Dear Dr. Yael,
My letter appeared some months ago in your column and has been the subject of follow-up letters, most recently in your February 3 issue.
I am writing now to clarify a few issues raised by some of your readers.
First, my background as a baalat teshuva was nearly identical to that of the most recent letter writer, detail for detail, minus the six children. I, too, became more observant during a search for truth after my Conservative upbringing left me with questions that couldn’t be answered. I know that there are many others who became more observant after similar journeys. And I know people who came to Yiddishkeit after suffering unimaginable tragedies that led them to a search for meaning. These people have become shining examples of what it means to be hospitable, amazing people, even as their quest for self-understanding continues. We must be very careful to be dan lekaf zechus, especially if we want others to treat us the same way.
Secondly, on the same theme, when and if you find childless couples being “anti-social,” please do not immediately assume that it is just a personality issue. We may be mourning multiple miscarriages, coping with failed fertility treatments, feeling the strain of years of fruitless, expensive mikvah visits, dodging family pressure, or simply feeling uncomfortable in shul among crowds of happy children.
When people lose a parent or grandparent, we do not expect them to jump out of bed the next day with a beaming smile on their face. There is no universally understood mourning process for infertility and sometimes, there is no end in sight for childless couples. Please do not shower us with pity or pass judgments on us when you do not really understand our journey. We are as human as you are, and just want – need, in fact, for the sake of our sanity – to be treated more or less normally.
And finally, for those who assume that we or others like us are just plain “weird” or need to try harder to fit in – when my husband and I were first married, we were eagerly welcomed into our community and happily returned the good will with Shabbos meal invitations and other gestures.
As the years wore on, however, and we still didn’t have children, we became increasingly insulted and isolated.
Some of this might be because we are no longer newlyweds, and some of this might just be a matter of the times. Regardless, we have found that extending extra energy to try to make long-time neighbors notice us, especially given that we have little energy to spare right now, has been fruitless. The conversations always start with “Do you have kids?” which brings us right back to the initial problem. If you do not see kids, please do not ask. We are actively in the process of searching for a warmer community, and have been making the effort to visit as many places as possible, even internationally. It’s been quite a journey.
Thank you for your prayers, and thank you, Dr. Yael, for allowing this topic, which affects so many these days, to have a safe space. It is my hope that Hashem will send healing for all of us in this position very soon. I hope this letter helps someone out there feel a little better. I know how hard it is to speak up when you are going through this, but I want you to know that you are not alone.
Thank you so much for your beautiful letter. The courage that you have shown by speaking up to help others is admirable. I am so happy that you are looking for a warmer community where, with Hashem’s help, you will find acceptance and more social opportunities. It breaks my heart that people continue to treat couples who are struggling with infertility with disdain. The difficulties that you and others who are suffering in a similar manner are hard enough without the added social stressors. It is my hope that everyone who reads this column will think about anyone he or she can help in their community and make an effort to reach out to those people. Just because someone is single, suffering from infertility, or different in any other manner does not mean that you cannot find other commonalities.
Yes, it is easier to befriend other parents in your children’s classrooms or talk to other parents while watching the kids outside, but just taking a few extra minutes to be thoughtful can go a long way! Make an effort to visit someone without children on a Friday night. If you are not sure that the visit will be wanted, then make the extra effort to pick up the phone and call to see if it is a good time. Even if it is uncomfortable at first because you are bringing your brood with you, try to act normal and most likely a relationship will ensue. Your new friend will probably be thrilled with the extra company and will likely enjoy your little ones. If you did not get a chance to call before Shabbos and you felt that the visit was not welcomed, do not give up. Pick up the phone after Shabbos and tell your friend how much you enjoyed spending time with her. Ask her if Friday nights are a good time to visit and, if not, when would be a better time. Most likely, any weirdness you feel is just because it’s a new situation. Try to invite singles and people without children to your Shabbos meals. Although it may be more enjoyable to have your friends over every week, it is part of the mitzvah of hachnassas orchim and you may be pleasantly surprised by the new friends that you will make. Thank you for helping others realize they are not alone! May we all treat each other will love and respect and merit bringing Mashiach soon! Hatzlocha!