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Chronicles Of Crises In Our Communities – 6/5/09

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Dear Rachel,

I would like to address a problem that I doubt there’s a solution for. Many people are suffering in silence and there’s not much they can say or do, nor is there any place for them to hide.

I am referring to the childless woman (which is not meant to imply that their husbands don’t suffer, but a woman’s pain over not being able to bear a child is naturally more acute). Women are also more likely to encounter others who incessantly talk of their own children and babies at all sorts of gatherings.

And if the pain doesn’t run deep enough, one can always count on the curious in the crowd who will mindlessly place you in an awkward position by wanting to know how many children you have.

My own situation has a twist: after many years of childlessness, I have thankfully become pregnant. However, I am now at the mercy of everyone and their mother who stare openly – some who don’t hesitate to ask what’s on everyone’s mind, what I underwent to enable me to bear a child. (That Hashem performs miracles doesn’t seem to enter into the equation.)

Let’s just say that I do not look forward to going out or to mingling with people. For a while I pretty much succeeded in hiding my weight gain, but eventually this became harder and harder to do.

And when it comes right down to it, what right do I really have to complain? A close friend of mine who has no children endures unwanted comments and advice all the time.

Are there any words of wisdom that you can offer us? We would very much appreciate your input.

In a tight spot

Dear Tight,

The issue you raise is an age-old problem that is not easy to deal with or to eradicate. And there certainly is nowhere to hide, for children are Baruch Hashem everywhere, and who can really blame young mothers who are eager to share their babies’ milestone events and other tidbits

Yentas (busybodies) will continually ply their trade, seemingly oblivious to the discomfort and hurt they so often inflict with their intrusive and senseless interrogations. One would think that the topic of childlessness placed in the spotlight by organizations that have sprung up to help infertile couples realize their dream would have by now educated people to be on their guard and to practice more sensitivity and vigilance with their speech.

Sometimes the best solution is to come face-to-face with the challenge. One woman I am acquainted with, who has never had any children, has on numerous occasions confronted a situation that has put her on the spot. At a recent wedding, a well-meaning older lady approached a table where she sat with other women and asked each of them in turn how many children they had. She would then cluck-cluck and proceed to bless them profusely with nachas and all.

My friend could not bear to break the older woman’s heart by admitting to her childlessness, so she simply accommodated the overly friendly stranger and made up a number. “Imagine,” she later confided to me, “how that woman would have felt if I would have told her the truth. I decided who would it hurt to just play along ”

Smart woman. She averted an embarrassing and uncomfortable situation all around.

A cue can be taken from parents of multiple offspring who refrain from giving those who are curious about the number of their children a straight answer. These parents will not divulge the requested info for fear of an ayin ha’ra and reply simply that they are not in the habit of counting. They then deftly change the subject.

But my favorite one comes from a close friend who was in the same position you are in. After several years of not having any luck conceiving, she joyfully found herself with child. At a family gathering, a close female relative of her husband’s could not hold her innate curiosity in check. “So tell me, what did you do ?” she asked sweetly.

My friend, quick on the draw, didn’t skip a beat and just as sweetly replied, “Same thing you did!!” That ended that – there wasn’t much anybody could add to that crisp comeback.

This is a good time to remind ourselves that singles, too, are childless. Older singles, in particular, suffer the same pain and anxiety, as do their married, childless counterparts – brought on by the fear of losing out on the experience of childbearing.

Let us all resolve to be more sensitive to another’s predicament – by engaging our brain before putting our mouths in gear, and by minding our own business. One will never regret words that haven’t been (mindlessly) spoken.

Any further suggestions from our intelligent readership would be most welcome.

About the Author: We encourage women and men of all ages to send in their personal stories via email to rachel@jewishpress.com or by mail to Rachel/Chronicles, c/o The Jewish Press, 4915 16th Ave., Brooklyn, N.Y. 11204. If you wish to make a contribution and help agunot, your tax-deductible donation should be sent to The Jewish Press Foundation. Please make sure to specify that it is to help agunot, as the foundation supports many worthwhile causes.


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