Fitting in

No matter how non conformist we feel we are, there is always some amount of pressure on a person to fit in to their community in some way. Whether it’s dressing a certain way for work, wearing the same designer sneakers at school, donning a sheitel instead of a headscarf etc.

When I was newly married the first time around, there was nothing I wanted more than to be just like everyone else around me. I had just moved to Montreal from London UK.  I didn’t want to stand out in the crowd. I wanted to be one of “them”. Oh how I have changed! But at that time the way to fit in 100%, or so I thought, was to have a baby. Everyone bonds over a cute baby and of course my babies were going to be cute. Without a doubt. Thankfully they all were – blonde blue eyed gorgeous bundles of deliciousness.

Now, I don’t want you to think I had a baby JUST to fit in. I didn’t. I had always wanted children, a lot of children. But honestly? I don’t know that I was emotionally ready to handle being a mom at that point. New marriage, new city – new life. I should probably have waited a year or two.

I was a different person back then. Much quieter and a lot more afraid of my own shadow. It has taken me a while to grow into the self assured woman not scared of her own opinions that I sometimes feel I am these days. I so wanted to be part of the crowd. I wanted to belong somewhere. And I saw very early on that the only way to really belong in this neighborhood was to have a baby as an accessory.

Look, let’s be totally honest here, you other mothers in the religious community – you know I am right. You might have nothing in common with the person living next to you other than religion, but add babies to the mix and you have something to talk about that you can both relate to. It elevates your status in the community. You have procreated. We had been married for 15 months before our first son was born. I know of many women who gave birth 9 months after their marriage.

When he was born, yes, he was the cutest baby in the world. He was adorable and yummy and oh-so-colicky. I used to sit up at nights crying with him. I was 22 and overwhelmed. I was so young. Within 4 months I was pregnant again. Before I knew what had hit me I had 4 kids. Pretty close together. (The first 3 were born within two and half years of each other). I was busy busy busy with diapers and feedings and potty training. Who had time for fitting in?

Let me tell you a secret though. I didn’t fit in any better after giving birth than before. Yes, we mothers had more to talk about. But I was still different. I raised my children differently, with modern notions and I treated them as if they were people not little tiny cutesy wutesy kids… I spoke to them in a grown up voice and put them on a schedule even as young babies. I respected them as individuals. I had opinions about the best way to raise a child that sometimes seemed at odds with people around me. I was still perceived as odd and British. But somehow it didn’t bother me as much to be different, because I had my kids and was busy with their lives.

I have a few friends who are newly married and feel tremendous societal pressure to have children. In this community if you are married a year and have not yet worn maternity, people think there is something wrong with you. To these women I say – wait. Wait until you are personally ready for a child to change your life and your relationship with your husband. Wait until you feel you are emotionally ready to handle everything that being a parent throws at you – no sleep, no life for a while. If finances are an issue – wait until you feel more comfortable financially so you can provide for your child without stressing too much over it. Do not give in to societal pressure to go forth and multiply. Do what is right for yourself and for your marriage. Not your in-laws. Not your parents. Not your friends.

I will never regret having my kids at such a young age. I am still young and it is awesome to be able to be a full part of my boys’ lives. It is incredible to be in my mid thirties and have a son that is taller than me, talks like a man and needs to start shaving. (ack!) But as a new bride of 21 I was convinced that motherhood was the cure to all my social ills. Motherhood brought me so much, it IS indeed the gift that keeps on giving, but it isn’t to be taken lightly. One has to be prepared to watch one’s heart walking around outside of one’s body. To feel pain when they hurt, to feel such joy at their smallest triumph. The love one feels for a child is so huge, so encompassing. It truly is life-changing. And you need to be as ready as you can be for that.

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14 Comments

  1. Lady Lock and Load says:

    A young couple MUST ask their Rabbi if they can use BC. Serious Issurim are involved here and a shailah should be asked.

    There are those of us who wanted children right away but were not able to and had to go through much pain to have children. Consider yourself very lucky you didn’t have to go through that, what a blessing.

    • hadassahsabo says:

      LLL – I do know I was blessed to be able to have kids without a problem. I just don’t know that people should feel pressured to have straight away. (Issurim aside)

  2. batya from NJ says:

    yeah i agree with LLL that if one is trying to follow halacha it is not a simple matter to get a heter to use contraception especially when one first gets married. in fact, i attended a lecture by rabbi willig from YU who said that a couple really should not halachically push off having their first child b/c they don’t know how fertile/infertile they might be & it may in fact take them awhile to conceive. he seemed to say that after one has at least 1 child then there is more room for halachic leniencies if the wife feels that she is not yet ready for another child.

    that said, this whole birth control issue is a tough one for me & on an emotional level i find it hard to leave the decision whether or not to procreate with a rabbi & not a personal decision made by the couple themselves. after all, the husband & wife are of course are the ones who need to be up with the babies at night, provide financially for the children & in short they are the ones who will be raising the children & not the rav who is advising them. the couple needs to be psychologically, physically, financially & mentally ready for it all. besides, intellectually, it seems that when a couple is first marrying it would ideally be a good idea for them to wait & see how the marriage is going b/f bringing children into the mix but apparently the mainstream halachic opinions seems to disagree with that. again, this is a tough topic with no easy answers IMHO!

