Since the Cap’n and I married and began our family, I have watched as friends have debated, deliberated, and ultimately decided when their family is finished. Sometimes years would go by, and the couple would decide “just one more.” Or that they were maxed out, emotionally and financially, at the size they were. Or that they wouldn’t do anything to prevent another child, but they also wouldn’t go to great lengths to have another.
It is a great luxury for a couple to be able to decide for itself when it’s “done” having children. Whether that is after one child, or three, or seven, or ten, to have those choices is a blessing not bestowed on just anyone. While I’m content with my family, I know that if I ever were not, all I would need to do would be to think of those who have had a harder time than we have:
- Couples who tried unsuccessfully to have children and in the end adopted (although some were lucky and managed to adopt siblings)
- Couples without children for whom belonging to a frum Jewish community was too painful without a family, who drifted away
- A couple who finally gave up fertility treatments, found an expectant mother, supported her throughout her pregnancy, requested a signed affidavit that she had not used drugs, and in the end, the child was seriously mentally ill
- And of course, the families torn apart by terrorism, whether it be a family whose son was murdered in the massacre at Mercaz HaRav, or the family in which the (pregnant) mother and four daughters were shot and killed on the road, leaving the father to wake up the following morning with no family at all.
One of my favorite stories is the Jewish folktale, “It Could Always Be Worse,” about a family who felt cramped in their small house and sought advice from their rabbi. One by one, he has them move their livestock (a cow, chickens, a goat) into the house with them until they go mad. Then, he advises them to turn their animals out again and lo and behold, the house feels suddenly spacious. This is a humorous story about how our feelings of satisfaction can depend on how we view our circumstances.
Some say Hashem gives us only what we can cope with for challenges. I don’t know if that’s true, but I do believe that humans are capable of overcoming great sadness and suffering, and that comfort and support is to be found in the others around us, both in the form of their love and understanding, and in the knowledge that we do not grieve alone–that there is always someone else who has had a similar (or, God forbid, worse) experience.
May we only know blessings and happiness.