My Neighborhood Rachel Imenu: 8 Children after a 7 Year Wait

My Neighborhood Rachel Imenu: 8 Children after a 7 Year Wait

“You know Ganenet* Rachel’s story don’t you?”

Last week, my eyebrows simultaneously leaped towards my hairline and furrowed at this tantalizing conversation starter.

What kind of “story” could there possibly be behind our universally beloved ganenet? The only thing unusual about Ganenet Rachel seemed to be her off-the-charts passion for teaching and devotion to her students. One day I would see her carrying a 20-pound bag of dirt in order to plant a garden with her students. Another day, she was carrying a turtle her sons had found in order to share it with the gan. Another day, I saw her rushing off to her weekly tutoring session with a girl who had become seriously ill so she wouldn’t be so behind when she is well enough to rejoin the gan, IY”H.

But in all other ways, Ganenet Rachel seemed to be completely and absolutely typical. In her mid-thirties. Married to a rabbi. Just back from maternity leave after giving birth to her 8th child.

“What story?” I asked.

“You didn’t know that it took Ganenet Rachel 7 years to have her first child?”

What? Now that was a story I just had to hear…

The following is an interview with Ganenet Rachel in honor of the yahrzeit of her namesake Rachel Imenu, who also suffered through years of infertility until she too became an Em Habanim Smecha, the joyous mother of children.

Could you tell me about your family background?

My father came from a traditional family of Indian Jews who had been living for many years in Burma. My mother came from an assimilated Australian family. My parents met at an absorption center in Israel, and after they married they gradually became more and more religious. I am the 4th of their 8 children.

When did you get married?
I got married when I was 21 years old. My husband is the oldest of 10 children from a prominent Sephardic rabbinic family. To this day, my husband teaches at the yeshiva where his father is the rosh yeshiva.*

When did you realize that you were having problems with fertility?
I had always loved children. From a young age I ran summer camps for the neighborhood children and dreamed about becoming a ganenet. I assumed that I would get married and have 10 kids right away.

But after two years of marriage, I realized something was wrong. At that point I started doing testing and then fertility treatments.

But the truth is that I never really thought of not getting pregnant as a “problem.” I was never worried. I felt certain that I would get pregnant when Hashem wanted me to. People who knew me during that period say that I never made the impression of being a miskena* who was struggling or desperate.

But that doesn’t mean that it was easy. I had weeks of hope and faith and other weeks dominated by disappointment and pain. The most difficult times for sure were when I would go through a fertility treatment, and I would pray, and do segulot, and get blessings from Mekubalim and Rebbes, and try out the alternative cures my neighbors and friends told me about, and still I didn’t get pregnant. It was terribly disappointing.

I remember one time in particular after yet another fertility treatment had failed. My husband and I were with my mother-in-law and she told us that my sister-in-law, who had gotten married 4 years after me, was in her second pregnancy. And right there in front of my mother-in-law, I started crying uncontrollably. It was very embarrassing.

Our experience with infertility was especially difficult for us since our siblings were having children year after year. Our siblings were also always hosting us for Shabbat, as though we were this poor childless couple.

It is one of the worst feelings in the world to be pitied.

What helped you to endure those difficult years?
First of all, our parents were amazing. They never made us feel pressured or offered unsolicited advice. In fact, they never mentioned that we were childless as all, unless we wanted to talk about it. They were very natural with us. That was a huge help.

Other times, people told me stories that really gave me hope. I remember meeting a woman on a bus who told me that it had taken her mother 4 years to have her first child, and that she eventually became the mother of 14 children! Stories like that really helped to keep me going.

It also helped that I was a ganenet. Working everyday with children was compensation for the fact that I had no children of my own at home. Though at the end of the workday, it was very difficult to return home to my own empty and silent apartment.

When did you finally become pregnant?
A doctor had recommended that my husband and I should take a break from the stress of years of conventional treatments and go on a vacation together. Our rabbi agreed that it would be good to go on a vacation abroad, in order to totally cut ourselves off from the pressures of daily life. So we went on a few trips to Europe together.

Another rabbi also recommended that we should move to a new home, as it says “Change your location, change your luck.” And it turned out that shortly after we returned from a trip from Europe, and the month we sold our apartment and moved from Beitar to Jerusalem, I became pregnant for the first time with my twin boys who are now 9 years old.

What advice would you give to couples struggling with infertility?
I would tell them that this extra time on your own as a couple might not be what you had hoped for, but it can also a tremendous gift. People tell me that they can see that my family is different because my husband and I had so many years to invest in and strengthen our marriage relationship.

I would also tell couples that times of hardship are an opportunity to invest in prayer and developing a closer relationship with Hashem. At difficult times you pray with so much more intensity than at times when everything’s going well and smoothly.

I would also warn couples experiencing infertility that it’s their choice how the years of waiting will look. They can choose whether they will waste those years complaining and blaming and feeling resentful, or whether they will spend those years growing together

Did those 7 years change you as a person? Definitely! Those years of waiting made me much more mature and they also made me stronger.

As a result of those years, my whole view of motherhood also changed. One woman said to me recently, “In my family, all of the women have babies every year.” But my experience with infertility taught me how petty that kind of comment is. Because with fertility there are no rules and there are no guarantees. Hashem has a unique, individually-designed path for every single woman.

As a result of all those years of treatments, I understand how complicated, even supernatural, a regular, healthy pregnancy is. And I think that because of that, it’s easier for me to accept my own children, together with their personal issues and struggles as a tremendous gift. I know that children aren’t made to order.

My children don’t need to be perfect for me to love them.

Before we had children, I studied interior design, and our apartment was like a museum. But today I have 5 boys and 1 girl under the age of 10, so it’s always lively at our home. My walls and furniture have been banged up and scribbled on. But it doesn’t bother me at all. Thank G-d, I’m so thankful that my home is no longer a museum. Today my home is full of life. It’s a place where people live.

During those 7 years of waiting, my husband’s grandmother would always tell me over and over, “I am certain that one day your house will be full of children!”

Thank G-d, she and all of us lived to see her blessing become a reality.

*Ganenet-Nursery School Teacher
Rosh Yeshiva- Dean of the Yeshiva
Miskena- A person for whom people feel sorry

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2 comments

  1. what an inspiration, I want to meet this lady!

    thanks for sharing!

  2. Awesome! I’ll follow this blog! I’m looking forward to reading your posts!

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