Wednesday, April 30, 2014

How choosing life saved an entire family

Dear friends,

Today I would like to tell you the story of one woman, one family, and one decision that made a difference between life and death.

When my grandmother discovered she was pregnant with my mother, sometime in 1948, she didn't want another child. There were already two children in the family, a boy and a girl, and times were tough. We're speaking post-war USSR. She didn't want to have the child, but here my grandfather put his foot down. Abortions were illegal and unsafe, and he would rather have another child and be a little strained financially than risk becoming a widower with two orphans on his hands.

The family grew. In due course, my mother came into the world. But the full impact of this one life wasn't discovered until many years later. This child - the unplanned one - was the only one my grandmother didn't outlive. My mother was the one who took care of Grandma when she was no longer able to take care of herself; thanks to her last child, she was not alone, and was able to spend her last years at home, rather than in an institution. 

Also, though my grandmother had four grandchildren, I - the only child of her youngest child - was the only one she had seen married, and my children were (and so far, still are) her only great-grandchildren. Of my three cousins, one had sadly passed away at a relatively young age, and the remaining two are completely detached from their Judaism. So it seems that the family, as a Jewish family, only continues through my mother and me. 

Now fast forward to today, when abortion does not come with the same risk for the woman as some decades ago and some continents away. Yes, abortions can still be very dangerous - and their risk is often downplayed in the name of "free choice" - but overall, the woman's chance to live through one and remain healthy is much higher. I do not speak of the emotional scars, of course, and of the lifelong regret of having taken one's own child's life for reasons that (statistically) most often have to do with money, timing and convenience. Today, the husband of a poor family is far less likely to stop his wife from having an abortion because he is genuinely afraid to lose her. 

Today, abortions are legal, accessible, and (at least physically) much safer than they used to be. And our lives and our society are a train wreck. 

I wonder if a woman considering abortion could glimpse into the future, and know that this child - the one she is now carrying - is the only one she will ever have, or the only one she will have left, would she still have an abortion? Somehow, I think 99% would have the baby. 

Of course this isn't the only, or even the main, reason not to have an abortion. It is simply wrong to take the life of a defenseless and innocent human being. But many abortion advocates would like to show how there's a clash between the woman's good and her baby's right to live. There is not. 

You never know. This baby could make the difference between all the joy, or no joy at all, in your life. The difference between having a family, or dying a lonely woman. The difference between getting to go to your granddaughter's wedding, or knowing your family line is at an end. The difference between satisfaction and regret. The difference of knowing you did the right thing, no matter how hard it was. 

The Efrat organization helps Jewish women who are considering abortion because of financial difficulties or societal pressure. You won't believe how many there are. You won't believe how many precious children are lost because of temporary difficulties. Circumstances change, money comes and goes, but the value of a child's life is eternal. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

There is life after Pesach

Just a little over a week ago, it seemed the cleaning and chametz-proofing the house would never end. Like every year, I told myself I will never clean anything again when this is done. Like every year, I seriously considered transferring the whole family to a chametz-free diet year-round. And like every year, by the time we sat around the Pesach table I had already half-forgotten all the hard work and trouble.

In a way, it was like moving house. Or having a baby. 

Now we are enjoying the glorious spring that is fast melting into summer. Our hens are laying nicely, and three have gone broody and raised chicks already. The last one had her first chicks hatch only a couple of days ago. Doesn't she seem content, sitting in her cozy nest of straw with her little ones? 
In case you are wondering why the chicks look so unlike their mother, this hen just started sitting on an empty spot, and the only eggs we had to give her at the moment were from Leghorns. Of course, since she is a miniature hen and Leghorn eggs are large she couldn't cover many, but she did hatch two chicks who look like they will outgrow her soon!

It's a beautiful afternoon, children are playing outside, and I'm enjoying some leisure time after a day spent mostly in taking care of a week's worth of laundry, including just about every item the children own. Now that the closets are in order again, I can close my eyes, sit back, and relax. 

I hope you have some time to do the same today.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The burden of guilt

Helen writes:

"Feeling that you are not making a financial contribution can be soul destroying for many women (I know, I've been in that position) and seeing your husband/partner working himself into the ground while you are at home can be truly detrimental to a happy relationship, as resentment can build up on both sides."

A great shortcoming of the modern world - actually, I think tragedy wouldn't be too strong a word to use - is the amount of pressure being heaped on women. No matter what we do, it isn't good enough. If we work outside the home, we must be careful that the little time we get to spend with our family will be Quality Time, and when this still isn't enough, we are frustrated and wonder what had gone wrong. If we stay home, we aren't contributing financially and aren't being productive members of the society.

The reason for this is, of course, that perfect balance between work and home just doesn't exist. Many women feel torn in two, in particular when they become mothers. 

For some families, it may be that the wife's salary - even if it's modest - is what stands between them and going on welfare, or going into debt. For many, however, it's what stands between them and a vacation abroad or, in other words, it's an extra they could do without. As for the husband working long hours vs. the wife staying at home, an important question that needs to be asked is - would things be easier for the husband if the wife worked? 

