These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Bursting Bubbles – Infertility, the Jewish Community and Me

Posted on December 27, 2020 by Miriam Lorie

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This was written by Pardes alumna Miriam Lorie (PCJE ’16-’17). This is a “retrospective” version of an original blog she posted for this website in 2017 when she was studying in the PCJE Experiential Educators program. It has a new introduction and closing and includes a select excerpt from the former piece. She will be teaching at LimmudUK this year along with many Pardes faculty and alumni.

Miriam will also be co-teaching a session with Pardes Faculty member Rabbanit Nechama Goldman Barash at the Winter Learning Intensive: Take a Plunge! Mikveh, Niddah and Relationship Resilience — Tuesday 21:30-22:30 Israel / 19:30-20:30 GMT / 2:30-3:30 PM Eastern / 11:30 AM-12:30 PM Pacific.

I wrote the piece below as a Pardes student in 2017. Aged 30, I was able to take a longed-for career break with my husband and toddler – a year which proved life-changing in so many ways. For one, it solidified my conviction that “this Jewish thing” was a life calling… and now I’m in Rabbinical school 🙂 But also, studying in Pardes with a very varied group – in terms of age, approach to the world, Jewish denomination, sexuality, priorities – it burst a bubble of heterogeneity. It showed me that the conveyor belt I’d previously assumed for myself was not the only way. And it prompted this reflection:

This is a picture of some homes in Borehamwood, my home town, where I grew up, where I’ve lived as an independent adult, where I’m heading back in July. Two or three bedroom terraced houses, little gardens, post-war architecture. It might not look that glamorous. And yet Borehamwood is probably the most desirable destination for people in my demographic – Jewish “young marrieds” in our 20’s and 30’s. Borehamwood is home to the UK’s fastest growing Jewish community outside the Charedi world. It’s a place which is a bit more affordable than the classic Jewish areas, meaning that a couple starting out with their first property can afford a little house rather than an apartment, and a little garden of their own. It’s on a commuter train line to Central London. It has an eruv. It has a small selection of shuls and Jewish schools.

Why am I telling you all this? I’m trying to paint a picture of a place where people start out on married life, buy their first home, put down roots, work hard, buy stuff, maintain a certain standard of living, have a baby, have more babies. Cohorts of young couples graduate through each of these stages together. The demographics in this community are all pretty homogenous so differences between where peers are up to in their progression appear very stark. The couple who live in an apartment when all their friends have moved into houses; the couple in the early stages of divorce while everyone else seemed to be happily nesting… and then there was us – the couple who couldn’t have a baby when all their friends were having babies.

Our fertility journey started back in 2011 and went on for three very slow years before Noam was conceived through IVF (in vitro fertilisation), after two failed IVF cycles and a year prior to these of “lighter” medication. Along with the physically demanding treatment, it was a painful time emotionally and socially. Going to shul became totally unappealing. Shul was full of new babies, shrieking toddlers, and their parents – too distracted to speak to me properly. It seemed to me that everyone was sporting a bump or holding a small child. Shabbat table conversations revolved around milk and nappies and the best model of buggy to buy. I felt left behind in my community, stuck in a rut that I was incapable of getting out of and let down by a body that couldn’t do one of its most essential functions. Harris and I were ready to become parents but couldn’t and our busy lives felt eerily quiet. My identity as a person who has experienced infertility still goes as deep as, if not deeper than, my very happy 2.5 year old identity as a mum. I will never leave that journey totally behind, and I will always be conscious of the experiences of others in the community going through something similar.

During that time, my mentor said to me: “Miriam, you live in a suburban bubble. There’s a big wide world out there where people your age aren’t even thinking about kids yet. They’re travelling and studying and doing all kinds of varied things”. It was the best thing anybody said to me in that difficult time. Without minimising my pain or telling my that my life plan should be different, my mentor helped me realise that my context was affecting the urgency I felt to have a baby; that a bubble where people are expected to move from one life stage to the next could only add to the pressure on those who didn’t quite conform to the script.

Both for those of us here on the brink of leaving Pardes and for those lucky enough to be staying, we’re probably all going to feel pressures in the coming year to conform to a script, to move onto the next step and “keep up” with our peers in one way or another. Wanting to be a mum is just one example personal to me and I can think of many ways in which someone would feel they’re not conforming to family, community or peer expectations. Among the many wonderful gifts that Pardes has given me, I’ll always treasure the gift of a space which holds people from different worlds, who are at different stages of life to one another and have different paths ahead without – at least as far as I’ve felt – any suggestion of pressure to be somewhere else. So my goal when I go back to Borehamwood is to carry the bravery of charting a different path. This is for myself, because I don’t expect I’ll ever be keeping up with the Joneses of Borehamwood… but I invite us all to to look out for others who, whatever context we’re in, might be feeling left behind or like they don’t fit the mold. Let’s challenge expectations, shake things up a bit and make the world a less predictable place.