Saturday, May 30, 2009

Ultra-orthodox

We live 7 minutes (by car) from Kiryat Sefer, an ultra-orthodox Jewish city. Ohad says its like going overseas and I kind of feel the same way. Before I go, I always make sure to put on a long skirt and a fairly modest top (though not down to my elbows). Things there are like here - it's the same language and mostly the same products, but it's really different too. The shops there sell things that are a lot more practical - and in bulk. You can get 5 white (identical) button-down shirts for about $25, which is great if that's all you wear - and that IS what most of the older boys and men there wear. All the time. And robes (or dressing gowns) whatever you want to call them. They're these hideous things I'd never be seen in (even in the mirror) - black velvety material, with long zippers in the front and all sorts of patterns all over them. The women wear them around the house and they're so modest (yeah, cover you from neck to toe) that they can open the door in them (as long as their heads are covered too). I guess its easier than getting dressed? But the culture there is different too. Outside one of the stores I like (my mom calls it the Israeli version of Kmart) people leave their strollers strewn all over the place (no strollers allowed in). In the mornings, people leave their babies in the strollers at the entrance and the guard at the door asks the main desk to announce on the loudspeaker if one of them is crying. I could never do that...

Generally families there are large. I mean, 4 or 5 kids is ok if you're just starting out - but if you quit there, people might wonder what went wrong. And actually, my only real conversations with ultra-orthodox people in the past few years have been mostly men, who call me and ask for advice. They're usually couples who have been married for 2 or 3 years and are either afraid to admit there may be a real problem or are embarrassed to go see a doctor (which is what I encourage them to do). The pressure, in their community, to have a baby right away is immense. My sister said that after a certain period of time, people stop asking when they're going to have a baby - if a year's gone by and she's not showing, obviously something is wrong... I wonder if they're open enough to talk about it among themselves and to get support. I know that a lot end up getting treatment (I met them in the waiting rooms when I was getting treatment).

I think of their culture as fairly primitive, which is why when my mom sent me this article about an ultra-orthodox rabbi allowing a woman (a widow) to become a surrogate mother, it knocked me out. All I could think was, WOW.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Male Infertility - Gat Goren

As I scanned this morning's paper, I came across a mention of the Gat Goren method for treating varicocele - it was listed as one of Israel's recent important achievements.

Among the differences between the Gat Goren method and traditional treatment of varicocele are the short recovery time and the less painful medical procedure. This article writes:

DURING THE procedure, which is performed under local anesthesia, Goren inserts a catheter through a vein in the upper thigh. The catheter is used to inject a fluid that selectively closes off all the malfunctioning veins, thereby enabling the testicular tissues to recover and begin to produce normal sperm in normal amounts. It takes one to two hours (plus half an hour of rest before going home), and causes virtually no discomfort. Within 48 hours, the patient resumes his normal routine.

"In the conventional procedure, in which men undergo general anesthesia in an operating room, a urological surgeon performs a left high ligation and blockage of the central vein. It takes 20 minutes, but urologists didn't do the right side, or weren't aware of the whole network of bypasses in the system, so in a significant number of cases, it didn't solve the problem," Gat says. But the Gat-Goren catheterization method locates and treats defective blood vessels on both sides and improves oxygen supply necessary for the production of sperm cells.

Apparently, men are coming to Israel from all over the world to have this procedure performed.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Book Excerpt - Delivering Hope

Pamela MacPhee, who wrote the new book Delivering Hope was willing for me to share an excerpt with you. All infertility stories are special to me, but this one is one of those that is really amazing.

Enjoy!
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Delivering Hope—The Extraordinary Journey of a Surrogate Mom

Selfishly there is nothing we would like more than to have you as our surrogate,” Henry and Lauren opened in their letter to me detailing the process.

And while I carefully read through their research on the medical, legal, psychological, and financial hurdles of surrogacy over the next few pages, I had trouble focusing on anything beyond those first few heartfelt words of approval. There in black and white I finally found confirmation that my offer had been received enthusiastically, and that they would welcome the opportunity to take the journey of surrogacy with me! Their endorsement replaced my uncertainty and insecurity with a rush of excitement and relief. The words of my offer no longer floated out in space, but had indeed found somewhere safe to land and stick. They wanted to choose me, to pick me to play in the game.

We are grateful and touched………that you would even consider assisting us in starting a family,” they wrote, closing their letter with a warm thank you.

Indeed, they had found me worthy after all, and the thrill of acceptance buoyed me until I felt like a helium balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, with the strings of reality barely keeping my feet on the ground. While I knew intellectually that there remained quite a bit more researching and analyzing to conduct before making a final decision, emotionally I found it difficult to refrain from taking their hands gently in mine and saying, “Yes! Let’s do it; onward and upward!”

