It was a difficult time, the Shabbat before my hysterectomy. Though I had already had a procedure called a uterine ablation, actually losing the organ was more difficult than losing any vestige of fertility. At least with my uterus still in place, I could go to Israel, as I regularly did, and pray and weep at the holy sites. I believed, like Hannah in the Torah, that a miracle was possible.
But on that final Shabbat before my last surgery, all hope was gone. So when a heavily pregnant woman walked into shul, it was more than I could take. I barely made it out the door before I was sobbing. My friends found me weeping on the bathroom floor.
L’dor vador, from generation to generation. It’s all anyone ever talks about at the shul. Almost everything there is focused on the children. Our Director of Congregational Education spends more than 95% of his time on programming for children or families with children. We have an assistant rabbi whose job is primarily to support young families with children and to help lead the child-friendly services. Even the Sisterhood has changed its mission from that of the national organization to that of a booster club for the religious school.
When the Pew report on American Jews came out last year, there was genuine fear that as a community, we would not retain our children as Jews, that they would assimilate into the wider world and be lost to us. Have Jewish children is the command I hear every day, from the recitation of the
to Mourner’s Kaddish, a prayer I know no family member will ever say for me. By the highest value in our community, I am a failure.
As a young woman I always stated that I did not want children. But that was not entirely true. I was badly sexually abused as a child and instinctively knew that having children would not be possible for me. My dream was that my brother would do as he hoped, marry and have a large pack of Jewish kids, children I could have over for Pesach and help study Hebrew with in advance of their
. But that dream, too, was dashed. My brother married out and has only one child, a boy who had no bris and is not being raised Jewish.
My brother’s choice not to have a Jewish family fueled in me a desperate desire to have children, to carry on the family traditions and to ensure that those who did not make it out of Europe before the war, who did not make it out of Europe at all, did not die in vain. But by this point, I was already 39 and very, very ill, hemorrhaging heavily. I was anemic and in need of a transfusion. I was so weak I could walk only short distances, and worked from my bed. I had lost so much blood that my lips were always blue and the doctor threatened me with emergency admission to the hospital for transfusions. I was a constant fixture in my rabbi’s office, begging him for help, for some small bit of hope I could hold onto. He told me that since I’m a writer, I should write. That was the best advice he had to give, knowing as he put it, “Ahuva, this isn’t going to work out.”
And so I wrote, every day, about the horror of being a barren woman in a community that values children above all else. When friends would try to set me up on a date, I wrote about the devastation of being told that I was “not worth the time” to meet, because I cannot have children. I poured onto the page the hurt of being pressured and judged by the older women to “hurry up” before my time to have children ran out. I wrote through the depression about how painful it is for people to suggest, as if I’d never thought of it, that adoption is always an option. After years of writing, I “birthed” into the world my book of poems, “Meeting God at Midnight,” to aid and inspire those for whom having children is not an option.
My womb is gone, but my health has returned. Spiritually, I found healing with the help of a rabbi who has assisted me in finding a place in the Jewish world that values me for what I can contribute, and the gifts I can give, instead of admonishing me for the missing fruit of a dead womb.