by this news, but decided to continue the adoption process, attend meetings, and await "our turn."

Meanwhile, another year went by, silently enduring monthly disappointments.

One way of coping with the quiet in our lives was to have Shabbat guests. Living in a thriving Jewish community near a college campus, we could easily welcome over a dozen students a week who had never experienced a taste of Shabbat in their entire lives. It was a privilege to be involved in answering their questions; and it gave us something to look forward to each week. It became an opportunity to share our values in a meaningful and life-promoting way. "He who teaches Torah to his friend's son, it is as though he gave birth to him" (Pirkei Avot).

It was vital for me not to feel aloneEventually I was persuaded by a friend to join a small fertility support group. There I met other women dealing with the same issues. In a community that was totally child focused, it was vital for me not to feel alone. One woman shared with me the practice of saying "Chana's Prayer" (a prayer women say when struggling with fertility) after candle lighting. "Ribbono shel Olam (Master of the Universe), everything that you have created in a woman, You have not created anything for naught. Eyes to see, ears to hear, a nose to smell, a mouth to speak, hands to do work, legs to walk, breasts for nursing. Praised are You for putting breasts on my heart! Why should I not nurse with them? Give me a son, and I will nurse with them!" (Brachot 31b)

Identifying with Chana's yearning, as well as our Four Mothers: Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah, gave me a connection to a historical process that many women had endured, survived, and eventually triumphed. Surely G‑d would answer our prayers.

We willingly investigated suggestions of Jewish customs or alternative practitioners that sounded reasonably respectable. For example, a visit to a well-known Rebbetzin gave me a stronger connection to reciting Psalms. She also emphasized to have special concentration during the blessing of "Matir Assurim" in the prayer of the Shemona Esrei. "May G‑d release you from the constraints of your situation!"

What was I waiting for? I still felt too fearful of IVF to seriously consider doing it, but really, deep inside, perhaps... I wondered if I was worried about the implications of actually becoming a mother?? How long should I wait? We were given only one medical option... when would I be willing to take the plunge? I wondered what was I afraid of. I prayed for clarity.

A good friend who was aware of our situation invited me to accompany her to the birth of her fifth child. A month after witnessing this profoundly moving event, I told my husband that I felt emotionally ready to visit the IVF clinic, not for a consultation, but to actually begin treatment. We could apply our knowledge of holistic methods to the IVF procedure. I reread up on guided imagery, which I had used while coping with the cancer that was long gone, thank G‑d, but which had directly contributed to our current dilemma.

We felt surrounded by a supportive network of prayerWe hoped that our years of prayer for G‑d's compassion, carrying newborn boys at their circumcision (an honor bestowed to couples who are trying to have children of their own) and numerous other Jewish customs we had done, as well as the collective prayers of many people on our behalf, would perhaps have added up to tip the scales in our favor. We contacted rabbis, both for the necessary guidance in Jewish law through the maze of fertility questions, and for their blessings for success. We asked specific people, particularly our parents, to pray for us. We felt surrounded by a supportive network of prayer.

I recalled the trip to Israel we had made one summer. We had visited the Children's Memorial at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. In the dark, amidst the reflections of a million tiny lights, as the names of one child after another were called out in the eerie stillness, I pleaded with G‑d to send us just one neshama, just one soul.

When treatment began, I prayerfully visualized each step of the procedure, imaging what was happening within my body: the follicles slowly developing into ripe eggs, and my ovaries protected from over stimulation by soothing cool waters, the eggs joyously being fertilized, and a heavenly light guiding and assisting the embryos as they deeply implanted into the welcoming tissue of my womb. I pictured everything in as much detail as possible: the tiny little capillaries connecting and supplying our babies with all the necessary, essential nutrients to help them grow into strong, vital human beings, the lining of my uterus thickening with a fervent exuberance to shelter her new charges, and G‑d's constant Presence supervising all functions.

There were four embryos at first. Even though a multiple pregnancy would be difficult, and possibly fraught with complications, how could I pray for only one baby, and not express concern for the other three potential lives? G‑d, whatever You decide is good, but You should know that I am willing to host everyone!

The days between blood tests were agonizingly slow. I tried to remain calm and optimistic, keeping my mind and body as relaxed and tension-free as possible.

At last—the crucial beta-HCG blood test tentatively came back positive. Two days later, a repeat test of this vital beta-HCG confirmed that the numbers had increased. I was definitely pregnant! An ultrasound showed one embryo had implanted. Our joy was immense!

But we still had months to go, with the fear of miscarriage uppermost in my mind.

I saw us sitting beneath a pomegranate tree that drooped with the weight of full, ripe fruitIn an attempt to retain some autonomy, we decided to learn to do the daily progesterone shots at home for the following three months. With an entire team of doctors, nurses, technicians, surgeons, anesthesiologists and assistants participating in the intimate details of our lives, I felt like a piece of public property. Now, instead of having to rush in and out of the a clinic nurse's office, by doing the shots myself, I could rest at home in privacy, using that time in particular to relax and visualize myself and my husband in a flower filled field of the Galilee, beside a crystal clear running river. In my mind's eye, I saw us sitting beneath a pomegranate tree that drooped with the weight of full, ripe fruit. In this Edenic setting, we prayed for healthy children. A soft beam of light surrounded us, and when it receded back to the Heavens, we were surrounded by beautiful, cherubic babes.

