“Do you have any kids yet?” It was an innocent enough question. The woman asking me, a middle-aged, curly-haired, redhead was the third person to ask since I arrived at the shul-sponsored Shabbat dinner 20 minutes earlier. The “Are you married?” question which usually preceded it was bypassed due to the hat I wore for synagogue and prayer functions, signifying I am a married woman.
“Not yet!” was how I had answered the first person who asked. “No, I don’t,” was the answer I gave the second. “Nope,” I said flatly to the curly-haired redhead.
“How long have you been married?” she asked, because there is an acceptable time, a grace period, in between the wedding and the pregnancy bump when a couple is permitted to enjoy being newlyweds before incurring pressure from random strangers to start making Jewish babies.
“Three years,” I responded.
“Oh,” she said. I had passed the grace period. By about a year. “Well, it’s nice to just have time to yourselves,” she said sympathetically.
Here’s the thing: I love my husband. We’re that cheesy couple who state proudly on Facebook that we married our best friends. It’s true; since we were 14 years old, we have been best friends, and there is no one in the world I would rather spend time with. But, when the redhead, and the two people before her, and the two people after her, asked me if I had children yet, and then gave me their reluctant permission to not have them, at least for now, I was in the middle of fertility treatments. I was bloated and self-conscious, I was emotional and angry, and no matter how much I loved spending time with my husband, or traveling, or getting a good night sleep, or not getting someone else’s excrement on me, or whatever other benefit of childlessness I was constantly reminded of, I wanted a baby.
“Do you have any kids yet?” is an innocent enough question. People don’t ask it to hurt others. They ask it because they like hearing about children, or because they want to see what you have in common, or because they are trying to make small talk. But every time we ask that question, or follow it up with a comment or look of disapproval, thinly veiled in a mask of acceptance, we are pushing away members of our community who are already in a vulnerable state: People who need us now more than ever.
This is why I joined Uprooted. Because the Jewish community needs to learn how to be a better support system for those who aren’t advertising their pain. Because our fellow members need to know that we are a community, and are thus here to support them. Because community leaders need to create environments in which people struggling to build their families feel comfortable and welcome.
Uprooted is an organization with a two-pronged mission: to provide direct support through our National Mentoring Program, online forums, Jewish Resource Database, and extensive list of infertility-support field experts; and to provide education and resources to communal leaders and communities so that they are better able to support those within their own communities who are struggling to build a family. This is done through mentor training, a national retreat to formulate a national agenda and discuss best practices, pairing communities with speakers, hosting workshops, and providing an educational resource guide.
Uprooted is non-denominational. We believe, simply, that those struggling to build Jewish families deserve the support of their own communities. We are people who have gone through infertility and pregnancy loss and adoption ourselves, and know how alienating and lonely and challenging the experiences can be. We are community leaders: rabbis and cantors, and yoetzet halachas (authorities in family purity laws) who have extensive knowledge and experience in counseling those struggling to build families. We are experts in the fields of ART (assisted reproductive technology) and adoption and social work and alternative therapies.
We are essential to changing the conversation from “Do you have any kids yet?” to “Have you read any good commentaries on the Torah portion?”