  3. Trip'n Mommy says:

    LLnL,

    You took the words right out of my mouth. But somehow, I think the HSM would be one those ladies who is sensitive to women without kids and would be a great friend to those who are “different.”

    I could write a book of insensitive things that were said to me/around me/about me/in front of me during the 6 long years I was married without kids. Because of the need and desire to “fit in” that HSM is talking about, it was a terribly lonely and painful time. It didn’t help at all to have a friend ask me why I said the Yehi Ratzon after lighting candles if I didn’t have kids yet (?! The tefillah is specifically for having righteous children and the protection of family!), a childhood friend who was angry at me for not coming *to see* her baby saying “I know what you are going through,” and meeting new women who asked “How old are your kids?” and then turned away when I told them I didn’t have any yet.

    Of course, now that I have triplets, people say even more ridiculous things. And I still don’t exactly “fit” in because I am in such an unusual situation…

  4. Vicki says:

    Great post! Obviously you know why ;). The societal/family pressure for us to have kids is HUGE even though we don’t belong to an Orthodox community, and many around us have already had kids of their own. And, I’d also like to have kids at a relatively young age so that I don’t have to be taking care of teens in my 50s and 60s.

    But I know that I am simply not ready to have kids just to satisfy the needs of my parents and extended family. I still want to travel lots and lots with my husband and get a graduate degree. Kids will have to wait until I’m ready for them financially and emotionally.

  5. tesyaa says:

    Interesting that you and I got married at about the same age but I didn’t have my first kid until 27, due to infertility. I realize that I was a more mature mother, and I definitely got further ahead in my career than I would have, and that helped me later on in so many ways – but the pain I felt in my infertile years was almost unbearable! Now b”h as a mother of 6 I can look back and see some of the positives. Everything is from Hashem.

  6. batya from NJ says:

    i used to always say that it’s not good to have too many kids b/f you are ready for them & of course it’s horrible when ppl are infertile & cannot conceive even though it is what they desire most.

    BH, i did not have any fertility issues & i became pregnant very shortly after my marriage & gave birth to my daughter a mere 10 months after getting married. ideally, it would have been nice to have had some time to acclimate to married life b/f having to deal with morning, afternoon, & evening sickness while being a full-time graduate student. at the time, i didn’t postpone trying to get pregnant b/c i was trying to do the “right thing” halachically but i won’t say that it was easy to manage.

  7. Z! says:

    I have learned through various couples over the years that tried NOT to have kids or that didn’t prevent having kids, who were blessed right away, or had to wait, or had to have treatments, or who were never successful, or suffered miscarriages ect., no matter what- it is all up to Hashem.

  8. G6 says:

    I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate here –
    I too speak from experience, having my first child at the age of nearly 21, a year after my wedding & then going on to have 3 close enough in age to all be in diapers at the same time.
    NOBODY has the kind of energy for midnight walking the floor like a 21 year old! (College kids have a “burn the midnight oil” gene that disappears with age).
    The pregnancy that I had in my 30s and subsequent “mommying” taught me that my body just wasn’t the same anymore.
    So physically ready: I say the younger the better.
    Financially ready? For the first few at least? C’mon…. you’re never financially ready, so why wait? (Notice my qualification… I’m not so sure that people should have 12+ children without giving a thought as to who will support them…)
    Emotional readiness? A little piece of me thinks that if you emotionally ready for marriage, you should be emotionally ready for a child… Now, whether or not we as a frum society are marrying our children off at ages that they are emotionally ready is another story entirely……

    • batya from NJ says:

      G6, when we had our first child we were def not financially ready. i was just starting grad school & my husband was finishing off his thesis for grad school & didn’t graduate until the january after we got married, 7 months later. my daughter was born in april & we were living off of our wedding expenses so were we financially ready? absolutely NOT! did we manage somehow? yes, we did thank G-d but i didn’t continue having 1 kid after the next b/c that would just not have worked for me.
      is it more prudent to have kids once there is at least 1 income coming in? most certainly.

      & regarding emotional readiness, i think that just b/c one wants to get married, it does not automatically imply that they are ready/willing to deal with all of the responsibilities of parenthood just as soon as they marry. they may want to ideally spend time together as a couple & get used to each other first & then focus on trying to become parents…again, that is NOT what i did but there are certainly many ppl. who choose that route…

      but physically i will agree, i was in better shape to have a baby when i was 22 (when i had my first) versus 30, when my youngest was born. i def noticed a difference in my body so perhaps that is not a great argument but some ppl. may have physical issues that may prevent them from being able or wanting to have children as well..

      all that said, i am reminded by something my kid’s first pediatrician said to me which was that it’s never a “good” time to have a baby b/c there’s always something going on in your life. when you’re in school it’s hard, when you’re just starting out in your profession it’s hard, & when you’re finally ready financially, you just may be too old so sometimes it pays to just go for it & enjoy!!

  9. Hey, Hadassah, here’s that piece I mentioned yesterday: “My Uterus is None of Your Business”

  10. Lady Lock and Load says:

    Loved your article Aliza! Interestingly enough, an Italian non Jewish friend of mine at the gym also feels the pressure to have kids from other people and relatives.

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