I turned inward, becoming very private as I focused all my energy on maintaining this precious pregnancy for the full nine months.

I quit work. I rested. I ate nutritious meals and avoided anything deemed harmful or unhealthy. I drank raspberry and nettle herbal teas to strengthen my system. I worried and tried not to worry. I cried and prayed and prayed and cried. I continued my prayerful imagery, picturing the changes taking place within my body, the baby nurtured and growing well. When the forty weeks were complete, on my due date, my waters broke. With the assistance of a competent midwife, many hours later, our beautiful, healthy baby was born at home into our extremely grateful, welcoming arms.

Reprinted with permission from Special Delivery, a collection of birthing stories, edited by Sarah Goldstein. Sarah is a certified doula and doula trainer and promotes safe and natural childbirth through her seminars, writing and tapes.
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Anonymous U.S. February 17, 2017

Thank you for your story. I'm blessed reading this. Truly G-d is life! Blessed are You most High G-d there is no one like you. Reply

yehudis america December 7, 2011

fight on the article to ahuva and annonomous:
honestly, when i read your comments, i could barely contain my laughter. as an outsider, i can give an objective view on this:
you guys are BOTH wrong. you are both making asumptions about each other, and you both don't understand the true meaning of prayer.
i have written many comments on this site. sometimes, i come across a comment which seems immature, and then i realize it is my own! i suggest you both read over your comments. you will seed how ridiculous it is. Reply

Anonymous November 30, 2008

To Noa,

Thank you for sharing your story. It was beautiful and it touched my heart.

I am over 40 years old with no children only because I waited for the right man. Now it may be too late. I cry a lot. I feel in my heart that if G-d feels it should be, it will happen.

G-d bless you and your family.
Reply

Noa September 25, 2007

Author responds My story is told as it happened, with no intention to imply anything about what one can "do" to have children, just the details of the circumstances of our particular situation. What I have learned in my life (I currently help facilitate a fertility support group) is that each one of us is sent specific challenges.... our prayer to G-d helps strengthen our connection with our Creator. It's not about praying so that "we get what we ask for"--it's about reaching out for support from the One who sent the trial. That's how I understand it.

Yes, there are stories about women who weren't Observant of certain mitzvah's, for example, they start going to the Mikvah, and become pregnant. Or the moving story told in The Bamboo Cradle... of a couple who adopt a non-Jewish baby... and only years later (I think it was 12 years after they were married, four years after the adoption) when their daughter was officially converted according to Jewish Law, that they suddenly became pregnant and had... four naturally conceived children in the ensuing years.

Yes, there are many stories that can imply that if we make an effort in the spiritual realm, it will have the desired outcome. For a couple who are already religious, the movement, the growth in spiritual directions may be different than the non-Observant couple.... but for everyone the common factor is: the test is very difficult, we are only human and we want children! Our human emotional responses are unique to our particular way of being in this world.... no one can know for sure why the test was sent to them.... We cannot control what happens to us, we can influence how we decide to respond.

Should we adopt? Should we be involved with children (like teaching) in other ways? Should we try every possible medical intervention? Should we try every alternative medicine option? Should we be barren and bitter? Should we reach out to support others in similar circumstances that we understand?

G-d is available to all of us, He cares about all of us, and for reasons we cannot usually fathom, He knows why we need this difficult, painful test in our lives. I never intended my article to imply "be like me, be religious", and everything will work out fine. To this day, decades after what I wrote about here, I am still in awe that the treatment worked at all. Why it had to be that route... only G-d knows. We pray in order to strengthen our connection. The results are not in our hands. Reply

Ahava August 21, 2007

To Anonymous Your quote, not mine :)"I am not saying it is not good to pray. But I am saying that the implication that it the PRAYER itself doing wonders is less accurate than the belief that it is G-d Himself. "

No I am not Orthodox, I have lost 3 infants, one at term, all boys, all with brain anomylies passed by my husband, our blessing from G-d is our daughter, however, He blessed me with these losses to help other women. And as far as angry, you have no idea, my anger left me in my 20s, I'm in my 50's and have no need for anger.

Reflect, look into yourself. This is all I said, you took it very personally, and in the wrong way. One must check their own house first. I've done this in my life, it helped me make numerous changes. When offered advice, one should never spit in the face of the advisor. I come from a long line of Rebbes, their knowledge and translations are invaluable. As a young person I rebelled against alot of it, now that I'm older I understand more than most. Take care. Reply

Anonymous Natick, ma via chabadnatick.com August 20, 2007

To Ahava, Hmmm. Forgive me, but I think it is clearly YOU who assume way too much. Indeed I have been in those very shoes you assume I have not been in. I have had 5 miscarriages---so please do not make assumption on that which you have no knowledge of. Thank you.

