When I began this article about childless women, the words I initially typed were “childless mothers.”
Instead of writing “childless women,” those were the words my fingers typed. Why? I think we perceive our existence and its forms in many different ways. However, there are certain components so deeply woven into our consciousness – like the human capacity to grow – that most of us, most cultures, would include them in a description of who we are as people. One of those things is motherhood.
The Torah speaks at great length about childlessness pertaining to woman. We see this, for example, in the verse: “When Rachel saw she had borne no children to Jacob, Rachel became envious of her sister and said to Jacob, ‘Give me children or else I will die.’”
There is much discussion about this statement, but suffice it to say, Rachel craved a child and seems to have defined her womanhood through motherhood.
In essence, my fingers reflected the societal perception that women can create babies, should create them and that their maternal instincts are at the core of this idea.
A woman I know is approaching the end of her childbearing years. My friend, a most ebullient human being, said that since she was little, she learned that one day, she was to fall in love, get married and have children.
“I believed that would happen,” she laments.
She did indeed fall in love and get married, but the marriage ended after six years. While married, she didn’t believe she was good enough to be a mom, and waited. Later, her husband wasn’t interested in having a child, so they waited. But, she says, “time got away from me… and I was in my 40s.”
My friend has run the gamut of feelings and thoughts about being a childless woman. She believes she would be a great mom, and motherhood would have been wonderful. Still, she states categorically, “I have accomplished many things and am making a difference in our world. I am better than I was five years ago.”
She says our society is all about having children, and people can mourn excessively for women who don’t. It’s unfair, she adds, because “many women I know have come to grips with it and are leading full and whole lives.”
She continues, however, that women shouldn’t wait to fall in love, “as the clock ticks. If you want a child, have it now. One day, you’re going to wake up and realize it’s too late. I wish someone would have encouraged me.”
I have always been envious of the female gift of conception, pregnancy and birth. Having the ability to create a child and doing so must often catapult a woman into a place of acute appreciation of Godliness, knowing that just as God can create a human being, so can she.
I mourn for those women who cannot have children, as long as they themselves mourn, but not for those who made a choice. I also grieve for those women who had children, but never wanted to.
I have learned through my friend that society can be insensitive to people without children, and single-minded in the perception of womanhood versus motherhood. This thought also hits home in Torah sources, as seen in Rachel’s plea to Jacob, but a women’s primary purpose is not necessarily fulfilled by simply having children. It is the responsibility of every woman to develop herself as a full and complete human being.
In essence, we must all give birth to ourselves. It seems my fingers were somewhat hasty.