“Yesh Tikva: There is Hope” – with Gila Block

Gila Block shares her High Risk Birth Story and the story of founding Yesh Tikva, a support group for women facing infertility. Gila’s story starts when she was married at 22 and wanted to start a family right away but faced complications from thyroiditis and infertility. She shares the traumatic experience of feeling misunderstood and judged, failed IVF cycles, and losing all of her embryos before eventually getting pregnant and having a daughter five years later.

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Dr. Fox: Welcome to “High-Risk Birth Stories” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman podcast.” I’m your host, Dr. Nathan Fox. “High-Risk Birth Stories” is a podcast designed to give you the listener a window into the life-changing experiences of pregnancy, fertility, and childbirth. Gila Block, thank you so much for coming on the podcast to tell your story. And then ultimately, we’ll talk about your wonderful organization, Yesh Tikva, as well. How are you doing? 

Gila: I’m good. Thank you so much for having me excited to be joining all the way from Los Angeles. 

Dr. Fox: Yeah. So, welcome from our California cohort out on the west coast. And it’s great to have you as a friend, as a listener, and as someone who is doing important work in the community. So I appreciate it. I appreciate you. And I’m sure our listeners are really going to learn a lot from your story. 

Gila: Well, thank you for giving me the opportunity to share. And something that I have found in my experience is that the more I share my story, firstly, the more about it that I end up sharing each time I share a little bit more of it. But also it helps me in my healing process through it by becoming vulnerable and opening up about it, what Bernie Brown calls claiming your shame. And for me, that has become a big part of my healing journey. So thank you for giving me an opportunity to claim my shame. 

Dr. Fox: Take our listeners back we’re gonna be talking primarily about your first pregnancy. This is for your daughter, who was born in 2016. And so I guess just turned five recently and had her preschool graduation today, correct? 

Gila: Yes. 

Dr. Fox: Congratulations on that. 

Gila: Thank you. Definitely, a moment six years ago if you would have told me that today I would have been sitting there, I wouldn’t have believed you. So it is definitely a huge celebration on so many levels. 

Dr. Fox: Tell us at the time before you got pregnant where were you in life, sort of geographically? What were you doing professionally or in school, and you know, set us up for the story for your journey? 

Gila: Sure. I had just graduated Stern. My husband and I got married that summer. I was 22-years-old. We were living what I thought was the dream of get married and start a family. And then a month after we got married, I actually got diagnosed with thyroiditis of an unknown cause. So non-Hashimoto’s based and nongenetic. So it was like this first curveball in my journey. And right away, the first thing that they do in treating that is they put you on birth control. So almost from day one, that dream of starting a family got paused. 

And then for the next eight months as they tried to figure out how to treat this and regulate it…and for most people, actually 80% of the population it regulates on its own, and eventually, it was an event of the past. 20% of the population end up on some form of thyroid medication for life and that was my first statistic that I entered. So I became a one-in for the first time. And fast forward, I finally get to start trying to have a baby. And this dream that everyone tells you, like, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get pregnant on the first try” isn’t really true. 

And so about 12 months in, it’s still not happening, and I get a referral to my first RE. I have no clue what that means. So I walk into the reproductive endocrinology practice, and the doctor spews a ton of information at me. I shut down, have no clue what’s going on. We’re living in New York at the time. I know nothing about infertility. I’m put through a ton of diagnostics to finally get an unexplained diagnosis which, for anyone who doesn’t know what that is, it means we have no clue what’s wrong with you but clearly, something is wrong with you. But we’ll just throw a ton of spaghetti at the wall until something sticks. 

Dr. Fox: Let’s assume the thyroid issue didn’t happen. So left to your own devices it was your intention after you got married to start having kids right away, correct? 

Gila: Essentially, yeah. 

Dr. Fox: Yeah, I mean, essentially right away so not you know, right away within a month or two. And so you get let’s say delayed by you know, eight months or so. And then you start trying, and after a year, you’re not getting pregnant I imagine you’re very concerned about this. Before you went to the infertility doctor what was the messaging you were getting let’s say from your own gynecologist you know, obstetrician, gynecologist, or potentially friends and family? Was it everything is gonna be fine this happens a lot let’s just do some tests? Or we’re concerned or they explained it. Where were you before you walked into the infertility doctor’s clinic? 

Gila: I, oddly enough, didn’t see an OB before I got married. I was prescribed birth control and then just got married. And about three or four months into trying, I went to my first OB appointment and she told me…she’s like, “Don’t worry, you’ll be back here three months from now pregnant.” 

And I remember walking out of that doctor’s office feeling so and invalidated. I came in expressing a concern and the assumption that I was a seven in eight someone who would get pregnant, as opposed to even having that conversation that a one in eight exists kind of was the beginning of that space of infertility isn’t something that happens, we don’t talk about it. There were no support groups online. Instagram wasn’t yet a thing. Facebook was barely a space for that either. 

And so I was in a space where it didn’t exist. I was getting mommy emails every week, it felt like that another person in the community…and we were living in Washington Heights at the time, NYU. So like, we were in as concentrated a young family community as you’re going to get. So the rate of people around you having children, and then being that one who wasn’t. And friends getting married after me having kids already and still, I’m kind of in the space of like, it should be happening but it’s not because the messaging is like, it will happen and it happens to everyone. And if it’s not happening to you then something is wrong with you. 

