How I Really Feel about Birth Control

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Last week I received a really disturbing email. A woman who was the victim of childhood abuse at the hands of an overwhelmed mother of many, many children wrote, “I WISH and WISHED as I was growing up, that someone would have told my mother to stop having more. She simply couldn’t handle it.”

I’ve been thinking about that letter the whole week, and it got me thinking about birth control, and how I truly feel about it.

On the one hand, I realized, I firmly believe that more Jewish moms should be taking birth control. On the other hand, I firmly believe that fewer Jewish moms should be taking birth control.

What?!

Let me explain.

This past month my teacher Rabbanit Yemima Mizrachi taught us that if a mom feels that getting pregnant at this point in her life would be a curse rather than a blessing, then she should go to a rabbi and go on birth control. G-d, she explained, doesn’t need any more martyr moms or long-suffering moms or G-d forbid, spinning out of control and abusive Jewish moms in the world. He’s got enough on His hands as it is already.

But a few months back, Rabbanit Yemima said something very different. She was responding to a feminist Orthodox conference in which birth control use and smaller families were presented as an ideal.

Rabbanit Yemima was livid. Speaking with emotion, she said:
“I’m thinking about all the women who returned home from this conference and then looked at the 2.8 mistakes that they had brought into the world, and thought, “Oh no! And just think I could have saved myself all of this mess!…I’m not asking for the Rebbetzins who spoke at this conference to encourage women to have more children, but I am asking for some more encouragement of mothers who have children. That is the main thing women need in this generation.”

And I think that these two very different statements sum up my opinion on the matter perfectly (isn’t Rabbanit Yemima the absolute greatest?).

G-d wants us to be thriving, happy, pumped moms. If you are already holding onto the edge of the cliff by your fingernails emotionally or physically (and I think that it is natural and normal that most moms hit that point at one time or another) then find yourself a heter and don’t have another child right now.

On the other hand, I believe just as strongly that if no overwhelmed mothers got pregnant, then no Jewish moms would be having more than 2.2 children.

All of us know amazing moms of large families, and the way they became the incredible, role-model moms they are was by pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones. Those incredible moms were once also overwhelmed (just like you), and they felt like they weren’t so great at this whole mothering thing (just like you), because that is how mothers of young children almost invariably feel.

But they had another child anyway because they believed in the value of bringing more Jewish children into the world, and the long-term benefits and the achievement of personal and mothering potential that can come with creating a larger-than-average family.

In summary, I don’t know if overall Orthodox moms need to be taking more birth control or less birth control, but we DEFINITELY need more self awareness to understand whether having another child right now would be the great leap of faith that every mom takes when she brings a new baby into the world, or the leap of the lemming…

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10 comments

  1. As an advocate for issues in birthing, and being a Jewish woman who sincerely prays for more and more Jewish babies to be born in Israel; the problem lies in lack of support. I firmly believe, I know, that when women are unsupported, the overwhelm increases.

    Self awareness, G-d awareness (emunah) is the key to managing lifes transitions and the challenges inherent in those transitions.

    The other day, I spoke with a mother of several children who was aware that at this time, she felt that another child would “break” her. It is no Kiddush Hashem to purposely put oneself in a situation that places one at risk for serious issues after birth. Birth control is necessary for many reasons, it is sometimes a literal lifesaver.

    I speak with women in various states of overwhelm, and the most immediately apparent need is support. Caring and non-judgmental support. In this current culture of self sufficiency, I see that many have sacrificed thier connectivity and interdependence.

    Shoshana Kesner PhD, RN, DHm
    Birth & Postpartum Advocate, Doula Trainer

  2. Taibke Hyman

    So well said. As a mother who pushed myself to my limits, I now have no regrets as my children are older. I became a life coach to help support women with their situations as those years are undoubtedly very difficult.

  3. This has given me a deeper understanding of the issue, on a personal level. Thank you.

  4. Taibke Hyman,

    I understand your feeling of this matter if you would have been the position before having kids. At this time, would you be able to point one of your kids and say this is the one I should have avoided?

    • While I can understand WHY you asked this question, it bothers me. A lot.

      There is a family very close to me who thought they were finished having children after 7. The 8th was a, well, surprise. And what a wonderful child! Truly a blessing in their old age! I have never seen a child so devoted as this youngest child.

      I firmly believe that every child is a gift from Hashem. Sometimes the moment is really, really difficult. But to point to one child and say “that one was really too much for me.” Ouch!!! Imagine if the child ever got wind of “you were a mistake” I cannot even begin to think of how it would impact their security in the world…

  5. I *am* the overwhelmed mom of several small children. Some days I feel I do well. Today I yelled and I don’t feel so good about how I’m doing as a mom. The birth of my youngest child has taught me humility. Never, ever before would I have *asked* for help. Now I ask. Just like Shoshana said, we all need as much support as we can get. Some days I forget to ask (my MIL, my friends, my DH) and I almost always regret it. I love and adore my children but this is without a doubt the hardest work I’ve ever done.

  6. wow! great article ! i am also so conflicted on this issue, but you really put a great light to it. thank you!

  7. As a mother of ages 8, 5, 2.5 and 5 months, I can say that it’s an issue of management. I was told by other mothers that it gets easier the more children you have because they all have more children to play with, and the older ones can take care of themselves, other children, and house stuff. I’ve found this to be true – delegation is the name of the game, and I’m learning how to give over that we’re all in this together. For me it’s a welcome learning curve on how to manage all this love. The problem is financially – how to support it all? That’s what I need to daven for even more.

  8. Now that this post has been resurrected, I am also in the “survival” stage. I have 6 kids B”H, oldest is 7 and youngest is a few months old. They’re all great kids, and I can’t imagine life without any of them. The main problem is of course support – someone to commiserate with when things get rough, without them saying “well you didn’t need to have that many!”

  9. Things do get easier as your kids get older.
    What I want to point out is that mothers of large families also know about birth control. They don’t need you to remind them or let them know… This is their decision to make, not yours.
    If you feel like you can’t bear to see them having a hard time “managing”, just offer a hand. Don’t say that they should’ve known better. It hurts.

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