Hope and Healing: From Warsaw to Jerusalem

Sitting in a café in Jerusalem on Yom Yerushalayim, my home for the past 8 years, it’s hard to believe that just last week I was in Warsaw, visiting all the sites that represent how Jews used to live and thrive in a country that largely accepted them and that they called home for centuries, and how that was all taken away during the Shoah in 1939-1945.  In addition to Warsaw we visited Mezerich, Majdanek, and Lublin. We visited the cemetery in Mezerich to find the remains of my husband’s relatives only to discover that most of the tombstones had been removed, likely used by the Nazis as paving stones as we saw in Majdanek. It was gut wrenching to see this first-hand.

The primary purpose of my trip, wasn’t a heritage trip, but rather a medical conference for practitioners and sufferers of MRKH syndrome (a syndrome that renders a woman incapable of having babies naturally and that makes sex painful as she is born without a womb and a partially developed vaginal canal). I was invited to speak on the topic of hope and healing.

MRKH affects 1 in 10,000 women around the world. It isn’t unique to any specific culture or race. Little is known about why some women have it. Most women discover they have MRKH between ages 13-15 (some even later), when they either experience painful sex or discover that their period hasn’t begun, despite the fact that they have produce female hormones and eggs.

Speaking on the topic of hope to a group of medical professionals just hours after taking a walking tour with my husband and baby through the streets of Jewish Warsaw was surreal. It was as though I was being handed a reminder of how my own people’s entire existence was a result of the hope they held dear throughout the many pogroms and the Shoah.

And there I was standing in front of medical professionals, some who were young students, about to embark upon their careers, and other seasoned professionals who’ve had the misfortune of sharing bad news of their patient’s MRKH diagnosis as they sob in their offices…feeling complete despair at this new life changing information. Believing that they were, for all intents and purposes women like any other, but then in an instant robbed of the belief that they will be able to have children as easily and effortlessly as other women.

When I was first asked to speak at the conference, I questioned my ability to talk about hope. After all, I am by no means a world leading expert on the subject. Sure I work with couples, on trying to resurrect the hope they once had about being together forever and rekindling their feelings. I also worked with 100’s of single men and women who feel hopeless about finding love and work with them to overcome barriers and traumas so that they feel more hopeful and find love.  But to then teach how to convey hopefulness to other professionals and to women born without a womb…and in Warsaw of all places…the task felt overwhelming.

Through researching the subject of hope, I revisited my own struggles that challenged my hope and drew upon what helped me during those times.

At the tender age of 10, I was diagnosed with colitis, which back in the 1980’s was still in it’s infancy in terms of treatment options. I was a human guinea pig as I took medications just as they were rolled out on to the market, on the heels of clinical trials, or that had been used to treat other diseases with different levels of success. I had a slew of negative reactions to the medications, some of which felt worse than the illness itself. I nearly died from one drug just months after I got married as I tried a then little known drug called Imuran, which 1 out of every 100 people develops an allergic reaction to.

Long story short, I did survive…and experienced numerous other medical “fashlachs” that could have ended my life. For over 20 years I struggled with immense pain and hopelessness, as I couldn’t imagine living a “normal” life that was pain free. Where I would feel alive, rather than half dead.

I remember during my last major bout my gastroenterologist said to me, “look Micki, you have to find a way to get this colitis under control, otherwise, we’re going to have to remove your intestines.” I remember being thrown into a panic…but realizing I was at a crossroads that put me in the seat of decision making. I had a choice: fall into a heap of despair, or, take control. My husband was rather shaken, but being a medical professional himself he began to help me research alternative options. Having the help and support of significant people around me who wanted good things for me gave me the power and will to find another way. To make a very long story short, I am now, baruch Hashem, symptom free of colitis for 10 years.  Some may say it’s a miracle, which it is. Others, may also attribute my healing to a culmination of the immense support that I allowed myself to have.  Having so many different pieces in place gave me the hope I needed to make big decisions and create difficult changes in my life.

In Warsaw, I was privileged to give a workshop for the women with MRKH, most of whom were in their 20’s and 30’s. I began the workshop by exploring what the women wished to gain from the experience of being with others with the same diagnosis. Most of them wanted support with sharing their “secret” with a significant partner, and how to even consider establishing a relationship. What came out was so much greater than I ever anticipated.

What I saw first-hand was the power of feeling hopeful and transmitting this hope to others.

It was amazing how the strength of the comradery of the women enabled them to shift their view of themselves and their experience of MRKH from one in which they were hard done by and less of a woman, to feeling special. They were able to explore the possibilities that having MRKH presented to them.  They also recognized the hope and possibilities that lay within their situation, on many levels.  When the women started the workshop, many were nervous and fidgety. By the end, they were sitting up straight with big smiles on their faces and hope in their eyes.

What I learned was that we can all be hope experts, as we have all experienced life challenges. The more we recognize the challenges that we endured, remove the shame connected to those challenges and celebrate the accomplishments, the better able we can help others feel more hopeful too.

On Yom Yerushalayim let’s celebrate the fact that we are living in Jerusalem and feel hopeful that the challenges that we still have will find happy solutions!!!