Dr. Fox: Right. And just explain for our listeners many of whom know exactly what you’re talking about some might not. When you’re living…some people are saying gosh, like, she’s 22, like when I was 22 I was still partying every night and never even thought about dating, forget marriage and kids. But when you’re in a community where you’re getting married and you’re assuming and trying to have kids and everybody around you who you know and you see every day, and you interact with are having kids and successful. And then you’re saying there’s an email that goes out, you know, they had a baby, she had a baby, they had a baby, you know, let’s do this for them, let’s do this. It’s like this constant reminder that it’s not working for you. 

And it’s like you just get pummeled with it, you can’t avoid it. Because in the type of setting you’re living, you can’t just hide, right, you’re gonna know about it, your neighbor has a baby, your friend has a baby, your cousin has a baby and it becomes very stressful. And you’re saying when you had these concerns that it was taking too much time, right, it wasn’t normal and your first doctor essentially blew you off, or that’s how you took it. They may have been sort of trying to just reassure you that likely, it’ll be okay but certainly, it felt as if you’re getting dismissed. 

Gila: Definitely. And my mom was actually the first person to bring it up in a very sensitive way saying, “Listen, this is something that does happen. I’m happy to help find you an RE.” I get my first referral through him and I walk into an RE’s office, not knowing what it is what to expect. Because this wasn’t something like in health class or sex-ed class that anyone talks about. It’s use protection if you don’t wanna get pregnant. It’s never but there is this possibility for one in eight people within the population, that it’s not as easy as that. 

And something to think about to have the conversation about not to say rush to have kids before you’re ready, but more like, if you go into it knowing that it’s a possibility you potentially make different choices about family planning. 

Dr. Fox: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And then ultimately, when you’re meeting with a fertility doctor, at the beginning, you said it’s you know, very confusing. At what point did it sort of clear up for you, you know, what was happening? What does this mean? What are my chances? What are we gonna do? Did it take weeks months? I mean, how long did it take till you sort of felt at least on top of what the plan was? 

Gila: It took a while I think it took till my third RE four years into the journey to really feel like I finally understand what’s going on. I’m not a victim of this process, but a partner in it. I went through three REIs on my journey. 

Dr. Fox: And just because they communicated differently, or was it, you know, what was the reason the first two didn’t work out for you? 

Gila: The first one I ended up in and because I didn’t know much about it, I kind of just went where I was told. And the REI didn’t really express this either is that his area of specialty was women 35 and older with recurrent miscarriage. At that point as a 23-year-old, I was one of the youngest patients in the office, they didn’t know what to do with me. And comments like “Why aren’t you waiting?” Like, “Oh, you’re so young” we’re quite normal. And I think that even when we weren’t expressing it there was this…in my 30s I still look like I’m in my 20s. So like when I was 20 I looked like I was 15. So like, just the looks of like, “What are you doing here, you don’t belong here, this is for people who are at the end of their rope.” 

And you to us in this experience your beginning as opposed to viewing it as 12 months is 12 months or 6 months to 6 months depending on your age, of if it’s not happening that’s a fertility diagnosis and no one could judge you for the age that you want to pursue growing your family. And emotionally it’s the same experience. It’s I’ve been trying for a year and I can’t have the child I’m dreaming of why does it matter that I’m 23 at the end of that year versus being 33, or 35 at the end of that time? 

Dr. Fox: Yeah. And I think part of…you know, we talk a lot about women’s right to choose and empowering women. But that means for whatever decision is right for them. And if the decision is again, I’m you know, 21, 22, 23, and I wanna start my family, then yeah that’s what’s right for them. It’s not meant to be judged obviously. And even if it’s you know, subconscious, and it’s not overt, we have to really be careful not to give messages to women that could be very harmful to them and very painful to them just because we have different, you know, thoughts about our family or desires about having kids than they do. It’s just not appropriate. 

Gila: For sure. And definitely, culture plays a big role into that. 

Dr. Fox: Sure. 

Gila: I was culturally behind the times. Most of my friends had multiple children before I had my first. 

Dr. Fox: And what about the second RE why didn’t he or she worked out for you? 

Gila: So that’s actually a very traumatic story that I’m still personally working through with my therapist. But a year and a half later, we were finally done with IUIs after multiple failed cycles, we were ready to start IVF. And at that point, I realized a little bit more that the clinic I was in wasn’t at least emotionally appropriate for me even if they may have had a good chance of getting me pregnant I couldn’t cope there. So we moved on to this next REI. This REI filled into the bedside manner that was lacking in my first REI. We started our first round of IVF. And at that point, we had maxed out on our $ 2,000-lifetime coverage. This coming week resolves advocacy day and I actually was just on a call last night with the California delegates and just advocating that we should get the coverage. 

But at that point, I’m this probably 25-year-old, who has zero insurance to cover it, very little money in the bank because my husband and I were both grad school students. We decided to just go for it because we wanted so desperately to have kids. And so we start this first round of IVF and get surprisingly, a very nice amount of embryos. We walk out with 17 embryos. In our minds, like, “Oh, wow, we have our… 

Dr. Fox: We’re done. 

Gila: …entire family.” 

Dr. Fox: That’s it, this is it. 

