As we all know, things don’t always happen in the time or order we plan. Nevertheless, in the Orthodox community, a challenging cycle evolves manifesting itself in tremendous pressure to conform both individually and communally to attain important and beautiful goals. There is a pretty clear directive in the Torah to “be fruitful and multiply.” This critical commandment impacts Jewish continuity and Jewish family life in myriad ways since Biblical times.
“Im yirtzeh Hashem by you” (G-d willing by you) is something I heard time and time again when I was single. Especially as I got “older”, I felt that the message connected to that wish would always sound to me like “oh, you poor thing, you’re still not married.” Although I felt I should appreciate the well wishes, I remember feeling more and more frustrated and ashamed the older I got, remaining mateless despite my efforts when everyone else seemed to be married or getting married except for me. I “finally” got married when I was thirty, much later than most of my contemporaries, to the most wonderful man on the planet. It was certainly well worth the effort. Nevertheless, it would have been great not to experience the pain and anguish of being single in the Orthodox community. I will never forget how difficult that time in my life was.
So I “finally” got married and began to notice that almost every couple I’d meet had children or was pregnant. At first, it did not seem to faze me, after all, I was not married “that long.” And then our first anniversary came. And then our second, third…and it still seemed like all the other young couples around had children and /or were pregnant. Not me. As the years go on, I continue to yearn and ache for a child to bring into the world. I don’t simply want to keep up with the Schwartzes, yet I desperately want to “fit in” to the community, but to no avail.
I share this personal struggle with you because I know my husband and I are amongst other women and men who suffer silently being members of an undesirable, yet not uncommon club. I. I believe our experiences are not that different from the countless other couples who remain silent and and feel so alone.
My husband and I are often ignored by others in shul and at other social gatherings when we are near someone who has a baby or toddler. It seems even when others do acknowledge our presence, the conversation often ends right after it begins and then it is back to the baby. We often sit in shul as our contemporaries make a grand entrance towards the end of services with their strollers and adorable children, only to run outside as their child begins to make noise and everyone seems to gush at how cute the baby is. Sundays and Shabbat afternoons are full of birthday parties and play dates that we are not invited to. We have been asked how long we are married on numerous occasions and our response prompts that familiar uncomfortable silence, which forces us to quickly change the topic before I burst into tears. How about when someone innocently asks me when they have not seen me in a while, “what school do your kids go to” or “so, how many kids do you have?” and I try to come up with an answer that sounds better than “they don’t go to school” or “None.”
We were wished by an acquaintance out of the blue after we moved into our new home, “may you fill your home with many male children very soon.” We planted that ever so familiar polite smile on our face and responded “thanks” in the most courteous manner we could muster.
Yet another friend calls to tell us she had a baby and states they need to know if we will be at the bris (circumcision). It is a common custom to invite a childless couple to be the intermediary to pass the newborn son from the mother to the father prior to the bris ceremony. Most people seem to assume that we would be honored once again to pass a precious life to the blessed parents as onlookers not only watch the newborn but they see us, the Childless Couple.
We have arrived at a meal shared with many young couples and have been told as everyone is waiting for seat assignments that we should sit back by the wall so the people with kids can have easy access to their children.
We often hear comments from those who have children; “Enjoy the freedom while you can. You are so lucky to go vacation without kids and diapers to change,”…. “Oh, look how cute those honeymooners are.”
I suppose I could continue to go on telling you story after story of what my husband and I have had to cope with over the years. I won’t for fear that I might be perceived as being bitter. What we are is devastated each and every month. Perhaps we should not be envious because others are walking with their strollers and we aren’t. Perhaps we should not feel uncomfortable when we are left out. Perhaps we should not be frustrated that we don’t fit in.
We all know that different people experiencing similar situations don’t always cope the same way. Not everyone feels happy or upset about the same thing. Yet it should be understandable that one who is suffering in any way should be given a sensitivity allowance. And I believe it is acceptable to request that our communities work harder at being sensitive to others who are atypical in whatever way. This is why I am speaking up.
I could explain the countless and endless hurtful comments people have unknowingly said by saying people are simply ignorant. Truthfully, it is a good thing that many people don’t know what it is like to be unable to have children year after year and have to go to fertility specialists for difficult and stressful treatments, feeling like a number in a factory. Or to be up at crazy hours to get to the doctor or to give yourself painful injections. Or to never be able to plan ahead or schedule anything because you have to prioritize your fertility treatment needs. Or that you have to constantly make excuses at work for being late or needing to leave early and being afraid you will lose your job. Or that you have to keep it secret because Infertility and trying to conceive is not the kind of topic usually discussed in public and it involves having to discuss very intimate and personal details of our life. Yet despite all of this, we ache to have the opportunity to be parents; to be blessed to conceive and carry full term, to love our own child and to be loved in return, to have a child who can contribute to the Jewish community and the world at large, a child we can teach and learn from as well, a child who can call our parents “grandma and grandpa.”