Talia Liben Yarmush and her family
I always imagined having a large family. I was the middle child of five, and although I can’t honestly claim to have loved every moment I’ve had with my siblings, I feel immensely blessed to have them. Growing up, they were always my biggest role models. I emulated the way my older brothers spoke, I listened only to the music they listened to, and I even wore their hand-me-downs. My younger siblings were my most treasured playmates; we climbed trees in the front yard and played make-believe in the basement. My brothers and sister were allies against our parents, they were my confidantes and they were my refuge. Today, they are my closest friends. And when I need advice on something, I know just who to ask for each problem.
Six years ago, when I was hit with the shock of infertility, and I knew it would be difficult to have children, my expectations of family size changed dramatically. A little after a year of marriage, I was diagnosed with endometriosis, one of the leading causes of infertility. I had two surgeries to remove the growths inside of me, but they grew back with full force each time. My doctor was clear: in vitro fertilization was the only way I would get pregnant. I went into my first cycle of IVF without a clue I thought, This is it! I’m about to grow the family I always dreamed of! I suffered through the daily injections and the blood drawings and the vaginal ultrasounds, because I knew that in the end, I would have my baby. But after two full cycles, I was left alone with just another negative pregnancy test and I thought maybe I was asking too much. I stopped dreaming of a large family.
A few weeks ago I was at a Rosh Chodesh gathering, and as it often happens in a room filled with women, the conversation turned to families and babies. I began to feel pangs of jealousy immediately. I was jealous of the ease with which women who are married to (or in relationships with) men can have babies. When you’re in a loving and committed heterosexual relationship and both people decide they’re ready to have children, you simply slip into bed together. When you’re in a loving and committed gay relationship and both people decide they’re ready to have children, the next steps are far more complicated.
I am fully aware that many couples, both gay and straight, have trouble conceiving, and I do not make light of the complexities that often arise when trying to conceive. But in discussion these complexities as a gay woman, a completely different set of reasoning is used. It has very little do do with my age or health and everything to do with the fact that a woman is trying to have a child without help from a man.
I’m often reminded that it’s hard for my partner and me to have a child because so many people out there think it is unnatural, wrong, even sinful. But, it’s not just lesbian women who seek out donors, IVF or adoption; many straight couples take the same journey for a variety of reasons. I’ve been reading the “Single Mother by Choice,” a blog series penned by Kveller’s Emily Wolper. In it she shares her very personal journey through donor shopping, IVF treatment and now DWP (dating while pregnant), plus her choice to mother as a single woman — and in the process gives a peek inside of the many, varying ways one can become a parent and create a family. The parenting website Off Beat Mama is another wonderful source for parents who fall out of the “mother, father, 2.5 children and dog” paradigm.
I read these story not only to see my life experience represented, but for support. Because I’m at the point in my life where my ovaries and uterus have launched a full-fledge assault on the rest of my body. The once rationally minded woman I was has been replaced by a woman with a singular focus: having a baby. This singular focus has resulted in a variety of missteps, some innocent and some well-intentioned, all a bit awkward.
For American-Israeli women like me, having a baby means a trip to the U.S. Embassy. Once you are home from the hospital, and once your newborn’s Israeli birth certificate is granted and health care benefits are in order, you head to the embassy to apply for U.S. citizenship on behalf of your infant.
With the U.S. passport (replete with a funny-looking newborn passport pic) in hand, you can relax knowing you won’t face visa headaches when it’s time to take your bundle of joy to America so the grandparents can kvell.
Convenience is, of course, only one of the reasons that American parents anywhere in the world want to quickly establish the automatic U.S. citizenship granted to kids with at least one parent who is a citizen. In a post-9/11 world, American citizenship and the ability to travel freely in and out of the U.S. is not something to be taken for granted.
When I went through the process for my three Israeli-born children, my biggest worries were getting the diaper bag through embassy security and filling out the forms coherently on very little sleep. But mothers who had their babies using assisted reproductive technology, such as in vitro fertilization, are now facing a much bigger and more serious problem: Many of these children are being denied citizenship altogether.
It’s no secret that Israel is a fabulous country to live in if you happen to be struggling with infertility. Not only is health care considered a right, not a privilege, but so is childbearing. The universal government-funded health care, package covers fertility treatments for women until they produce two children.
Israeli women take full and enthusiastic advantage of the privilege. Unlike their American counterparts, who must make tremendous financial sacrifices to finance in vitro fertilization treatments, the number of attempts are not limited by their means. Even the poorest of women make attempt after attempt. They can use their own eggs, or donor eggs, and they have the right to keep trying at state expense. (Unofficially, I have seen anecdotal evidence of “infertility aliya” — American Jewish couples who have become citizens and settled in Israel primarily so that they can qualify for state-funded IVF. In the US, they simply can’t afford children.)
Now, the state has even better news for women who aren’t dealing with infertility yet — but worry that they might someday. Beginning this month, the freezing of eggs by healthy women for future use is available in Israel for the first time covered by state health insurance.