Gila: We’re not gonna need 17 like, we will be donating them to science because that’s where I was holding emotionally when we were done. And like, once we’re done having a family, like, they’re all coming from this cycle. So the next part of this piece for me is the part of the trauma that I am actually still working through. So we transfer and to me in my head also, and in the messaging that I’m receiving from society at the time IVF is like, this is the end goal. IVF is where you go when you can’t do anything else and when nothing else is gonna work. Which means that it’s gonna work, or I’m not having a family, or I’m not having a biological family. And so my first cycle ends in a failed cycle. And if you think like, the language like, failed cycle. I failed at something it wasn’t a test, I didn’t persevere at doing this. But yet, it’s this emotional feeling also with that language of like, “I can’t do what the rest of the world can do and I did IVF and it still didn’t happen.” So we have the WTF next to conversation which is what it dubbed. And the doctor is like, “Okay, you got another 15 embryos on ice let’s transfer.” 

So I get ready next month ready for a medicated FET, a Frozen Embryo Transfer cycle. My first transfer was a fresh transfer which is becoming rarer these days but I’m ready for my FET. I go in for the injection to stop ovulation. I am on progesterone and estrogen. My lining is getting ready. My doctor actually informs me that he’s not gonna be in town, do I want to wait, or do I just want to do the transfer already? So I opt to do the transfer with his partner. I decided to take the valium they prescribed this time around because, like, maybe if I’m calmer this time, it’ll work. 

Dr. Fox: And just to set it up again for when you’re doing a frozen transfer on your end from a sort of like physical standpoint, it’s a little bit easier. Because you don’t need all the injections or hormones to get you to ovulate and all that stuff. You really just sort of coming into your cycle, they make sure that the lining is okay. And all you have is a pretty straightforward procedure, you know, in the middle of your cycle to just put the embryo inside the uterus, right, because it’s already there it’s already formed. And so this is…yeah. The point is from sort of like a physical standpoint, it’s an easier thing to go through on your end so you’re sort of expecting, “Oh, like, no big deal. This should be fine.” 

Gila: Totally. And also I happen to not use suppository so I was on progesterone and oil so there was an element of injection since it was a medicated cycle as opposed to a natural cycle. So they didn’t follow my period. It wasn’t like they followed my period, day 10 of my cycle, they start monitoring me and wait till I ovulate and then do a transfer. It was instead a medicated cycle which means that they stopped my cycle from happening. 

Dr. Fox: They take over your cycle, they override it, yeah. 

Gila: So then in that priming process even though I’m not doing the belly injections, I was still doing the progesterone and oil injections and taking estrogen pills. 

Dr. Fox: Okay, fair. 

Gila: So I was hyped up on hormones. 

Dr. Fox: Got it, okay. 

Gila: So from the hormonal perspective, I’m definitely not in a good place. 

Dr. Fox: All right, got it. 

Gila: I sprained my ankle a couple of days before so I’m on crutches, I am high as a kite on valium. And like, I walk in and I happen to know someone in the waiting room so like, my husband said I was like, wired. And then they take me to the pre-op room. And in this place, it’s a sterilized room for the transfer, you go in by yourself your spouse or partner cannot come in with you. Some clinics have a little different where they do let the partner in, but in this clinic, you weren’t allowed to. 

So we’re together in the pre-op room getting ready. And this doctor who I have never met before come in and tells me…and I’m high as a kite. And she tells me we’ve lost 13 of your embryos. And I’m like, “What would you mean, you lost 13 of my embryos?” And she explains to me that each embryo as they defrosted, it arrested, which, statistically speaking, if you were to Google that it would tell you that 99% of embryos that are frozen defrost…with the vitrification that we use today, will defrost in the quality that it is frozen. Meaning there’s a 1% chance that you will lose an embryo, not an 100% chance that you’re losing 13 of your embryos in a single…and literally, they’re just defrosting it one after another for this transfer. 

Dr. Fox: I mean, they do it one at a time and each time they defrost it for whatever reason, the embryo didn’t survive the thawing process. 

Gila: Exactly, which just statistically speaking. But in that moment, I don’t know the stats. And in that moment, it’s this crushing feeling of I can’t do anything right, my body has completely failed me. And even with IVF which is supposed to be my answer, my body can’t do this. So two and a half embryos which I don’t know what a half an embryo means. And my third doctor when he saw that report was like, “What’s a half an embryo?” But two and a half embryos survived this, and they are transferred. And yet again, we have a failed cycle. 

Dr. Fox: And now you have no more embryos. 

Gila: Exactly. So we’re back to square one. Except I’m not just at square one anymore I’m at square one where nothing’s worked and we don’t know why. So I have an unexplained diagnosis, an experience of feeling like I can’t even do IVF. And there’s something so wrong with my eggs that they can’t even do what a normal egg would do. 

Dr. Fox: Right. I imagine after that it was a pretty dark time for you. 

Gila: Yes, I fell into a year of depression in which I had to take a break from all treatment. I, at the time, was into acupuncture, still am it is amazing. And so I did a year of acupuncture and herbs just to regain my identity and sense of self. It took me months to release the hormones and the bloat and everything that came with having done all those cycles. And between going back to back from IUIs into IVF and then doing those two cycles, one on top of the other, I didn’t feel like me in that body, so I needed to reclaim me before I could move on and try again. 

