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A Little Bit More Sensitivity


Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis

Dear Rebbetzin Jungreis:

I am writing you regarding a situation I have come to realize is much more common among couples than people realize. The subject is infertility. My husband and I have been married fifteen years and have had serious medical problems having children from the start of our marriage.

The physical, emotional, and financial stress infertility has put on our marriage and on our lives has been enormous. I am not writing to complain. Rather, I’m writing because, unfortunately, time and again I have had to deal with very hurtful and foolish comments.

For example, I’ve been asked many times by people who thought they were making polite conversation, “How many children do you have?”

Why assume a married couple has children? This is not always so, and to have to say, “Oh, I have no children” is simply awful.

Then there are people to whom G-d has given a gift – they are able to have children easily, naturally, and as often as they want. Some of these people think this makes them experts on the subject of fertility, and they freely give out unsolicited advice on how to get pregnant.

One of these “experts” even said to me with great conviction, “Oh, these days everything can be corrected to achieve pregnancy” – while we’ve been told by real experts that nothing more can be done.

Some people have suggested, “Maybe you’re too overweight” – while others wonder whether I’m too underweight. Then there are people who tell us about “guaranteed” methods for women to get pregnant – swallowing a crushed ruby, eating seeds from a certain fruit, crying at a specific person’s grave and other segulas too numerous to mention.

When we hear all this, we must grin and bear their brilliant advice. It never occurs to these people that we are praying; that we are reciting Tehillim; that we are shedding tears; that we are visiting the gravesites of holy sages, that we are trying to be as meticulous as possible in our observance of mitzvos – and I believe this holds true for all observant couples who are childless. In the Torah world, children are the ultimate purpose of marriage.

I know these people mean well and I hold no malice toward them, but they must realize that in trying to be do-gooders they can cause more pain than good. In short, unsolicited advice not only can be non-productive, it can actually cause harm.

Our sages cautioned us to be careful with our speech, for the better part of wisdom is silence. People must realize that observant couples with fertility problems have done their due diligence, have consulted medical experts, and have not hesitated to undergo painful medical treatment.

There may well be a doctor who has had great success in this area and of whom a particular couple is unaware, but even in such a case sensitivity must be exercised when offering information.

I am sure that many others in my situation have come across people who say and do the wrong thing out of sheer ignorance.

I am hoping you will publish my letter so that people might exercise caution when speaking to people in difficult situations. (At the same time I admit that we who are hurting tend to magnify every remark because our pain is so deep.)

If we could be spared unnecessary comments, it would make our difficult journey somewhat easier. As for me, I have come to recognize that G-d may have given me this challenge so that I can relate to others with greater sensitivity and make people aware of our teaching that “Life and death are in the tongue.”

Dear Friend:

The points you make are well taken and there is very little I can add to them. Unfortunately, very few are aware of this problem – not only regarding infertility but in other areas as well – raising children, illness, parnassa, shidduchim, etc.

People ask thoughtless and hurtful questions – “Why aren’t you married already?” “What are you waiting for?” – and it never occurs to them that those they are addressing would, more than anything, love to get married but unfortunately have not found their soul mates.

Then there are those who consider themselves mavens and offer sagacious advice that cuts and wounds. And there are still others who make “lovely” remarks behind one’s back, thinking those who are hurting will not be aware of them.

One woman told me her husband had been out of work for over three years. During that time, she did not buy herself or her children any clothing. Of course, the “do-gooders” gave her “good” advice. “There’s an anniversary sale going on at Loehmann’s. You really need a new outfit. That suit you’re wearing is gone!”

Not only are these remarks terribly painful, they involve many transgressions, including putting people to shame and inciting jealousy.

To sum up, our sages taught us that there is no greater virtue than silence, so before we speak let us think, evaluate, and remain silent.

May Hashem grant you a nes – a miracle – and bless you with the gift of children. Do not give up. There are many such miracles I have seen.

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