CW: Infertility, miscarriage, the Holocaust, sterilisation,
"In many traditional cultures, infertility is considered the woman's fault. Something shameful to never speak of and often, you can try a few more times and succeed and the painful memories of waking up soaked in blood will become a distant pain on the way to motherhood. But then some of us keep trying well into our forties, surgeries after surgeries, hormones, expensive treatments while acquaintances become grandparents."
Avital Raz speaks about the personal themes of Unnatural Cycles.
I started writing what later became Unnatural Cycles one morning during lockdown. I had recently had my third miscarriage and was undergoing weekly urine and monthly blood tests because this last pregnancy was diagnosed as a partial molar and there was a fear of developing uterine cancer. In the midst of grief and fear of serious illness, my grandmother came to me in a dream. She was the last person I wanted to meet from the afterlife. She died more than twenty years ago.
I didn’t make a decision to write a show about my infertility or inherited generational trauma. Infertility took over such a huge part of my life for 8 years, I was too all-consumed to write about anything else. After miscarriage #2, I remember getting a lift back from a music festival, talking about it openly and being met with shock, being told I’m so brave for speaking about my recent experience. At the time I didn’t feel brave, I felt that I could either share my experience honestly or pretend that I was a different person.
Whilst researching Unnatural Cycles, I led a few creative writing workshops for women around fertility and infertility. I discovered that many women feel extremely lonely in this process. Often watching friends and family members have children with no issue, it’s very easy to gradually retreat from society if the trying goes on for years. You don’t want to be bitter. You don’t want to find the sight of a baby so triggering you need to leave a room, pull away from old friends because they say things like “just spend a few days with my two monsters, you’ll be glad you don’t have kids”.
In many traditional cultures, it’s considered the woman's fault. Something shameful to never speak of and often, you can try a few more times and succeed and the painful memories of waking up soaked in blood will become a distant pain on the way to motherhood. But then some of us keep trying well into our forties, surgeries after surgeries, hormones, expensive treatments while acquaintances become grandparents.
Two main processes take place: anger and feelings of unworthiness. Some may turn to spirituality out of sheer helplessness and trying to make sense of this predicament. Others may feel it's nature’s way of telling them they don’t deserve to be a parent.
At this point I started getting obsessed with my grandmother, schizophrenic holocaust survivor abusive mother to my father. Throughout my childhood, she’d call him stupid and useless. He’d come home from her visits and sink into himself. Not uttering a word for hours. When I was a teenager, I hated her so much I used to fantasise about smothering her with a pillow. All she did was complain and make people feel like shit.
She was the sole survivor of her family. She never talked about the war. Nobody else did except in hushed voices or mad rants. After her dream visit, I remembered cassettes my sister had interviewed her for a poetry project. I spent hours listening and wondering why I was subjecting myself to this woman’s company. In the dream she tells me she heard about the baby and I grieved enough. In one of my first drafts I blamed her for my infertility. Her bitterness, her abuse internalised in me. She was like a black cloud over my family and when she died, we were all relieved
When she met my Grandpa in a displaced persons camp after the war, she agreed to marry him on the condition that they settle in Israel. They did and my father was born in Haifa but two years later her mental illness became too difficult to manage and my grandfather took his family to the US where he had sisters that could help with the two small boys.
My father had one brother who had ten kids who now populate the west bank with their - I stopped counting.... children. My side of the family only produced two daughters, me and my sister who are both incapable of having children. We both had rare genetic conditions; a uterine septum that needed removing and a heart shaped uterus. One side of the family inherited the religion and zionism, my side of the family inherited the trauma and infertility.
After performing Unnatural Cycles a few times I had a random conversation with my mother who had been to a dinner party with a woman who testified in the Nuremberg trial about things the Nazis did to Jewish women to sterilise them. Hormones in the soup, (probably the same synthetic hormones I’ve been injecting for years in my IVF cycles), making them walk through radiation aimed at their nether regions....
Apparently many Jewish women in the 50s in the US had fertility problems and a miracle drug was found. Doctors prescribed a hormone called diethylstilbestrol, or DES, to millions of pregnant women in the unfounded belief it would prevent miscarriages. Then in the 1970’s it was taken off the market because they discovered it caused vaginal cancer and severe fertility issues in future generations including granddaughters.
I suspect both my grandmothers were taking it and this is why my sister and I can’t have children. It’s been quite a revelation for me. I can stop blaming myself for a start. Also, the feeling of being kicked in the stomach from history. The understanding that someone who didn’t even know me, hated me so much that they would want my line discontinued. It’s been a journey. And my show is about making peace with it. Finding a way to love my Grandma despite her darkness. Finding a way to feel myself a link in an ancestral chain after feeling compelled to run from it my whole life. She told me to keep trying so I still am and maybe just maybe…
Free creative writing workshop around fertility and infertility on 22nd April 11am- 4pm. You can sign up here.
Thu 27 - Sat 29 April at 19:15