Dr. Fox: What was it that got you ready to try again? Was it just the time or was it a certain milestone physically, emotionally, spiritually? You know, because you said it took a year. I’m saying so what was at a year that was different? 

Gila: Yesh Tikva. It is in that year that Yesh Tikva was born. I went in to go see Dr. Paul Smith at YU. He is the chair of something at [inaudible 00:19:13] graduate school. He is a specialist in trauma. 

Dr. Fox: He’s a clinical psychologist. 

Gila: So I figured if anyone would know where I could turn, he would be able to connect me. And so he connected me to the first of five women that become the foundation of Yesh Tikva. Toda,y the person that is still my partner in this is Elie Haller Salomon who you mentioned that you know. 

Dr. Fox: Yeah, long time. 

Gila: Yes, she is awesome and her story is amazing and kind of a big part of what helped pick me back up. But it was these women who now became my community as we were trying to build the Yesh Tikva that helped me find the strength to venture out again. And one of them actually made the referral 

to what would then become my REI who successfully got me to a pregnancy. My first pregnancy in five years of trying. 

Dr. Fox: What was it about…because this is obvious when we speak about, you know, Yesh Tikva the organization and what you all do. But sort of as an intro, what was it about that, that got you ready to do this again? Was it just the, “I’m not alone aspect”? Was it the ability to talk to someone and sort of get this off your chest, so to speak? Or was it something practical that they gave you? I’m just trying to you know, help our listeners understand what about connecting with these women made you ready to try again? 

Gila: Oh, that’s a good question. 

Dr. Fox: Thank you, I love the compliments, I’ll take them. 

Gila: I think it was a sense of community of belonging finally. I had felt othered for so long and this was the first time that people got me, people validated how I was feeling. Not to say that I didn’t have people in my corner validating me and supporting me through this. I think from people who had experienced it, these were people who either experienced it personally or professionally worked with individuals who had experienced it so they really connected on a new level. And just having that network of support. And actually one of the first implementations of or iterations of Yesh Tikva started with a support group around my kitchen table with two other women who were themselves in that moment going through infertility. I reached out to my local rabbi, I asked him if he knew of any other. Not that I even was sharing with him what I was when I going through I didn’t have that kind of relationship with him, he had just moved into the community. We left the Heights finally four years later and moved into a new community, and reached out to that Rabbi within the first couple of weeks of getting there. 

And he connected me with two other women he knew of in the community who were going through it. They also were a huge part of that support and that group to lean on of people who hold space when you’re down and cheer you on when you are succeeding. And the little successes like each milestone, they were there each day. I remember, my sister had a child before I did my younger sister, she’s two years younger than I am and she had her first before I did. And another really long and good story for another time is the experience had by the family of those who are going through it. 

As I was struggling to have my family and my sister was blessed to have her she got robbed of the excitement and joy around her exciting time because so much was focused on the sadness and pain of what I was going through. And having to hide that from me so that she could still hold space for me and not trigger me was quite an experience for her. And something that in the moment, obviously, I couldn’t appreciate but something now looking back at it, I’m forever grateful for everything that she sacrificed for my well-being. But I remember that first holiday that we were home at my parents’ house with her and her new baby spending hours on Zoom, or at the time FaceTime, with one of my friends from that support group, just venting and having a space where someone could get what that pain felt like. Because I had to put on a happy face also when I was in the house because it was exciting. And I love my nephew beyond but like, it was still just so painful that she got to make my parents grandparents first. 

Dr. Fox: Yeah, I mean, you’re experiencing at the same time in your brain, you know, joy, and grief and it’s very hard for the brain to process that, you know. It’s not that you’re saying, “I’m supposed to be happy.” You love your sister you’re genuinely happy for her but at the same time, you’re genuinely miserable. And it’s very hard to express two opposite emotions at the exact same time and it definitely messes with you, there’s no question. It’s very hard to sort of sort through that emotionally. 

Gila: For sure. 

Dr. Fox: And also just practically, you’re in the house with her. I mean, you’d like to just go in the closet and shut the door for four days and, you know, just go out when everyone’s gone but you can’t do that. You have to sit at the table, you have to sort of, you know, interact and hold the baby in this. And everyone knows that you’re going through this and that it’s difficult, but it’s just hard. And when you ultimately, you know, decided to try again you went to the third RE was that process easier? Did it just by, you know, by luck, or by whatever worked out better was it the same kind of road? 

Gila: I was more aware. My attitude changed from being victimized by infertility to starting to empower myself with knowledge about it. And to do my own research, to ask questions, to learn about what was available to me so that when I went in for that initial consult, I had a real conversation with him. He explained everything to me and I was able to request what I wanted. And he would either say like, “Yeah, we could do that,” or would push back with science that I now started to have an understanding of, of why he didn’t think it was appropriate, but ultimately saying that if I wanted that we could discuss making it possible. 

So I was at the moment interested in immunology, I didn’t fully get it. But he had that conversation with me which no other REI really had with me. And also, I wasn’t in a place to be able to have it because I wasn’t empowered with the knowledge of infertility. I hadn’t learned about it before, it was so new and so traumatic, to receive a diagnosis that I didn’t even know where to look for that information even if it existed. I think that had been a conversation that had been had with me long before I entered the diagnostic phase that it would have potentially been different for me. 

