Sunday, January 1, 2012

For the childless

I recently received the following question from a reader:

"Do you have any advice for those of us who want to be traditional wives and mothers, yet are, as it seems, unable to conceive?"

I decided to publish this here, in case some of my readers have valuable experience that they would like to share. 

Personally, I have no experience in the difficulty of fertility struggles, as we held our first child in our arms only 10 months after we were married. However, I will do my best to say a couple of things, some of them based on a wonderful book (in Hebrew) by a rabbi I much respect. 

It is a Jewish belief that all our matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Leah and Rachel) struggled with infertility - yes, even Leah, who had numerous children. The plight of Sarah and Rachel is perhaps most widely known, as is that of Hannah, mother of Samuel the prophet. The point is, those wondrously righteous women of the Bible struggled with the heart-wrenching pain of yearning for children and not having any for many years, despite them being many degrees higher in faith and closeness to G-d than any of us will ever be. Their pain did not mean that they were doing anything wrong, or that G-d didn't love them; He had a very special plan for their lives, and worked sheer miracles - our sages tell that Sarah, in fact, had no womb! So she was physically definitely unable to carry a child, yet she did. Now, I'm not saying any of us can expect quite that degree of a miracle, but there are many stories of people who conceived against very low odds.

I won't go into details of possible fertility treatments, medical tests, methods to enhance one's fertility, etc, because you don't need me to tell you all this; I'm sure you and your husband, as a couple, can discuss what is the right path for you, in this area. Some families are blessed beyond words by adoption. A relative of mine married a widower with 3 adopted children; with 2 children of her own from a previous marriage, and 3 common children, they are now a family of 10, all happily living in the same house. G-d works in marvellous ways, uniquely in each person's life.

Then there is the matter of being a traditional wife, which in people's minds is most often connected with having a large brood of children - but the fact is, while young children are those whose need in the stability of a well-established household is most readily perceived, we all need stable, warm, welcoming homes, no matter how old we are. As Susan Schaeffer Macaulay beautifully explains in her book, "For the Family's Sake", homemaking isn't only for couples with children - it is for married childless couples too, as well as for single people. It is important to the individual, as well as the community. 

There were many women who didn't have children, yet their homes were warm, open and welcoming, largely thanks to the wife, who still took effort to work at her home and take care of her husband's needs; those childless women could be more at leisure with their time than other people, able to extend hospitality more, serve as counsellors, perhaps unofficially "adopt" lonely children who came back from school to empty homes. All through history of mankind, until relatively recently (a century or so) it was considered proper for a woman to find her place within the home, whether she was single, married, or widowed. Community was active and work was plenty. One of my ever-favorite novelists, Jane Austen, remained single, yet lived a home-centered, productive life.

I confess I cannot really imagine my life without my dear children; I don't really know what my life would have been like now, if they hadn't made it so action-packed, full of fun, mess and noise. Yet I do try, from time to time, to look forward into that inevitable point of my life when my little ones are grown and gone - and it will happen, some day. At that point, perhaps I will be able to put more effort into areas of homemaking which are currently pushed aside (such as ironing, decorating, and cooking on a more time-consuming scale than I do now). I might also be able to be more active in my community, to do more to support other people, and practice hospitality on a larger scale. Actually there are so many things for which I would love to find time, but I won't list them all because that would be different for each person. 

I don't know whether anything of what I said "clicks" with you in your present situation, but I do hope and pray that you find peace, joy, and abundant blessing as you are walking along the path of your life, under the loving and watchful eye of our Creator, who made us, knows us and loves each one of us, precious and unique as we are in his eyes. 

Warmly, with my very best wishes,

Mrs. T


North Dakota Crane said...

Ah, somehow this thought crossed my mind today.

Analytical Adam said...

I really wish to hear something intellectual about your husband thinks and I never do. At this husband you husband just is about having a good time and making you happy which to be fair that doesn't make a person of God as even animals do that and try to attract a female of the speices.

To be honest I think you are where you should be in having 2 female children in my opinion. I am not happy that your husband seems to want to hide and you seem to be fine with that. This really is ghetto Judaism and to live in Jerusalem and continue this I don't think is good.

Analytical Adam said...

Part 2 of 2:I also am not happy that you complain when you feel laws discriminate against women in the secular world you when in the Orthodox they discriminate against men which they do a lot you not only don't mind but it seems you like the Rabbis because they show favoritism towards women in ways that the bible does not support.

