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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
“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.