And I think another also confounding variable for us was financial constraints. I didn’t have insurance coverage, so it was all out of pocket. So there was also large gaps in terms of affordability of treatment. 

Dr. Fox: And so, ultimately, when did you become pregnant and what was it like for you? 

Gila: Finally, in May of 2015, I became pregnant for the first time in my life. Again, coming back to that feeling of multiple emotions at once, I wanted to scream from the rooftops because like, “Wow, I’m here, and like, I didn’t deem this possible.” And it was also we went into it knowing we had a plan, this was our last cycle. I couldn’t emotionally deal with any more failure and I knew where I was and we were discussing next steps as in being outside of fertility treatment to growing our family. Because I did at that point, also, I was able to understand better the experience and what my goals were out of it. So my goal was to have a family. And once I finally also understood that I understood that our options were open to me. 

Dr. Fox: Options you mean like carriers or adoption or? 

Gila: Exactly, that I was open to exploring after this cycle what was available. 

Dr. Fox: Do you think that you know, just having that sort of, I don’t know, understanding of what the options were that this wasn’t the end of the road for you, you know, even if it didn’t work out, you had other options, sort of that knowledge and maybe some comfort in that? Do you think that that helped you enter this cycle with a little bit…I don’t wanna say calmness because obviously, it’s not calm, it’s very worrisome. But maybe a little bit more optimism or hope than in the other ones? 

Gila: Definitely because there was…I think always having a plan B for me helped me feel like I wasn’t at the end of my rope. And… 

Dr. Fox: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. 

Gila: And the hope instead of the despair. And it’s interesting actually, I was…I’m a big Bernie Brown fan. So I was listening to one of her audiobooks, and she was explaining that hope is born out of trials in life. It is through these experiences, these difficult experiences that we build hope. Hope isn’t in innate characteristics. So it actually is through the losses that I experienced leading up to this that actually built the hope that I carried in. It’s a learned behavior. 

Dr. Fox: No, I mean, there’s so much we don’t understand about all these things fertility and, you know, how much, you know, the mind whatever that means plays into it. Nobody knows maybe zero, maybe it’s a lot. But everyone knows these stories you know, someone is like, you know, infertility, nothing’s working, nothing’s working. And then something happens to them sort of mentally that they’re in a better place and it works. And you know, maybe those are just the coincidences, but maybe there’s something real. I mean, everyone knows these stories and it’s interesting. And I assume when you talk about the dual emotions it’s the joy and terror at the same time. “Like, holy crap, I’m pregnant I hope this works,” you know? 

Gila: Yes. And also I’ve been a statistic at this point now twice. So I’m that 20%… 

Dr. Fox: You’re expecting to get hit by a bus on the way home from your transfer expecting to get run over I mean, yeah. 

Gila: Well, not that dramatic. I’m expecting to now fall in the one in four. 

Dr. Fox: Yeah, metaphorically. Got it. 

Gila: Yes, I’m waiting for that next shoe to drop of walking into the office and being told there’s no heartbeat, checking every time I go to the bathroom for spotting like that kind of experience. And not talking about this pregnancy. I mean, we told our parents because our parents knew that we had gone in for the transfer and there was that feeling of, even though we didn’t really speak. 

Also, actually, we transitioned how we approached our treatments is that at the beginning, we told people, but by this transfer, we kind of did it secretly without really telling anyone when we were starting. Because we needed that space to kind of set our boundaries of when and how to share because it’s also very debilitating, the emotion of feeling like you’ve let not just yourself down but you let others down. Feeling like I let my parents down, like, I let my in-laws down. They want a grandchild and I’m not giving it. So I needed that space not to feel that pressure and that guilt. 

Dr. Fox: Sure. Other than the sort of emotional roller coaster that I’m sure the pregnancy was, how did it go from just a physical standpoint and pregnancy standpoint? I mean, leaving the emotions part out of it. 

Gila: In addition to having experienced infertility and the high-risk experience that IVF brought to the table, I have fibroids. And my fibroids don’t bother me they’re extra uterine so when I am not pregnant, I don’t know they exist, but the hormones of pregnancy and I’m assuming with IVF those extra hormones didn’t bode well for me. So starting very early on my fibroids started growing. At the time there were four of them that grew one reaching on its own and 9 millimeters. 

Dr. Fox: Centimeters probably. 

Gila: Yes, centimeters. Which for a long time measured larger than the baby was measuring. 

Dr. Fox: Yeah, that’s the size of…that’s a fist, 9 centimeters, yeah. 

Gila: And eventually as the pregnancy progressed lodged itself under my ribcage. 

Dr. Fox: Oh, how nice. 

Gila: So that…yeah, it was painful to walk, painful to breathe. And brought on its own slew of complications. They thought I might have placenta previa which corrected itself by 20 weeks. And at about 35 weeks, I developed the beginnings of gestational hypertension. 

Dr. Fox: Right. So your blood pressure is going up? 

Gila: Yes. 

Dr. Fox: At this point, obviously, it’s concerning, and you’re starting to be worried but were you like, “Listen, whatever. I’m 35 weeks this baby is okay. You know, I’m gonna have a baby one way or another,” or was it just like, “Just pile it on, this is horrible”? 

