In Conversation with Dr. Nicole Schreiber Agus
Tell us about the Building Families committee at UJA-Federation of New York.
We’re a group of passionate and hard-working professionals of all ages and stages of our careers. We bring to the table personal challenges with family building and varied professional skill sets. Over the past two years, the committee has spent a considerable amount of time getting to know the organizations and people working in the sphere of helping the Jewish community through infertility and pregnancy loss.
What is your role with the committee, and why did you become involved?
I’m the chair of the committee, and a PhD scientist. I now focus on scientific writing, genetics education, and mentoring students with expressed career interests in clinical genetics, genetic counseling, or genetic research. I also act as a liaison between members of the Jewish community experiencing genetic issues and clinical genetics resources.
What are some of the committee’s current projects and efforts?
In the past, we’ve responded reactively to requests for funds for educational events and materials — including, most recently, a symposium for nurses and social workers to improve their ability to provide care and comfort to patients experiencing miscarriage and stillbirth. We are regularly informed by UJA’s Government and External Relations division about current developments in this sphere, allowing us to sign on to a recent letter supporting the Child-Parent Security Act, currently pending before the New York State Legislature and aimed at ending New York’s ban on gestational surrogacy. As a committee, we try to be proactive, instead of reactive.
You currently have a Request for Application (RFA) out. What kinds of projects are you looking to fund?
We’re looking for projects that aim to increase, in the New York Jewish community and beyond, awareness of and accessibility to possible solutions for fertility-challenged individuals and couples. This includes in vitro fertilization (IVF), IVF with preimplantation genetic testing, surrogacy, adoption, gamete donation, and egg freezing. It also includes projects that focus on mental health, religious/spiritual, or financial support services for those who are struggling to build their families. We favor projects that emphasize support and solutions, as opposed to those that emphasize that “there is a problem.” And we’ll be favoring projects that are creative, collaborative, and scalable.
Why is the issue of fertility and building families important in the Jewish community?
The issue is a general issue: about one in eight couples/individuals struggles to get pregnant or maintain a pregnancy — and infertility is a recognized medical condition that equally affects men and women. While some argue that this rate may be higher in individuals of Jewish descent, the bottom line is that, regardless, being Jewish brings additional stress to infertility because of the focus on children during Jewish holidays and in Jewish rituals. It is very likely that infertility/pregnancy loss will hit close to home for most of us. I see this as a communal issue. The Jewish community can help ensure that organizations and funds exist to provide those who are experiencing family building challenges with the resources they need. It also is our responsibility to be better sensitized to and inclusive of people around us who may be struggling, either openly or in silence.