At this introspective time in our calendar, when we are challenged with reviewing the past year, our success and losses, our spiritual gains and missteps, I believe that there are two areas in which we must strive to improve. The first is interpersonal relationships – bein adam l’chaveiro. My personal story details a painful journey which taught me how careful we must be when speaking to others. A thoughtless comment can be devastating to someone going through a painful situation. What we may perceive as “helpful advice” might inadvertently highlight and invoke feelings of heartache in the recipient of these remarks.
The second area is that of emunah, the absolute essence of a G-d fearing Jew. Without a strong sense of understanding that everything sent to us by Hashem is truly good for our neshamah, it is almost impossible to endure the difficult periods of life.
My journey turned out to be the impetus for my spiritual growth because it’s only when you are out of options and have nowhere else to turn that you realize Hashem is calling you to turn to Him. You need only heed the call, and therein you will finally find your comfort and the answers you’ve been seeking all along.
People barely speak about it; in truth, most don’t know much about it. But the pain is all too real.
I would imagine most people have never considered this phenomenon at all, or the emotional and physical devastation it can wreak on those going through it.
Having one child is, in itself, a huge brachah, a gift from Hashem. But how many people ever really stop to think about the other side of it?
This is where my story begins. I married late in life, in my mid-thirties. Baruch Hashem, after two years of marriage, I found out I was expecting. After a difficult pregnancy, including four months on total bed rest and several trips to the hospital, I finally gave birth to a healthy, beautiful baby boy!
Our joy knew no bounds as we watched him grow from infant to toddler. We marveled at his every development, and I reveled in the feeling that motherhood was absolutely the most important and wonderful thing I’d experienced in my life. Naturally, once my precious yingeleh started attending playgroup, at two and a half years of age, I dreamed of having another child.
I longed desperately to repeat this wonder and happiness and to provide a sibling (or several!) for my son, but when the months turned into years, I realized something was wrong. After numerous and various failed treatments, my hope began to turn to despair.
“What does Hakadosh Baruch Hu want from me?” I pondered. My tears flowed, and my tefillos took on added urgency. I asked. I begged. I pleaded. I took on several new spiritual endeavors, all in the hope that Hashem would once again bless me with a new addition to our family. But sadly, it was not to be.
I went through many emotional stages, from denial to resentment, and finally, many years later, to resignation and reluctant acceptance.
I had no one with whom to share my feelings. After all, how many people did I know who shared my circumstance? Who could possibly relate to my feelings and understand me? While I imagine my husband may have had similar thoughts, he wasn’t the type to share his innermost feelings, and his career kept him busy and fulfilled. I felt completely alone.
Finally, I took out an ad, proposing a new support group for others like me. No one responded. I tried speaking to various Rabbanim about my problem. While they were all sympathetic, none had any advice other than to keep davening. One Rav tried telling me to look at other couples we knew who were childless after decades of marriage. I could certainly understand his point, but it really didn’t ease my hurt. Pain is relative; when you have a pain in your arm, and then see a person who has no arm at all, you feel sorry for him but it doesn’t make your own arm hurt any less.
People made thoughtless comments that pierced my heart. There was the real estate agent who took a look at our young son and asked me, “How many other children do you have?” After I answered that our son was our only child, she responded, “No, come on! How many kids do you really have?” She quickly apologized when she saw the look on my face, but the sting of her words remained with me for much of the day.
Then there was the time I ran into a woman I knew in the supermarket. She stopped to chat, asked how my son was, and then dropped what I’m sure she thought was a helpful remark: “You know, if you would’ve gone to my doctor, you would’ve had more kids by now!” I responded, “I believe that if Hashem wants me to have more children, He will give them to me even if I’m using my own doctors,” but for the rest of the day wondered how people could be so oblivious to my pain.
When I’d see all the women in the street with their numerous children, I felt ashamed of my envy. It’s not that I didn’t “fargin” those women their children; I just wanted the same for myself!
As time moved on, I had no choice but to learn to focus more on the joy my son brought me every day. From his every day in yeshivah (straight alefs in Limudei Kodesh subjects and equally impressive marks in his secular studies!) to his wonderful adventures at home, I reaped much nachas from my beautiful, well-adjusted, and loving boy.
But there were still moments which I quietly accepted as part of my nisayon. When my son’s classmate came for a play date, I heard him say, “What do you mean, you don’t have any brothers or sisters?!” My heart broke for my son, who was the only boy in his third-grade class and perhaps in his entire yeshivah who had no siblings.
Again, I turned to Hashem. I’d ask: “What does Hashem want from me? How can I grow from this and improve my middos in some way, instead of remaining stagnant in my emptiness and pain?” Slowly, over the years, some answers came to me.
Through my painful journey, I learned a great deal about being sensitive to other people’s situations. I realized that when I run into the older single who lives down the block, I should choose my words carefully. No more “Im yirtzeh Hashem by you,” when we meet at a wedding (yes, it’s a nice brachah, but most singles will agree that it causes them more pain about their unmarried status). Certainly none of the dreaded other questions I was subjected to as an older single, “So, nu? What are you waiting for? Why aren’t you married yet? Maybe you’re being too picky!” And of course, when meeting a new acquaintance, never to assume that they have children.
I tried to look at the advantages of my son being an only child. After all, he gets to have the undivided attention and endless love of both his parents. He never has to share his toys or experience sibling rivalry! In truth, my son and I share an absolutely wonderful, exceptionally close, loving relationship, which perhaps would have been somewhat different if I had had to share my time with other children.
To this day, I cringe when I hear parents complain that there “aren’t enough school days” to keep their kids out of the house (and out of their parents’ hair!). Sometimes I feel like shaking and admonishing them, “Don’t you realize the gifts you’ve been given?! Don’t you understand there are childless couples out there who would give anything in the world to trade places with you?! How can you take your children for granted that way?!”
But it’s not really their fault; such is human nature. We sometimes don’t fully appreciate what we have, especially if it comes easily to us.
As for me, I’ve finally gotten to a place where I’ve begun to use the painful lessons I learned to be a better person, to be more aware of others and the difficulties they may be experiencing, and most of all, to be more grateful for what I do have. And truth be told, my beloved son seems to be doing quite well all around, and doesn’t seem to have suffered as a result of growing up without siblings.
I now know that I never really was alone. Hashem was there right beside me all along, lovingly pushing me ahead. I just had to try harder to seek Him out through my pain.
It’s not easy, and there are still some days when I can’t help looking at mothers of many children with a twinge of regret and envy. But I quickly stop those thoughts and refocus. It’s become second nature. All I have to do is look at my healthy, beautiful, happy, smart, kind, now-15-year-old son, and I immediately feel the smile spread on my face, and the love and profuse gratitude touch my heart.
Thank you, Hashem, for this huge gift You’ve blessed me with. If it was Your will that I only have one child, my son certainly is THE ONE!”
The author of this article welcomes comments and can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.