GoStork Interview Series: Navigating Infertility in the Jewish Community with Aimee Baron MD, Founder of I Was Supposed To Have a Baby

Rebecca Hochreiter

CMO of GoStork

Aimee Baron MD is a mom of five, but the journey to her beautiful family was a long and painful one. Following the birth of her first child, Aimee and her husband were diagnosed with unexplained secondary infertility. Over the next eight years, they welcomed two other children but lost six babies. The experience left them broken and grief-stricken in a community that celebrates and hopes for large families. After a one-year pause from trying to grow their family, they welcomed miracle twins who are now 8 years old. The journey to her family changed Aimee. She knew how important emotional support was in her healing process but when she searched for similar resources in the Jewish community, she didn’t find any. In August 2019, she launched I Was Supposed to Have a Baby, a social media community to bring emotional support and comfort directly to those who needed it. It grew into a beloved Instagram account that recently celebrated its two year anniversary, and now helps thousands of intended parents dealing with infertility and loss, as well as advises friends and family who hope to help and be there for those in their lives dealing with this heartbreak (though they themselves may have a hard time understanding it if they haven’t experienced it personally).

Watch our interview with Aimee for her story, practical advice on navigating the journey, and how friends and relatives can support loved ones struggling with infertility.

You can also check out the main takeaways below:

On Creating I Was Supposed To Have A Baby

Aimee feels grateful that the community has evolved and grown in ways she never dreamed of. Before starting I Was Supposed To Have A Baby, she worked for Nechama Comfort, a Jewish organization that helps in situations of pregnancy and infant loss. She ran their social media and it was there that she saw the emergence of hundreds of accounts by different individuals talking about their own fertility journey. “What struck me is that there was really one kind of support out there [for the Jewish community] – there were the brick and mortar individual organizations that were in a specific geographical area and that dealt with only one segment of the fertility journey.” People could only access the things that were locally available to them. Additionally, people struggling with infertility and loss don’t fit into neat boxes. It was at that point that she started thinking about a space where anyone in the Jewish community could find support regardless of where they were geographically or in terms of the timeline of their journey. Since then, I Was Supposed To Have A Baby has reached thousands of individuals – some who remain anonymous and quietly seek support so as not to feel alone, and others who openly comment and join in the conversation to further benefit from the community support.

Dealing with Family Building Expectations in Jewish Communities

It’s hard to talk about infertility and loss in religious communities, especially in those which adhere more strictly to the laws of the religion. In some Orthodox Jewish communities and other religious communities, it’s common to have 3 to 6 children, and in others, 7 to 15 children. As Aimee notes, in her community it’s unusual to have just one or two so there’s a lot of external pressure, but also internal as it’s difficult seeing people have what you desire. There are also a lot of assumptions from others to deal with when your family plans don’t pan out. Family size is a very big deal in most communities.

Aimee notes that “a lot of infertility and loss is not only the thinking about the things that you don’t have yourself but also the comparing of what you have versus what other people have”. She continues that it’s hard to be happy with what you have when you’re constantly looking at others, but the more you can try to look internally and not externally, the better it is. It doesn’t help to constantly calculate cycles and age gaps between children in your head. Age gaps aren’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just hard to reconcile that when you’re looking at what others have.

How to Get Through the Holidays and Survive Family Events

As Aimee notes, the journey is rough: it’s filled with lots of different phases, places, and people that can act as a trigger and make someone going through this feel ‘othered’. She recommends two ways for dealing with events:
– You have to decide for yourself what is important for you to attend, what’s not, and what you can handle emotionally. This is different for each person. Some make a hierarchy of things they must or can attend and others they’re OK to miss. What you’re going through is emotional, but your feelings are as valid as any physical illness.
– Have a code word for yourself and your partner (or a friend), and when you’re starting to feel like you can’t take it anymore, just say the word and the other person should know that you’ve had enough and you need to leave and the same in reverse of course if they need to. It helps to plan your out so that you’re not struggling and searching for it at the moment you’re feeling overwhelmed.

Navigating Infertility as a Couple

Aimee emphasizes two elements: communication and therapy. Each of you will experience different emotions at different times. The way to get your needs met is to make sure you’re communicating and sharing what you’re feeling. As Aimee notes, “tell people how you’re feeling because they can’t guess”. She admits that it can get really hard to talk about these things and sometimes you’ll need a third party to tease out emotions in a safe space. This will help you share with your partner what you need and what’s going on. Aimee urges couples to consider couples therapy or individual therapy for both you and your partner. Having a trained therapist (specializing in infertility and third-party reproduction), representing a completely separate safe space for these conversations, is different than having a friend or family to lend an ear.

At the same time, Aimee notes that just because you’re going through infertility, it doesn’t mean you need therapy: “but it doesn’t hurt and it always helps”.