As I read through the articles about other surrogates, analyzed the statistics regarding surrogacy success rates, and scrutinized the fertility clinic information detailing the hurdles I would need to leap and the sacrifices I would need to make, I found myself thinking more about Henry and Lauren than myself. This was not really about me.

Yes, there would be sacrifices on my part for more than a year at least, but, if given my family genetics and barring any unforeseen disaster I realistically could look forward to 90-plus years to live, what would one single year mean really in the grand scheme of things. And, quite honestly, if I were to have my life cut short by some freakish disaster, would I regret the “loss” of that time?

Time for a reality check: Imagining my spirit hovering above my ashes scattered to the winds on some coastal hilltop, I was certain my regrets would be limited to any time I had wasted needlessly worrying, hurrying, and scrubbing clean the darn toilet bowl. For me and my family surrogacy would require some temporary changes, for Henry and Lauren it offered the possibility of the most dramatic change in their lives. And for their baby out there waiting to be born it represented the chance of a lifetime. Literally.

By April we had all engaged in our own share of soul searching and informational discovery regarding moving forward together with surrogacy, and Lauren and Henry had been able to pause for a couple of months to catch their breath after several intense months of anguish and upheaval from Lauren’s battle with cancer.

On Easter weekend they drove down from Los Angeles to join us for a day of egg coloring and repeated egg hunting in the back yard with Kellie (6), Duncan (5) and Lise (2 ½). My children’s enthusiasm for finding bright hidden treats among the branches of apricot trees and the coils of the garden hose proved endless, and was only outweighed by my cousin’s enthusiasm in searching for ever more creative hiding places to test their hunting skills. The kids delighted in the attention from Henry and Lauren that afternoon, and their mounds of brilliant smiles and giggles matched the pile of bright eggs we had colored that morning. While we shared that joyful day, I sensed my cousin’s unspoken vision of a future full of Easter egg hunts and family celebrations in his backyard with his own little ones.

After the kids had been tucked into bed that evening, Robert and I sat down with Henry and Lauren to candidly discuss our thoughts and feelings about embarking together on a voyage of surrogacy. Nervous laughter punctuated our cautious excitement as we poked and prodded each other gently like thorough physicians, probing the health and viability of such an arrangement.

“Do you think this is something you really want to do?” they asked anxiously, seemingly sensitive about overstepping boundaries and asking a cousin to sacrifice too much.

“Yes! I really want to do this for you.” I responded fervently.


“Are you both comfortable with the idea of me carrying your baby?” I asked tentatively.

“Yes, absolutely!” they both agreed wholeheartedly, more at ease embarking on a surrogacy journey with family, where there would perhaps be fewer variables beyond their knowledge or control.

I noticed, though, that Henry and Lauren seemed a little less excited and a little more cautious than Robert and me about the idea of surrogacy. But, I thought, understandably so, since the stakes would be unimaginably high for them. Truthfully, I wanted them to be on-the-edge-of-their-seats excited to validate and justify my generous offer, but at the same time I understood that they might feel the need to guard their feelings in order to protect themselves from the vulnerabilities of their position. Realistically, though surrogacy sounded great in concept, it remained disconcertingly possible that at the end of our proposed venture they would come away without holding a child in their arms, and with nothing to show for all our hopes and efforts.
The odds were not in their favor. Henry and Lauren had to commit to surrogacy knowing that there would be no guarantee of success, and it would take time and courage to believe in the possibility of it all. The time sitting together on the couch and facing each other one on one with our hopes and dreams, though, had encouraged all of us to take that leap of faith.

“Let’s do it,” we agreed.

We chose hope.

There are inevitable risks that accompany any dream, but there is so much sweet possibility, and so we opened our hearts and chose a path that could change all of us.

We chose to dream.

We chose surrogacy.

Reflecting on the reality that the four of us would be joining together to bring a child into the world, we hugged excitedly, marveling at our decision, and for a moment anything seemed possible.

“Are we really going to do this?” Lauren asked hopefully, hardly daring to believe.

It was an intimate moment, not unlike that impulsive flash as a couple when you look into each other’s eyes and throw caution to the wind, allowing your love for each other take you where it may, setting events into motion which might make you parents nine months down the road. We all remained fully clothed sitting on that couch, of course, but our thoughts and hopes and desires laid naked before us, as we chose to take those first steps that would give Henry and Lauren the chance at becoming parents. In that instant we all recognized a flash of the kind of faith, trust and love that would be required to take this intimate journey together.

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Find out more about Pamela MacPhee's book, Delivering Hope, at http://www.deliveringhopebook.com/.

*posted here with permission from the author.