Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My Daughter and I

I sat in the hospital room, late at night, holding my newborn. She was the only girl, born third in an every-second year sequence. My boys were born in 2004 and 2006, followed by my little girl in 2008. She was healthy and cute, but I was scared. I was scared not at the massive responsibility that awaited me, nor in awe of heaven. 

I was scared with myself. After both of my boys, I immediately felt, "I want another one". This time, for some reason, my thoughts were very different. This time I thought, "This is it. She is my youngest and I don't want any more".

"But it can't be!", I thought, "I'm only 23! A frum woman cannot stop having kids at 23! What's wrong with me?"

"I'm probably just thinking that way because I am temporarily overwhelmed", I thought. "I'm sure that I just need to adjust, then everything will return to normal".

This thought continued to haunt me over the next few weeks, despite my repeated attempts to push such "machshavos zaros" out of my mind. As the weeks went on, and the pressure from dealing with the children (and pretty severe post-partum depression) increased--I reached the point where I really couldn't function at all. I was unable to properly care for my children much of the time, so I did the unthinkable...

I asked for a heter. And after a thirty-minute interview by the rabbi asking every personal question imaginable (and repeatedly asking me if I had both a boy and a girl), I was deemed in need of a two-year heter. I shudder to think what would have happened if this child had been a boy. Apparently in such a case, my legitimate medical issues would have been irrelevant.

Why was I so hesitant to ask for a heter? It wasn't because I was unaware of their existence or afraid the rav would reject my claim. Rather, because a "normal" frum woman is supposed to have as many children as possible unless she "can't handle it", asking for a heter was tantamount to saying that I was an abnormal failure who couldn't handle life. Eventually, the situation got desperate enough that I had to do just that--admit that by frum standards I was a failure and not normal.

However, this realization crushed more than just my fragile self-image--it crushed my entire worldview. 

Unlike many others, I had no problem with Judaism's concept of the role of women. If the Torah (or for that matter, "da'as Torah"), viewed women as having a different role than men, then it must be for the best. Equality, or lack thereof, didn't enter into the equation at all. I saw nothing inherently wrong with the idea that a woman's primarily role should be to raise a frum family, with her doing other things only when needed to fulfill that primarily. Although I have always been more of the intellectual type and had severe ADD, if God put me in this position it must be that I had the capabilities to overcome it and fulfill my God-given role, and only through doing this could I achieve happiness.

Well, I did try, and I couldn't "handle it". Not only that, trying for so many years to be someone that I am not, took away my ability to focus on what I am good at. Rather than struggling for many years to be a mediocre homemaker, I should have put my energy and focus towards working at what I am good at.

I ultimately realized that the problem was not that I failed to fulfill my Torah-ordained destiny, but rather that the Torah failed to take my destiny into account. Not everyone can be boxed into predefined gender roles, nor should they. It is illogical to assume that an all-powerful and all-good God would create everyone differently, yet expect them to fulfill the same general role with minor variations.

This began the journey that led me to where I am today.

However, the great irony is that my daughter, the little girl that started me down this path, is the stereotypical female that I never was. She has consistently, since birth, fulfilled practically every female stereotype in existence. It is almost as if someone gave her a book of instructions on how to act like a girl, and she followed it to the letter. At 15 months she would cry if I gave her pants rather than a skirt. My little girl who has never seen a Disney movie wants everything to be "pretty" and preferably pink. She loves playing with dolls, hates getting her clothes dirty, and attempts to take care of her brothers and the house.

Maybe there is something to those gender stereotypes after all.


  1. AH...Chabad. Hadn't known until now. I AM NOT asking that factor to exhaustively account for your relationship to these things, but the degree of the height of the fence you bravely and skillfully walk on (you walk it more than sit, I think), is much more clear.

  2. hehehe- Did I ever tell you that I was not able to get a heter even after a boy and a girl? I was told to....wait for it...go to mikvah a week late. Yeah.

  3. Yeah, I was Chabad.

    OSM, the heter was due to the fact that I had medical issues (the PPD included) and children of both sexes. What shocked me is that the medical issues alone were not enough to secure the heter.

