Monday, March 5, 2012

A childfree-by-choice Orthodox woman speaks out

By Anonymous
The author studied at day school, attended yeshiva high school, spent time at a seminary in Israel, graduated from a Jewish college and works in the Jewish community. She is your average orthodox Jewish girl next door. If you wish to get in touch with her, please e-mail 

My Non-Pregnancy Project
A childfree-by-choice Orthodox woman

"...As I creep closer to age 30, I have waited for the desire to have a child 
to take over and make me rush to the pre-natal vitamins instead of
 my BC pill....Yet, that day has not come."

“Procreation is not the only meaning of life, for then life in itself would become meaningless, and 
something which in itself is meaningless cannot be rendered meaningful merely by its perpetuation.” 
- Viktor Frankl, M.D., Ph.D., Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor

~ ---------- ---------- ---------- ~

Before I got married I never thought about having children. I was never the type of girl to enjoy babysitting or daydream about motherhood and babies; perhaps it is because I am the youngest sibling. However, I did remember the lesson not to get married unless you felt ready for kids, as a natural possible byproduct of the union; and I was ok with that. If all of our precautions failed and I got pregnant I felt that I could rise to the occasion.

 However, as the years passed with no such incident, I started to think less about if I got pregnant and more about the why.

 The first commandment is Pru U’rvoo, to be fruitful and multiply. From a halachic standpoint, due to the potential health risks involved, women are technically NOT obligated to have children. Each time I was taught this concept in school and seminary it was always followed up with: “But, women have a natural maternal urge, so it works out.”

Yet, for years I have struggled with my role and purpose in Orthodox Judaism. I am not obligated in time bound mitzvot because I should be preoccupied with my children. I’m confounded by how has our whole purpose as Jewish women somehow got wrapped up in a commandment that we aren’t even obligated in?

 So, as the years have progressed in my nearly five years of marriage, and as I creep closer to age 30, I have waited for the desire to have a child to take over and make me rush to the pre-natal vitamins instead of my BC pill.

Yet, that day has not come. Where before I worried about not being a good mother, now I worry about even coming to the decision to become a mother.

 I think all women are raised with a certain understanding that one day they will have children. It’s the natural process of life. We grow up playing house and with our baby dolls, we joyfully sing, “first comes loves, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage;” these are the facts of life. So after I fell in love, got married and was faced with the next step, now through adult eyes, I realized it wasn’t as simple as the childhood song made it seem.

 When I broached the topic with my husband he responded, “I never really thought about kids honestly, I always just assumed my wife would decide and I would just join along when she felt ready.” It seems we both got married under the assumption that one day I would want kids, because that’s just what comes natural to all women, right?

 For us, we agree that having kids is the biggest decision we will ever make in our lives, even bigger than marriage. Therefore, we do not take it lightly. We do not want to ‘just do it’ on the advice that ‘it’s the greatest and hardest thing you’ll ever do” or “you can not fully understand love until you have a child” or all those other philosophical thoughts that just read to us as “misery loves company.” So for now, we continue to enjoy our lives, time together to ourselves, freedom, advancing in our careers, fulfilling our dreams, reaching our life goals and generally being happy. We both figure that one day there will be kids in the picture, but the exact when still alludes us. Some may accuse us of being selfish, but to me it is more selfish to bring another person into the world who is not 100% wanted on the off chance that "Once you hold your child everything else will seem meaningless."

 Early on in my marriage, friends and family would always automatically look at my stomach if I had not seen them in awhile. I picked up a habit of always having an alcoholic drink in my hand at such occasions. At about the 2-year marriage mark people gave up on us and left us alone. I have to admit, it was nice. Whether they thought we were having fertility issues (not that we know of), or just weren’t ready (I guess that’s pretty much true), they stopped asking, making comments and even looking! It was kind of a relief.

 In our day and age, I do not think it is fair to make women like me feel like there is something wrong with us just because we don’t have the ‘maternal instinct.’ It’s not fair to tell us were ‘over thinking’ the whole having kids thing, how can you not with such an important decision that not only impacts the rest of your life, the lives of all those around you, but most importantly the life of this innocent bystander who did not ask to be born.

 I myself wish I could ask the woman who has been married as long as, or longer than, myself who also doesn’t have kids if she is like me. Heck, I want to ask the woman who gives birth 9 months after her wedding how she came to such a monumental decision such a short time into her marriage. Of course, I do not ask because at the end of the day it is none of my business. But I would love to chat with someone like me so I don’t feel so alone in my choice and I would love to hear how and why mothers came to the decision to have a child-or do they feel like the decision was made for them by the society they live in.