Gila: Pile it on, this is horrible. They sent me straight from my regular check-in straight to the hospital. And they’re like, “You’re having this baby today.” And I’m like, “No, I’m not. This is 35 weeks she is not ready, I am not ready. This is not happening not now not like this.” To this day my husband makes fun of me we’re sitting in triage, signing in to labor and delivery and they’re asking for information and I’m spelling our names. Because I’m so used to spelling my name people pronounce Gila but they misspell it. 

But his name is David like, that’s easy, but I started spelling it, and I start throwing in letters that don’t exist in his name because I’m just so beyond flabbergasted of like, “What’s happening right now I can’t process this. Like, this is not happening, not this early. This is not how I pictured it.” Like everything else was stolen from me in this journey. Like, this was gonna be when I was prepared the bag in the car, and everything. 

Dr. Fox: But the person interviewing was like, “Ma’am, are you sure there’s a Q in David? You wanna check that? Are you sure?” Like, “Yes, there’s a Q in the middle. It’s a silent Q” 

Gila: Now, it’s my cell phone with extra views. He re-typed it in and I haven’t changed it. Since it’s kind of like our little running joke. They monitored me for a couple of hours since I didn’t have protein yet in my urine. And since I was still borderline hypertension and not yet in preeclamptic levels, they released me on three times a week monitoring in-office, with three times daily monitoring of my own blood pressure. With strict instructions that if I hit 90 or 140, and it didn’t need to be together that I would take myself straight to the hospital and call in. 

I survived until 37 weeks. On my 37 week appointment, my doctor said better out than in. So at that point, I had my bag packed and I was more in a space of like, I’m ready to go. I also had a few hours to prepare because they said come in at midnight. 

Dr. Fox: Yeah, I didn’t realize you had made it to 37 weeks that’s awesome. 

Gila: Yeah, thank God with that one my next one I didn’t. 

Dr. Fox: Okay, remind me I got confused. And so they brought you in and induced your labor, right you didn’t need to have like a C section, correct? 

Gila: No, thank God. They were able to induce me and they prevented preeclampsia or eclampsia from setting in. I didn’t need anything more and they released me and just monitored me postpartum. 

Dr. Fox: So tell me about the birth. So she’s born and you are holding this baby girl, and what’s going on in your head at that time? 

Gila: So she’s born and she’s 4 pounds and 14 ounces. So in New York State, a baby under 5 pounds go straight to the NICU. So I finally have my baby and the nurse that I had…I kept like, asking her questions along the way and she’s kind of like snapping at me. “Do this every day.” And I didn’t have the courage in that moment to scream like, yeah, but I don’t and I’ve been waiting five years to reach this point, or six years at that point because of pregnancy. But I didn’t have it within me because like, I’m beyond exhausted after being awake all night on pitocin. So it went from that experience to actually having a friend from college who was a resident who delivered me which was awesome to them whisking her off. 

Dr. Fox: Oh, so you didn’t get to hold her right after birth? 

Gila: So I got to look at her for 30 seconds they… 

Dr. Fox: Thirty seconds? 

Gila: …put her on me and whisked her out of the room. 

Dr. Fox: Got it. 

Gila: Straight to the NICU. 

Dr. Fox: But was she like you know, when she was born was she screaming and pink all those things and just brought her there because she was little or did she need to be like, resuscitated? 

Gila: No, she was fine. She was just little. And they just… 

Dr. Fox: Oh, that’s so weird I’m surprised they didn’t let you hold her longer. Usually, they go to the NICU but usually like all right okay. Well, you know, was five ago who knows. 

Gila: And I didn’t know to advocate for myself because this was my first… 

Dr. Fox: Got it, okay. 

Gila: …and no one prepared me for that part of it. And so what I found out later I could have had her for some time. She ended up being in the NICU for longer than she needed to be. Because they whisked her away she didn’t get to nurse right away so her blood sugar was low. So they couldn’t release her from the NICU until it rose, so they had to feed her twice in the NICU. 

Dr. Fox: How long was she in the NICU total? 

Gila: Like six hours. 

Dr. Fox: Oh, six hours. So she ends up going home with you I guess whatever two days. 

Gila: Yeah, and she came to my room. 

Dr. Fox: I understand. I got it. 

Gila: But it was like this traumatic experience of like she’s born and like, they’re out. 

Dr. Fox: Listen I get it. I know why people have policies and this and that. But that probably could have been done a little more tactful in many ways for you for your experience. 

Gila: And I couldn’t go up to see her in the NICU, everyone else got to see her except for me. 

Dr. Fox: Because your blood pressure had to be monitored and all that. 

Gila: And because the policy in that hospital was that after you give birth, you go into triage for two hours before they take you up to your private room. And from there, you can’t go into the NICU until you’re actually in a private room. So I’m the last to get to see her of everyone in the hospital. But, like, thank God, she is healthy everything is good. It’s more in that moment of like, you feel the despair sometimes overwhelming the joy when there is something to feel the despair of. But in hindsight, like, thank God, it was six hours in the NICU like, she’s fine she came home. She was 4 pounds, 10 ounces. She was like the tiniest little thing you’ve ever held. And we put her up even like, next to a stuffed doll that she got and like, the doll was bigger than her. 

