I always suspected that I would be unable to have children. As a young girl, I was badly sexually abused and somehow innately knew that children were not in the cards for me. For the most part, I was OK with that reality. I built a life that was full... and in no way child-friendly.
I was truly happy. Happy, that is, until my brother, who said he wanted a huge, Jewish family, married outside our tradition. I had always imagined myself as the perfect aunt, passing down our family traditions and helping with Hebrew lessons. My dreams were dashed.
Worse, all eyes then turned toward me. Did I know how many family members were lost in the pogroms and the war? Was I aware that during WWII, one in three Jews was murdered? Of course I was aware of all these things, but what could I do? Was it my personal responsibility to repopulate the Jewish people?
But it didn't make any difference what anyone said or what I wanted. By this point, I was 37 years old, not in a relationship and gravely ill. I was hemorrhaging from a small uterine fibroid and endometriosis. A uterine ablation removed all hope of having a child, but did not resolve the issue. Eventually, I had to have my uterus removed to save my life.
Even having surgical procedures that guaranteed that I would not have a child did not stop my community's pressure. I was told by the rabbi while we were visiting Israel that I should sit in a magic chair that cures infertility. I was urged ad nauseam to look into adoption because it is "always an option." I endured this as best I could, though depression began to take hold. The sight of pregnant women and small children was too much for me; I left their presence in tears. But it was when my mother refused to allow me to visit because she "needed to build a relationship with the one who could still give her grandchildren" that I felt truly broken.
There was to be no happy ending for me in any conventional sense. Eventually, I was told that there was no place for single people in my synagogue. I set a boundary with my mother and do not allow her into my everyday life. Being childless has cost me dearly.
Despite all of this, I can say without a doubt that my life is happy and full. I know who my true friends and supporters are. During the height of my depression, one of these friends said to me, "You are NOT barren. You have a lot to give." It was a turning point.
I focused on what it means to be "barren." Barren is defined as unproductive, unfruitful or sterile. Yet, that wasn't true for me at all! When I could not leave my bed because of depression, I wrote a book of poetry to chronicle my experiences and healing around infertility. Not only has it won an award, but I have received heartwarming feedback from people who have their own struggles. Giving hope to others buoys my soul.
I refuse to be labeled as invaluable simply because I cannot have a child. I stand as an example of what a full, beautiful, productive life looks like when children are not an option.