Dear Dr. Yael,
My husband and I were touched by the letter in your column a few weeks ago from a baalas teshuva who felt unaccepted by the people in her community. This is an experience we are familiar with. We are also baalei teshuva. However, another reason we can identify with your letter writer is because we are, at this time, unable to have children.
We are both young and have an unusually healthy lifestyle. When people would ask us why we didn’t have kids yet, we used to be able to explain that I was still in school. This seemed to satisfy most people, and kept them from asking for a while. But now, we no longer have that excuse. We have been accused of being unfamiliar with the Torah, and have been told by some “friends” that their children have no interest in us because we do not have kids. (We know this to be untrue, but it still pains us – especially as I have a background in early childhood education, and we can see that kids gravitate towards us.)
Not having kids right now has not been a matter of choice for us; in fact, we have been silently working with specialists to identify any issues causing us problems. We have come across amazing resources and people through this process, and we believe that all of this is part of Hashem’s plan. At the same time, we are finding it very difficult to live in a community in which most conversations start with a glance at my stomach; in which the decision to go to shul every week hangs on our fluctuating tolerance for an onslaught of baby carriages and pregnant women; in which people rarely talk to us anymore, or invite us for Shabbos, since we’re not part of the “in group.”
We have both lived here for a while now, and have done our best to contribute over the years. But we are at our tipping point. You mentioned in your response to the other letter that you could recommend friendly communities – would you be able to elaborate?
I understand your dilemma and I think there are two issues occurring in your situation. I actually think the “children” issue is more challenging for you than your backgrounds.
People who are frum from birth and who come from supportive families suffer as well. Over the years, I have treated many couples struggling from infertility and secondary infertility. Unfortunately, people can sometimes be insensitive and say hurtful things to these couples.
I have had chassidishe couples with two children who wanted more children and were criticized by others for being modern.
I feel uncomfortable recommending specific communities. I will say that I live in Boro Park on a warm and friendly block. Other people may have different experiences. This just goes to show that in different neighborhoods you can have friendly and un-friendly blocks. Thus, all I can suggest is that it may be a good idea for you to look for a different block.
When people are unfriendly to me, I go over and introduce myself, and comment on something positive I have noticed about them. Generally, this helps generate a warm conversation.
If there is someone in shul whom you find bright and interesting, strike up a conversation relating to the davening, the rav and his family etc. Volunteering for a women’s organization in your shul is another good way to meet people.
If you can try to start a conversation with a smile and a compliment and demonstrate interest in the other person, you will be sure to win new friends.
Maybe you can try to create new friends with other couples or other women individually and not be part of a “group” or “clique.” These “groups” can often lead to the need to keep up with others which can cause shalom bayis problems.
Perhaps you are hurting so deeply due to your struggles with your infertility that you don’t realize that there are other people around you suffering from the same or similar issues.
During our time in galus we are all faced with challenges; some are more obvious and others are hidden. Or, as I like to say, some are wrapped in clear garbage bags and others in black garbage bags.
Your nisyonos are wrapped in black garbage bags. Someone who is clearly struggling with a disease has a nisayon wrapped in a clear garbage bag. That does not make your situation any less painful. It may just be that people do not realize that you’re also going through your own struggles. It’s also possible that others are envious of you because they do not realize what you are going through. You may present to others as this healthy, educated, with-it couple that may actually be a psychological threat to them. Obviously this is only a theory since I do not know you or your attitude to others at all.
Although it is so hard to go through infertility, a positive attitude can help. Think about sharing your situation with one or two other women and asking them to daven for you. This might be a risk, but one worth taking. Only you can decide that. However, if you can foster a friendship with others dealing with similar issues, it can be a source of support to you as well. I wish you hatzlocha in dealing with this challenge.