Monday, December 8, 2008

Orthodox single mothers by choice


I have several female friends who are Orthodox and single, all near the age of 40, (give or take a couple of years,) who had babies, are pregnant, or are trying to get pregnant.

It’s a tough decision to become a single parent, but I see no reason why that decision should be stigmatized by Orthodox Judaism. These women are opting for artificial insemination. While there may be some halachic issues, they’re not an insurmountable barrier. These women felt their biological clocks ticking and decided to go for it. They're successful professionals who can afford to do this financially and they have support systems of friends.

Instead of this being something that is talked about in hushed tones, the Orthodox community should relax its obsession with the supposed “singles crisis” and create an environment where such decisions are celebrated rather than looked down upon.

While there are many reasons aside from community pressure that a single woman might shy away from this path, community pressure and stigmatization shouldn’t prevent those who are ready to become single mothers.

How about an organization to help older single Orthodox women with this decision? If bringing children into the world is such a Jewish ideal, why not assist women to do so rather than closing off all choices other than perhaps marrying the wrong men because they’re so panicked about their biological clocks? This organization can help them financially, create support systems so they don’t have to do this alone, and guide them through any halachic problems and the process of artificial insemination.

I know a number of Modern Orthodox women who have mentioned over the years that if they reached, say, age 40, they would take this route. But now that they have reached this age, they’re not taking that step. It’s one thing to talk about it when you're years away from making that decision, but another entirely to make a move that they know will be looked down upon by most of their communities and even many of their friends.

One of these friends, whose baby I was admiring recently, said to me, with a look of happiness: “Best decision I ever made!”

Why should irrational community pressure keep potential mothers from enjoying that aspect of existence and bringing Jewish children into the world? I think it’s time for the Orthodox Jewish community (or at least the Modern Orthodox community) to make a sea change in the way this issue is approached.

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Update: TikunOlam, on DovBear's blog, references this post and examines an aspect of this discussion: whether having children is an altruistic act.

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