I’m a 40-year-old virgin. I’m also Orthodox, single, and, after a few failed rounds of artificial insemination and one IVF cycle, I am now about to begin a second round. I want to be a mom.
Yes, I know this sounds like a punchline to a really bad joke. But it is no joke. This is my reality.
It’s not my entire reality, of course. I am many things: I’m nurturing, creative, independent, self-aware, compassionate, sensitive, and funny. I have a close circle of friends and I work in a job that I love. Growing up in Israel, my family faced its fair share of challenges and, as the oldest of five kids, I became somewhat of a third parent. I’m still close to my siblings to this day.
But this part of me — the unmarried Orthodox virgin who is trying to become a single mom — is who I’ve become while everyone else has been busy raising and loving kids over the past two decades. These are the descriptors that swim furiously around in the forefront of my mind, along with words like “brave” and “strong,” “crazy” and “loser.”
I am fortunate that I have very supportive people around me: My friends and family get angry with me when I use those last two words. They tell me I am anything but — still, just for a minute, imagine walking in my shoes.
Being religiously observant and choosing to become a single mom is somewhat of a strange oxymoron. Many people in the Orthodox world are becoming more accepting of single mothers by choice, but it is still a taboo topic. Rabbis recognize that young single people are having a harder time finding marriage partners, but they don’t have any solutions. Some of the more modern rabbis have started “allowing” women to have babies with anonymous sperm donors — but it’s not yet considered “normal.”
Like so many little girls around the world, growing up I always imagined — assumed — that I would find a wonderful man, fall in love, get married, and have a house full of kids. I envisioned my husband and I growing old together, and we’d tenderly bicker over boring and mundane things like who will do the dishes and why he can’t remember to put the toilet seat down. I imagined making love and creating babies the old-fashioned way, and I assumed that because it happens that way for “everyone,” it would surely happen that way for me, too.
Life could’ve been so much simpler, so much easier, if things could have gone according to plan — find a partner, get married, and procreate. After all, isn’t that what God really wants of us? According to the Torah, “It is not good for a man to be alone.” We are also commanded to be fruitful and multiply. Why, then, is it so hard for some people to find a marriage partner and build a family? Marriage, sex, and children are the among the most natural of human desires, and being unable to achieve them is excruciatingly painful. I guess that’s why they say, “Man plans and God laughs.”
The truth is, religion can really suck for the older single. Everything revolves around family time and tradition. Every holiday is a reminder that time is passing, that your friends’ children are getting older, and you are still single. It’s not easy.
Another thing that’s rarely discussed in the Orthodox community is how singles are supposed to cope with their sexuality. When you’re a teenager growing up in this world you are expected to be “shomer negiah,” which means you refrain from touching the opposite sex. This ideal is terrific — at least in theory, as you’re “supposed” to get married in your early 20s. But how is one supposed to abstain from sexual contact in their 30s, 40s, and beyond?
I’ve been looking for “Mr. Right” for more than 20 years. The Orthodox dating world never felt natural to me, and I always hoped I would find someone in an organic setting. I suffer tremendous anxiety when it comes to blind dates, and there were extended periods of time where I didn’t date at all. I had this unwavering faith that God would help me find my husband at the right time, in the right way. I still do believe that. My friends and family are puzzled as to why I haven’t found someone yet: I am a “normal,” attractive, vivacious woman. This is why I fully believe that I will find the right guy for me, when I am meant to. Unlike fertility, there is no time limit on love.
Two years ago, I had the privilege of being at the birth of my nephew. This incredible experience — and the even more incredible bond that I formed with this amazing little boy — gave me the courage to actually move ahead and pursue my dream of being a mom.
Of course, I was terrified. I had made the decision, but deciding to become a single mom and actually doing it are two very different things. The first step was to talk to my family. I knew that if I was going to do this, I needed their emotional support.
My mom was easy — she expressed how much she wishes I’d find a husband first, but she also said she’d support me unconditionally. My dad was more of a challenge. You see, he is Moroccan-Israeli and he doesn’t understand why I’m not married, as if I’ve chosen to be single. But, eventually, he came around. Now, every Friday night when he gives me my blessing at the Shabbat table, he blesses me to have a healthy baby and to find a husband — in whatever order it happens.
This is not to say that I haven’t spent many a lonely night crying myself to sleep. It’s not to say that my faith has never wavered, because that would be a lie. There are many times I cry to God, asking why this is my path. Why didn’t I marry when I was younger? Why is it such a struggle for me to find a man to share my life with? There are days that I feel sorry for myself and hate that this is my journey.
But then I catch myself and remember how very blessed I am. I have close relationships with my siblings and two parents who love me unconditionally. I have a great job and wonderful colleagues. I have an amazing dog, and nieces and nephews that I absolutely adore. I have friends who will change their lives around to be there for me when I need them. I have so much to be thankful for, and I choose to focus on that.
At the end of the day, we may not be able to control things like who we fall in love with, or when we’ll fall in love with that person, and how and when we’ll start a family. But what we can choose is our outlook. And so instead of self-pity and sadness, I choose happiness. I choose gratitude. I choose me. And hopefully, soon, I will choose my child as well.
Image via Molly Belle/Unsplash