 All my close married friends have one, two or more children now because, “The time was right.” So I feel like I need to maintain a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (hence the anonymity of this post) so as not to insult my family, in-laws, employers and the general assumption that all orthodox Jewish women want kids. For those I have told, many react with relief, “I assumed you were having trouble.” Followed by, “Wow! You are so impressively independent that you don’t give in to peer pressure!” and finally, “Is your husband ok with this?”

So we leave it alone, others try to rack their brains to understand me, and others still try to convince me to have kids. For the latter, I tell them that if it makes them happy to try they can, but it’s pretty futile. I have already gone over every argument and scenario in my mind before reaching my current disposition. Basically they all stem from the knowledge that there are no guarantees in life.

For example:

 “It will bring you and your husband so much closer”
 -From what I’ve heard, having kids, and the subsequent at least 18 years raising them, are the hardest and most trying time for a marriage. Ever hear of ‘if it aint broke, don’t fix it?’

 “Imagine all the nachas (pride) and love they will bring you!”
 -What if your kids don’t fit into your mold of the ideal child? Don’t you think basing your entire fulfillment in life on your kids is a bit too much pressure to put on them?

 “G-d doesn’t give people kids they cannot handle” (yes, I have really gotten this one)
-If that is so, why are there so many kids up for adoption?

 “Don’t you want grandkids?”
-Can you guarantee me that MY kids will have kids?

 “Who will take care of you when you’re old?”
 -Can you guarantee me that my kids will do that?

 “It is your responsibility to keep Judaism going! Don’t be your own Hitler”
-Again, can you guarantee me that MY kids will have kids or that they will follow Judaism?

 These cannot be the reason to have kids.

 Please do not misunderstand my position as disrespect. My prayers are with all those who do want kids and are suffering from infertility. And I love all the wonderful mothers I know and enjoy seeing my friend’s transition into that role in their lives. I only hope to express that not everyone should be expected to be the same. What is right for you is not necessarily right for me, and vice-versa.

 Which brings me back to the Frankl quote above. I believe G-d has a different path for everyone to find meaning in his or her life. Some have even interpreted Pru U’rvoo to mean to be fruitful in your good deeds. Not everyone will get married, not everyone will have children. True fulfillment in life is what you make of it.

 I cannot wait until the day comes when I do not have to be ashamed of my doubts, the day when I don’t have to live under the weight of the assumption that inevitably I will have kids one day. I hope that this article will enlighten our community to the fact that women can, should and do WANT to be part of an Orthodoxy where their G-d given talents are expressed both within their home and out, both when single and married, and with children or without. If we don’t support each other, who will? If not for our sake, than for our daughters and the future generations of the Jewish people, both religious and not. And that is what I’ve learned from my Non-Pregnancy Project.

24 LadyMama voices:

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

It is an interesting article.

Here are a few things the author should keep in mind:
- She is young. She may well feel the desire later. The problem is, sometimes it is too late. I don't wish the feeling on anyone.
- Yes, some reasons people give do not quite work for everyone.
- She shouldn't fear that child raising is hard on a couple. It doesn't have to be. Common front!
- She doesn't have to have children. But her husband has to try, barring other issues she didn't mention.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I have never in my life heard that a woman is not obligated to have children because of the risks involved! That makes me feel so much better.

Author, I commend you for your honesty and whether you decide to have children or not, they will be lucky to have such a thoughtful mother who thinks things through before she makes any life changing decisions.

I think this article also speaks to the mothers who have a house full of children and have that niggling feeling of should they have more or not. I always feel such guilt thinking I don't want more because I always thought it was my halachic obligation. But reading what you wrote will really help me with my decision.

Thank you.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I forgot to add: some women do not like babies/children before having their own. It's very hormonal.
They can even never like kids except their own. Sometimes you have to jump right in and trust life. Saying it is worth it is an understatement :)

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I'm not so sure what to make of this article. I was a bit taken aback by the author's negative attitude toward children. "or all those other philosophical thoughts that just read to us as “misery loves company.” I feel there was something in her childhood that precludes her from wanting her own offspring. It might be something as extreme as abandonment, or as simple as just being the youngest and thinking "it's all about me". I got married in my late 20's (not by choice. That is just when I found my husband and fell in love.) I pretty much got pregnant on my wedding night (!), and we were blessed with my little angel 9 months later. My baby gives my life meaning and purpose. I have a college degree, have my own growing business, many friends, a doting, loving husband (Baruch Hashem a million times), but my baby is the reason for my being. Yes, it's "inconvenient" to wake up occasionally in the middle of the night for a crying baby who needs a cuddle, and I do get exasperated when I'm trying to make dinner and my baby just wants to be held. yet, my role as a mother is sacrosanct. It ties us together in continuation with our foremothers and Jewish women throughout history. I have a new found appreciation for my mother - what she went through raising all of us without many of the advantages that I have. I am not passing judgement on the author, I'm just trying to understand where she is coming from...and having difficulty with it.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I'm not ready to articulate my sentiments about the author's message and attitude - I'm still sifting through my thoughts and feelings.