Not that I believe it is the right question to ask. In the not-so-distant past, men took pride in their role as providers. Nobody would think to resent his wife for not shouldering the same burden. But let's just ask this question... if the wife works more, does it mean the husband can work less? 

My husband, for instance, has always worked long hours. Always, even when he was a single man and had no family to support. This is just how things are in his field of work. Any place he had ever worked for demands a work week of approximately 45-50 hours... regardless of his family situation. To the best of my knowledge, this is how things are for most men who are serious about their career. It's not like they can afford to work part time because their wife works as well. 

I know this is a broad statement, but a family which has a husband working long hours and a wife at home is generally better off financially than a family where both spouses work part time. That is because part-time jobs usually don't pay much. 

I know many families which would be better off financially with the wives not working. Why? Because the sense of accomplishment from work, and of having "her own" money (a term I strongly disagree with; any money earned by either spouse is family money, not his or her own), often goes to the women's head. A lot is spent on trifles. Daycare is expensive, as well as having a second car and buying a lot of fancy clothes to keep up with everybody else at work. I know not everyone is like that, but I do believe a family is better off with a frugal stay-at-home mother than a mother who works part-time and spends more than she earns because she "works so hard and deserves it."

A wife/mother at home has so many possibilities to contribute financially, first of all by saving money. She has more time to shop frugally, visit thrift stores, cook from scratch, compare prices, etc. Of course, if she has a baby then the savings are even more obvious, since she won't have to pay for daycare and formula. If she has a toddler she can potty-train earlier and so save a bundle on diapers. And then there is the matter of indirect savings - in her free time, a woman can make the home such a welcoming, cheerful place that the family will seek less entertainment outside the home. Also, if money has to be earned, there are various options of earning it from home. 

I remember a mother who told me, "I work only to pay for preschool". It has simply never occurred to her that she might just keep her preschooler at home and save that money! This is how indoctrinated we've become. 

The statement, "I can't possibly sit at home and twiddle my thumbs while my husband is working himself to the bone!" is very much, I believe, a gut response - in many cases. Will the husband be happier knowing that his wife is also overworked? Or will her working outside the home make the family's life even more stressful? If a man comes home after a long day at work to a cheerful and orderly home and a hot meal on the table, at least he can relax. But if household chores pile up and have to be done in the evening, the family has even less time to spend together in a peaceful and unhurried manner. I realize that for some there is no choice. But for many there is.

Which overworked husband gets the better deal - the one whose wife stays at home and takes care of everything so he can get his well-deserved rest after work, or the one whose wife works outside the home and expects him to help with housework as well? Who is better off: the man whose wife is always available to be there for a sick child, or a man who doesn't know when he'll have to call off an important meeting to stay home with a 3-year-old that has a stomach bug? A mother at home is like a safety net providing basic comfort for her loved ones. 

A very important point I must make, though, is that it is the wife's duty to be content with what her husband provides. A cheerful attitude is a must. Of course it can cause a lot of resentment if he works hard so she can have a comfortable life, and she just turns up her nose at what he offers and says, "hm, my friend's husband bought her a new car" or "did you know that so and so is going to a skiing resort this winter?"; of course a reasonable man might lose his temper and say, "well, if it matters so much to you, you go and earn money for it!"

Sunday, April 6, 2014

A reader's response

Following what I wrote in A brief history of feminism, Miriam writes:

"I was raised on a farm. I begun driving a tractor at the mature age of 8. I know something about hard work... my mother was always there, doing the hard work at home (on the farm). She taught everything she knew to me. My father had 2 jobs outside the farm and hauling firewood, he was occupied for 1-2 days a week by them. I never felt I lacked something. At the age of 16 I felt ready to have my own family, I knew how to run a household, how to garden, milk cows etc, I knew the seasons; what has to be done when. Hobbies weren't around or even understood as they are today... but we always had one day a week for rest and recreation, always. There were religious gatherings, picnics by lakeshore, lots of books, bikerides, wandering in the woods, visiting friends, time for your thoughts. It was life in the depths of Finnish countryside in the 60's and 70's.

All that I wanted for my children, too... but the modern cry was and is for education, and so the sad story of my "career" begun. I always felt misplaced, and finally depressed, so I left my "career" and now I am slowly getting myself back, I mean recovering from the ultimate stress the modern standards caused. 

No one said staying home as a wife and/or a mother is an easy task. I think no one meant it's just watering some houseplants and dusting your laptop. It's hard work no matter how you look at it. If someone feels she has more time and energy, and wants an outside job, that's ok for me, but please do not say I should do it, too.

I don't know statistics from Israel or US or any other country, but in Finland the mental problems of children has exploded onto our face. There's a big business in taking children into custody. Am I the only one old enough to see the connection, to see the difference between today and 20-30 (not to mention even more) years ago? No one wants to see that maybe stay-at-home mothers really did something good? 

