Israel’s fertility clinics are slowly reopening after being closed for nearly two months due to coronavirus. However, couples received support and advice during this challenging time.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
Due to coronavirus self-quarantining, many half-jokingly predict a baby boom in nine months. However, for couples struggling with infertility, the closure of infertility treatment facilities is no laughing matter.
“The most frustrating thing for me about corona is when people don’t follow the regulations by going out or not wearing a mask,” Sara Cohen (a pseudonym), 26, told United with Israel (UWI). “I want to get back to my fertility treatments as soon as possible. This lockdown affects me personally in a very deep way.”
Israel’s Health Ministry suspended fertility treatments in mid-March, fearing for the welfare of medical staff, couples and potential fetuses in light of the coronavirus pandemic. However, medical staff did not abandon those desperate to have a baby.
Assistance for Infertile Couples
Facilities have offered patients an array of encouragement, practical suggestions, and online classes. The country has always taken a holistic approach to treatments that includes addressing emotional as well as physical challenges.
Dr. Jordana Hyman, who works at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in its in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinic and is medical advisor to Gefen Fertility Organization, which offers psychological support to women with fertility challenges at no cost, created a supportive video in Hebrew and English for couples whose treatments were put on hold, recognizing how difficult that must be.
Hyman advised couples to use the downtime productively by taking care of all their paperwork to ensure treatments can start immediately after clinics open. She reminded people to take folic acid, which is known to assist in fertility, eat well, exercise, practice mind/body techniques such as yoga, relaxation, and meditation, and strengthen themselves as a couple. She added, “take time to smell the roses,” as fertility treatments can be challenging and grueling.
According to Alice D. Domar, PhD, a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine, over 30 percent of fertility cases caused by unexplained medical reasons are helped through reducing stress.
Kaden Harari is the program director and yoga instructor at The Hadassah Rimon Mind/Body Fertility Center in Jerusalem, a model project connected to the Gefen Fertility Organization. She regularly teaches group and private cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga classes to infertile women.
“In normal times, we provide women with a private yoga class right before treatment to help them relax and open their bodies,” Harari told UWI. “This helps balance the nervous system and connect them with their bodies as women going through infertility treatments often cut themselves off from the neck down and hand their body over to the doctor. They will do anything to have a baby.”
However, due to coronavirus regulations, Harari moved her classes online. The goal of her program is to reduce stress and depression, which are known to decrease a woman’s chances of conceiving. She has an average of 12-14 women attending her daily online classes since the corona lockdown began.
She said the practices bring about better self-awareness and help the women recognize that there is more to them than their frustrations, sadness, blood work, or ultrasound. “That is part of them but not the whole of them,” she said. “Charts don’t define who they are.”
Especially now, with fertility treatments on hold, cognitive behavioral therapy and yoga help train women to respond to what is happening rather than just reacting. “They learn to look at their situation with more kindness and without judgement. Their perspective changes,” Harari explained.
She told UWI, “We’ve seen so many miracles through our work. We opened prenatal classes for women who have been through our program and are now pregnant in order to reduce the fear and anxiety they experience after they get a positive test result.”
Dr. Naomi Marmon Grumet is the founder and director of The Eden Center, which connects women to the beauty and spirituality of mikvah (ritual immersion). The Eden Center created a resource in Hebrew and English filled with encouragement, prayers, and poetry for infertile women and those who miscarry.
“Many women experience frustration, embarrassment, self-criticism or loss at ‘failing’ to bring a child into the world,” she said. “Others feel at their wits’ end that treatments cannot continue due to the virus. Our hope is that the resource can help reframe and assist women in building a more positive relationship with their bodies and with God, especially during this challenging time.”
Compassion at the Time of Corona
“We spent a lot of time and energy doing paperwork, going to fertility clinics and the hospital, doing blood tests, taking medicines, and more,” Cohen, who has undertaken fertility treatments over the past year, told UWI. “I was ready for an intrauterine insemination (IUI) — a type of artificial insemination, when the fertility clinics closed.
“The staff was very apologetic, which made me feel supported and validated even though it was very upsetting and frustrating. I think the hardest part is that there isn’t a clear date when things will go back to normal and we can try again to have a baby.”
“I have seen staff praying for me and my treatments,” said Cohen. “They hope I will have a baby as if they are my own family. People aren’t strangers to each other here.”
She said the situation has shifted her own prayers. “I deeply understand now that having a baby is totally up to God, not fertility treatments. I pray that God should make open miracles for all those trying to have a baby and spread his greatness throughout the world. I pray that everyone should have that amazing blessing.”
According to Sheba Medical Center, about 15 percent of couples face reproductive issues. Israel has the highest rate of IVF in the world, with its first IVF baby born in 1982. It has a 45 percent success rate with IVF procedures of artificial insemination using donor eggs.
Last week, the Health Ministry announced it will gradually reintroduce fertility treatments for women over 39 with no underlying medical conditions.
It is expected to take several more months until fertility clinics work at full capacity.