Saturday, March 29, 2008

Mothers without children, single mothers and other freaks

I have no idea what happened to my bashert, to the one I was meant for, and who was meant for me. One thing is sure, though: my daughter was so meant to be that she arrived even if my husband never did. I cannot imagine the world without her in it.

They say there is a whole phenomenon of single orthodox Jewish mothers. I’ve only met one. In shul in Jerusalem I bumped into someone I used to know, and now we both have daughters about the same age. Someone else in that shul is writing a book about single religious mothers. I’d like to read it when she’s done.

I don’t meet many single mothers in general, but those I meet are wonderful. One has a daughter who is about 20—back then, single motherhood was a scandal. She told me she didn’t let anyone at work know for fear of having it held against her. I have to say I identified. I let everyone at my university believe my daughter’s father and I were together. I didn’t want my status to give anyone a reason to judge my work unfavorably. Now I’m less worried, though I am proud of the fact that most people I deal with have no idea I do what I do by myself.

It’s not that I hide it. It’s just that I don’t go out of my way to mention it.

When I was first pregnant and in doubt about what I was doing, my rabbi and my parents all said, “I never thought I’d tell someone in your situation this, but you should NOT marry the child’s father.” It was such a relief.

I was raised in a family that cared about such things. No divorce in it. None of my three married siblings knew (in the Biblical sense) anyone of the opposite sex until their wedding nights. Somehow the model that worked for everyone else just wasn’t working for me. It’s true one of my siblings opined that I should either marry or let a married sibling raise my baby as their own, but they seem to have come around since the baby was born and I adore her.

Being a single mother by chance has its challenges and difficulties, but these are nothing compared to what my friends face.

I’m thinking about women who never had the chance to give birth, though they are, hands down, the most maternal and amazing women I’ve ever met. A Czech friend whose ten-year relationship with a man who kept saying “one day” finally brought her to the end of her natural fertility. She’s an elementary school art teacher. She lives in a country in which it is illegal for single women to seek sperm donors. She has had the opportunity to help her sister raise her nephew, at least. It’s so unfair—I’ve known her since she was 25, and she’d already knitted a whole set of baby clothes just in case.

Two friends currently seek fertility treatment and have had a couple of miscarriages each. One of these friends had been in an abusive marriage, and it took her this long to get over it. Another was struggling with sexual orientation and orthodoxy. I am moved by their courage, their willingness to hope and love despite their extreme fragility and vulnerability.

I don’t think you have to have given birth to a child to understand motherhood. I think there are many women out there who are mothers even though they’ve never borne children. When I think about how I became a mother, without even trying, and how much they are trying, I’m grateful they don’t hate me.

It takes a big spirit to be friends with someone who has what you want with all your heart. And they fill me with awe, gratitude.


Mahotma Mama said...

You go Mommy! I have tremendous respect for single mommies.
I also don't think you have to have actually birthed a child to understand motherhood. My nephew is adopted and I think his is the best Mommy in the universe. Would your friends consider adoption?
While I am certain they all have spectacular mothering abilities, I think a reason one tries so hard to have a child of their own (adopted or not) is BECAUSE of the change it will bring within. I wish them all the best of luck!

Maya said...

Thanks, Mahotma. I can't speak for the women I know who are doing fertility treatment. As for myself, I would never have had the financial means either for adoption or sperm bank, nor would several of the women I know. Furthermore, countries that do not allow single women to use sperm banks also do not allow single women to adopt.

This in no way diminishes the need for adoption--my parents adopted three boys after they had their four own children. But the children that need adoption the most are the ones who don't get adopted. People don't seem to want to go through child protective services. Granted, children who have been in State custody are often emotionally and physically abused or are special needs children. My family is grateful to have had the opportunity to adopt.

But I am not about to judge anyone who feels the need to give birth.

Anonymous said...

I do think there is something important about experiencing some things for yourself - no amount of outside experience can make up for firsthand knowledge. This is why we ask for people like doctors and lawyers to be trained in a practical sense before we put our lives or freedom in their hands. There is no better learning experience than actually doing something yourself.

Yes, you can be very maternal without having your own child (through natural childbirth, adoption or other means) but you can't really understand being a mother without actually being in the trenches day in and day out with a tiny little person that relies on you for everything. Motherhood is an experience unlike any other and it cannot be comprehended unless you have done it yourself. That's why we do it, right?

Anonymous said...

Some of my single childless friends "get" my situation more than my married friends with children. Being a single mother makes you straddle two worlds at once. Maybe that's what you mean.

Ima Shalom said...

I love the idea that your daughter is your "bashert." I totally agree. I'm the type of person who sometimes second-guesses my decisions, but when I look back at my life thus far I can that whatever path took me to Chamudi was for sure the right one.