Family, marriage, womanhood, a simple life at home
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.