Jewish Fertility Foundation opens Tampa branch

Cara Chernoff, center, with husband Jeff and son Joshua. Their son was born in 2019.

Cara Chernoff, center, with husband Jeff and son Joshua. Their son was born in 2019.

For Cara Chernoff of Tampa, every step of her “fertility journey” was fraught with either physical or emotional pain, and sometimes both. But eventually she and husband Jeff had a son, Joshua, in 2019 – and he is the joy of their lives.

For Elana Frank of Atlanta, her journey was different from Cara’s complex medical situation, but fraught with enough challenges that she says, “As a woman struggling with infertility, I know what it is like to cry alone.”

Frank got pregnant via in vitro fertilization (IVF) twice in two years while in Israel, where infertility treatments are covered by the health care system. Then, after she and her husband returned to the United States, they had a third child through a donated embryo.

In 2016, she started the Jewish Fertility Foundation (JFF).

On the JFF website, Frank explains why she started the group. While she feels lucky regarding her quest for a family, Frank says, “For others it takes years, losses, and lots of tears and heartache before babies are made, if at all.” She points out the costs of IVF range from $15,000 to $25,000 in the United States and for that reason, “many don’t even have a change for a chance.”

She started JFF in her hometown of Atlanta to give more couples a chance to have a child, and to offer educational awareness and emotional support.

Since 2019 JFF has slowly branched out. It is now in Cincinnati and Birmingham, AL and just opened its newest branch in Tampa, with an office at the Maureen and Douglas Cohn Jewish Community Campus in the Citrus Park area.

Already the Tampa office is offering a virtual support group and fertility buddy training sessions, but its formal coming-out event in Tampa will take place at the  Bryan Glazer Family JCC on Tuesday, May 17 at 7:30 p.m. Interim manager Ellie Hirsch is organizing that event and JFF is in the process of seeking a permanent branch manager to help facilitate its programs.

Frank said JFF decided to expand to Tampa after members of the local Jewish community approached her and an exploratory committee confirmed the need. Anonymous donors pledged funds to help support the most tangible element of the JFF mission – financial assistance for infertile Jewish couples.

The Tampa branch will begin by offering $5,000 grants per couple and Frank said she hopes over time that figure will climb higher as funding grows. Right now the grants are only open to residents of Tampa and other services are limited to Hillsborough County. As more donations come in and the needs assessed, JFF’s service area could be extended.

She also points out that JFF has negotiated a 20 percent discount on prices at one local infertility clinic in Tampa and is working on getting the same discount at another.

Frank said when JFF first started, she thought the financial assistance would be the most valued offering to infertile couples, but she said the emotional support is vital. “A diagnosis of infertility is akin to a terminal illness diagnosis,” she said, citing the deep emotional stress it can cause.

JFF also offers educational sessions, in person and virtual, and its advisory board includes medical experts in the field of infertility. It offers a podcast, “Fruitful and Multiplying” that is both educational and emotionally supportive. Recent topics featured “My Miscarriages as a Newlywed,” “Healing My Marriage after Infertility” and “An Honest Journey to Adoption.”

There are also live discussions with infertility therapists, physicians and legal experts and blogs on topics such as male infertility, the need for counseling before and during infertility treatment and embryo donation, as well as tips on how to be supportive of people dealing with infertility.

One of the newest features offered by JFF is its fertility buddy program. Already several women, including Chernoff, have been trained in Tampa to be partnered up with those just beginning or in the midst of their own fertility journey. Chernoff says it is a way for her to give back by offering advice on what to expect and lending a sympathetic ear.

The issue of infertility is not insignificant. Nationally, 1 in 8 couples deal with infertility and in the Jewish community the figure is 1 in 6. Not only is genetics somewhat to blame, Frank said, but age, too. Many Jewish couples wait to finish college and get a career going before trying to have children, and fertility problems increase with age.

Frank was married and working in Israel when she tried to have children and wound up at a fertility clinic. Fortunately for her, the diagnosis and IVF treatment was free because there is socialized medicine in Israel. “I was lucky to be in a nation that values families and children,” she said.

In two years, through IVF, she had two boys, though she also had two embryos that failed. Later, when the couple moved to Atlanta, they tried to adopt but eventually opted for receiving a donated embryo and had another boy.

Endometriosis was Chernoff’s fertility issue. She had two very painful procedures to retrieve five embryos. One did not thaw correctly, and the others were transferred back to her body one at a time, with the first transfer failing and the second producing son Joshua, now a precocious 3-yearold who loves the outdoors.

After Joshua was born, she tried two more transfers and both failed. At that point her doctor told her it would be medically unsafe for her to try again.

Chernoff said she and her husband, members of Congregation Schaarai Zedek, are happy with their family of three.

Long involved in the Jewish community, Chernoff is a former board member of the Hillels of the Florida Suncoast and Tampa Jewish Family Services and now JFF. She also holds a doctorate in curriculum and instruction at USF.

Because of her experience with infertility, Chernoff said she first got involved with Resolve, a national fertility organization that lobbied successfully for additional federal funding for research on infertility. Then when she heard about JFF coming to Tampa, she was quick to volunteer to help others going through their own journey.

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