By Rabbi Gideon Weitzman
On Pesach, we experienced our national geula. This time of year, then, is a good time to reflect upon the personal, individual redemptions happening every day.
Sharon and Eli had been married for a couple of years when they decided to start their family. They went for a medical checkup as part of the standard procedure to make sure they were both healthy, and the doctor sent them for standard testing, including genetic testing. It was all routine, and they were not concerned at all as they waited for the results. After all, they both came from healthy families with no history of any genetic diseases.
But appearances – and genetics – can be deceiving. And this couple was about to have their lives turned upside down.
When the results came back, both Sharon and Eli were found to be carriers of the same uncommon genetic abnormality.
“We had no idea what to do,” Eli remembers. “We were basically a normal couple who rarely even went to doctors. And now we were being told that we were carriers. We didn’t even really know what that meant.”
They met with a genetic counselor who explained the implications of their both being carriers. If each of them were to transmit a copy of this damaged DNA code to their baby, then he or she would be born with this rare, and often fatal, genetic disorder. There was a 25 percent chance of this occurring – and that was, in their minds, too great a risk for them to take.
“We’ll never have children,” Sharon sobbed, as a distraught Eli tried to find the words to calm her down. But there were no words, and both of them watched in anguish as their dreams of a family crumbled before their eyes.
That Shabbos, Sharon stood in shul davening and all of a sudden began crying so hard that she had to leave the room. An older woman followed her out, put her arms around her, and listened as Sharon sobbed out her story. How she so badly wanted children, but now she would never have a healthy child. The woman listened quietly, and then told Sharon that she had a friend with the exact same situation.
“Their rabbi told them that she could get pregnant, do a genetic test in utero, and, if necessary, terminate the pregnancy.” She offered to give her this rabbi’s number.
After an intense davening, Eli made up his mind to speak to the rabbi about their situation. When the rabbi heard their story, he immediately told Eli that this was a question for experts, and that he should contact PUAH.
After shul the couple met up, each excited to share their new source of hope. But the problem was, where just a few hours earlier they’d felt they had nowhere to turn, now there were two places to turn. Whom to call? Wisely, they decided to follow their rabbi’s advice first. On Sunday morning they called PUAH.
The rabbi who answered listened carefully to their story and made an appointment for the couple to meet with them in person. A few days later, they showed up at PUAH’s office and were greeted with a big smile and a message of genuine hope. The rabbi explained to them the process of testing embryos before they are implanted in order to ensure that the babies will be healthy.
When Sharon relayed to the rabbi the older lady’s advice, he shook his head and said, “There’s no reason to go through the traumatic experience of terminating a pregnancy.” He explained that terminating a pregnancy is a complex halachic question, and that pre-implantation testing of the embryos is much preferable in their case.
“I’m sure the woman meant well,” he added. “But you should never make such an important decision based on someone else’s circumstances. Each case is different.”
Sharon’s and Eli’s relief following this meeting was indescribable. They had found someone who could understand and support them, while giving then the expert advice they needed. The couple underwent pre-implantation genetic testing, under PUAH’s halachic supervision. While the first implantation was unsuccessful, on their second attempt the couple received the wonderful news that Sharon was pregnant.
Nine months later, their healthy baby girl was born. They named her Geula. Redemption.