Sisterhood Blog

Shhh, I Want Children

By Johnna Kaplan

  • Print
  • Share Share
Thinkstock

I love babies. I love their little hands, their puffy velvety cheeks, their quizzical expressions. I love to buy them tiny clothes. I have been known, upon seeing a baby, to squeal aloud. And babies love me. They stare at me over their mothers’ shoulders, their round eyes fixed on mine. They gaze at me across restaurants, seemingly enthralled. If ambulatory, they sometimes follow me unbidden in stores and hallways. When I was young, the adults responsible for these babies found this adorable. After I hit 30 they began to glare at me with a look that said, “Get your own.”

Well, I would love to, but unfortunately it’s not that easy.

This is something you’re not really supposed to talk about, but: I will be 36 years old soon, I don’t have children, and I want them. Admitting it feels pathetic, like revealing a personal failing, and it sounds uncomfortably close to self-pity. There is no positive spin, no comforting optimism, in saying you want what you don’t have.

I don’t remember exactly when I graduated from my adolescent philosophy of “Raising kids seems stressful and pregnancy sounds daunting” to my grown-up attitude of “BABIES!!” But I know that by my early 20s, I was familiar with the baby-coveting sensation that sweeps over you as strong as hunger when you haven’t eaten all day. I had somewhat deeper reasons, too, one of them being the obligation — and desire — to increase the world’s Jewish population. Simultaneously fighting anti-Semitism and buying itty-bitty socks!

I’m not used to having such a mainstream take on things. When I read the words of women like Chanel Dubofsky and Erika Davis, words that question the roles women have had to play for millennia, I feel like I belong on that side. (Not that there should be sides.) Defying expectations is certainly not easy, but it’s my comfort zone. Being thoroughly conventional is not.

And yet, as far as marriage and babies go, you could transport me back to 1800, or for that matter to 800, and I’d fit in fine. Yes, I want to work, and I want to have 21st century technology and running water and not catch the plague. But I’d happily also stay home and take care of children and clean and bake challah.

If that’s not old-school enough, I’m also not particularly excited by the “more realistic” alternatives suggested when women dare to voice these appallingly retro thoughts. What are my consolation prizes? Single motherhood, via adoption or purchased or donated sperm; finding a guy who already has kids from his previous relationship(s); or simply settling for anyone, now, regardless of standards. The fact that all of these subtly blame women for not having had babies sooner is one reason I mostly avoid mentioning any of this.

Another reason is the cringe-inducing stereotype of the desperate mid-30s singleton. I’m not her, and for the record, I don’t know anyone who is. I have a life that I like, and usually I appreciate the lack of wailing children in it. I’m certainly not about to force, entrap, or harangue the next man I meet into marrying and impregnating me. Still, the fear of being labeled this way is a great silencer.

There’s also this. Remember in April, when a misconstrued statement by Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen about how Ann Romney had “never worked a day in her life” caused a brief flurry of media outrage? In one of many responses, Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote in the Atlantic that motherhood was not a job because it was not a “selective position”; it was “a job that anyone can have.” Really? Anyone can work at a call center, perhaps, but being pretty, thin, smart, accomplished, and everything else enough to attract a decent man at an age that allows for time to get to know him, marry him, and have kids with him? That has always seemed pretty freaking selective to me.

Current debates about women’s lives mostly revolve around choices. When it comes to children, that means the choice of whether or not to have, and if so, how to parent. What’s been lost, perhaps, is the notion that not everything is a choice, and that not everyone who would choose to have a family can do so. Talking about being what I’ve come to think of as “normal, but failing at it” isn’t very fashionable. But I wish more women would do it.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: women, sisterhood, pregnancy, motherhood, kids

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.