Amy Forseter believes it’s time for Washington-area Jews to address the challenges and stigma faced by the one in eight couples who experience infertility and miscarriages.
“The Jewish community is so focused on welcoming young families that couples experiencing fertility challenges can get left behind,” said Forseter, a Bethesda resident and chair of the newly created local advisory committee for the Jewish Fertility Foundation. The foundation, based in Atlanta, started its Washington affiliate with a matching grant from The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, multiple individual donations and other contributions from a crowdfunding campaign, said Forseter.
The foundation offers education, emotional support, grants and no-interest loans for fertility treatments. Each round can cost $15,000 to $25,000 and they aren’t always covered by insurance, Forseter said. More than 100 babies have been born to people receiving emotional and financial support. Forty-five more are on the way, said Forseter, 47.
She and her husband Eric, 47, were unable to conceive children on their own. They ultimately had in vitro fertilization (IVF) at Shady Grove Fertility Center. Through IVF, eggs are surgically removed using a needle, and those eggs are fertilized outside of the body and planted in the uterus.
It took the couple 10 years and $100,000 to build their family of three children, Mia, 14, Jake, 11, and Talia, 7. “We had zero insurance for any of this,” Forseter said.
Forseter drew on her personal experience to help others in similar situations. “I basically spent 10 years of my life having children, but I got on a path of wanting to think about people beyond me and not just what I was personally going through.”
In 2007, Forseter and three other Jewish women confronting infertility formed an emotional support group to delve into Jewish texts and rituals. “We would talk about how our fertility issues pertain to Judaism. We really connected that. All four of us ended up with totally different ways we made a family,” Forseter said.
The women drew from a spiritual companion guide written by Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, who also struggled with infertility.
The spiritual approach was well inside Forseter’s wheelhouse. She is the development professional for Or HaLev: Center for Jewish Spirituality and Meditation, a worldwide organization.
Forseter started her own infertility support initiative in 2012. She called it the Red Stone. “The reference comes from a practice by a Chasidic rabbi of offering women having fertility struggles a red stone. She would keep it until she had a baby and then she would pass it on to the next person.”
After a few years, Forseter let her initiative go. Sometime later, she met Elana Frank of Atlanta, executive director of the Jewish Fertility Foundation. “I’ve always been interested in how our community can respond and support people in various ways,” Forseter said.
“Through conversations with Elana and just doing due diligence in our community, we decided to bring it here.”
The need is evident, she said. “We live in a metropolitan area where people are very focused on education and put off trying to have kids to get ahead in their career.” Chances of fertility decline as people age.
Infertility is a tumultuous experience, Forseter said. “The emotions range all over the place. You feel devastated but hopeful at certain points. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of jealousy because all your peers are having babies and you’re not.”
The Jewish Fertility Foundation is networking with rabbis, and expects to offer training so they can better counsel congregants and lessen the stigma, Forseter said.
“There are plenty of people who are trying to have kids and they feel very marginalized because they want to be a part of that. We’re potentially losing people that one day may or may not have kids. We need to find ways to make them feel accepted and taken in and cared for while they’re going through this because it is kind of a life crisis that people experience.”
Forseter is excited by what the Jewish Fertility Foundation is offering the community. “It’s an unmet need and Washington is one of the larger Jewish communities in the world. We need to bring these kinds of services to our community.”
For more information about the Jewish Fertility Foundation, go to jewishfertilityfoundation.org or write firstname.lastname@example.org.