The Race to Reproduce: One Mother's Struggle with Secondary Infertility

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A few weeks ago I received a heart wrenching letter from a young mom who has been married for 6 years and has one child. She wrote that she has suffered 2 miscarriages, and that her distress about those lost pregnancies is made worse by, what she describes as, “The Race to Reproduce.” A close relative of hers frequently makes comments like, “You know so and so? She’s been married only 3 years, and she already has 3 children!” And her own mother is pressuring her to stop nursing her 2-year-old so that she can, as she describes it, “Catch up.”

When I read the following article by a mother struggling with secondary infertility, I knew that it was the perfect article to send to that young mother, as well as a perfect response to her insensitive relatives. Our Sages teach us that every Rosh Hashana 180 women infertile women become fertile. May the author of this article be among them, just like Chana and Sarah Imenu whom we will read about on this holy day!

Raising a Small Family in a Large Family World by Tzippora Price

As a community we love big families. Bigger is better, and supersize is best. We wonder how they do it. How do these “superwoman” cope, we mutter to each other as they pass by, pushing a double buggy, and trailed by their large brood like little chicks after mother hen. “She deserves a medal,” my neighbor commented once, when a mother of six children under six passed by us. “Perhaps.” I granted her. “Yet there are others who also deserve medals,” I pointed out. “There are people who quietly shoulder on unnoticed, their heartbreak not as apparent as those who are childless, but who are heartbroken nonetheless, by their failure to have more than one or two kids.”

It is a condition that is known as secondary infertility, and it refers to the onset of infertility in a woman who has already had children. In our case, although we have been married over ten years, we only have two children. I cringe every time someone I meet asks me how many children we have, because the numbers don’t add up. At these moments, my shame is intense. Sometimes I feel like wearing a T-shirt that states “It’s not my fault. It is not by choice.”

When I sit in the park, I am bombarded by the news of who is expecting, and who is on bedrest. Sometimes it seems like there is no other topic of conversation. It reinforces my sense of isolation. All around us, families are large, while ours is not. More often than not, I choose not to sit in the park for this reason.

As my children grow older, and no younger siblings replace them in the position as baby of the family, I have more free time. Yet my freedom does not give me pleasure; it breaks my heart because I feel that it is unnatural. It is not as it should be. I console myself that G-d does not make mistakes.

Yet I wonder what the impact of having only one sibling will be on my children. If mothers of large families are considered superwomen, are mothers of small families considered failures? Or are we merely invisible, unworthy of the time it takes to stop and think before you make a comment that may cut like a knife.

You know the type of comment that I mean. The comments like “Parenting doesn’t really begin until the birth of your third child.” Comments like these are hurtful, and they are a transgression of the prohibition of onaas devarim (hurtful speech). Our tradition teaches us that it is wrong to count people like one would count objects, because each person is a world – unique and distinct and irreplaceable.

Recently, I showed another woman some photos of my children. This woman paused before remarking, “You must have more children than this.” I responded that in fact I didn’t. Every member of my family was perfectly accounted for in those photos. Still, I wonder about the choice of the word “must.” It implies that the world order is not as it should be. When, in fact, the world is truly as it should be, exactly as it exists now. After all, Hashem doesn’t make mistakes.

That means that it must be built into the system that some families will be different than others. Some families will be extra-large, while others might be extra-small. That’s just the way the world works, and it does not reflect one’s hashkafic (religious outlook) choices so much as it reflects the reality of the world today. Medical science has made many advances, but it still has not found a way to outsmart God’s Will.

Furthermore, the type of treatments required to artificially create a larger family have many undesirable side-effects and consequences that affect the family as a whole, not just the mother herself. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the full impact of any potential course of action, and to consult with an appropriate halachic authority for guidance about the long-term consequences.

It is a choice that each family must make individually. We cannot presume to know what is best for our neighbors, or even for our best friends. Rather, we can learn to treat all families with respect for their unique role in the destiny of the Jewish people.

This means learning to recognize that a mother of a large family is not more of a mother than a mother of a small family. It is just that her challenges are different. The challenges of raising a large family are challenges that you immediately notice on your first glance. But take the time to look beneath the surface. All families have challenges. Every mother who builds her family with painstaking kindness is worthy of your respect.
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Reprinted with permission from Binah Magazine

The author is a marital & family therapist, who maintains a private practice in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. She is also an acclaimed mental health journalist, who has made significant contributions towards increasing public awareness of mental health and mental illness. She is a regular contributor to thejewishwoman.org, chabad.org, aish.com and Binah magazine. She is the author of two books, “Mother in Progress” (soon to be released by Targum Press) and the newly released “Into the Whirlwind” (Lions’ Gate Press)

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5 comments

  1. Thank you for this…

    With an understanding heart,

    love,

    Elana

  2. annesophie

    it’s the major problem of living among a community, with everyone comparing herself to the others, life is not a race, we should remember childless women or women having lost there babies etc.. Everyone has a special mission on earth as You say Hashem created a perfect world, so if He decided that you experience something such as secondary infertility, or that you have more time than mothers of 6, use this for your mission, maybe your own children need you a lot or maybe you can use your time for a secret purpose!!
    every experience has a purpose in this world an d stop comparing because even mother of 7 is nothing compared to mother of 12 etc..!!!!

  3. What a powerful last paragraph – a message to all of us! I have to remind myself of this when I keep comparing to my friends with larger families. I have to thank Hashem for what I have and what I am blessed with!

  4. You brought confort to my aching heart. We have been married for 8 years and “only”have 2 children so far. I also cringe when someone asks me how many children I have and sometimes found myself so embittered that could not even fully enjoy my children.

    People use to make unkind remarks like: “do you know that it is forbidden to take birth control measures”? Like it is my choice or my fault, like I am less of a mother because they are no new babies in my home. Sometimes my children come from school saying: mommy, such and such has a new baby sister/brother. Why dont we have a baby ?

    It is really hard.

    your words really conforted me

    thanks from the depths of my heart

    leah

  5. Jennifer Medeiros

    I get this daily.
    People ask me how old is your son? and i say 4
    Oh is he the only one you have? yes
    It’s time to have another one? No really captain obvious.

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