It never fails. Several times a week, I have conversations with customers at my baby clothing store that fall into this pattern:
Customer: “Your clothes are so darling- your children must dress so cute!”
Me: [Smiling] “Thank you, but I don’t have children”
Customer: “Oh, just wait until you and your husband are ready”
[Scans my hand for a ring]
Me: [Showing teeth with my smile at this point] “No husband”
Customer: “Boyfriend… or (pauses)….girlfriend?”
[Because being gay is the only plausible explanation for being single??? Really??]
Me: “Neither. Let me show you our latest collection…”
Sometimes they take it a step further and ask: “Why would you get into this business if you aren’t married and don’t have children?
Apparently being single and childless makes me less qualified.
I used to tell my yenta customers why.
I used to tell them that once upon a time I dreamed that after getting married, I was going to have children and have a magical flexible schedule that would allow me to bring these future kids I was going to pop out to work with me. (I also dreamed we were going to wear coordinated outfits daily but hey, I was young and naive.)
It was a beautiful and short-lived fantasy.
This was of course before my pending nuptials imploded, and I decided to go on and open my store anyways.
[As a “See??? I didn’t need you after all!”]
But that’s kind of depressing. It’s more depressing when said yentas pry for details.
“Oh shayna maidel” they would say, “all is not lost. Your beshert is out there and one day we’ll see you round and plump, ready to bear children – how can you not with those hips?!”
Sigh again. Should I tell them about my infertility? No. That’s really depressing. If I do they will look at me with such awkward pity. No one likes to talk about what it means to say peace out to your eggs at 23 and know that they aren’t coming back.
Vaya con Dios fertility! You were not mine to have.
So I simply smile and divert the conversation. I nod in agreement. It’s not that it’s too painful to talk about – it’s that I don’t want to hear how meshugenah I am for immersing myself in baby clothes everyday. They stare as if I was such a masochist to be around babies all the time knowing it’s not going to happen.
A variation of the above conversation also takes place outside of work in my dating life. As my good friend David recently asked me after I finished relaying to him my latest dating action:
On which date do you tell him that you’re infertile and what if he doesn’t want to see you anymore?
Good question. It depends and yes, some men know they want to have children and don’t want to waste time with someone who doesn’t share that common goal. I try to bring it up fairly early so that if Mr. Hot Pants thinks it’s a deal breaker, at least he knows right away.
But let’s face it – it’s not a topic people like to talk about. I see it on my friends’ faces, and in their Facebook postings. They are instantly apologetic as if their happiness about their recent weddings, engagements, and babies might trigger my waterworks.
It doesn’t. I will still attend your children’s birthday parties – I just borrow one of my nieces or nephews or I sit with the other ‘no-kid’ attendees.
Infertility in your 20’s is not pleasant (although I imagine it’s never pleasant at any age) and yes, it’s hard.
It’s hard to hear the jokes and it’s hard to hear the pseudo- comforting phrases of:
“well… maybe you can try fertility treatments?…”
“maybe you can adopt?”
“maybe you’ll meet someone with kids…”
“at least you have a puppy…”
No thanks. I respect fertility treatments and the lengths families go through to have their mitzvah of children, but I cannot afford those and don’t wish to emotionally or physically put myself through them.
What about my religious obligation to procreate?
My Catholic side makes it easy by frowning upon such extreme actions. While my Jewish side adopts a more positive approach. These factors don’t play a part for me.
My mitzvah came in other forms. I am a Savvy Auntie to six nieces and two nephews. I am a godmother to two boys and two girls. I am a Sparkle Curator every single day at work, bringing miniature couture to special occasions. Below is one of my favorites, a photo with one of my nieces in a custom outfit I made for her first birthday.
Melanie Notkin of Savvy Auntie says it best: “I’m childfull, not childless. I chose to fill my life with children I love”.
My mitzvah is to be a great aunt. I’m around children all the time. My womb doesn’t ache, I don’t feel the need to nest (or change diapers), and I don’t think my life is lacking because of it.
I love my yenta customers. Even if they ask the hard questions, I know, that they are always well-meaning.
**Disclaimer: Please consult your Rabbi before exploring fertility options to see what is right for you and your family.