Jewish Fertility Foundation seeks to ‘remove stigma’ about infertility

Infertility affects about 186 million men and women of reproductive age worldwide and has a big impact on their families and communities, according to the World Health Organization.

In the United States, about 10% of women ages 15-44 have difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, about 9% of American men have experienced fertility problems, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The Jewish Fertility Foundation — founded in Atlanta in 2015 — provides financial assistance, emotional support and educational programming for people experiencing infertility.

In July, JFF launched its office on Montclair Road in Birmingham as part of a partnership with Collat Jewish Family Services.

And in November, the nonprofit hosted a special kick-off event at Chabad of Alabama — located at 3040 Overton Road — to formally launch its presence in the Birmingham area.

JFF offers its educational and support programs — including its fertility buddy program and support group — to everyone, not just to those who identify as Jewish.

“We are so excited to be able to offer these free services to anyone in the community,” said Julie Cohen, the manager of the JFF in Birmingham.

JFF also seeks to get people talking in a healing way about this common but often shrouded problem.

“We’d like to help remove the stigma around discussing infertility so that we can all learn to be more supportive of those who are on this difficult journey,” Cohen said.

The Birmingham office is made possible by a partnership between JFF, Collat Jewish Family Services and the Birmingham Jewish Foundation.

The addition of the JFF office in Birmingham adds an important new resource for local women and families, said Lauren Schwartz, Collat Jewish Family Services executive director.

“In Birmingham we have excellent medical resources for people facing infertility but there are very few options for emotional support,” Schwartz told Village Living. “Our goal is to create a community of support along this difficult journey.”

Since July, the Birmingham office has — among other initiatives — trained seven infertility veterans as Fertility Buddies and made three Fertility Buddy matches.

A veteran fertility buddy is someone who has gone through infertility previously, Cohen said.

“A veteran is paired with someone actively experiencing infertility, and we match buddies based on similar experiences and journeys,” she said. “The veteran buddy is there to provide emotional support to the active buddy. It truly becomes a partnership, and many buddies go on to develop friendships, as well.”

Cohen, who grew up in the Chicago suburb of Buffalo Grove, Illinois, studied special education and speech language pathology at Vanderbilt University.

She “fell in love with living in the South when she moved to Nashville,” Cohen said in her bio.

Cohen has worked as a pediatric speech and language pathologist in clinical and school settings since 2010.

She moved to Birmingham in 2014, and she and her husband, Brandon, were married in 2015.

Cohen and her husband also experienced infertility themselves, and this is an important reason why she stepped up to help launch the JFF program in Birmingham.

“We both wanted children right away, so we started trying to conceive immediately,” she said. “I knew I may have fertility issues due to PCOS, so we also started fertility treatment soon after getting married.”

PCOS, or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, is a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges.

The Cohens’ oldest son, Asher, was born in February 2017.

Gideon and Levi are both two years old, making for “a wild and fun house full of boys,” Cohen said.

After experiencing years of infertility to grow her family, helping others going through this unimaginably difficult journey became her passion, she said.

Cohen said that doesn’t want anyone experiencing infertility to feel alone and loves providing guidance in any way she can.

In addition to isolation, other emotions people often feel when struggling with infertility include grief, anger, sadness, guilt, frustration and impatience, Cohen said.

Based on her personal experience, Cohen believes that the type of work JFF does is very important to women and couples.

“Going through infertility is an isolating and stressful journey, and many women and couples feel alone when going through it,” Cohen said. “Everyone’s journey is unique, but it is difficult to navigate the ups and downs without support. It is crucial for women and couples to feel emotionally supported by others during this time, and it helps if they can connect with others who have similar experiences.”

Cohen is committed to this work, she said.

“I don’t know why my husband and I struggled so much to grow our family, but I do know I am meant to help others with infertility,” she said. “Before this was my job, people would always reach out to me asking if I could talk to their friend going through infertility. Helping others who are experiencing infertility has become a passion of mine, and I want no one to feel alone during it.”

JFF is looking forward to putting out the word locally about its community services in 2022, Cohen said.

Cohen also believes that the stigma around open discussion of infertility in society is getting better.

“Our parents’ generation didn’t talk about this stuff,” she said. “They didn’t talk about infertility struggles, miscarriage, mental health. I think it’s getting so much better. Platforms like social media are being used to help decrease the stigma and show people they aren’t alone. It’s allowing people to network with others going through similar experiences. Great organizations like JFF are helping raise awareness and providing crucial resources to educate our community.”

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