One thing that struck me, however, that I do want to mention right away is how clearly lucky this author is that her husband, regardless of his own 'obligations' or sentiments on the matter, has not pushed or judged her the way others have. It may be that he should push her, if he's being unforthcoming with his feelings simply for the sake of 'shalom', but that's not my call or my point. I'm sure he's filled with mixed feelings about the situation, and possibly even a bit of concern, but the fact that he has clearly made her feel like he's on her team is commendable, and deserves acknowledgment.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Wow, great article, Author. I respect you for publicizing your choice and wish more people in the orthodox world could be more open minded.
My husband and i have been faced with infertility over the last couple of years, but my position is not quite as different than yours as you would think. Although I DO want kids and believe they are what makes life worth living, I want a full fledged career (no part time work or early hours) and fully anticipate the disdain of many other orthodox women, who I'm quite sure will ask me why i want to work so hard and miss out on my children's lives (especially with a husband who does well financially, BH). Not every woman is born as the 'mothering' type.
Having children - and raising them - needs to be understood as a personal choice. It's nobody else's business. Unfortunately, this problem extends beyond the topic of children to many other facets in Judaism. Frankly, we judge each other too much. Which is probably why there is so little tolerance between the various sects of Judaism. We are all brothers (and sisters) - am echad. Let's try to stop judging one another and instead bring out the best in us all.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

wow, i dont really know what to make of this article. I commmend her for being honest, and if this is what her and husband ACTUALLY want, then Kol Hakavod.
I never actually heard a Frum woman talk somewhat negetaviley about having children, bc as she said I thought everyone wanted children!
Her reasons for not wanting to children all boil down to be scared, and you know what, everyone is scared, every stage in life is petrifiying, but you jump, and being orthodox, we belive Hashem helps us!
I had a baby 9 months after my wedding, we were both very young and very scared. but you know what, it has been amazing, scary, annoying, torture, hilarious, and every other adjective you could think of.

Cheerio said... [Reply to comment]

in regard to the author of this post, being as she has no halachic obligation, her personal feelings are her personal feelings which she is entirely entitled to. not everyone needs to have the "mommy bug".
but i don't feel she sufficiently addressed her husband's halachic obligation to have children... i would like to hear more of her thoughts, or the dialogue between her spouse and herself on reconciling that issue with her feelings.

Leah said... [Reply to comment]

I am proud of the author for sharing her controversial feelings. Orthodoxy must continue to become a more open and welcoming community in order for it to survive the times in a healthy way. I was however, saddened by how the author views the advice and experiences about having children from those around her. Dear author, if you ask us to not judge or belittle you for not wanting children, then do us the same and trust that children ARE both the hardest and most wonderful thing in life. Please don't mock the wonder and incomparable love of a parent for her child.

Leah said... [Reply to comment]

I am proud of the author for sharing her feelings. The Orthodox world must continue to become a more open and welcoming community or we will lose the truth and beauty that diversity has to offer. I do however, want to address the author's hostile statements about what her friends and family say about having children. Dear author, if you ask us to not judge or belittle your feelings, then please do the same for us. Do not mock me for feeling that my children are the most difficult and yet most incredible aspect of my life. That is not a justification for being a mother, that is not a nicer way of saying misery loves company. That is the truth of parenting, and maybe you simply don't understand that because you are not a parent. I respect you, so please respect me.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

As a fellow childfree-by-choice woman, I would like to extend a welcome to the anonymous author to join us over at The Childfree Life site: We also have a forum, where she can interact with a diverse array of non-childed folks from all religious and ethnic backgrounds:

And, no, anonymous author, you are not alone in feeling this way. I am 32, happily partnered for five years, and still don't want a baby. At all. When I came to the realization that this was a legitimate choice--MY choice, a very personal and individual choice--a weight lifted. I wrote a short essay about it:

Best wishes to all people who are "on the fence" on this issue. It's a very serious one. Let's all respect minority opinions. One Life Script doesn't fit everyone. Peace.

