The path was set thusly:
- Thou shalt graduate high school.
- Thou shalt enter college and pick a major.
- Thou shalt graduate college.
- If necessary, thou shalt continue college to get an even higher degree.
- Thou shalt fly/backpack around to different places in between semesters.
- Heavy-duty partying on the weekends is another college requirement, but just don't let on to your parents exactly how much you're abusing & debasing yourself.
- Thou shalt get a serious boyfriend at some point.
- Thou shalt shack up together to see if marriage is a possibility OR because it’s more convenient.
- Thou shalt get married ONLY AFTER dating/shacking up together for a couple of years.
- Thou shalt continue to work and prevent conception after the wedding to save up for the one or two children you plan to have AND to solidify your marriage AND really make sure your relationship has staying power BEFORE you have children (because, for some reason, the 2-7 years you were already together wasn’t enough to ascertain all this).
- After a couple of years (or more) of marriage, you can finally have a child or two—IF you want and REALLY feel ready for it.
(Anyone who veered from this set path was looked down on as “impulsive” or “making a big mistake” or “making poor choices” or “can’t settle down” or has psychological issues or whatever.)
And a lot of women got pregnant at that late age with no problem.
On the other hand, it’s well-known that after age 35, fertility problems increase.
Free to be You, But Not to be Me
But if you look at the path set for girls, it’s a very narrow path that tramples over years of your life and ultimately trips you into the very serious limitation of finding a spouse and having children only when you see age 40 up ahead.
Of course we all know that people can start looking for a spouse and having children at age 20, and yet they still suffer years of singlehood or infertility. People can also get married young and then get divorced or widowed.
But it is a well-known social and biological fact that the earlier you start in the domestic part of the game, the easier it goes—barring some exceptions, as already stated.
I remember my orthodontist, of whom I was very fond, telling me that she and her husband put off having a baby until they were close to 40 because “I wanted to make sure that if I couldn’t just go out to dinner or the theater, I wouldn’t be resentful.”
I heard that kind of thing ALL THE TIME.
So as a teenage girl, it sounded mature. And it was often said by people whom I liked and respected.
But in the back of mind, it bothered me.
Yet I wasn’t really allowed to think about it in a negative way.
Finding fault in that mentality was anti-feminist.
And being anti-feminist was the same as being a bad, backwards, abusive person.
The Great Big Lie
Okay, yes...children are limiting.
But "limiting" is not "life-ending."
You may not be able to go out to dinner that night or even that week because you’re too exhausted, because the baby’s teething or sick, or because there isn’t a babysitter available for that particular night or week.
Yeah, that’s the reality.
But it’s so weird that NO ONE puts off college, or a medical internship, or ANYTHING else because it’s “limiting.” And exams, internships, job interviews, work hours, job demands, office politics, etc, are all incredibly limiting and stressful!
So what was the gagged thought bothering me in the back of my mind?
It’s the fact that your own child isn’t worth it.
Your baby isn’t worth missing dinner or a movie for.
Everything else—college, academic degrees, internships, work, travel—is worth doing NOW. Despite costs, time, and inconvenience, it’s all worth doing and doing early on.
Only YOUR child isn’t worth it.
So where am I leading up to?
Bliss and Betrayal
And one of my first thoughts during my son's first day of life was:
“This is so great! I wish I’d done this sooner! Why didn’t anybody ever say how great this was?”
And I felt kind of betrayed, like I’d been lied to my whole life (which, indeed, I had been).
And I felt so lucky that Hashem plucked me out of that world of lies and agendas to bring me to a place where I could experience this true happiness.
Now I want to be very clear: Things did not go smoothly.
- The labor and birth was a nightmare and the recovery wasn’t much better.
- The nursing was so painful for so long and, after expecting to love nursing, I was so disappointed at how unpleasant and wearying it actually was.
Yet despite all that, I was overjoyed with my son and deeply convinced that he was the best thing that had ever happened to me.
And I genuinely felt that everything else I’d ever done was meaningless compared to him.
Now, people told me in response, “Okay, you wish you’d done this sooner, but were you ready before now?”
And I wavered on the answer. Because the answer is, “Kind of…but kind of not.”
