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.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps you could have a comment ready for those who question you, such as, "G-d has chosen for us to have two. We are very blessed." What more can they say to that?

I'm wondering about something. I remember your posts when you got married, and after your first was born (was it really 10 years ago??) It seemed that you struggled a bit with submitting to G-d in this area, because you fully expected to have 12 children, or something. You did let go of control and submit to G-d in this area, and now you have two. So, if one has 12 it's G-d's will, but only two and it's a medical problem? Is it not also G-d's will? As a fellow mom of two, I ask, "If we are submitted to His will, why are we depressed, anxious, and ashamed?"

I wish that I had more children, and that they had more siblings, but that isn't the life that we have. I can't worry about it, or let it bother me.I have to trust that the Lord sees all of our days, and it's all going to work out as He sees fit.

I'm sorry that people say stupid and hurtful things to you.

Kim said...

Thank you.
I have a daughter. I am raising her on my own, it is more than likely she will never have siblings. I needed the reminder that I am not any less of a mother for having a single child instead of many.

becky said...

I remember Lady Lydia writing a post(or had an insert) about families in the Bible,that had a limited number of children. Sarah,Rebekah,(the others slip my mind at the moment):). Do not despair. God is sovereign and He knows what is best for you. At times it can be quite a mystery. I have so appreciated you over the years and I have followed your blog since you started it. Even though I am an older woman at home, you have many thought provoking things to say.
thank you
P.S. I know you are not despairing; just a figure of speech.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, my children are 5 and 3.5 years old. Yes, when I found out I'm pregnant for the second time I experienced a surge of panic because I presumed this was how it was going to be - a baby every 18-20 months or so. I was a real idiot for taking my fertility for granted and worrying and fretting about the mighty Future instead of just enjoying my babies.

Of course it is all up to G-d. But if a young woman stops having children for no apparent reason, there might be/usually is an underlying problem. How far the couple is supposed to go to fix it is entirely up to them. I personally wouldn't do IVF, but some do, and it's not for me to judge them.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry people say such hurtful things to you. We really should consider how our words might sound to others.

Forgive me, but I believe your timing is incorrect. I'm sure it is an innocent error, but you might double-check your dates. You say you have been married over 10 years, but your blog in 2007, indicated that you were not yet married.

- Sally

Mrs. Anna T said...

Dear Sally, I believe you missed my opening line. The article was not written by *me*, but by another woman in a similar situation.

Mrs. Anna T said...

PS: Of course I haven't been married 10 years, but only 6.

Bonnie said...

Dear Mrs. Anna,
Thank you for sharing this. I have read your blog for a few years but this is my first time commenting. I have 3 children and would very much like to have more. Unfortunately, it has not worked out for us. My youngest is 5 now and I have had 2 miscarriages in the past 3 years (both at 13 weeks along). There is so much fear now that I don't know that I can "try" again. But it hurts when all around me others are having babies and I feel like my "baby days" are over. So I can relate to this post. I miss my two babies so much it hurts but I know it does not make me less of a mom to my other 3. I have been blessed with 3 wonderful kids and I am thankful for them. I know my other 2 babies are in heaven and I will see them one day. We have considered adoption and may look into that when we feel ready. But for now, I'm just trying to enjoy one day at a time with my kids and not take one minute of it for granted.
Thanks again for sharing. Sometimes it is just good to know that I am not the only one in the world who has felt this kind of hurt.
Blessings to you...

Mrs. Anna T said...

Bonnie, many women would like to have more children and cannot, either due to secondary infertility or because pregnancy would be too risky. It's harder on younger women in communities where families are constantly growing, but I am thankful for what I have, too. So many people in the world wish they could have just one child, and I have two healthy, beautiful daughters. I am blessed.

Anonymous said...

In my part of the world 2 children are the average and 3 are considered rather a large family. Of course people practice birth control and are considered somewhat sloppy if they don't. It's all a matter of perspective. If a couple has 4 children, someone will say "Do they have a gold mine?"

Anonymous said...