As a man who considers himself somewhat well read I resent the fact that most men who seem to be in Orthodoxy seem to be not allowed to read or use their mind in any way that you would be helpful (other then to make a living and even then some of them make a living by abusing other men in the workplace) to attract other men which most of the technology advances created in Israel are done by people who aren't part of Orthodoxy and of course the Orthodox can't give credit to other men which is a very miserly atitude they have.

Since you mentioned Sarah, Abraham took on a public role and he took on positions that were against public opinion of the time. In your case it seems you and your husband hope by being part of a group and your husband not taking on a public role that will protect you but I don't think that is what God wants and it seems you are more afraid of men then you are of God from what I can see. I don't see how you can truly help others if your husband has nothing intellectual to share. YOu can't help men and you really can't help women with this inbalance either. I hope you can take this for what it is.

Anonymous said...

My husband and I were unable to conceive and yet in the course of 7 years have adopted 5 children. The decision to adopt is a very personal one, people come to it at their own time in their journey/struggle with infertility, so I cannot flippantly say, "Why don't you just adopt?", but it is a wonderful choice and God has created for us a beautiful family through adoption!

Mrs. Anna T said...

Adam, I can make no sense of your comment. Neither head nor tail of it. Sorry.

Carol said...

I have come across a book that discusses hormonal imbalances in women and some of the underlying causes of infertility. It is written by a doctor who has been providing care to women by treating the underlying problems. His treatments respect the Catholic view of women's health care. The book is: The Napro Technology Revolution by Dr. Thomas Hilgers.

Anonymous said...

Adam's comments make me wonder if we are reading the same blog. He just doesn't get it. I have read this blog since before Anna met her husband and I've never read anything that made it seem like she is being hidden away.

I have also met many childless women that have played an important role in the community. So no matter if you have 0, 1, or 20 children one can make a loving stable home.

Anonymous said...

How about a woman who desperately yearn for more than 1 or 2 and her fertility's fine, but her husband got "fixed" against her will (wishes, counsel, convictions) because he has enough so therefore she has enough and has to suffer?

Anonymous said...

I'm going through secondary infertility right now and it is a very painful subject to me - thank you for writing this piece. In fact, I was moping around the house all day since I just found out this is yet another month when "I failed" at getting pregnant. Thanks for reminding me that it's not necessarily my failure but God's plan - for whatever reason. Have a blessed day.

Michelle said...

As a childless woman, I have learned to find joy in working with children at my church and in spending time with my friends and their children. Whether it's playing with my friend's two girls while she cuts my husband's hair, or teaching a Bible story to children, I've learned to enjoy those moments. However, I had to first learn to be content in the role that God gave me.

Lynn said...

What a lovely post, Mrs. T, filled with wisdom and compassion. I had to smile at your sentiments about imagining life down the road with your little ones grown and gone. It's where I find myself now. And while I do dearly miss those days of having young ones in the house, there are new joys and blessings to this season, as you mentioned -- more time for creative crafts pursuits, cooking, doing a better job at keeping up with the work of the home. Anyway, I have enjoyed my visit here. Thank you for your hospitality :)

Anonymous said...

What a thoughtful post and thought-provoking post, Anna! I hope the woman who asked the question is as blessed by your response as I am!

Mrs. Jacks said...

To the Anonymous poster who said her husband underwent a sterilization procedure against her wishes - first of all, my prayers and heart go out to you, sister. My husband decided to have a vasectomy before we married. It was a difficult first five and a half years of marriage. Many tears were shed and I struggled ever so much with the pain of knowing we'd never have children together.

It wasn't until I let go of all bitterness and all feelings of entitlement (thinking, well thanks God for not giving me children I think I deserve!) that God started doing a mighty work in my marriage. Nearly six long years of agonizing pain, my husband came to me one day and said God had given him conviction about his decision to get the vasectomy. We are getting a reversal as soon as we save the money.

God can use this for good. Submit to your husband. He is the one who will answer to God for his decision to get sterilized. If it is God's will to use this to refine your husband's faith and obedience, then it will happen. Perhaps God is giving you this to strengthen your dependency upon Him. After all, His grace is sufficient. It is our faith in Him that makes us Christians, not how many children we have. God bless you!

Anonymous said...

I am going to be 30 in a few days and I have been infertile since puberty, if not before and grew up in not such a great environment, so I have had a long time to comes to terms with childlessness. I am not married and it is getting easier for me to find potential husbands who are no long able or already have grown children. So far my life can really be compared to that of Ruth, besides the fact that I am not a widow. If I marry and by some miracle have a child, great. It's my belief that whether you are childless or have no desire for kids, the Lord can still use your feminine attributes for good. P.S. I love how God has placed so many variations and personalities of women in the Bible that we can reflect upon for wisdom on how to carry out situations in our own lives.