TORONTO — In our Jewish culture, children are intrinsic to fundamental experiences and milestones.
They are valued members of our community, a focus of holiday traditions and markers of life-cycle events, from bris and bar/bat mitzvah, to wedding and beyond.
But for the couple that wishes to yet is unable to conceive, such celebratory events are instead aching reminders of the cavity in their life, a hollowness accompanied by isolation. Not only does a childless couple feel excluded by friends focused on their own growing families, but they often suffer alone.
After experiencing the anguish and tribulations of infertility, three Toronto couples, Pamela and Menachem Kuhl, Shaindy and Moti Seidenfeld, and Yona and Isser Elishis, decided that no one should face infertility without support.
And so, just over 10 years ago, Small Wonders was born. With a mandate of support, assistance and discretion, the Toronto organization assists Jewish couples experiencing infertility. Initially, the focus was to provide financial assistance, but it grew to include other forms of aid.
People are directed to Small Wonders via fertility clinics, doctors and rabbis, and ads are posted in mikvahs and community publications. The intention is to increase public awareness so that couples reach out as soon as they realize something is wrong.
The helpline is the first contact callers have with Small Wonders. From there, its peer-to-peer program matches up people with others who have endured similar experiences or medical procedures, whether it is in vitro fertilization (IVF), miscarriage or second-time infertility. Recently, a woman who was confronting cancer and was contemplating freezing her eggs contacted Small Wonders.
Because much of the organization’s strength stems from its internal support network of couples, it promotes camaraderie through frequent events, which vary from educational, such as Q&As with medical professionals, and events like games nights and yoga classes.
Most events are held in Small Wonders’ facility, centrally located on the Bathurst Street corridor. It has a discreet back entrance for privacy and houses a boardroom, lounge area and private computers for research use.
Small Wonders also helps couples through the medical process. “We’ll do anything to assist a couple during treatments,” Yona Elishis said. This could include obtaining quick medical referrals, assistance with administering medications and injections, or providing hospital transportation, hotel accommodation and even babysitting.
While Small Wonders provides emotional support to anyone, its financial assistance is reserved for Jewish couples, and is determined by a committee based on need and eligibility. An IVF procedure costs approximately $15,000, and since success is not guaranteed, repeat procedures are often required. The exorbitant costs climb quickly and, except in limited, specific circumstances, are not covered by OHIP.
Hundreds of couples have been assisted in some way by Small Wonders, and more than 100 babies have been born since its inception. While most IVF clients thankfully achieve success, it is often after years of emotional and physical stress. One couple involved with Small Wonders finally conceived after their 11th IVF procedure.
Upon a baby’s birth, some appreciative families make a financial donation to the organization, which, in turn, assists other couples.
Small Wonders employs various fundraising endeavours, but raises most of its resources through two unique annual events: A Night of Wonder, a glamorous evening of design and décor, and the Small Wonders bake sale, now in its seventh year. Scheduled for May 13 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 122 Bannockburn Ave., the sale is an elegant display of beautifully packaged and scrumptious baked goods, from challahs and cheesecakes to cake-pops and fondant cakes. Hundreds of items are prepared by women citywide and many local food establishments donate kosher-certified items. As well, nearly two-dozen florists contribute striking arrangements that both beautify the sale and are available for purchase, fresh for the Shavuot holiday.
The anticipated event, which is always sold out, is run completely by volunteers from throughout the Jewish community. Not only do many people help support the organization, but the event creates awareness of Small Wonders.
“Our primary goal is to help as many couples as possible,” said Shaindy Seidenfeld. Concurrently, it also strives to increase people’s sensitivity towards childless couples.
“Our experiences have taught us all about sensitivity,” said Pamela Kuhl, noting how comments are sometimes thoughtlessly dispensed. While the desire for children is often assumed by others, “you never know what’s going on,” she said. Children are both essential and celebrated in our life-cycle-centred culture, and while they are always a blessing, sometimes the miracle of their existence is far from small.