The reason why I might not have been ready at, say, eighteen is because I was conditioned my whole life NOT to be ready for children before thirty.
I was actively conditioned NOT to be ready.
And so were most of the other girls in my generation.
We were always given the message that being a mother is SO HARD and SO LIMITING and SO EXHAUSTING.
(Of course, the "thankless" aspect was only hinted at or joked about. People still gave lip-service to the idea of gratitude for their children.)
And because of that, you need to put it off as late as possible so that you can be “really ready” and only then, will you have a chance of doing it “right.”
And that was the Big Whitewash:
Children are sooo important that you need to delay having them until you are “really ready” because raising children is sooo important, it needs to be “done right.”
Wow, it sounds like people really value children, right?
But they don’t.
Raising Children with "Esav Dearest"
After all, how many "afterschool specials" did I see on TV in which someone screamed at a pregnant teenage girl:
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO RUSH TO THE HOSPITAL AT FOUR IN THE MORNING BECAUSE YOUR BABY HAS A HIGH FEVER??!!! DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE UP ALL NIGHT WITH A CRYING BABY? AND THE ENDLESS DIAPERS—UGH! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!”
(The show always ended with her happily giving the baby up for adoption, no second thoughts or regrets.)
But the thing is, no TV show ever had someone screaming:
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE AT THE HOSPITAL FOR YOUR INTERNSHIP AND MAKE LIFE-ENDANGERING DECISIONS AT FOUR IN THE MORNING? DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE UP ALL NIGHT AT A COLLEGE PARTY TAKING CARE OF A VOMITING OR UNCONSCIOUS FRIEND WHO DRANK WAY TOO MUCH??!! AND THE ENDLESS COLLEGE DEBT—UGH! FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!”
Also, you see couples in real life who actually discuss (or even argue) whose turn it is to change the baby’s diaper each time, making it seem like it’s this crushing chore, like cleaning out an elephant stall or something.
And that’s not to mention all the shows in which a parent always responded to a crying baby by bursting into tears herself and fighting an overwhelming urge to kill her baby.
So I went into motherhood nervous about diapers and I also wondered whether my baby’s cries would turn me into a homicidal monster.
So I was surprised to see that with a few exceptions, changing little baby disposable diapers wasn’t onerous, I never need to rush a baby to the hospital for any reason (older kids who fell on their lip or collarbone—yes; newborn babies—no), and that colicky crying babies aren’t something that MUST happen (and even if they do, both the baby and the mother almost always survive the experience).
And I say this all with a big, heartfelt BARUCH HASHEM. (Bli ayin hara!)
Why? Because these things can happen. And they do happen.
But my point is that they aren’t a given.
Yes, I have friends who were so traumatized by their baby’s unending colic that they put off having more children for a few years. (Completely understandable, BTW.) I also have friends who rushed a baby to the hospital at four in the morning for a high fever. In fact, I have friends whose babies were born with problems and needed to be rushed to the hospital many, many times, may Hashem have mercy.
Yes, yes, yes, yes.
And yes, I sometimes get sick of changing diapers, especially if it’s in the middle of the night or if the child has tummy troubles.
But in the culture I grew up, we were indoctrinated that regarding babies, the WORST was SURE to happen.
That’s my point.
The Thankful Privilege, Not the Thankless Chore
Just because you'll sometimes want a break from it all doesn't mean it's something to be dreaded.
Just because you'll sometimes be exasperated, resentful, bored, frustrated, or disappointed doesn't mean that your life is “over.”
(Especially in the frum community, look at how many mothers of all ages and at all stages are working and taking classes and getting degrees. Sometimes, they even overdo it, if you ask me. But you get my drift.)
If I’d been smart enough and brave enough after high school, I’d have gone straight to a baal teshuvah seminary for two years to shore up my frumkeit, and then gotten married and ended up having kids a couple of years earlier than I actually did.
And I wish I had.
Yes, I wish I had gotten married and had kids even EARLIER.
How often do you hear someone say that nowadays?
You’re not allowed to say it.
But that’s how I honestly feel.
(Anyway, it would’ve been better for my husband too. He’d been on shidduchim for almost 7 years by the time we met. Knocking off a couple of years of that aggravation would’ve been nicer for him too, eh?)
And that’s it.