A little background to an email exchange between two friends Rachel* and Sarah*: Rachel was asking her friend Sarah, who is a Kallah teacher, some halachic niddah questions from time to time. Through these encounters Sarah was aware that Rachel was navigating a fertility journey. The following is an email Rachel sent to Sarah after an uncomfortable and insensitive conversation at a friend’s birthday party:
I’m sorry to put this in email form but I need to get some things off my chest regarding our conversation at Leah’s* party. Throughout the weekend I am still carrying with me the feeling that my personal life has been invaded when you casually asked me about my fertility.
This topic is difficult and I think you’ve picked up that something is off. Last week when I entered the party I felt as if you swooped down on me like a hawk trying to get details on my fertility and it felt gossipy. I have never asked any of my friends personal questions about their struggle with pregnancies because their uteruses are not my business. There are also people in my immediate family and some of my best friends who I have not shared these struggles with. I know you felt like it was important for you to know; since I have gone to you for some of my niddah questions, and because we are friends. I felt like because in the past I confided in you with some details, you felt like you were entitled to know. In that moment you were making it your business when it wasn’t. If I wanted to share that information with you and needed advice and or consoling I would have approached you on my own, but I didn’t.
When you asked me how things were going and I said “Fine.” In my opinion, that should have been the end of our conversation. Instead you kept asking until I gave in to your pestering– if you could tell, I wasn’t too happy to share such details especially at a friends party. I told you because you put me in an uncomfortable position, I told you because I just wanted you to stop and let the topic die. It takes 2 people to be in a conversation, both actively listening and responding to each other and in that moment I felt you weren’t listening to what I was saying and to my non-verbal cues. That was only highlighted more when you started asking me questions if I’m jealous of my sister’s newborn baby! If the intention of the conversation was to support me, I think you would agree that a follow up question like that was inappropriate and judgmental.
I cannot stress enough that I don’t think you meant anything bad from it. I know we are friends and you have only good intentions but I also don’t want any future Kallahs or other members of the community who may have their own struggles to go through an experience like this. Unfortunately, what should be have been a safe space was not and it only confirmed my hesitation to open up to others in the hope that they will be respectful of my emotional process.
To put things lightly I have been poked and prodded by not only by doctors, but other community members. The insensitivity on the subject is what I expect from other people. I was shocked when it came from you. I can not stress enough how emotionally and physically draining this process has been.
Please know this was very difficult and uncomfortable for me to write and I really contemplated how I should approach this. I don’t want this to cause any drama between us as you are a close friend. But I felt like it was important and necessary for me to explain to you where I was coming from and hopefully moving forward it will help give insight in how to address others who might be going through the same thing and our friendship can strengthen.
I am so beyond sorry I made you feel like that. I love you so much and your friendship means so much to me. I made a huge mistake, you are right. I should not have asked. I am so so sorry. I am so pained to know that I caused you any pain. I care a lot about you and what I did was wrong. Thank you for letting me know. I love that you emailed me. You are right I should have been more sensitive. I have no idea what came over me that night. I truly value you and I cant say sorry enough.
Love you always,
Rachel: The next day when I arrived home there were flowers on my front door step, with an apology note.
They made me more angry I felt violated. The flowers represented that I had told someone my struggle who still wasn’t listening. It became a constant reminder to me of that uncomfortable moment. Again, I know that it was not her intention and she was trying to be nice. I just wanted to move on. I realized she was not understanding still what I was talking about. What I wasn’t hearing was I’m going to learn from this mistake. I need more education. So here was my final response:
Thank you for the flowers, they were totally unnecessary. I understand that you feel bad. I know you didn’t mean to hurt me and know that I forgive you.
Please just take this moment to educate yourself and other leaders in the community.
I highly encourage you and other Kallah teachers to go to Yesh Tikva, and learn how to create a safe space and learn what it truly means to listen.
Go to seminars, listen to speakers about this topic, read articles, and read books. Try to understand what people like me are going through and try to put yourself in their shoes. It’s stressful enough trying to get my health in order and make sure my body is functioning properly. It makes things worse when strangers, friends, family, coworkers, and teachers are causing more stress and asking questions, or making inappropriate comments.
For example yesterday I received a text from my own Kallah teacher out of the blue “wishing you an incredible Mother’s day. You are an inspiring and giving woman-I’m celebrating you.” Again, she does not know what I’m going through. Of course from her perspective it was an innocent text, how can something so nice be so hurtful? Who knows how many other people are going through some sort of experience, and can not express it. Whether it be miscarriages, infertility, or problems in one’s marriage… In our community their is a lack of empathy for those going through personal struggles, there needs to be sensitivity to those who are not mothers, especially from community leaders like you.
I’m asking you to please use this opportunity to help educate your colleagues, religious leaders, teachers, friends, family, and students so these things stop happening. I highly recommend reaching out to Yesh Tikva for more information. I feel strongly that you as a leader in the community have a unique opportunity to take this and turn it into a positive. As leaders you need to have better tools too.
*This is a true story, emails shared courtesy of the individual referred to here as Rachel. All names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.