Another assumption about me I take offense to is your assumption that I feel I do not need G-d? So only if I am Orthodox like you am I someone who feels they "Need G-d in their life"?? Please !!!!! If your really feel like that, I feel sorry for you.

As it pertains to the rest of your comments, I am not an angry person at all. Maybe you are transferring your own anger? The only anger I have is towards those who believe that only their belief system is right and everyone else's is wrong. You seem to have that belief, and so my point is this. G-d is all powerful and all-knowing and our lives are indeed predetermined. I am not saying it is not good to pray. But I am saying that the implication that it the PRAYER itself doing wonders is less accurate than the belief that it is G-d Himself. Subtle difference maybe, but an important distinction to me. And one I am not sure you quite understand. Reply

Ahava August 13, 2007

To Anonymous, Natick, ma G-d is our parent. He guides us, loves us unconditional no matter what we do. Why should we not praise Him? Are we so independent to ourselves that we don't need Him? When YOU decide that you finally need Him in your life, He will listen, because He loves us so much. It is because of that love that He gives science the technology to do IVF and so many other things that help us. You read way more into people's staements than are there, it makes me feel as that you have an anger issue, sorry, but that's what you're portraying. Until you've been in my situation, or this author's situation, you shouldn't cast stones. Do you speak to your parents on earth? I hope so, life is fleeting, when they're gone, who do you have but Hashem, why shouldn't we praise Him, He's awesome, makes so much that others say is impossible, possible. As far as plans for our lives, yes, I believe He is in the driver's seat, but often we rebell and go our own way. It's up to us to prove that we need Him Reply

Anonymous Natick, ma via chabadnatick.com August 12, 2007

To Ahava So, if things will happen according to His predetermined will, why pray? Is G-d so insecure that He needs us to constantly praise Him? No, of course not. Prayer is not to MAKE things happen.

The point I was trying to make is this. If it was G-d's will for this woman to have a child, it would have happened regardless. We have no power to change His will. This essay implies that her fervent nature and prayer caused her eventual good fortune. But, as you stated verbatim, "G-d has a plan for all of us, and no matter what our desires are, it is His that will come to fruition." Therefore, when it does not, reading this kind of post makes many feel badly that their prayer did not work whereas someone else's did. Prayer cannot make things happen that are not in G-d's plan. This essay makes me feel that the author feels differently.
Reply

Ahava Schilke Denver, CO August 12, 2007

To G-d has a plan for all of us, and no matter what our desires are, it is His that will come to fruition. Why should we not pray, this is our way of talking to and praising Him. And sometimes what we receive is not what we pray for, but what He sends us, we just have to recognize what that special blessing is. Reply

Anonymous via chabadnatick.com August 10, 2007

The other side of the story I read this almost hesistantly. As a nominal Jew (not religious), I am sometimes impressed by the essays on this site, and read them periodically. However, as much as this article is triumphant for you (and not to detract from the wonder and miracle that happened in your case), the implied idea that a baby only comes to those who pray enough or who are "religious" enough concerns me greatly. There are so many devout, religious Jewish women with integrity who desperately want children and for whom is does not happen.

What do you say to those women? How does an article like this make them feel?? I am close friends with a Hasidic religious woman who is currently childless after 12 years of trying to have a baby through multiple methods. My heart breaks for her and I worry how she would feel if she were to read this.

I just get very wary of the "if you pray hard enough it will happen mentality" because I think it can be destructive and hurtful to many.

My 2 cents.
Reply

Ahava Schilke Denver, CO August 8, 2007

The Ripe Pomegranate Blessing How blessed to be able to carry such a beautiful fruit to completion. I'm an OB/NICU nurse, I had many difficulties of my own, and finally G-d blessed me with the most fantastic child. She is my light in such a controversial world. Now at 25, she looks forward to starting her family, and worries that she too will be greeted by obsticles. I see all kinds of women having children everyday, children they don't want, or do want, drug addicts who abuse their bodies and their unborns. It is hard not to judge, and harder even not to ask why it's so easy for those who could care less for the life they carry, especially when there are those who pray for those precious lives. Blessings upon you for sharing your story. Reply

Helena Kemp Fairless Hills, PA August 6, 2007

Mothers of the Body, Mothers of the Heart Congratulations on the birth of your precious miracle. I've been where you were. I, too, struggled with infertility and after many rounds of less invasive treatments, decided to do IVF. I believe G-d gave my doctors the knowledge and desire to help me, and other women like us, become mothers of the body as well as of the heart.

We, too, transferred four embryos and on the day following Yom Kippur, found out that I was pregnant. Ten days later and the news was even better than ever expected. There was not one, not even two, but three babies growing inside me! Although delivered prematurely, my life is filled with joy as I care for these precious bundles which G-d has entrusted to my care. It seems like just yesterday I brought them home from the hospital and now they are five years old and starting Kindergarten in a few weeks.

May your child bring you much joy throughout your life. Reply