As someone who is happily childless, and has never had a soul comment on this (at least to my face), I'm constantly stunned--appalled--at what people will say to other people, often complete strangers. Perhaps it's a cultural thing, but it would never, ever occur to me to imply, even obliquely, that a person didn't have the "right number" of children. It is, in its way, another of the many small costs of a less-reserved, more "casual" culture--people feel entitled to make remarks that are breathtakingly inappropriate. What a pity.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Being different always comes with a set of challenges, whether you are raising a large family in a small-family world or the other way around. But it's even worse when you don't *want* to be different.

Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,
Thank you for writing to openly about this delicate subject.
I would like to start off by saying that I feel deeply for you that comments by inconsiderate acquaintances cause you so much hurt. Often people do not think before they speak.
Secondly, to be frank, you gave birth to two healthy daughters who are still relatively young. Hence, there is a high probability that you will have at least another baby at some stage. (I also gather from your blog that you may still have a good few fertile years ahead of you ;)
Let me share my story with you. It possibly makes you feel better and gives you renewed hope. My husband and I got married at 35+ and hence started trying for babies very late. After a good 12 months of trying I fell pregnant at last. I unfortunately miscarried, not only once, but a total of three times in the short space of a year (pregnancies 2 and 3 happened relatively quickly).
My doctor got very concerned about my health and ordered a 9 month break in trying for a baby. This was shortly before my 38th birthday and emotionally I hit an all time low. I was assuming that I had hit the end of my road - no baby, ever.
Then miraculously I fell pregnant again in November 2013. I did not miscarry. Today I am carrying a healthy baby at 22 weeks. Finally I am optimistic that G-d sent a little soul to join our family shorthly after my 40th(!) birthday this summer.
What will my reply be to nosy neighbours? That I feel utterly blessed with the one soul I was given to raise.

Do not worry. Have faith.

P.S. Not sure how far you are willing to go down the road of testing. However, I found it immensely helpful when I was diagnosed with elevated levels of phosholipid antibodies, linked to recurrent miscarriages (and easily treatable).
I understand that there are a number of other conditions, which are also easily treatable (e.g. related to thyroid function or progesterone levels), which still allow you to conceive naturally once treated.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Dear anonymous lady, thank you for sharing your story. You are right, I am only 28 and so I might still have over 10 years of fertility ahead of me. Also, thankfully I've never miscarried... to speak bluntly, I'd rather have just my two daughters and never another baby, than several miscarriages and another baby later on. *IF* the choice was mine, which it is NOT.

The question is one of faith. When I got pregnant with Tehilla, I thought, "how am I going to handle a large family of babies so closely spaced?" - well, fertility is not to be taken for granted, which I learned the hard way.

Anonymous said...

Oops! My apologies for not getting the differentiation between you and the author. I still am sorry about the inconsiderate things people say.

- Sally

Anonymous said...

Dear Anna,
Thank you for writing about this very sensitive topic. We have two children as well, the youngest being 4. It never occurred to me that he may be our last until he turned 1, then 2, then 3, and now 4 and no pregnancies since. I have had to reevaluate the words I have spoken to others in the past about fertility and the heart I had toward it. This is the path G-d has set before us. My only *choice* in the matter is to trust that He knows what is best for us. Sometimes easier said than done. Juli

Mrs. Anna T said...

Dear Juli, I don't know how old you are, but I do know some families where the age gap between children is just unexplainably large. My own MIL, after having her first two, didn't have any more children for 6 years, and she doesn't know why - but she then had 3 more (her last when she was 43). I will be praying for a miracle until I'm too old to conceive naturally.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this, I needed this. I, too, am mourning what I thought my family would be. I thought I'd have at least 3 kids, and it looks like I'll only have two. And I'm seemingly surrounded by families of three or more kids, and it hurts, but I try to do what is best for my kids. Yes, we are mothers just the same. Thanks for your blog. Ann

Harshika said...

I have only one son. I found your blog when I was pregnant and soon announced yours too! My son was born only a few months before T. So ivr been folliwing you that long!! Youve gone on to have another one...i havent been able to...all His will. It grieves me but well...
Only thing is , in my country, India, having obe child is now an urban norm. So I dont feel out of place, socially at least. If I perhaps had more than one, folks would express concern.. strange ways of our world!