Dr. Fox: How wonderful did it feel when she came home and here you are you’re a mom, you have this healthy baby. She’s little but okay, she’s gonna get bigger. You know, after this whole journey, what did it feel like? 

Gila: I was elated. And I also had this feeling of now I need to fight for everyone else so that they could get here too. And I literally went straight from that into planning our first infertility [inaudible 00:37:33] 

Dr. Fox: So I wanna definitely talk about that, just so our listeners know. You have two more children in addition to your daughter. Was it as difficult to conceive with them as it was originally? Or was it sort of similar to when you switched to the new doctor that you know, you did IVF, but it worked out? 

Gila: So actually, this is the part of my story the part that I always preface by saying I am an exception to the rule please don’t use my story to tell other people it could happen to you. 

Dr. Fox: It’s just a story. 

Gila: I spontaneously got pregnant twice after. So after struggling for five years to achieve my first pregnancy, my next two were…my first was a month out to a FET that was being scheduled, I wanted to do a natural cycle FET. I was waiting to get my period so I could…we had moved [inaudible 00:38:26] at that point but my two remaining embryos that I am so petrified to move that they will sit in New York until I’m ready to use them after my experience with the loss of embryos. So I was planning on flying into New York to go do a transfer. And I was getting so excited I’m like my periods are always so regular, why am I not getting it? And like my brain doesn’t go to like you might be pregnant because that doesn’t happen to me. My REI gave me a 1% chance of getting pregnant so like, definitely not gonna happen. 

But two weeks later, and I’m still not getting my period I finally told my husband, “Okay, go buy a pregnancy test.” I’m one of those people who stopped pregnancy testing because it just gave me so much sadness to see a single line that I figured I’m gonna get sad anyways when I get my period why be sad for longer? So I stopped testing so I had no pregnancy tests in the house. 

So he ran to get it. And that was my first positive that I had seen on a pregnancy test spontaneously. So that was also like this crazy experience that I also never thought would happen. But again, the exception to the rule, many of the people that I know with the same diagnosis end up back in the REIs office to have the rest of their families. 

Dr. Fox: Got it. So you’re here now it’s 2021, thank God you have three kids. Tell us about Yesh Tikva, tell us about your organization, what you do, and you know, how you got it started and what you’re doing now? 

Gila: It started in 2015. So before I got pregnant. I call it my first child. I was introduced to these women. And one introduced me to the next through connections that they had until we came together as this team who wanted to see change happening. Initially in the modern orthodox world and as we started to realize what was going on just in general. So we decided that we wanted to be an organization that offered support to all Jewish individuals facing infertility regardless of how they affiliate. 

So, in 2015, it started with that first support group around my dining room table, and when I saw how impactful that was for me, for those women, we realized that one in eight’s a big number, that’s about 13% of the population. That means every eighth person in a synagogue row has or is experiencing infertility. And there weren’t very many support groups available that were Jewish-oriented. And, yes, infertility is infertility and there’s a lot of it that has commonality regardless of which religion you affiliate with. But there is something about being part of the Jewish community in which there is such a huge focus on family within ritual, that when you don’t have that family, whether it’s because you still haven’t met your partner, or you’ve met your partner, and you don’t have kids, it’s othering it’s alienating. There’s that piece of it that you bring to the conversation in a support setting that’s different when it’s not a Jewish support setting. 

It started with one virtual support group, and it has snowballed today into we have five monthly support groups. What we realized as we were growing it is that even within infertility there are so many different experiences. So there are individuals who experience primary infertility which is the inability to have their first child. And then there’s individuals who experience secondary who’ve had a child or multiple children and then struggle to further expand their family. And those experiences are though both painful and shouldn’t be compared, they’re different in the individual experiencing it with because you’re coming to it from a different space. And so putting them together in a support group wasn’t necessarily beneficial to either. So we separated into a primary support group, a secondary infertility support group. We then further separated our primary infertility support group to accommodate individuals who are more veteran in the experience who have gone through it for multiple years to those who are just starting out and wanna learn more about the process. 

We have a men support group because men experience infertility as well. And whether it is because it is a male factor infertility diagnosis or a female factor infertility diagnosis, when you are in a heterosexual couple, you’re both part of it. And so it doesn’t matter if it’s female or male factor. And so making space to start having that conversation that on some level men are experiencing the emotions and the trauma of it, even if it is different than what women are experiencing. And we have just been able to grow that experience over the years to incorporate and make sure that as many people as possible are receiving the support that they need in the area that they need it. 

Dr. Fox: What accomplishments from your organization, are you most proud of? 

Gila: I am so proud of the needle that we have moved in the conversation about infertility. When I was first diagnosed no one was talking about it. This wasn’t a conversation that was had in high school. This wasn’t a conversation that was had in synagogue. This wasn’t a conversation that was being had on social media. And in the last seven years since Infertility Awareness Shabbat, we have seen a tremendous shift in the amount of events whether it’s in partnership with Yesh Tikva or not. But the change has happened since and that’s what is one of the proudest things is that we are talking about it, we are normalizing it, we are destigmatizing it. And it’s back to claiming shame, it isn’t shameful. And the second you could talk about it, it becomes your truth as opposed to your shame. 

That being said, everyone deserves their privacy. Like, you don’t need to scream from the rooftops and share to the extent that I’ve shared my story to be able to claim a shame. Took me three years post initial diagnosis to even be able to talk to some people about it. There is room for privacy even in sharing. But for me, that is the biggest accomplishment so far, and the proudest. 

