Lilith Feature

In Pursuit of Motherhood

Moving through one’s childbearing years in the Jewish community, it is impossible not to notice—beside all the new babies and growing children—the insistent presence of couples struggling with infertility, of late-marrying women sprinting against the clock to become mothers, and of adopted children of non-Caucasian hues who increasingly are an ordinary part of many North American Hebrew school classrooms.

As a group, we Jewish women are highly educated, and we delay our marriages and childbearing until our schooling is complete—thus putting ourselves more at risk for infertility problems. (We are twice as likely as non-Jewish Caucasian American women to remain unmarried into our forties.) Judaism’s pronatalist tendencies—amplified by our fervent wish to compensate Holocaust losses, Jews’ comfort with pursuing medical interventions, our basic “leave no stone unturned” mentality, and our economic wherewithal—all combine to make us major consumers of high-level infertility interventions. We also, as a people, have a strong sense of our own efficacy, believing deeply in our free will and in our ability to make things happen. Unlike more fatalistic religious groups, we do not accept the unacceptable lying down.

The following four essays present different windows into these issues of many Jewish women’s lives. “Sarah’s Laugh,” by Karen Propp, considers what it means for an infertile women to travel far in her grief, using our foremothers Rachel, Hannah and Sarah as guides. “King Solomon’s Knife,” by Diane Cole, challenges the received Solomonic “wisdom” that biology determines motherhood, and that two women have only one option—fisticuffs—when there is but one baby. Pushing at the margins of the empathy envelope, Cole brings to life two mothers in childbirth, straining, sweating, worn—only one of them delivering a newborn who cries.

In the third piece, “Jewish Adoption,” Michele Kriegman shatters myths about Jewish adoption, including the canard that most adoptable Jewish children end up in Jewish homes, and that one’s odds, as potential adoptive parents, are bad. An adoptee herself, Kiiegrnan shares insights about how to make an adopted child feel truly whole and at home in her/his Jewish community. Finally, Susan Kahn, in “Putting Jewish Wombs to Work,” explains why Israel has more fertility clinics per capita than any other country in the world. If you are a candidate for in vitro fertilization treatment, you might be interested to know that in Israel, married or not, you are eligible for up to seven rounds of in vitro fertilization treatment at the state’s expense!

Here, then, are some Jewish women’s issues around infertility and adoption. LILITH hopes, through presenting these essays, to deepen our dialogue.

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