What to Consider when Selecting your Fertility Providers

Aimee explains that the criteria one looks for when researching fertility providers generally change depending on where they are on their journey. Those who are at the start of their journey look for a clinic that is local to them, kind, and that is familiar to the Jewish community. Those who have been unsuccessful for quite some time are generally looking for a second opinion and are more focused on facts, including success rates, if the clinic is willing to try innovative techniques, etc. They’re also more willing to travel. For Orthodox Jewish individuals and couples, specifically, as cycles run 7 days a week, including the Sabbath, it’s important that your doctor and clinic understand that you may not be available on that day. She recommends that fertility patients ask how this will impact their care and notes that many opt to not schedule cycles that fall on Jewish holidays. On a practical level, there are organizations which can assist you by coming to your home for blood work that falls on Saturdays or holidays. As Aimee notes, as long as the doctors you choose are flexible and understand what your circumstances are, then you can work around that calendar.

On Knowing When to Stop or Pause Trying to Conceive

Aimee notes that when people ask her this question, it means they’ve already started to consider it. They’re already open to the idea because they’ve been through a lot and don’t know how much more they can handle. In Aimee’s case, the fear that she was going to have another failed pregnancy was greater than the desire to have another child. At that point, she couldn’t think about trying again. “I was in a deep and dark place and that’s when I knew I needed to stop”, she says. As time went on and she healed a little, both emotionally and physically, that ratio changed: “I said to myself, it’s not that I’m not scared of losing another baby, because I am still petrified, but at that point I said I have enough emotional and physical fortitude that I know that if I had another loss at this point, I knew I could see my way out of it and so I was willing to put myself through it again to try”. As Aimee notes, this ratio is different for every person and happens at different points on the journey. She says that you have to constantly evaluate. What are you willing to put yourself through in order to get there? Can you handle the emotional fallout if it doesn’t happen? And how long will it take you to get back to baseline? Your answers will help you make a decision on either moving forward, taking a break or stopping.

How to Support Friends and Family Through Infertility

It’s hard to know what to say when you know that someone close to you is struggling. Aimee shares practical tips on how to support someone going through infertility:

Breaking baby news: When someone is struggling with infertility, baby announcements are both happy and sad. As Aimee observes, the natural emotion is of feeling distraught, crushed, and left behind, but at the same time happiness for the other person. If you know that someone is struggling to conceive, it’s important to share news like this in a removed way. Send a text or an email – this way you’ll be giving that person a chance to react naturally in their own space. They can open your message in their own time and have time to come to terms with the news without an audience. They can then come back to you when they’re ready.
Comforting someone after a loss: Your role is to be supportive. Aimee notes that if you know that someone is struggling, or you think they are, your role is to offer support, not advice, medical thoughts, or suggestions of what they should be doing. Platitudes are not helpful either. Comments such as “it only happens to people who are strong” or everything happens for a reason”, or “don’t worry, things will be fine soon” have no meaning and are often hurtful. “Your role is to be supportive, let them talk to you, cry with you”, explains Aimee. Bring them some fuzzy socks, a scented candle, or some warm soup – do things for them that you know they would enjoy, take them places if they’re willing to go. As Aimee so rightly notes, only say the words that would equate to a hug, nothing more.

“Your job is to play the supportive friend, not the doctor, therapist, advice columnist, or any of these other people.”
Aimee Baron MD

When you suspect someone is going through infertility:
If you’re unsure about their situation, it’s not your job to give advice based on what you suspect, might know, or think. A simple “hey, just to let you know I’m here if you ever want to talk” goes a long way. Little gifts will let them know you care about them – if they’re ready to talk, they will.

What not to ask: Aimee recommends that if a person close to you is opening up, then let them lead. You can gently tell them that if there’s anything they’d like to talk about, then you’re there for them. It’s then up to the other person to lead and share with you what they want. Don’t push them to share anything more than they want. The same applies to when you’re meeting someone new at a social event or another setting. Questions like “Are you married?” and “How many kids do you have?” immediately put people on edge. Personal questions such as these can be extremely triggering. Aimee suggests an alternative question: “So tell me a little about yourself.” It’s then up to the person to share what they want to share as opposed to sharing what you want them to share.

Aimee’s final words of wisdom:

“No one can predict the future and no one can tell you whether you are going to have a baby in your arms or not but what I can tell you, is that, along the journey, and while you are going through all of the swirling emotions, there is a community of people who can be there for you and hold your hand every step of the way whether it ends up in a baby in your arms or whether it comes to a dead end. There are people out there who get it, and who understand, and can help you through it […] This community, the I Was Supposed To Have A Baby community, the general social media community of people who are dealing with fertility challenges, your community – there are people out there who get it. We are here and we are able to hold your hand and help you all the way through. Hold on to that and know that you are very much not alone.”

Watch out for I Was Supposed To Have A Baby’s Instagram lives with medical professionals and other experts, and follow them on Facebook and Instagram for helpful advice and continuous support.