Learning to Live My Best Life, Without Children
D.H. Lawrence said something incredibly profound about women: “That she bear children is not a woman’s significance. But that she bear herself, that is her supreme and risky fate.”
I try to live by those words every day, but it can be difficult when it seems like everyone around me is pregnant, expanding their family and, presumably, living their best lives. From a young age we are exposed to the idea that it is a Jewish woman’s duty to procreate. But what if we can’t? I have struggled with this for years, from the time my husband and I started trying to have a child until we made the decision to stop infertility treatments.
After we wed in 2012, Jay and I, who are today 56 and 47, tried to conceive naturally for about a year. Then we moved on to medical intervention. The results: one failed intrauterine insemination, four miscarriages and three unsuccessful in vitro fertilizations. We matched with egg donors who later pulled out pre-transfer, and with others who lied, for the sake of money, about their ability to produce viable eggs.
See related stories: Are You My Surrogate?, The Blessings and Trauma of IVF, Preserving Fertility After Cancer, Hadassah Advocates for Infertility Coverage and Members Share Their Struggles to Become Mothers
For years now, I have kept an email exchange between Jay and me, beginning with a letter I sent him about three years into our medical quest to have a baby together.
Dear Jay: I’m writing to you with tears in my eyes. I’m feeling very emotional this week. I know we both have our health and we have our pup, Emmy, and each other, but I’m feeling very hopeless about being a mother again. For some reason, I’m feeling the same heartache I felt after the miscarriage. It literally feels like a hole in my chest. It’s hollow and it hurts. I just wish I could understand why God doesn’t want us to have children. I know you want us to focus on the positive and our good fortune, but please, remind me why you love me even if I can’t bear your children. I really need to see and hear those words right now. I love you, Rachel.
Dear Rachel: I didn’t fall in love with you because we would have children. I fell in love with you because of you. And because I want to spend my life with you, and I hoped you wanted the same. That hasn’t changed for me. It won’t change if we don’t have children. Surely, more than a passing attention to others’ lives fortunes—beyond those we love—is an unnecessary distraction and a drain. It won’t ever change the cards we’re dealt. I love you and I love my life with you. You make me so happy (especially when you are happy). Love, Jay.
By July 2018, Jay and I had spent the better part of our marriage attempting to grow our family. But no matter how much a woman yearns to be a mother, there will come a time when she has to weigh the pros and cons of continuing treatment. The emotional, physical and financial costs of infertility treatment are considerable—and then there is the cost it brings to your relationship with your spouse.
At this point, our options were either surrogacy or adoption. Jay is nine years older than I am, and one of his biggest concerns was not having the energy to parent a young child. Over the years of trying to conceive, he felt that he had become too old to be a father.
I asked myself whether we could attempt to be a “family” without children? Had we only gotten married to procreate? But then I re-read Jay’s email to me. We married because we fell in love, and children or not, nothing could take that away from us.
For those who have been blessed with children, I ask that you be sensitive to those who are attempting to overcome the hurt and stigma that comes with infertility. Do not ask about other options. There is nothing worse than someone saying, “Why not adoption?” or “Why not just use a surrogate?”
Jay and I traveled to Israel last November, our first stop on a trip of a lifetime to Tanzania for a safari. When I went to the Kotel, it was the first of my many visits to Jerusalem when my prayers were not focused on asking for children. Rather, I asked to live a life of love, health and happiness as a loving wife and devoted aunt.
Rachel Halperin-Zibelman, a professional wine consultant, lives in Westport, Conn.
The Online Hadassah Magazine Discussion Group presents “Struggling With Infertility,” an exclusive live web interview with Amy Klein, author of The Trying Game: Get Through Fertility Treatment and Get Pregnant Without Losing Your Mind, moderated by Lisa Hostein, executive editor of Hadassah Magazine. Register here and receive a link to watch the interview on your computer or mobile phone.