I don't mean to blame or insult working moms, no! But I do think the vast majority of them are victims... victims of ther modern propaganda. All the women who did work outside their homes or farms in the past did it because it was necessary. They did not seek 'fullfilment' in their lives and they did not want to prove they were as good as men, or better. They did not work because they thought someone else is more capable to raise their children. They did not think even little children need expensive hobbies, and it costs money.

I think hobbies are over-rated. Please do not be offended! I don't mean there shouldn't be any nice things in your life, vice versa. But sometimes hobbies become larger than life... everyone should have one, or two, so if you have a family of 4 or 5 kids is there a single night everyone is at home at the same time? As Anna said it so well: The Mystical Quality Time. Families should spend time together, so that they can stay together as a family. Husband and wife should have time together, so that they stay as a husband and wife, and so on. If you have a family, you should invest in it, not in yourself aka your hobbies. 


I think that is the most important point: all the women who did work outside their homes or farms in the past did it because it was necessary. They didn't do it to become "fulfilled" or to have a sense of self-worth, or because if they did not, someone would wonder what on earth they were doing to fill all those long boring hours at home.

Today, one of the first topics that comes up during any introductory conversation is "what do you do?" - and if you answer, "I'm a housewife", it's a cause for blushing. You might as well have said, "I do nothing". 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Raising a Small Family in a Large Family World - by Tzippora Price

I had to edit the opening lines because perhaps I wasn't entirely clear. The following article was not written by me, but by Tzipporah Price, as I state in the headline. I found the link here. I wish I knew where the article was originally published so I could give proper credits.


As a community we love big families. Bigger is better, and supersize is best. We wonder how they do it. How do these “superwoman” cope, we mutter to each other as they pass by, pushing a double buggy, and trailed by their large brood like little chicks after mother hen. “She deserves a medal,” my neighbor commented once, when a mother of six children under six passed by us. “Perhaps.” I granted her. “Yet there are others who also deserve medals,” I pointed out. “There are people who quietly shoulder on unnoticed, their heartbreak not as apparent as those who are childless, but who are heartbroken nonetheless, by their failure to have more than one or two kids.”

It is a condition that is known as secondary infertility, and it refers to the onset of infertility in a woman who has already had children. In our case, although we have been married over ten years, we only have two children. I cringe every time someone I meet asks me how many children we have, because the numbers don’t add up. At these moments, my shame is intense. Sometimes I feel like wearing a T-shirt that states “It’s not my fault. It is not by choice.”

When I sit in the park, I am bombarded by the news of who is expecting, and who is on bedrest. Sometimes it seems like there is no other topic of conversation. It reinforces my sense of isolation. All around us, families are large, while ours is not. More often than not, I choose not to sit in the park for this reason.

As my children grow older, and no younger siblings replace them in the position as baby of the family, I have more free time. Yet my freedom does not give me pleasure; it breaks my heart because I feel that it is unnatural. It is not as it should be. I console myself that G-d does not make mistakes.

Yet I wonder what the impact of having only one sibling will be on my children. If mothers of large families are considered superwomen, are mothers of small families considered failures? Or are we merely invisible, unworthy of the time it takes to stop and think before you make a comment that may cut like a knife.

You know the type of comment that I mean. The comments like “Parenting doesn’t really begin until the birth of your third child.” Comments like these are hurtful, and they are a transgression of the prohibition of onaas devarim (hurtful speech). Our tradition teaches us that it is wrong to count people like one would count objects, because each person is a world – unique and distinct and irreplaceable.

Recently, I showed another woman some photos of my children. This woman paused before remarking, “You must have more children than this.” I responded that in fact I didn’t. Every member of my family was perfectly accounted for in those photos. Still, I wonder about the choice of the word “must.” It implies that the world order is not as it should be. When, in fact, the world is truly as it should be, exactly as it exists now. After all, Hashem doesn’t make mistakes.

That means that it must be built into the system that some families will be different than others. Some families will be extra-large, while others might be extra-small. That’s just the way the world works, and it does not reflect one’s hashkafic (religious outlook) choices so much as it reflects the reality of the world today. Medical science has made many advances, but it still has not found a way to outsmart God’s Will.

Furthermore, the type of treatments required to artificially create a larger family have many undesirable side-effects and consequences that affect the family as a whole, not just the mother herself. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the full impact of any potential course of action, and to consult with an appropriate halachic authority for guidance about the long-term consequences.

It is a choice that each family must make individually. We cannot presume to know what is best for our neighbors, or even for our best friends. Rather, we can learn to treat all families with respect for their unique role in the destiny of the Jewish people.

This means learning to recognize that a mother of a large family is not more of a mother than a mother of a small family. It is just that her challenges are different. The challenges of raising a large family are challenges that you immediately notice on your first glance. But take the time to look beneath the surface. All families have challenges. Every mother who builds her family with painstaking kindness is worthy of your respect.