Rachel said... [Reply to comment]

I found this to be a very interesting article. However, it was written in a condescending tone towards those that do have children.

Having two children of my own, I don't believe anyone can anticipate the personal experience they will have should they became a parent. If you never have children, you will never learn a certain type of giving or love that can only be found between parents and their children.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for your honest article! And no, you are not the only one who feels this way. Having a child is a huge decision, and shouldn't be taken lightly. I am 30 and have been married 5 years now, and we've decided not to have children. It's just not the right choice for us. For some people it's the right decision, for others it's not. I believe that it's possible to glorify God and live a life that honors him with or without having kids.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I feel very sorry for the author!It seems like she has some deep rooted reasons to have such feelings.I do not think they way to deal with them is to try and get people's approval for her behavior.Perhaps she does this so that she could validate it.I think that anyone who agrees with her feelings needs help.Deal with the root of the problem.Females are born with a maternal instinct.Good not to bring kids into the world if you feel it would ruin your life or any other reason that would be detrimental to the children born,But deal with the problem that gives you such feeling...

Princess Lea said... [Reply to comment]

I'm also having mixed feelings.

My dream is to be a mommy. I have been an aunt for more than half of my life, so I've had a lot of practice with child rearing - one even said I'm better at parenting than her father. And I don't make any claims to liking children in general.

Kids aren't that complex; after all, the author was one, once. And they don't stay small and helpless forever.

True, in the end, we don't know how are kids end up. That was even in Nach, when King Chizkiyahu decides not to have children since he knows his son will be wicked. But he is punished for that, since that is not his concern. His job, as a man, is to have children. Everything else is out of his hands.

I don't want to sound preachy, but it is said that when one saves a life, they save a world. Continuity is big thing to us.

In the end no one lies on their deathbed thinking they should have spent more days in the office. Your kids may not take care of you when you are old, true, but their presence on this earth testifies to one's own life.

Whether by biological or adoptive offspring, I would say that would be my purpose.

It is admirable for the author to consider her motives for parenthood; many youngsters become parents before they are ready. But if she is so aware she would probably be a great mother.

But she doesn't have the luxury of waiting until 50 to decide.

Valerie Barton said... [Reply to comment]

I am not Orthodox so I cannot speak to the author's specific points about Orthodox views on motherhood, but I can relate to her experiences on this topic. I'm 42 and have been married for 13 years. I never babysat as a teenager and had no interest in children, in general. When my husband and I got married we hadn't decided definitively to have children but, if we did have a family, we decided we'd adopt. (The idea of children in orphanages and foster care, with no parents to love and care for them, breaks my heart.)

As the years went by and friends began to have children, I was overjoyed for them but still not convinced that I wanted to take on the awesome responsibility of raising a child. Could we live a happy, fulfilling life, just the two of us? Would we be lonely in old age? All of the questions the author of the post is asking herself.

Ultimately, after many months of discussion, we decided to adopt a little boy from a Russian orphanage. It's been six years of challenge, responsibility, and a hefty dose of selfless love.

So, I agree with all of the other commenters that, yes, I rose to the occasion despite grave concerns, and, yes, the love I feel for my son is unlike anything I've ever experienced, and yes, I have grown in ways I never expected and have, ultimately and quite unexpectedly, become a better person for it.

But, 1 is enough for us.

My sense from reading the post is that the author is really trying to be thoughtful about the decision, which I have to respect. For my husband and me, the decision to have a family and what kind of family to have hinged on 2 questions that I did not see the author ask herself in the post.

1. What kind of life do I/we want to have? 10 years from now, when you're picturing your life, are there children in that picture? (For us it was yes.) Or is it you and your husband working, traveling, and/or contributing to the welfare of humanity in other ways?

2. What is your motivation for having children? Is it because it's "expected" or because you want them? Are there other potential motivations? Know your own motivation for having children (or not).

People will judge you no matter what choices you make in life, so you might as well make your own thoughtful choices and own them. (Believe me, people said the strangest things to us when we said we were adopting and then again when we said just one.)

I wish the author good luck with her decision and I wish her peace of mind. Shalom.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I was the youngest in my family, but I was babysitting (actually, mostly the kids of my Orthodox friends/neighbors) from the time I was 11 through college. I enjoyed the job but while I like kids, I don't really have an interest in having kids of my own. I'm probably about the age of the writer of this article and it doesn't seem like something likely to change. If I did change my mind in the future I might adopt, that's something I thought about doing when I was a kid/teen.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I really commend you for writing this article! I had my first (and only) child 17 months into my marriage even though I had planned on being on birth control for longer. The peer pressure had set in, to be honest, and my husband and I felt that the timing was right.