  4. The concept of disclosing such personal information to a rabbi to get a "heter" to use birth control is mind boggling.

    You cant, as an adult, decide to use birth control??!?!



  5. >Maybe there is something to those gender stereotypes after all.

    It wouldn't be a stereo type if it didn't have some truth to it, but then again, I don't understand what you were expecting your daughter to act like.

    I also agree here with Ksil. Having children is THE most personal deed there can be. I would like to understand where this need for a heter from a rav came from.

  6. I fail to see how showing your stained underwear to a rabbi to see if you can go to the mikvah (and have sex) is any more logical than asking for a birth control heter. Halacha is meant to affect every possible area of one's life--so why not this too?

  7. But even from an orthodox POV you don't HAVE to show him your underwear. It's only if YOU have a safek, the rabbi is there to assist you. Ultimately, it's your responsibility, not the rabbis.

  8. One of my pet peeves is how Rabbis in the UO community take the role of mental health professionals.

  9. Technically speaking, pru urvu is only the mitzvah of the husband, not the wife. HE has to do what he can to have children, but the wife is not actually COMMANDED to have them.

    Now, obviously, having kids requires the active participation of the woman! This incumbant-on-men-but-not-women point was something that I learned very early on, but my background is a bit atypical since I was a feminist first and read rabbinic rulings on birth control for fun. I have noticed that many frum women haven't been taught at all that the commandment is for their husbands only, and instead were drilled with the idea that birth control was a ghastly sin until you have a heter.

  10. JRKmommy,

    That is all nice for a drasha, but for all practical considerations, it's pointless. So great, she doesn't have a commandment to do it, but he does, so obviously she can't be on birth control if according to the commandment, he is required to procreate.

  11. I fail to understand why anybody feels compelled to discuss so openly the most personal part of their lives. Would these people discuss a bowel movement with a "rabbi". If I were you I would take my chidlren and run as fast as I could

  12. Anonymous,

    You discuss personal things with Doctors. To people that go to rabbis will generally feel as "comfortable" as they do with a doctor.

  13. I wonder if there is any precedent in Jewish history of women having to ask for a "Heter". Then again, it may not be applicable because BC in relatively new.

  14. Fence, you seem to be missing an option in which I can ask to be notified if there are any subsequent comments.

  15. > Then again, it may not be applicable because BC in relatively new.

    Modern birth control is new, but birth control has been around for millennia. The Romans famously had a method of birth control so effective that they harvested the plant it was made from into extinction. Maybe there’s something relevant from back then.

  16. Birth control is discussed in the Talmud.

    There is a discussion of situations where a woman would use a "moch", which was a cloth used like a sponge or diaphragm.

    There is also mention of a sterilizing potion, such as one used by the wife of Rabbi Hiyya.

    HH - technically, a woman could use birth control without a heter, without explicitly telling her husband what she was doing. In that case, he would still be considered to be doing his best to fulfil the mitzvah.

  17. There's an interesting discussion on this going on at imamother right now, on one of the forums that is open to the public.

  18. JRK,

    Yeah. I am totally aware that it is the man's mitzvah. I have actually learned quite a lot of halacha. Yet as HH mentioned, because polygamy is forbidden that point become irrelevant, as it is forbidden to actively stop another person from fulfilling a mitzvah.

    I will take a look at Imamother at some point. However, as I used to post there in my pre-heretic days, I'm pretty sure that I can guess what will be said.

  19. I don't think needing a break from a baby every other year makes you abnormal or a failure in the frum or even UO world. Lots of women get a heter at some point, and certainly if there's PPD in the picture. But I think a major factor here is that being BT, you (and I) didn't grow up in a house with eleventeen young children, and therefore it's harder for us, especially those of us who aren't naturally drawn to fingerpaint and puppet shows. There's nothing wrong with being a mediocre homemaker pursuing a career -- children prefer simple dinners and a content mommy, and they're going to make more mess no matter how much you do or don't clean. I think it does us no good to compare ourselves to the norm, we just have to do the best we can in our own individual circumstances. *HUGS*

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