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.