Fast forward 4.5 years later and I get stares and comments nearly daily from acquaintances and neighbors who think I have a "problem," whether it be in my fertility or marriage. Neither is true; my husband and I both don't want another child yet. To the commentators on here, it will seem selfish. People ask me all the time, "Don't you feel bad your child has no one to play with?" but in truth she is well-adjusted, bright, and loves spending time only with us. She has playdates, gymnastics, ballet classes, and of course school. She lacks nothing. Had I jumped into having another kid, as many people do, within a year or less later of the birth of my first, I would have never-ending feelings of guilt that my child was never allowed to be a child.

Sorry for digressing here. I really understand the author and shame on people for judging. I try not to judge people who get married on their wedding night but I can't help but question their motives. To me, my marriage and relationship with my husband trumps any new baby. My marriage comes first, just like my husband came before my child. My child is the center of my universe and when I feel ready to have another child I will. And even then, I may be done. I got married at 20 and even though I'm young and actually work with children on a daily basis I simply cannot handle dealing with many of my own. Call me selfish, maybe I am. I pity the mother who thinks she is doing her children a service by having kids one after the next. What does her husband feel? How do her other kids feel? Please don't judge the author or myself. I would never jump into something like having another child before I felt ready. Readiness comes BEFORE, not after.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

I totally agree with the author. Alas, my husband is the broody one and the pressure from him is horrible sometimes. Very glad the author has not yet chosen to pander to the pressures of society. As for me- maybe I will, and maybe I won't, but if I were to give birth tomorrow it will only have been for one of two reasons:
a. I messed up with my pill, or
b. I did it because I felt pressured.
It would be such a shame to have a kid for either of these reasons. If/ When I have them, I want to want them and to adore them and not to resent them, and to bring them up with joy in my heart.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

"all those other philosophical thoughts that just read to us as “misery loves company.”"

I thought your article was interesting and well written. I agree that no one should ever become a parent without making that decision first, and there are few things so awful as to bring a child into the world when they are not wanted or cannot be cared for.
I do however think that just as you wish others to accept your ideas and personal decision in this area, it is inappropriate for you to 'interpret' their expression of parenthood.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

All interesting points - but if you are an Orthodox Jew and believe in following Jewish law, you don't really have much of a choice. Your husband has an obligation to have kids, even though you do not. How do you get around that?

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

A few thoughts.

Having taken a few years until our first child is bh on the way, sometimes things dont go as planned, and when you may decide that you want it, it may not come at will.

Having spoken with many people who's children don't always follow their ideal path, most parents love and are proud of their kids regardless. This love is not so much based on the kids behavior, but rather on the attitude of the parents.

While life may be good and peaceful without them, you don't know love until you have children. The gemorah states that a parents love for their children is greater then the child's love for the parent.

Hannah said... [Reply to comment]


I think you have misinterpreted "misery loves company" as meaning that children and child-rearing are miserable when the author is simply stating that all of the reasons she has been given as to why she should have kids have been mindlessly recited to her like an overused phrase (such as "misery loves company").

Why would you jump to conclusions about her childhood? I think its rather disturbing that someone could feel comfortable making such an intimate judgement about someone's past all in the name of "understanding".

Its wonderful that your child gives your life meaning and purpose, that's the way it should be. Every child should have a mother (and father) who feels that way.

But, just because someone doesn't feel comfortable taking a blind leap of faith into parenthood should not, under any circumstance, be silently labeled as damaged goods or strange. We should not feel pressured by our culture or society to conform to something that feels wrong to us.

Personally, I believe that if more people took the time to consider the great amount of work it takes to be a good parent instead of just doing it because "its the next step", there would be a lot less abandonment, children awaiting adoption, abuse, etc.

Parenting is a *life long* commitment. We should applaud people who know themselves well enough to know this may not be for them rather than making them feel like outsiders.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you so much for this article. I, too, am a child free-by-choice Orthodox woman, which is a difficult position to be in. In our circles childbearing is not seen as a choice - it is an obligation. Many of the comments on this article demonstrate that people missed that point. No matter what social norms dictate, no matter what any one person's experiences have been, no matter what - this is a personal choice, and should be respected as such. No one should have kids if they don't WANT them. Saying, "It'll be different when you have your own" is too big a risk to take. What if it's not different? That will result in a child who will never be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted because they will always know they are unwanted (kids know these things).

So, thank you, Mimi, for posting this article, and thank you, anonymous writer, for saying what too many of us (myself included) are afraid to.