Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Infertility and the Jewish Woman

Infertility s a problem that frankly I am at a disadvantage in discussing since I am a man, My wife and I have children, and my children all have children. But an article in Ynet gives me some insight into the world of the infertile religious Jewish woman.

It is a revealing and poignant look from the perspective of several religious women that are going through this ordeal. And it is not a pretty picture.

What I found interesting is the common feature between her and others who do not quite fit in because of individual challenges in normal life cycle events. This part of the article seems like a universal experience irrespective of Judaism or any religion. While life goes on for the mainstream those with these challenges are left behind and experience a subtle air of discrimination from their friends. I’m sure it is unintentional but it is nonetheless hurtful.

Unfortunately this way of dealing with life cycle changes is normal. Although starting out on an equal footing as friends if one of them is impeded from going through a life cycle event - the disconnect is inevitable. When married friends start having children the conversation changes. Mothers discuss their babies and their new lives. A non parent will perforce be clueless. Not only is hearing about the joys of motherhood hurtful, so too is hearing complaints about the burden of motherhood. How much would an infertile woman give to change the diaper her own baby?!

And to make matters worse there is all that ‘advice’ about how to get pregnant. Advice unasked for and unwanted.

I believe that the infertile mother has much in common socially with her friends that are parents as do singles whose friends have married. Even when the relationship was very close singles will feel very left out of the picture when her married friend starts bonding with her husband and other married friends. They too will share a common language that their single friends are clueless about.

As I said the hurt and the pain is normal and quite understandable. For those who have made the transition from being single to being married or from being childless to having children... it is just a normal evolutionary process for them to move on with others in similar circumstances.

It is not that they ignore their old friends on purpose. It’s that the bonds of the old relationship give way to the bonds of a new one. One that is based on shared life experiences. Old things that used to matter to them no longer do. At least not as much as they used to. Tuition payments will eventually come to dominate their thinking while a non parent has no clue about that. The conversation becomes awkward and so too does the relationship. Even though it is a natural parting of ways it is still hurtful even if unintentionally so.

How does this challenge affect their Judaism?

Some of the woman in the article seem to also be having a crisis of faith. I don’t think they are necessarily going ‘Off the Derech’. But they have been soured on religion by their ordeal. For example here is what one childless parent dealing with infertility said:

Kalfa says that the most difficult halachic challenge during fertility treatments is practicing niddah (avoiding physical contact with one's husband during menstruation).

"Think about it," she says. "You have to go through injections, then follicle tracking (checking the development of eggs within the ovary from an immature state), then embryo transfer, then wait for two weeks, and at the end of this whole process – after you hope and pray – you get a negative answer followed by your damn period. And then you can't get a hug from your husband because you're in niddah.

"There's nothing more distressing. I remember that at a certain stage I despaired. I told myself I don't care about Halacha and hugged my husband."

"At first you comfort yourself by saying that 'the more haste the less speed' and that it may only be in your own favor," says Kalfa. "But then you hear about a mother who murdered her son or watch your neighbor neglect her children – and something is shattered. You realize there is no justice in this world, that someone is not necessarily running things as they should be run. It creates a real dissonance.

Obviously I am not supporting Halachic violations - but to be honest I completely empathize with what this woman is going through.

Ultimately it is the theodicy argument: Tzadik V’Ra Lo. Why the good are made to suffer is something I will never understand. But this is one of the things God seems to expect of us. We are told that God has His reasons for doing things like this and it is not ours to understand.

I realize that one cannot possibly understand this concept. One’s sense of fairness and justice would indicate that a just God would not allow the good to suffer. But I must admit that Tzadik V’Ra Lo - is one of the most difficult things to bear in Judaism and has left many people questioning their faith. Especially post Holocaust.