By Jessica Schochet for COLlive
‘When are you having another baby?’ the ladies ask me in shul as I’m holding my 18-month-old. Granted, this isn’t a Chabad shul, but since I wear a sheitel I’m apparently expected to be having a baby every year. Granted, they say it in a sweet, jokey way and really mean no offense.
I work at a Jewish fertility organization named “Chana” and am acutely aware of the difficulties couples encounter. Even though I am blessed to have a child, I can’t help but feel disappointed whenever I hear these questions. I can only imagine what the struggling couples must endure when they are on the receiving end of such thoughtless comments.
My purpose in writing this article is to simply raise sensitivity and awareness of this issue. With Rosh Hashana approaching, it is a particularly difficult time for people dealing with infertility, as they watch others bring their children to shul, listen to the haftorah of the story of Chana and have Yom Tov meals without their own children. The subject of fertility is still taboo in our community, but the fact is that 1 in 6 people struggle with infertility. That’s an astonishing statistic. It’s time to talk.
I wanted to show real stories of people who have come to our organization, Chana, to give real insight into the type of comments that may be hurtful and how we can be sensitive. What I feel is particularly important to emphasize is that these couples do not want our pity.
As a lady struggling with infertility said herself: “There is an incredible difference between pity and respect…pity seems to assume a sort of smugness from the point of view of the one who pities… respect, however, is about inclusion – ‘it could have been me, and I’m here for you… Hushed silences and awkward avoidances are hurtful. Sensitive handling of people is a great equalizer.”
You may be reading this thinking ‘I’d never ask such an intrusive question such as ‘when are you having another baby?’. However, the more subtle, indirect comments are still not appropriate, as one of our clients recalls comments such as: “how long are you married?” The client said to me: “Why is it their business? Did we miss the deadline? Are we not keeping to schedule?”
It may seem obvious who is dealing with infertility, but ‘secondary infertility’ is a relatively common occurrence as well. This is when a couple already has a child/children and are afterward struggling to conceive. A client of Chana’s who is struggling with secondary infertility recounted the following: “‘Leah! You don’t have a baby anymore, so what do you do all day? Lady of leisure!” The client told me she wanted to cry on the spot.
Even teachers’ comments can be painful. Another client of ours recounted, “we were told by the school that as parents of an only child the staff were concerned that we were being overprotective of Sara and over-involved in her education. We were told that we should treat Sara as if she was part of a normal family. The hurt that this caused us is impossible to put into words to this day.”
Everyone is different and some people are more sensitive than others. However, those of us who are blessed and fortunate to have children of our own, let’s make a conscious effort to be mindful and sensitive in all our comments, especially as we approach Rosh Hashana.