There is too much pres­sure on our women to get preg­nant

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - AL­IZA HAUS­MAN

‘SO, ARE YOU preg­nant?” a friend asked, bounc­ing over to me en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. I rolled my eyes and ex­haled. “What? What did I say?” Moth­er­hood is hard. And I don’t just mean rais­ing the ba­bies. I mean hav­ing them. I mean try­ing to have them. There is just so much pres­sure in the Jewish com­mu­nity to have chil­dren. The first year we were mar­ried, peo­ple — men and women — would ask con­stantly whether or not I was try­ing to get preg­nant or was al­ready preg­nant. And if the an­swer was “no” and “no”, peo­ple hummed around me with sym­pa­thy and wished me luck hav­ing a baby.

I have star­tled more than one Shab­bat guest by telling them that my hus­band and I were putting off hav­ing chil­dren.

“But, of course, you want to have a baby!” the guests would in­sist.

No one both­ered to ask why we were putting it off. And I wor­ried that if I told them that it was be­cause I was re­cov­er­ing from an ill­ness, they would walk away think­ing that it had been OK to bring up the sub­ject.

When I ask other Jewish women if they feel pres­sured, it all pours out. They are un­der con­stant in­ter­ro­ga­tion from the com­mu­nity. They talk about money trou­ble, fin­ish­ing their mas­ter’s de­grees (some­times, bach­e­lor’s de­grees) or es­tab­lish­ing their ca­reers, and the con­stant fear that they won’t be able to man­age if they have to jug­gle any­thing more.

And ev­ery­where — at least in my Or­tho­dox world — some­one is lurk­ing, ready to pounce and ap­ply pres­sure.

The husbands live in a bub­ble. No one ex­cept for his fa­ther, Ja­cob, had asked my hus­band if we were try­ing to get preg­nant. And my fa­ther-in-law didn’t re­ally ask, he hollered: “Get preg­nant al­ready!”

So Ye­huda was sure that only I was ob­sessed with the state of my re­pro­duc­tive sys­tem.

Without his sym­pa­thy, I be­gan to seethe. It struck me as im­po­lite that peo­ple would ask about such a per­sonal sub­ject. And then I was blind­sided by an an­gel of hope. At an­other Shab­bat meal, a mar­ried woman whis­pered con­spir­a­to­ri­ally in my ear that peo­ple would stop ask­ing about my womb once my hus­band and I sur­vived our first an­niver­sary.

“They’ll think you’re hav­ing prob­lems,” she whis­pered. “Prob­lems?” I mur­mured, mys­ti­fied. “Get­ting preg­nant.” And she was right. Af­ter our first an­niver­sary, the ques­tions stopped abruptly — only to be re­placed by ques­tion­ing glances. If I gained a lit­tle weight or wore an un­flat­ter­ing dress, peo­ple would stare at my stom­ach and cock their heads to the side in­quis­i­tively.

With an ex­as­per­ated shake of the head, I would mut­ter: “No. I’m not preg­nant!”

Now and then, a sad look would over­take my in­ter­roga­tors and they would sigh sym­pa­thet­i­cally about how hard it was to “get preg­nant”. Without any sig­nals from women be­gan shar­ing sto­ries about “try­ing for months” and fall­ing into deep de­pres­sive episodes. I had never imag­ined that so many women could be suf­fer­ing silently.

The hor­rific idea that any of them could be asked “Are you preg­nant?” over­whelmed me. Some­where along the line, ask­ing some­one who is mar­ried about im­pend­ing preg­nancy be­came no more so­cially in­con­gru­ous than ask­ing what some­one does for a liv­ing (a sub­ject now surely im­per­illed by the econ­omy).

But it is not a safe sub­ject. Not when more and more cou­ples ev­ery­where are strug­gling to con­ceive. Not when we re­alise that of­ten ques­tions born out of nat­u­ral cu­rios­ity can be hurt­ful and even trau­matic.

So I’m wav­ing a “Pri­vate” sign around my uterus for my­self and for any­one who is with me. It is time we made ask­ing about preg­nancy and talk­ing about hav­ing chil­dren in­ap­pro­pri­ate for po­lite con­ver­sa­tion. We should not make peo­ple share any more about the sub­ject than they would feel comfortable do­ing. We should tip­toe around it like we would any other loaded topic.

I guess I’m say­ing that it’s time to start ask­ing again about the weather. Al­iza Haus­man is a Latina Or­tho­dox Jewish con­vert liv­ing in New York and work­ing on a mem­oir. She blogs at al­iza­haus­

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