Infertility can take an emotional toll, but a new organization, Fruitful, aims to provide support for women and couples in the Valley who are struggling to conceive a child.
“Our goal is to be there mainly for emotional support,” said Chani Levertov, co-founder of Fruitful. “Even though we’re a Jewish organization, we’re open to everyone who needs support and we offer programs for individuals and couples.”
In 2013, Levertov, who also is the co-executive director of the Chabad of Downtown Phoenix, was experiencing secondary infertility. After her second child, she and her husband, Rabbi Levi Levertov, were having a difficult time conceiving another baby. Frustration settled in and she needed a place to vent. She discovered that she was not alone.
Fruitful traces its roots to a monthly coffee date when Levertov would meet with a friend who also was experiencing infertility. They shared their concerns as they both navigated their personal fertility challenges. Levertov helped to found Fruitful after she met more women and couples who were going through what she was experiencing. Levertov said Fruitful meets a need in the Jewish community to discuss infertility and pregnancy loss.
“They believed women and couples needed and deserved more,” said Lauren Hendeles, a Fruitful board member. “More information needed to be offered. Validation needed to be given and connections needed to be made.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Family Growth survey found that between 2004 and 2010, one in eight couples reported having trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy.
Hendeles and her husband were coping with a miscarriage and struggling to conceive. They were private about it, because they felt ashamed and didn’t know anyone facing the same challenges.
After attending a public event hosted by Fruitful and meeting Levertov, Hendeles started getting involved and later became a board member. She helped launch Fruitful’s website. In 2018, Fruitful became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.
As well as monthly support group meetings and awareness events, Fruitful offers several different programs. Women and couples can attend social events, individual women can receive one-on-one support from other women who have completed their fertility journey, and people can attend educational events that feature experts in reproductive health and therapists specializing in maternal mental health.
Both Levertov and Hendeles think more people should take the time to learn about some of the issues that infertile women and couples experience so they can develop a more empathetic attitude. This is why the two women coordinate awareness events for people who aren’t experiencing infertility and may not realize how taxing it can be.
“The events are a way to break the silence and the shame that some couples sometimes feel,” Levertov said, adding that many couples are under tremendous societal pressure from family, friends and even their synagogues to have children.
“When you think about Jewish life in particular, it’s easy to see how someone struggling with infertility can feel alone,” Hendeles said. “You walk through the doors of a synagogue and see strollers at the entry. You hear about every birth, bris and bar mitzvah during the rabbi’s announcements.”
Hendeles added that many who are feeling the pressure of not being able to conceive also experience emotional reactions from certain phrases or external triggers. These can range from pregnancy announcements on social media to plotlines on a TV show to even a back-to-school display in a store.
Even a well-meaning friend or family member who is trying to offer advice can come off as insensitive. A phrase that sounds as harmless as “you’d make a great parent,” or “I want to be a bubbe” can be an emotional trigger.
“When you’re in the thick of infertility, it feels like the world merely exists to remind you that you are childless,” Hendeles said.
The advice both Levertov and Hendeles hope other people take away from their events is to listen and to not make assumptions as to why someone can’t get pregnant. Pregnancy talk might sound lighthearted, but in reality it can cause sadness or shame.
Since the group’s founding, Levertov has had one more child and Hendeles has given birth to her first child. Both women said Fruitful is looking to expand even more as they hope to help those dealing with infertility feel supported, empowered and validated.
“There are so many individuals and couples in our community who are suffering in silence,” Hendeles said. “They are our neighbors, our friends, people we go to synagogue with, and we may often be oblivious to their pain.” JN