Dr. Fox: What’s top of the list that we still need to be working on? 

Gila: I think it’s the same answer. I think as much of an inroad as we have made as a community as a Jewish community as a world on this topic there’s still so much more that needs to happen to learn empathy for those who struggle. As humans, our natural tendency is to fix, and fixing when someone is in pain is not supportive it is ironically self-serving. Which we don’t think of in the moment because we wanna be helping them but in trying to fix it, we’re actually trying to vacate our emotions because it’s uncomfortable to be in that space of someone else’s pain. 

So to try to make ourselves comfortable, we try to fix the pain so comments like, “At least you got pregnant.” That makes me feel a little better about their loss because I can say at least you got pregnant so there’s something good, there’s a silver lining and silver lining isn’t empathizing. Empathizing is really being able to sit in that space with them, in that pain with them, and say like, “My heart is genuinely hurting with you. I can cry with you if that’s what you want. Or I can just listen as you cry if that’s what makes you feel better.” 

Dr. Fox: Yeah, I think that makes a lot of sense and it’s really important. And for people who are trying to like, understand what you’re talking about, it’s no different from if someone, you know, lost their parent, and they’re sitting there, they’re sitting Shiva, they’re not Jewish, you know, they’re mourning. And if you come up to them it’s not helpful to say, “They lived a long life.” Like, it doesn’t really help that much. You’re there, like, “I’m sorry for your loss, it’s so painful to lose a parent I’m here for you,” and just sit with them. And it’s the same thing… 

Gila: Exactly. 

Dr. Fox: …if someone suffering from infertility or miscarriages or whatever it is, you don’t have to go and cheer them up. Just say, “I’m here for you, you know, I love you, I’m gonna sit with you hold your hand.” And that’s it, you know. And if they ask you to do something for them fine, but it’s not really the goal of that interaction is just to be supportive. Wow, that’s actually a great segue, I wanted to ask you, whether it’s, you know, people who themselves are struggling with fertility, or who have in the past, or people who have nothing to, you know, in that world whatsoever. What would you like them to take away from your story, and from what you’re trying to do at Yesh Tikva? 

Gila: We need to keep showing up. When one is in pain one shuts down and pushes people away. It is a protective reaction and it is very easy to be on the receiving end of that, and say, “They’re pushing me away. I’m done.” And it’s actually in that moment when a person needs you the most, it’s when they need you to keep showing up for them. 

And I think that also as we’re having these kinds of conversations we’re also learning as an individual who’s going through it, how to speak up for what we need, how to be vulnerable about it, normalizing these conversations. So we’re also normalizing the fact that it’s okay to be vulnerable and say like, “Listen, right now I need space.” Or like, “Right now I could really use a meal.” Or, “Do you mind driving me to a doctor’s appointment?” Or, “Please don’t ask questions but if I have something to share with you I will.” 

And so I think on both ends of it, of one of the person who is supporting, just keep showing up. And if you’re feeling hurt by the relationship find someone outside of it who understands who can help you through it, through those emotions. I know that it could be very painful for the family and friends going through it because when one is in pain one lashes out. It’s unintentional, it’s not meant to destroy a relationship but so many relationships do get destroyed in this process. And so as the family and friends keep showing up and showing up with just your ears, the advice unless it’s asked for is not necessary. And it doesn’t make you a better friend or a better family member because you had more advice it’s actually just being there, that is the most supportive thing that you can do. And for those who are in struggle, being able to ask for what we need and know that there’s no shame in asking for it. That kind of vulnerability takes courage. 

Dr. Fox: It’s amazing. Gila, thank you so much for coming on the podcast. Number one, just hearing your story is important for people, obviously, whether it’s someone who is struggling with infertility or someone who is not, there’s so much to learn, and so much to understand. But also what you’re doing trying to help others not just by telling your story, but actually with action with your organization. And I think it’s fantastic. We’ll put a link up with the podcasts. But, you know, your organization, the website is www.yeshtikva.org. Thank you so much for coming on Gila and for what you do, I really appreciate it. 

Gila: Thank you, thank you so much for having me. And I really appreciate the opportunity really like in all seriousness it really adds to the healing, this ability to be able to speak about it normalizes it. And on a personal level, I thank you for giving me this experience because I learned things about how I processed it through the questions that you asked. 

Dr. Fox: Thanks. Thank you for listening to “High-Risk Birth Stories” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman” podcast. If you’re interested in telling your birth story on our podcast, please go to our partner website at www.healthfulwoman.com and click the link for sharing your story. You can also email us directly at hrbs@highriskbirthstories.com. If you liked today’s podcast, please be sure to check out our “Healthful Woman” podcast as well where I speak with leaders in the field to help you learn more about women’s health, pregnancy, and wellness. Have a great day. 

Man: The information discussed in “High-Risk Birth Stories” is intended for information and entertainment only and does not replace medical care from your physician. The stories and experiences discussed in our podcasts are unique to each guest and are not intended to be representative of any standard of care or expected outcomes. As always, we encourage you to speak with your own doctor about specific diagnoses and treatment options for an effective treatment plan. Guests on “High-Risk Birth Stories” have given their permission for us to share their personal health information.