At every social function, I start out all smiles and hellos, until the inevitable happens. The group launches into a lively and detailed discussion about their offspring, their offspring’s offspring, playgroups, babysitters, teachers. I continue smiling, with nothing to offer and usually leave early.
Feeling that others have what I do not is not a new challenge for me. I spent most of my adult life as a single woman. Every day brought with it reminders that other people had husbands. This feeling that God is bent on withholding the good stuff was so great, that after a number of years of marriage, I must remind myself every day that I actually have a husband. Once the cognitive dissonance passes, I’m able to savor budding feelings of appreciation. Yes, but other people have children too. Here we go again.
I live next door to a family of twelve children. I hear their playful laughter, their voices soaring in unison around the table every Shabbos. I gaze longingly through my window, as each takes his or her turn sitting proudly atop their Abba’s lap or running for a reassuring hug from Ima.
Friends and mentors offer words meant to console and enlighten, yet only serve to disturb and discourage. “What others have has nothing to do with your not having.”
This stark juxtaposition of lives happened for a reason. I think my neighbor’s having does have to do with me. And my not having is a message for her – especially during her overwhelming mommy moments. It compels each of us to focus on the value of what we do have – to truly want it with all our might, thereby increasing the love for the blessing.
Life is about tests. God set up the circumstances for this most difficult one. I know it’s a crucial one for my soul, because it comes up over and over again.
Two weeks ago, I attended a friend’s sheva brachos hosted by the bride’s childhood buddy. I sat among her long-married friends. I introduced myself and hoped the dreaded discussion would remain at bay. It docked too soon. A cell phone chimed. “One of the kids, no doubt!” “Hi honey, this better be important.” “How many do you have?” “I heard you just married off your first.” “She just had a girl.” “Mazel tov!”
I gave myself permission to leave when the kvelling got rough. But it was only fifteen minutes into the event. I took the next available option – the bathroom. With head in hands, I sat on the bathtub ledge, wondering if I could stay there studying the turquoise tiles until the guests left. I thought, It’s not as if I’m pining for a Lexus or a mansion; these are noble yearnings. Someone needed the bathroom. I left my hideout and reentered the fire.
Walking to the bus the next day, I noticed my pregnant neighbor waiting with three little ones for the school bus. I pass her most mornings. Sometimes I force a smile; this time I averted my eyes. During the bus ride to work, I continued to agonize. Another day without a family. Will I ever nurture a child? Am I unworthy? Am I incompetent? I took little comfort in the fact that many would actually find my ruminations and their accompanying pain completely justified.
Perhaps it was a spark of a desire expressed amid the negativity, a humble plea for self-change that brought a hard-earned miracle my way. A lone thought pushed through the drone and shouted, “Don’t miss today!”
I couldn’t ignore the truth of it. My every cell knew a critical choice had to be made. I knew that if I chose to continue my, totally justified unhappiness, I would miss the solid goodness in my life. Today, I have the opportunity to savor the bond between my spouse and me; the lifetime of love in an aging parent’s eyes; the words that uplift a friend; another day to do better.
I do not expect the struggle to end here, yet I own a powerful thought and plan to cultivate it. We build our lives on tests and moments; each one serving as a precious opportunity to grow into the people we mean to become. As I steer my thoughts away from the sadness of this deficiency in my life, and embrace the good that stands smiling before me, I am, with a lot of help from Above, choosing to make ample room in my mind, heart, and soul – for today.
Bayla Sheva Brenner, an award-winning journalist, is senior writer in the OU Communications and Marketing Department. You are invited to visit her blog: Late Bloomer Orthodox Baby Boomer. If you are an “older” childless frum woman interested in forming a support group, please go to my blog and introduce yourself (just click on “comments”). I welcome your valuable voices.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.